THE SEWING DIVAS sewing, design, fashion

November 16, 2009

Dressmaking class in Mago Kenya

Filed under: Dressmaking,Els,Machines,sewing,sewing notions — Els @ 11:22 am

Last month my HB and I were traveling in Kenya for 3 weeks and I was lucky to visit a dressmaker’s class in Mago, a small village in Western Kenya.

The Dressmaking/Tailoring class  is a department of a Polytechnic school that was built and financed in 2005 by some Dutch people.

We stayed for 6 days in the guesthouse

The stay in the guesthouse  guesthouse provide the needed income for the school. Our oldest son is doing an internship for 6 month there together with his girlfriend Linda, as part of their final year of study of Tourism and Management. They will do the marketing and manage the guesthouse .

The Catering & Hospitality students provide services at the guesthouse .

Our son went to South Africa last April to do some shorter studies and internships at a school in Port Alfred for his  Tourism and Management major.  He bought a Toyota Hilux 4×4 and has driven the old jeep through Swaziland, Tanzania, Lesotho, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zanzibar to Kenya where he started his internship late August and we have missed him terribly.  It was a joy to see him again and to see where he is working now.

The polytechnic school has several departments for students (age 18-28) to get an education for 2 years in  Motor Vehicle Mechanics, Carpentry & Joinery, Building & Construction , and Tailoring & Dress making.

Motor Vehicle MechanicsCarpentry class

Building and Construction classsewing classroom

dressmaking students at work

I knew beforehand that the school had a dressmaking/tailoring class so I stuffed some possible hard to get fabrics like stretch lace, sewing notions, books: Fit for real people , Sew Any Patch PocketSew Any Set-In Pocket and some  pattern magazines like Burda, Knip and Diana in my suitcase.

I had the pleasure to see the students at work and was welcomed by the teacher and students as a colleague dressmaker.

There are 36 students in the dressmaking class and they learn  pattern drafting and sewing.

The students learn to sew and make samples not using muslin  fabric but they draft a pattern on brown craft paper and learn to sew that paper garment made on ½ scale and this way they learn to know which steps are going to be sewed first.

The students are working in two classrooms, one is for the theory and the other classroom has 24 beautiful Singer treadle machines.

singer treadle machines

Sewing sample

I spend a day at the Dressmaking/tailoring School and shared some sewing techniques, for example I made a sample of a bound buttonhole on a treadle machine that was for me a new experience, since I am used to an electric sewing machine.

I have some vague remembrance of sewing once on a treadle machine in grammar school but since that did happen a long way ago I felt such a beginner sewing on such a machine.

The Singer machines they use are beautiful and well-maintained.

All the dressmakers/tailor shops I saw when we drove through the villages in Kenya are using treadle machines since only a few people are lucky to have access to electricity.

The Dressmaking/Tailoring School is well equipped by Kenyan standards but they could use some better scissors and from my point of view more notions as I happened to find out when I needed to use scissors for cutting some fabric.

As a dressmaker I know that good tools are such a pleasure to work with and will make the sewing part so much more enjoyable.

I tried to find a notion/sewing store in the big cities like Nairobi and Mombasa but I could not find even one.

So once we were home again after our fantastic 3 week vacation traveling in Kenya, I was planning to do some serious shopping for the dressmaking/tailoring class.

I told my parents and sister about my shopping plan and they spontaneously donated money too, so I could buy 36 scissors, thread nippers and seam rippers, plus a large dressmakers shear and pinking shear, plus some other notions which I thought they could use.

notions A

I had some red upholstery leather in my stash from an old leather couch once owned by my sister so I made sheets to protect the scissor blades and made an extra pocket so the seam ripper and thread nipper were all in one place.

sheath36 hoesjes klaar a

It was a lot of work but fun to make since I knew beforehand that those notions would be for a good cause.

Since it is very expensive to ship the 5-kilo scissors to Kenya I was very lucky to find out from one of the Dutch founding member of the board (who started and finance the school)that friends of him would travel to Kenya and could pack the scissors in their suitcases.

So the 165 km drive to another town to hand out the scissors was well spent and was cheaper than shipping with no worry that the scissors could get lost during shipping. The scissors were accepted with great appreciation and will help the students to accomplish their work to become a dressmaker/tailor and start a dressmaking business to earn a living.

The other notions, dressmakers ham and pattern book  Modelling and Flat Cutting for Fashion by Helen Stanley are traveling with the parents of my son’s girlfriend Linda who are leaving tomorrow for their Kenya vacation.

I wish I had the opportunity to do some volunteer work at the Dressmaking/Tailoring school but since that will not be possible I was happy that our family could donate some needed tools to make sewing much more enjoyable and pleasant.


  1. Els, thank you for this wonderful post about the school. Knowing how to sew is an important skill in being able to provide clothes and income for the family where resources and cash are rare. I am so thankful for the Dutch persons who had the wisdom to start and who continue to maintain this facility! And now your family has brought the treasured tools of the trade to the students. That act, for me, defines “high class”.

    Comment by Mary Beth — November 16, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  2. Els..what a fascinating journey and experience. The experience of a lifetime !

    Thanks so much for sharing this story with all of us.

    Comment by Pam ~Off The Cuff ~ — November 16, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  3. Els, that is such a wonderful post. Of all the beautiful things you have made, and all the amazing tutorials and posts you have done, I think this is my absolute favorite! You are an inspiration.

    Comment by Gorgeous Things — November 16, 2009 @ 12:19 pm

  4. What a wonderful experience for you! You are so kind-hearted and generous to provide these lovely tools for the students. I wish I could be there to witness their excitement when they open the package!

    Comment by Gigi — November 16, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

  5. This is beyond wonderful, Els. I am so impressed with the program at this school. Your contribution will be greatly appreciated by the students. We sometimes forget how necessary sewing and tailoring skills are in parts of the world where access to ready-mades is limited and/or prohibitively expensive. If you have scissors and the skills you can make whatever is needed.

    Comment by georgene — November 16, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  6. I loved the picture of the girls surrounding you as you taught a new technique. And your gift of the shears must have been like gold to them! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

    Comment by Carolyn — November 16, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

  7. Hello. This was very interesting as I have been following 2 Yahoo “groups” on vintage Singer sewing machines. After reading the posts for several monghts, you have to conclude that these old machines are very worthy of use and valuable. Many people are collecting them – I have one plus a new modern Singer – and some of these are being collected for Africa. I think the vintage machines are growing in popularity and value. The holders you made for scissors etc. are great and I’m sure they’ll be much appreciated.

    Comment by Betty — November 16, 2009 @ 5:13 pm

  8. What a great way to spend a vacation and how generous to share not only your knowledge, but resources, too.

    Comment by Summerset — November 16, 2009 @ 6:53 pm

  9. What a heart-warming post, Els. Thank you.

    Comment by Karla — November 16, 2009 @ 7:20 pm

  10. Fascinating post! Your generosity must be so appreciated by the students.

    Comment by Bunny — November 16, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

  11. This is a lovely post. I think you and your family for your generosity. And I enjoyed reading about the school. Good luck to all the students who will surely do well with their new tools!

    Comment by SewingLibrarian — November 17, 2009 @ 12:30 am

  12. Do you have any suggestions on how Americans can continue? I have a continuing interest in the Grameeen Bank, and am interested in low income borrowing in general, and your voyages seem to provide an inspiration. Do let us know more on how we can get involved.

    Comment by luckylibbet — November 17, 2009 @ 1:47 am

  13. […] Dressmaking class in Mago Kenya « THE SEWING DIVAS sewing, design … Share and […]

    Pingback by Dressmaking class in Mago Kenya « THE SEWING DIVAS sewing, design … | Drakz News Station — November 17, 2009 @ 1:54 am

  14. I wonder if there is an APO address near the school? Then we can organize an KBOL (like IBOL, but for Kenya).

    Comment by Grace — November 17, 2009 @ 2:02 am

  15. Leuk om al deze commentaren te lezen, Het geeft je nog een extra steuntje om indien nodig nog iets te doen.

    Comment by Pa — November 17, 2009 @ 4:42 am

  16. What an adventure! How lovely of you and family to provide tools and notions for the school. Wonder if we could send them fabrics from here (Europe and US)?? I’m sure we all have fabrics for them to practise on in our generous stashes.

    Will they find jobs as dressmakers/tailors do you think?


    Comment by Vibeke in Oslo — November 17, 2009 @ 6:51 am

  17. I also wonder if others can send supplies?
    Our school has excess sewing supplies that might be helpful.
    With the address and contact person we could research shipping modes.

    Comment by JenO — November 17, 2009 @ 11:18 am

  18. Such a great post Els! Here’s to a better world brought together by sewin and generousity.

    Comment by Phyllisc — November 17, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  19. Els… You are utterly lovely! Your story makes we wonder how many other schools in the world could use such essential donations…

    Comment by Susannah — November 17, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

  20. This, is so totally awesome! I love that you documented this for us.

    Comment by cidell — November 18, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

  21. Thank so much for sharing this lovely, lovery story, Els. It’s a pity that the transport is so expensive, I have a lot of stuff (including fabric) I could get ‘rid off’.

    Comment by KayB — November 19, 2009 @ 2:44 am

  22. Oh my, thank you for sharing! This is such a great story and all those beautiful treadle Singers is quite the sight to see. Your generousity of your time and materials and money is heartwarming.

    Linda T

    Comment by vernonfashionstudio — November 22, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

  23. I wonder if you would share information for those who would like to volunteer for the school! Thank You for the post!!

    Comment by angerella — November 24, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  24. Congratulations on making such a lovely contribution to help these young people learn a skill that will give them a chance at a more successful life!
    It should inspire all of us to find practical ways to help others improve their lives.

    Comment by ArtBird — November 26, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

  25. Thank you for sharing details of your trip to Kenya. Great vacation idea! Visit a country and check out the sewing. I really like the scissor/nipper/seam ripper case . . . is there a pattern?

    Comment by Suzanna — December 2, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  26. OMG – what a wonderful experience to pass on your gift to such hungry students. I’m sure they were so delighted with all your gems you gave them!

    Comment by ClaireOKC — December 5, 2009 @ 2:29 am

  27. You are a good woman. Very inspiring. Most times we just think about doing good. You actually DID good despite the challenges involved in doing so.

    Comment by Kerri — December 10, 2009 @ 4:39 pm

  28. What a beautiful story
    thanks for sharing with us,and the beautiful
    students picture,you and your family are blessed by generosity
    God bless you all.
    your help gone be apreciated a lot by the students.

    Comment by ROSA — December 16, 2009 @ 3:47 am

  29. Dear Els,
    Thank you for visiting our beautiful country. Am from Kenya.
    What you did for the girls is truly amazing. There are many such polytechnics all over the country and most girls end up setting their own businesses and doing relatively well.
    Thank you again.

    Comment by Jackie Njeri — February 9, 2010 @ 4:54 am

  30. Thank you for this insightful informational post. I am a Return Peace Corps Volunteer from a small village outside Nairobi where I witnessed the importance of these trade skills. So many youths want the big “city job” – using computers and wearing suits – that they limit building their practical village skills. When developing a business it is important that they look at the customer base. Every child needs a school uniform (most often two – one to wear & one to wash). Beaded necklaces are nice, but the poor village woman who supports her entire family with less than $1USD/day, does not have the disposable income for such luxuries. Tourist dollars rarely make it into the village. Knowing our customer base and entering a sustainable business is crucial. Supporting the dressmaking trade is realistic and sustainable.
    I’m sure your project touches the lives of many.

    Comment by Lisa — February 22, 2010 @ 12:02 am

  31. What a wonderful post. Thank you and keep up the brilliant work!

    Comment by jef brown — July 11, 2010 @ 10:52 pm

  32. Looks like a great time!

    Comment by Sewing Supplies — November 7, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

  33. Hallo,I have a polytechnic for tailoring and dressmaking in makueni and I am looking for a good teacher who can be also the principal of the school. If she is a volunteer we will pay her ksh. 3000 per month for the school is of the poor and orphaned girls.
    Thank you and God bless you.
    Charles fr

    Comment by charles kyallo Mutua — December 1, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

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