A couple of years ago my husband and I traveled to China to visit some friends who work there. They arranged that while I was there I should teach a quilting class to a group of ladies. I'd need a translator. Actually, I'd need two of them; the ladies are all deaf!
These ladies worked in a store that did custom sewing such as curtains and drapes, etc. Without a clue what to teach them, I decided to take an assortment of blocks requiring various skill levels. I also took some quilt books and prayed quite a bit!
When we got there, more challenges. First, there is no heat in this store. It was February and cold. We had to work with our coats on.
Second, electricity is iffy. They used treadle sewing machines, and each sewer plugged in the iron each time she used it, and unplugged it when she was finished.
Third, they use 1 cm. seam allowances, not 1/4 inch. All my patterns had to be redrafted, in my hotel room, with pen and ruler, and more prayers.
I had two days with them. I showed them the blocks. Each young woman picked one they wanted to make, and it turned out that their selections matched their skill level. The most difficult block was a Carol Doak foundation paper-pieced star. The woman who spoke Chinese and did the sign language, told my American translator, "I'm glad ... selected that one. She thinks she is so smart and needs to learn that she isn't!"
I began with the simplest block and explained how to make it. The woman who picked it began selecting fabric and sewing. On to the next one, and the same thing. By the time I got to the paper-pieced block (a technique they had never seen), I began understanding their sign-language. I was also really enjoying myself. These girls have a great sense of humor and laugh easily.
They are also very skilled. When they "got it" they hit the middle of their foreheads with the side of their hand, and then went to work. One of them chain pieced the curves in a Drunkard's Path, on a treadle, without a flaw and without pins. The beginners struggled that their blocks were not 'exactly' like mine (the Chinese are great copyists and perfectionists), but some I could tease and get a smile even in their 'humiliation' at not being perfect.
They all finished their blocks about the same time. I took pictures. They hugged me and made me a paper-cut thank you card. When I got home, I sent them some rotary cutters and other tools. They sent me a photo. I sent them a small wall quilt, another Carol Doak foundation paper-pieced block, and as I suspected, their first response was a careful examination to try and figure out how it was made so they could copy it. Last Christmas, I got another card and a photo. Their staff now includes two young men.
This was a highlight of my life. I will never forget the warmth and joy in that impoverished and chilly sewing room, nor the gratitude of these young women who would be outcasts in their world without the opportunity to learn how to sew for others.