Sewing class helps local residents gain skills, confidence

Dec. 10, 2013 - A small miracle has been taking place this fall as a group of New Haven women sorely in need of change in their lives have been meeting to be taught, among other things, how to make quilts.

Under the instruction of Signian McGeary, professor emeritus in the Quinnipiac School of Health Sciences, and community coordinator Vivian Fripp Elbert, they have learned how to measure, cut, and sew by hand, as well as how to use the six sewing machines, two of which were provided by the University.

In the large bright classroom at the Church on the Rock in New Haven, each member of the group produced a quilt of her own, every one beautiful in its own way, a testament to the power of imagination in design and color, and to their newly-learned skill with sewing.  Working and learning along with them, have been nine Quinnipiac occupational therapy students, as part of the community service learning project required by their major.

This fall's group of residents are part of an ongoing program that was first begun nine years ago at the Hill Health Center in New Haven by Elbert; McGeary joining her two years later. They then moved to their current space at the Church on the Rock.  Together they have helped a number of women who have gone through hard times learn a skill that will always provide a sense of achievement and, it is hoped, someday help them find a way to support themselves and their families.   

"It is amazing what has been accomplished by these women," says McGeary, "and I have been quite demanding of them in making sure that they are careful in how they sew and measure so that they make something they can be proud of." One of the quilters, Thomasina, said that she is thinking of giving hers to her grandmother because she wants to make sure it is "treated right" and not just sold to someone who wouldn't care about the work that was put into it.

The coordinator, Vivian Elbert, herself a designer of women and children's clothing, said that some of the women have showed a real sense of design and she is very proud of them all and the work they had produced. She is hoping that they will use these skills to earn some money and perhaps make a career for themselves.

The Quinnipiac students came in two groups, one for the first five weeks of the semester, and another for the last five weeks. Four of the students, Nikki Barba, Julie Bruschini, Adrian David and Heather Pepe, have produced a video of their experience.  They loved the experience of working in the community and, for some of them, learning to sew for the first time.