Welcoming new Americans via sewing
The International Institute in St. Louis, Missouri, is a welcome center for new Americans. Serving immigrants and refugees from over 80 countries, the International Institute provides language classes, employment training, and a wide variety of community integration support services. The Institute is, for many, one of the first steps towards establishing a new life in St. Louis.
As part of the employment training program, I teach a sewing certification course in alterations and commercial sewing. Beginning with the basics, students learn to use domestic and industrial sewing and overlock machines. We cover many aspects of garment construction and tailoring, from simple zipper replacements to constructing clothing from patterns to altering blazers and pantsuits.
The International Institute has a large staff, and the employees are our practice clients. During class hours, they are invited to visit the sewing studio and bring garments that need altering or repair. These projects provide my students with hands-on experience taking measurements and making alteration notes. Most importantly, they ensure each student has a diverse assortment of items to practice on and learn from.
In my classes, there is a range of prior sewing experience. Some students may have worked in the textile industry in their home countries while others have never used a sewing machine. As most students have very recently arrived in the United States, the majority are learning English while simultaneously learning to sew. It is rewarding to see the simultaneous development of language and craft, and to experience the openness with which my students approach one another and their work, even when communication is difficult.
The International Institute is committed to helping its students establish careers in each discipline. In the St. Louis area, there are garment factories, small-scape alterations businesses, and other opportunities in the fashion and textile industries. After completing the certification program, the Institute continues to work with each graduate on their job search – through guidance with applications and interview preparation, and follows up to ensure success.
This article first appeared on WARP: Weave a Real Peace. http://weavearealpeace.org/warp/creating-connected-textile-communities-us/. Kelsey Viola Wiskirchen is a textile artist & educator living in St. Louis, Missouri. Kelsey currently teaches sewing classes at the International Institute & community workshops from her studio in St. Louis.