College de Melsisi is attached to a church, sort of. It is a complicated relationship which I don’t really understand but involves two nuns living on church grounds and teaching at the school. (Of course when the Oxford volunteers were living in the church-run guest house, the school was paying for it. I don’t get it.) Anyway, the nuns teach, mostly catechistebut one of them, Sister Anita, teaches technique which is like home ec mixed with shop. They learn nutrition and how to cook and sewing from Sister Anita and basic construction things from a different teacher.
After over a year of living in Vanuatu and not having a use for my martial arts clothes, I sent them back with my dad when he came to visit. Two weeks later, we were asked to do a show and start teaching. I don’t really have pants, I mean I have capris I wear in Vila and jeans I wore to New Zealand, but beyond that I don’t really wear pants. I have to wear skirts outside my house, so the pants I do have are not martial arts show appropriate. (Tie dye with fringe and beads. Don’t judge, they’re comfy.)
I was left with a quandry. Do I do the next few shows that we’ve been asked to do in capris? Or do I ask my dad to send my pants back? Neither seemed like a good option, so in true Peace Corps fashion, I found my own way. Awhile ago, I inherited a bag full of fabric from a PCV who was heading home. In that bag was a chunk of white fabric. Perfect.
I asked Sister Anita if she would teach me to use the sewing machines at the school. It was either that or do a whole lot of hand sewing. She agreed to teach me and we set a time. We missed that time and set a new one. We missed that one, too. Third time is a charm.
The room with the machines in plastered in posters about nutrition and family wellness and has pompoms the students made hanging from the ceiling. Along one wall a table holds eight or nine sewing machines, each covered in its own wooden carrying case.
These sewing machines are possibly the coolest thing I’ve seen in months, and I live on a tropical island. They are real, working antiques. They are hand crank or foot pedal machines that are older than me. The one I was using was made in The People’s Republic of China. Even though they are industrial and produced industrially, they still have a level of artistry about them. They are black laquer with a winged, gold sphinx and gold details painted over the black. Each one is set in its own wooden frame with a lid that buckles down for carrying. The best part is, they still work.
The hand crank isn’t too hard to get used to using, though it could get tiring for a full day. I can see where doing finicky little work with it would be a pain since it takes one hand to turn the crank and the other to steer the fabric. Next time, maybe I’ll try to use the foot-pump one instead, just to get the full range of possibilities.
I made my pants, they turned out serviceable. I will have pants to wear to do demos now. Put that wasn’t the important part. The important part is thinking up a new projects that let me play with those sewing machines. They are so cool!