Teach Women, Invest In A Community

Teach At Forty FiveI remember I pestered my Mom to teach me how to sew, but I’m not sure of exactly how old I was when I started. For what purpose? What did I think I was going to make on her old Kenmore? I remember she explained it all to me very clearly. She was willing to invest the time to teach me. But, she also wanted me to pay attention and not ask her to run back to answer questions every 5 minutes, she had other things to do. I took to it, like a fish to water.

Soon I was making all kinds of clothes. Most of my babysitting money went towards patterns and fabric at the local Zellers department store. I could get off the bus near to that store. Even though the selection was not great, location was key. It forced me to be creative, with simple fabrics and easy to use patterns. Which meant, I wore clothes in junior high school that nobody else had. At the time, I was not too concerned with being different.

Sewing and clothes would remain a major part of my life right up through high school. Then I took a break for a couple of years. My Mom warned me that would happen. She said that one day I would make enough money that I would buy all my clothes at the store. I couldn’t believe it. Clothes were so expensive in those days and I could use a pattern again and again!

My dry spell ended after I quit University and started attending design school. Sewing is a huge part of the curriculum. And I was learning how to draft my own patterns. I was sewing without pins on industrial sewing machines which were so powerful they would sew through your whole hand if you were not careful! This was the real deal. All thanks to my Mother. She knew that University business school was not for me. She helped me convince my Dad that I needed to give my real passion a try.

“Dreams are the seeds of change. Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.”    -Debby Boone

While the technical skill of sewing is incredibly straightforward and by that I mean in a straight line literally, front to back, sewing is not easy. There are twists and turns in every pattern which can throw you for a loop. My Mom was there in the early days to help avert whatever seemingly disastrous mistake was at hand. She was big at saying things like, “good enough” and “no-one can see the inside anyway”. Sage words of advice in sewing and in life. Even in an industrial sewing factory or a high-end couture house in France, there is no such thing as perfection.

When I say sewing is not easy, my teacher at Form + Function Design Academy was famous for pointing out that a career built from sewing is a tough choice. “There are easier ways to make a living,” she used to say. Which turned out to be more true for me than she could have ever imagined when teaching that lesson.

As I look back on my career in the apparel business, and all the people I have worked with, there is only one person who devoted her life to the art and craft of sewing. Even though she has many accomplishments, her passion was always grounded in sewing. She has used her skills to benefit the lives of countless other women by teaching them how to sew. I feel a deep connection to this, because, without that first skill, I can’t imagine what the arc of my life might have been.

Sylvia Rempel is the person who showed me what is possible for a woman who knows how to sew. I worked at her company as a kid out of design school, helping out whoever asked me, doing whatever needed to be done. By acting like a sponge, I soaked it all up and learned the business. As an assistant to Angel Grams, Sylvia’s daughter, I was afforded opportunities unheard of for a young woman in her early twenties.

As things go in the apparel industry, circumstances change on a dime. I think only the restaurant business might be more volatile. Particularly back in the 1990’s. The sports apparel sector, which was my niche, was not the big business it is today. By the late 1990’s I was onto my next jobs. Those were the jumps I made along the way to increase my income and gain new experiences. That was possible, thanks to the foundation I had established in my learning and skills, from my big break, working for SunIce.

Sylvia Rempel, Founder of Sewing Seeds, embodies the entrepreneurial spirit. A mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, she has overcome hardships. Sylvia arrived in Canada as a non-English speaking immigrant and self-taught seamstress, and went on to build a multi-million-dollar clothing enterprise employing hundreds – Sun Ice. It drew international attention as an official supplier to the 1988 Winter Olympics Games in Calgary, Alberta. Sylvia has gone on to re-define “retirement.” Her new life’s chapter, has drawn on her passion and experience to develop a sewing skills training curriculum that leads students from novice to qualified seamstress. She has transformed lives at home and around the globe. Sylvia is building skills, self-confidence and financial independence in her programs. She is committed to excellence; expecting a high standard of quality and professionalism from students. Sylvia’s latest venture is training sewing teachers to carry on this legacy into the future.

Sylvia Rempel, left, and Angela Grams, (Ted Rhodes/Postmedia Calgary)

As important as the skill of sewing was for me, it was never a necessity as it is for the students of Sewing Seeds. These women really need this opportunity to better themselves, their families and communities. I think it is through programs like this, which focus on helping women, where the biggest social changes will occur. Our future will be better if we help women. The sooner we all realize this, the better.

“Help young people. Help small guys. Because small guys will be big. Young people will have the seeds you bury in their minds, and when they grow up, they will change the world.”    -Jack Ma

It is with deep appreciation I give thanks for the help I have received from all the women in my life. I would not be who I am without you! As I walk fully into my next chapter, I intend to surround myself with the kind of women who used to be too few in my life. It’s time to create the change we want to see in the world!

Join me on this creative journey. Creating a life I don’t need a vacation from is my path.

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Part creativity, part connection, always honest, informative and inspiring. I blog 2 times per week – see you over there!

Christine Westermark
Christine Westermark Contributor
I am a world traveller, lucky enough to have a loving family who support my dreams to learn, create and give back by designing creative content which enables a lifestyle we don’t need a vacation from.
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