Ailuk project is sew fantastic

Women on Ailuk try out the new treadmill sewing machines as part of the first stage of a 24-week training program on the northern atoll. Photo: Bonny Taggart.
Women on Ailuk try out the new treadmill sewing machines as part of the first stage of a 24-week training program on the northern atoll. Photo: Bonny Taggart.

Ailuk Mayor Rufina Jack is always on the lookout for projects that will benefit the atoll. In 2014, she approached on-island grant writer Bonny Taggart about seeking funding to initiate a sewing training project on Ailuk – using machines that don’t need electricity. Bonny found a vendor in the US for the machines and treadle tables, and wrote the grant, which was approved by the UN’s Global Environmental Fund Small Grants Scheme (GEF-SGS) in 2015. 

But it’s not easy to get 36 non-electric sewing machines from the US to Ailuk. Because there is no demand for non-electric machines in the US, the vendor had only two tables in stock, and had to special order the other 34 from China. It took six months for the tables to get to Majuro, and then a couple of more months to get them on a ship to Ailuk. 

Finally, after spending a day shopping for fabric on Majuro, the Mayor and Bonny flew to Ailuk on April 25 to initiate the project. Fortunately, yachties Brian Twitchell and Amanda Witherell on the S/V Clara Katherine were at Ailuk and willing to help the local men assemble all those treadle tables. It took three days for eighteen men (and very few tools) to assemble the tables.

Amanda and Bonny spent the next week teaching the women how to operate the machines, using the special “feet” to make hems, buttonholes and install zippers, how to oil them and how to troubleshoot minor problems. One of the men was trained to “fine tune” the mechanical parts of the treadle for smooth performance.

Over the next 24 weeks, the women will learn how to mend clothes, and how to measure for and make new garments.

The grant included a component for making sails for local canoes including fabric, tools, and other supplies for sailmaking. Amanda, who is a trained sailmaker, worked closely with Rice Snight, the expert sailmaker on Ailuk, as well as others, showing them special sailmaker tricks of the trade, and how to use the Sailrite sewing machine that was purchased for the purpose.

Read more about this in the May 13, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.

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