The old doors of the lift rattle open before I prop them wide with a green and white weave basket filled with eight sewing machine peddles and two coiled extension leads. Out come the machines, two by two, and then the bags of sewing notions and left over sewing projects from a class I taught that morning. It might only be one flight up but the lift makes my weekly workout just a little bit easier. Inevitably, I will open the door to the first floor of Block T and Chris will take one look at my stack of machines and immediately offer help with moving everything down the hall to the studio. Chances are that I probably had collected the machines that morning on my own, taught a two hour sewing class and have just lugged everything back again. With each week the machines get lighter as I get stronger and my appreciation for Block T grows.
I was a latecomer to Block T but an early enthusiast for sewing. Following a run of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in secondary school my drama teacher told me that I should really take up costume design as a career because I came alive while doing it. “Yes,” I said, “but there is something I love more.” I pursued the first dream while maintaining and developing my sewing skills as part of my oasis of self-care. I would sew dresses for friends here and there while up-skilling in courses that were relevant. In my visits to Canada I began to take up quilting too and was adopted into the great big quilting family that is somewhere in every Canadian town.
Two years ago I found myself in a fairly important transition time and was looking for a way that I could contribute to the community as an act of love for it, no strings attached. Generosity that is genuine and wholehearted changes places, it changes people and it can change communities. Sewing came to mind even though I had never taught a class before in my life. When I told family and friends they confirmed what I had been thinking – this made sense! It was a natural progression from some of the community work I had been doing before. At the same time, I was terrified. Theoretically, it made sense. Practically, I was recovering from some emotional wounds that left me afraid of anything I thought I was good at before. I was even having panic attacks when sitting in front of a sewing machine about to stitch a straight line. Friends patiently walked with me as I breathed through fear and took a courageous step in asking a local school if they could do with a sewing teacher. Within a month we had scrounged together ancient sewing machines and a diverse class of students. Soon I was getting calls from other local services asking if I could teach a group with them as well. Some generous people donated money for me to put together proper equipment for classes and in summer of 2015 all of this moved with me into Block T where I began sharing studio space with my good friend, co-founder of C Squared and visual artist, Laura Pettit.
Sharing a space with a visual artist is inspiring. Each week I enter into a space that is charged with eyes that see differently and shapes and colours that express intangible realities that resonate deeply. As I drift through the hallways of Block T, I am reminded that the world can look different. This old probation office building has been a Petri dish where new hopes and dreams for the future are given a chance to start incredibly small in order to become something that grows big enough to shape the culture of a city. Our practices interact with each other. During one Tuesday evening before Christmas I was in the art classroom with a sewing class. Paint was splashed across surfaces and well used easels stood as our backdrop – a room well loved with the lingering affects of art. Our gift in return was the calming smell of lavender from making scented heat packs. On evenings that I have ended up staying late to prepare for a class the next day, Kevin will knock on my door and ask if I have listened to this artist or that song. He helps me find them on my computer and they become an unexpected and very welcome soundtrack for my work. It has been an absolute honour to teach basic machine sewing skills as a part of their skillset programme as well as in the community. It is one way that I have been able to exchange generosity for the environment, opportunity, plasters (for when I cut my fingers open by being careless with a rotary blade) and helping hands every week.
Block T is a generous place. A dreamer’s place. A culture maker’s place. I, for one, will be sad to see it leave Smithfield Square in the coming months as it seeks a new home. Homelessness is a problem in this city. Meanwhile, I will be thankful as I think about my love for Smithfield and the role that Block T has played in strengthening many things that have been weak.