Sewing Patches-Sowing Progress: A Social Action Project by Dawn Collins

Sewing Patches-Sowing Progress: A Social Action Project by Dawn Collins

Click here to read group newsletter affiliated with this social action project: and the blog at

Homelessness… It seems I can’t remember when I first heard that it was issue here in Canada. Whether it was from watching a movie or when a homeless person offered to clean my dad’s car windows as we sat at the lights in Toronto. What I do remember is feeling horrified that there were people in Canada who did not have homes or families to help them. I didn’t know that much about homelessness. Until later, when I worked with a man who lived on the streets in Vancouver for five years. He was a chef in a restaurant and he wore the same t-shirt and pants everyday for the entire year I was there. He told me he didn’t need more than that if it was still functioning. I asked him about his experiences and he told me how the shelters were more dangerous then the streets and you had to be careful about ‘territory’ but really it was a lot easier then working a real job and worrying about bills. I still found it hard to believe that a person I went to high school with, had become homeless. I tried to put myself in his shoes, and I realized how it might feel asking others for help or money repeatedly. I realized that if it were me I would feel a huge amount of shame at not being successful and I would feel hopeless because I did not have any control over my situation.

Prior to starting this project I had researched homelessness in the Ottawa Region for another personal project I was working on. I knew that in 2008, 7045 people in Ottawa used emergency shelters of which 1,179 were under the age of 16 and in a family (Report Card on Ending Homelessness in Ottawa, 2008). The number of homeless people is often inaccurate as the methods used to collect the data is often inaccurate itself. Also, as my friend told me there is a large portion of homeless people who don’t go into to the shelters because of the dangers. I and my classmates only knew of one supper table operating in Ottawa – St. Joe’s on Laurier. We decided that we really needed to research places of need when we first started the project but we definitely wanted to give support to the cause.

By focusing my energy on the homeless issue in Ottawa I am making the assumption that all homeless people want help. This would be a prescriptive assumption or an assumption about what I think ought to be happening in a particular situation (Brookfield, 1995). In this case, if you are homeless you ought to want to change your situation. This may not be the case for certain individuals who if they were in abusive or violent home situations prior to being on the streets and the alternative to living on the streets was to return to those same situations. In forming this Social Action Project we are also assuming that quilts will be useful to those living on the streets and not become a burden to carry from place to place. Another assumption I was making is that people would feel more inclined to help charities operating in developing countries. I thought that people would think that the problems here in Canada are not as deserving of help as the problems abroad. One of the reasons I thought this is because there are many advertising campaigns that highlight the plight of the poor in developing countries but little to none that highlight the plight of local homeless people.

After realizing that I had these assumptions I had the choice to replace them with different assumptions or not continue the social action project. I chose to not replace, change or alter my assumptions but rather carry on with the project knowing that what I thought may not be completely accurate. Also, I was now more prepared to answer questions about why we had chosen to form this specific social action project.

Class – Friday January 7, 2011 – During that class Cat Costa and Ashley Fisher approached Brita Goldie and I to see if we wanted to do a social action project similar to a mitten making project we (Ashley, Brita, Courtney and I) had undertaken the previous December. After, being approached we talked about modifying the mittens to quilts as mittens were very labour intensive had little output. We didn’t utilize all the recycled material making mittens that we might have been able to use had we been making quilts. We also talked about supporting a NGO abroad and Brita volunteered to contact her friend Bonnie who is one of the co-founders of Drombaya. Drombaya is a micro-finance organization that operates in Cameroon. We all agreed and Courtney, Bella, and Elyse all asked to join our group. We decided that we needed a catchy meaningful name. Courtney came up with Sewing Patches and Cat came up with Sowing Progress which was then hyphenated and chosen as the name of our new social action project. After class a meeting was organized but only Dawn and Brita could attend but the group said to just divvy up tasks so we got to it.

Lunch Meeting – Friday January 7, 2011 – Brita and Dawn had lunch and gave all group members a task to complete and made a list of all things that needed to be completed. Email was sent by Brita to all telling everyone what was discussed and if there were any issues.

Proposal – Friday January 7, 2011 – Brita then wrote the proposal and emailed everyone a rough draft. Dawn edited and then sent to Elyse Snell to further edit.

Sewing machines – Fri. – Sun. January 7-9, 2011 – I try to track down some sewing machines for group members as we all need one by next Friday. I reply to adds on Kijiji and UsedOttawa and make offers of $25. Two people respond and I contacted group members who were interested. Bella and Ashley both want one.

Bella Sewing machine – Monday January 10, 2011 – Brita and Dawn go and pick up the sewing machine in Quebec. Courtney, Brita, and Elyse have all borrowed one. I own one already. Cat still needs one.

Advertising – Mon. – Fri. January 10 – 14, 2011 – Cat has contacted many radio stations, and newspapers. She has also looked into a way of enabling people to go to the bank and donate. Ashley has snagged us free poster printing.

Logo & Donated Clothing – Thursday January 13, 2011 – Courtney emails everyone the poster he has designed. Bella and Courtney visit an organization that is interested in giving us clothes that they throw out because they can’t use them. The name of it is Centre Entraide Familial and is located in Gatineau.

Meeting – Friday January 14, 2011 – Group meeting in the LRC in LMX. Everyone is in attendance. Some concerns were discussed and the objectives were revised. Overall most people felt like making five quilts each was too difficult as they had never sewn before. So, the number was changed to three each for a total of 21 quilts instead of 35 quilts. Some people felt like fundraising was going to be too difficult so that we should just make quilts. However, after some debate it was decided that it would be smart to try both as it gave the student community an opportunity to know what is happening and participate. The amount to fundraise was just going to be donation per square and the total was deemed not important.

Fabric Pickup and Sorting – Monday January 17, 2011 – Courtney and Bella went to pickup the donated clothes and spent the afternoon sorting them. They then brought them to the University so we could cut them into blocks.

Cutting Squares – Monday January 17, 2011 – Courtney, Elyse, Bella, and Dawn. Ashley and Cat joined later. We started cutting squares based on templates that I made for each person and ended up cutting each person 36 squares or one quilt.

Distribution of quilts – Thursday January 20, 2011 – Bella follows up on Entraide Familial recommendation and talks with le Bras-Sida an organization that is willing to distribute our quilts to the homeless for us and is very excited to do so. They have expressed that this is a great idea and will include an article about us once we donate the quilts.

Completion of quilt#1 – Thursday January 20, 2011 – I completed one quilt to show the group. The quilt turned out lumpy when stuffed when the used fabric. Methods of stuffing will have to be changed (either smaller bits inside or just layer the fabric).

Cutting Squares – Monday January 24, 2011 – Courtney, Elyse, Brita and Dawn met in MRT library to cut more blocks. Each person cut a quilts worth of squares (36).

Blog – Monday January 24, 2011 – Blog revealed to all. I have been working on a blog for our social action project and I emailed it to all.

Quilt Tops made – Friday January 28, 2011 – Cat and Elyse hand over a quilt top each to be backed. (Three total now)

Contacted local quilt guild – Monday January 31, 2011 – I emailed the Ottawa Quilt Guild to see if there would be interest in some members helping to take over Sewing Patches – Sowing Progress so that it continues once we all leave school in March.

Quilt Tops – Monday January 31, 2011- Cat handed over two more quilt tops that she made fulfilling her three quilt quota. (Five total now)

Quilt tops – Tuesday February 1, 2011 – Brita handed over her quilt top that she made. (Seven total now as I finished an additional one)

Fundraising Day One – Wednesday February 9, 2011 – Brita, Elyse, Courtney, Ashley, and Dawn (Bella for 30 minutes) fundraised in the University Center from 12-4pm and raised $164.33. More info and personal accounts on blog.

Fundraising Day Two – Thursday February 10, 2011 – Brita, Elyse, Courtney and Dawn (Ashley for one hour) fundraised in the University Center from 12-4pm and raised $156.44. More info and personal accounts on blog.

List of Deliverables for Midterm Appraisal

List of Deliverables Met

All clothing donations will be collected Clothing donations were not collected from people as we found an organization that can be contacted at will when we need material.
Advertising about the action project and NGO will be created and distributes This is has been created and completed. Courtney created a poster that was printed and posted around campus.

Dawn created a Facebook group and blog that are ongoing till objectives are met.

Organization where quilts will be donated will be selected This will be Le Bras-SIDA who actually will hand distribute the quilts to those in need.
All fabric will be cut We are waiting for fabric to be cut by a member as her sewing machine broke and she will be cutting more for others due to this.
The group will learn to sew or improve their sewing skills All members can now successfully sew a quilt top.

I have now experimented and found the best way to make the quilts thicker and warmer without lumps.

1/2 of the quilts will be completed Not completed. We need 14 more quilts to be completed.

List of Deliverables by completion of project: (Still need to be met)

–  181.00 left to fundraise for a total of $500

–  completion of all quilts

–  poster made for final presentation

–  hand over donations to Drombaya

–  hand over quilts to Le Bras-SIDA

The biggest challenge so far has been cutting the fabric and faulty sewing machines. Bella and Courtney’s sewing machines have actually broken down so we are moving slower in the quilt production. Because of this we have decided to: 1. make their quilts for them/ lend them a machine 2. get them to cut the squares for other peoples’s quilts. This has created problems as now people are waiting for squares to sew and this has created a big problem for completing the quilts. The total amount of quilts have been modified from 35-21 quilts do to this and concerns about lack of sewing ability.

I have learnt that people in the community share our groups hesitation about where to donate their money (local or global charities) and that they are very willing to donate time/money. I was very surprised and elated that almost all people who listened to our mission to help the homeless opened their wallets to donate. I have to say that honestly I was doubtful that we could even come close to our $500 target. However, we were able to raise $320 in eight hours and so now are considering another two days fundraising in the bottom of LMX. Most, of the students who came by really gave me hope that as a community we can come together and initiate change.

With any group project there are challenges. Our social action project, Sewing Patches – Sowing Progress, was not an exception. During, the time we spent on the project I encountered a few personal challenges and the group as a whole encountered challenges. Upon, reflection these challenges allowed me to re-evaluate our plan and think of two things that I would do differently if I were to implement this type of project again.

Personal challenges encountered:

The challenges I encountered were mainly time constraints, overload of work, and interpersonal relations. During the initial phases of our group project we had made a number of group plans including: to make a blog, sew 5 quilts each (rectified to 3), and arranged a number of cutting block parties. However, I had agreed to sew the backs on all of the quilts as this was a skill that was too hard for the beginner sewers in my group. Due to schedule conflicts, not a lack of willingness on teammates part, we couldn’t get together so I could teach them. This was quite an overload when paired with some of the challenges the group had in finishing the quilts by deadlines, and faulty sewing machines. Also, due to deadline problems I received the quilts all at once so I was left backing them en masse. I also had to work on being assertive but not aggressive which, is sometimes a struggle, when I feel deadlines should be respected. This change in interpersonal relations was more challenging then the work load. Previously as a store manager it was just assumed that I was the leader. In that management position I was accustomed to following up, getting clarification, and ensuring deadlines were met but I felt like it wasn’t my place to do this in a group setting. All in all, all of the challenges were met successfully.

Group challenges encountered:

My group experienced three main problems which were: faulty sewing machines, getting the quilts done on time, and scheduling challenges. Bella’s, Courtney’s, and Ashley’s sewing machines had mechanical difficulties which slowed down their progress. This created a deficit in the amount of quilts made. Bella took over cutting for everyone, and I took over sewing her three quilts. We set deadlines for quilt completion however, they did not get met. This made a problem with the delivery of quilts to homeless persons in the Gatineau area. I believe the quilts would have been much more useful if they had been received late February.

Once, Ashley and Courtney, sorted out their sewing machines all the quilts were completed and handed over for backing at the same time which created an overload of quilts to be finished. Although group members offered to help backing the quilts, their personal schedules did not allow for a time that suited everyone. However, a last minute quilting time was arranged by some of the group members and the last of the quilts were finished.

Two things I would do differently

1) I would probably start this project sooner in the year so even with delays in quilt production they would still be able to be completed and distributed during the coldest time of the year. This would also allow for more time for teaching people all aspects of the quilting process thereby reducing the workload for one person.

2) I would see if there was a local sewing class or home economics class that could lend us their room of sewing machines occasionally. This may also get some students involved with our project making it more sustainable after we leave Ottawa.

Working collaboratively as group has enable us to get a wider variety of perspectives and ideas regarding how to approach this social action project. It was also much easier to come up with good ideas that were reasonable and specific. Although, you can come up with many ideas on your own, when you present them in a group forum they become everyone’s idea to expand upon or modify this allows for the ideas to become truly great. This occurred quite frequently with the team that I worked with. There were a lot of idea people in our group who could envision many different possible solutions to problems that we faced and together we were able to choose the best ones.

Also, working in a group has taught me a lot about the importance of recording in writing what is decided at group meetings. This will ensure that people don’t forget deadlines, and that they remember all of the tasks that were agreed upon. If things are in writing and possibly shared on a something like a blog, it ensures that people don’t feel like there is a lack of communication in the group. This also serves to keep people on task as there is a list of objectives that they can address.

While completing the project there were not that many objectives left to be completed other then quilt tops and sewing the backing on them. My personal contributions are as follows:

–  back the quilt tops made by group

–  contribute my piece for the newsletter

–  give Drombaya the money (through Brita-Bonnie)

This experience will definitely affect how I will approach group work in the future not only for myself but how I implement it in the classroom. For my personal involvement with group work I will ensure that every objective or task is written down and clearly assigned especially if the group will be working together for a long period of time. At the start of our project we had lists of tasks for everyone to complete and I believe is why things moved quickly at the beginning. Although, it could also be that there was more enthusiasm for the project at the beginning and this wore off towards the end. I would also ensure that if I was doing a project that involved sewing that more of the group members had sewing experience themselves.

I would also possibly utilize technology such as Skype video conferencing to ensure that people could attend meetings regardless of their busy schedules. This would also allow us to possibly have a scribe or secretary recording in Google docs as we went along. I find it a bit odd that although I use technology almost all the time in my daily life that I never thought to integrate it into my workings with the group. I think this is also what many teachers encounter in their daily pedagogical and curricular practices. It’s almost as if when we step into a situation where we previously experienced a particular way of doing things that we revert to those ways when we are in the situation in the future.

In the classroom, as a teacher I will try to ensure that I don’t forget how to use technology in the class, even though I had little experience with teachers using technology. I will also provide guidelines that require students to submit their meeting minutes as well as journal entries. Also, I would ensure that there was enough time to start and finish the project without dragging it out longer then needed. This may eliminate some of the diminished enthusiasm of group members as the project continues on. I will definitely incorporate group work especially social action groups into my future class.

Creating and implementing this project has been a meaningful experience for myself. I have never participated in a social action project before or a group project that was this involved. Although there have been some challenges from conception to completion, the experience of being a part of this project has been very rewarding. Through this project, I have learnt that the capacity for creativity of a group of people is great, adequate time is needed for a group to make a lasting change, people are generally willing to help, and that as a teacher who wishes to include a global perspective I must be weary of indoctrinating my students with a personal pedagogy. I believe each of these things will serve to better prepare me for my future role as an educator.

Group work can unleash an immense creative power. My experiences with working with this group of people has made me aware that not only are two heads better than one but that seven are even better than two. This ability for creativity and integrating many ideas into a single goal is one of the reasons I will most likely incorporate group work into my future pedagogical practice. Because, each person incorporates art as well as, ideas and concepts, as objects of their experience against the backdrop of their lived life (Greene, 1995), the difference in lived lives makes for a host of different perspectives through which to view problems and solutions. These different perspectives ensure that there is healthy ‘democratic’ debate which is a mark of democratic citizenship (Westheimer, 2005). If I were to include group work in my future class I would make sure that I include lessons on interpersonal skills prior to debates or consultations in order to avoid feelings getting hurt by rough words, and tactlessness.

Group work, specifically a social action project, needs enough time allotted for it’s completion in order for students to see some of the change that they are initiating occur and internalize what they are learning from the project. I felt like if we had more time we may have been able to involve more people from the community and somehow create a project that was ongoing. This would have been ideal because although we were able to take some of the clothes that Entraide Familial throw away on a regular basis we did not make even a dent in their total amount that reaches the landfills. If there was a project that was ongoing, it would do more for minimizing the amount of trash. I think what I learned about this really helped me develop a new understanding of the article by John Taylor (1995/1999). When I first read the article I understood it explicitly as I have lived on a reserve and seen or felt the divide that occurs between the non-Native nurses, doctors, and teachers and the Native community. I however, had never really felt like a non-Native person who used ‘a temporary station to achieve or begin to achieve personal goals’ (Taylor, 1995/1999). In this respect, our social action project was similar to the non-Native teachers on the reserve, we were focused on achieving our personal goals from a temporary position. Just as we were starting to build relationships with the community we had to out an end to our efforts.

Another thing I learned while working on the project is that people are willing to help. Prior to starting this social action project I had certain assumptions about how people would react to our project. I thought that people would not want to donate to our cause because they were possibly desensitized to charity as organizations are always asking for donations. This would be a prescriptive assumption or an assumption about what I think ought to be happening in a particular situation although negative (Brookfield, 1995). I was a bit pessimistic when I made the assumption that our fundraising efforts would not yield much success but fortunately I discovered quite the opposite was true. When we set up our booth in the University Center almost every person who stopped and listened to Courtney give them his spiel ended up donating. Not everyone stopped to listen and some behaved as I had expected but, many people did stop and donate. Even if they did not donate they gave us a brief moment of their time and then their verbal support. I hope to tell stories of this to my future class when they need motivation to continue acting.

I think the most important thing I learned while reflecting on the readings and our social action project, was that as a teacher who wants to incorporate global perspectives in my future pedagogical and curricula practices, I need to be very careful not to contribute to the narratives used to inhibit students’ creativity and cause them to lose motivation to act (Freire,1970/1990). Teaching with my own personal agenda in place could do more harm then good even though my intentions would be well placed. Unless I critically evaluate why and how I incorporate global perspectives into my pedagogical and curricula practice I am in danger of becoming a teacher who treats their students as empty vessels or clay to be molded into a specific form (Freire,1970/1990). I need to focus on developing students critical thinking skills and not censoring certain information from them that I deem inappropriate or not necessary (Stanley, 1999). Rather, it is my duty as a responsible global citizen to unmask the silences in our pedagogical and curricula practice that can lock in dangerous assumptions, such as racism (Stanley, 2009).

Over the duration of our social action project, Sewing Patches – Sowing Progress, I have learnt important things about group work and ideas of how to include it in my future classroom, it is okay to have some faith in humanity despite the dismal state of the world around us, and that any perspective even global ones can be used to oppress students’ creativity and freedom. Upon reflection of the readings and the outcomes of the social action project, I was able to more clearly understand the message of the readings. It gave me more understanding of what it was to be the odd person out using connections and relations for personal achievement (Taylor, 1995/1999). It also inspired me to think of any action of creation as art, even the creation of group project, through synthesizing different perspectives (Greene, 1995) and that any perspective no matter how lofty the intention can be used to oppress students’ creativity and freedom (Freire, 1970/1990). After, completing this social action project, I am more convinced then ever that I want to encourage group work and social action in my future personal pedagogy. Although, I am now very aware that I need to be even more critical of how and why I teach to avoid the oppression of my students’ creativity, and independence.


Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, pp. 1-27. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Freire, P. (1970/1990). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (Chapter 2, pp. 71-86). New York, New York: Continuum Press.

Greene, M. (1995). Art and Imagination, pp. 122-133. In Maxine Greene (Ed.), Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change. San Fransico, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.

Taylor, J. (1995/1999). Non-Native Teachers Teaching in Native Communities. In Marie Battiste (Ed.). First Nations Education: The Circle Unfolds, pp. 224-242. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Stanley, T. (1999). A letter to my children: Historical memory and the silences of childhood, (pp. 34-33). In Judith P. Robertson (Ed.), Teaching for a tolerant world, grades K-6: Essays and resources. Urbana, III.: National Council of Teachers of English.

Stanley, T. (2009). The Banality of Colonialism: Encountering Artifacts of Genocide and White Supremacy in Vancouver Today. In Shirley Steinberg (Ed.) Diversity and Multiculturalism, pp. 143-159. New York, New York: Peter Lang.

Westheimer, J. (2005). Schooling for Democracy. Our schools, Our Selves: The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 15(1), pp. 25-39.