Collage Arts answers Roj Women’s appeal by donating 8 sewing machines

In her blog, Anice Ossoulian visits the Roj Women’s Textiles Project to find out about their progress to date and celebrate the arrival of their new sewing machines…

Roj Women Association is a Haringey-based organisation which provides support to Kurdish and Turkish women and young girls living in the UK. It offers a range of support including career advice, advocacy, counselling, English language classes and support for victims of domestic violence. At Collage Arts we have been following their work for a number of years. One of their more recent programmes is the Roj Textile Project, where its members come together up to three times a week to learn garment-making and alteration.

I was fortunate enough to pay a visit to Roj’s textile studio housed in Collage Artspace 5. A vibrant room lined with industrial sewing machines and clothing racks- brought to life by its 10 students.  The women passed around a tin of sweet pastries as they paid close and keen attention to instructor Sakire, demonstrating the installation an invisible zip.

Serpil, project coordinator, tells us that the class is designed to teach women to sew and also offer a community hub for Kurdish women to build close connections and social confidence in a new cultural environment. Many of the students would like to attend a sewing course taught in English but do not yet feel confident to do so, hence learning in their native tongue is hugely encouraging. Whilst learning English is an essential tool and all are encouraged to take ESOL classes, Serpil tells me that many of her students are excited at the prospect of empowering themselves through this new, and potentially lucrative, skill.

The pandemic has certainly been counterproductive to anybody wishing to improve their language skills, indeed, even the most fluent and integrated Londoners have struggled with feelings of isolation. In spite of this, Roj has kept busy, with instructional videos sent to eager sewers.  They also provided  support to elderly members of the community and delivered care packages to over 100 struggling parents.

Having learned the hard way that an in-person studio may not always be available, the devoted sewing students have asked for extra resources to continue working from home. We are confident that our donation of eight sewing machines will come in handy for them!

I had the pleasure of talking to one new student. Like the majority of participants, Fatma joined the group as a total beginner. Over the span of three months since this year’s course began, her garment-making skills have improved significantly. As Fatma showed us her beautifully crafted dresses, baby rompers and button-up shirts, she explained her reasons for joining Roj Textile Project. Fatma told me she only really came to meet like-minded people who speak her language. But she was looking forward to learning a new skill. She concluded by saying she didn’t expect the experience to be so amazing! And she is very proud of her achievements.

She also confessed that the appeal for take-home sewing machines was her idea. As a parent she has responsibilities which mean she cannot attend the studio as often as she’d like. Fatma is dedicated to her newfound passion for garment-making and feels she has no time to waste!

As overseer of the programme, Serpil gave me an insight into her longer-term aspirations for Roj Textile Project. She believes employment is the ultimate outcome of taking the class and hopes to eventually offer work to its members. By becoming a textile collective, the group would accept jobs from clients and divide profit between members. For now, she is reaching out to local sewing workshops intending to share knowledge, find work and integrate into the wider community.

My short but warm visit to the Roj Textile Group studio was an affirming experience. Fatma and her fellow sewers strike me as very confident people and it was wonderful to see how significant an effect the Roj Textile Project has had on them! As we were leaving, one garment-maker bounded in, radiant as she had just been contacted by the university of her choice. “I want to study an MA in fashion and textiles!” she exclaimed… and flexed her biceps!

Thank you for our masks!

If you are interested in donating fabric, or if you are a fellow sewer wanting to contact the Roj Textile Project, please email  [email protected]

If you are an artist, maker or creative company with a studio in the Collage Artspaces and would like to be featured in my next blog, contact [email protected].