Case Study

Making It

making it

Over a period of 18 months from 2022, a series of ‘Making It’ courses have attracted over 60 participants from the communities of North Kirklees to develop their sewing skills to a professional level. Funded through Levelling Up and part of the WOVEN festival, these courses are aimed at uncovering the often-hidden skills within the community, and supporting women to develop their skills to take up employment.

This programme was as much a learning journey for all the delivery partners and it was for the women taking part. Courses were run across a number of venues and each course was very responsive to the needs of the women taking part. All courses aim  to: 

  • Develop participant confidence in sewing, 
  • Build community through bringing people together to learn 
  • Enhance social confidence and skills in order to support participants into employment 

We found out through evaluation that the unexpected outcomes have been: 

  • Tackling social isolation 
  • Enhancing wellbeing 
  • Opportunity to take time out of family and community commitments to do something for themselves

“I have found a new love for sewing… I find the teaching so clever, supportive and advanced.”

At each venue, the women attending have benefited from expert tutoring and guidance. Across the venues we worked at different levels of confidence and skills.

Pentland Well-being Centre
Working with community tutors Iqra and Kaniz, we were able to find out if there was an appetite in the community for sewing sessions that would help develop employment skills. This course was very much an introduction and to get started engaging in the community. 

Iqra and Kaniz guided participants through basic sewing and pattern measurement skills, to ultimately create a Shalwar Kameez. 

Many of the participants enhanced their work by applying embroidery designs to their garments. 

Ravensthorpe Community Centre
Working with tutor Emma Brackenbury participants were able to progress skills into making tote bags and skirts along with having the opportunity to use an  industrial machine from The Textile Centre of Excellence. 

“I learnt lots and it helped boost my confidence.” 

“I enjoyed learning something new – making zip pockets”

The Textile Centre of Excellence
A programme for those who felt confident to learn from the start in a fully equipped industrial workshop. Experienced tutor, Christine Robertson, taught skills at a pace. Each step was modelled, guided and garment making was overseen to a high standard.

In both Ravensthorpe and Textile Centre of Excellence participants were supported by the expert guidance of a tutor who demanded excellence and precision – ensuring standards that would be acceptable in a workplace, beyond those that perhaps are the norm when sewing at home. 

Excellence was demanded at every stage and the  participants have left with a range of quality products that they have themselves created.

The courses have evolved over time, taking into account the needs and interests of different groups and identified lines of employment. 

The latest course has run at Bretton Street Enterprise Centre, a Kirklees Council building comprising different units for hire, one of which is a fully kitted out sewing workshop. This has proved an immensely popular venue, being right in the heart of the community. 

Hamida Patel, a very experienced tutor, taught the participants through her highly inclusive approach, ‘quality’ is definitely a key word here at every point of learning.  The participants learnt the same key skills as on the other courses, but the course content varied slightly from the others, taking into account local employment opportunities and the work that the women were interested in taking on themselves, for example sewing cushion covers was introduced as there was an employment opportunity. 

However, normal shifts and working patterns within manufacturing do not suit all. Family commitments and length of commute has meant that some of the women have preferred to explore alternative options and are looking into setting up as self employed or as a collective.

“I knew how to sew generally.  I used to make my own clothing. Not to professional standards, but good enough… I had lost confidence in sewing….By the end of the first session, I was so motivated to get back into sewing, I dusted my machine off .. I have added pockets to all my favourite dresses, made myself a lovely bag and sewn a few outfits for a friend.”

A number of women are building on the more informal sewing they did previously and are sewing for friends and family within the community. The course content, therefore, began to reflect  this too, bringing in the construction of a shalwar kameez again, how to make alterations, add embellishments and most importantly the beginnings of pattern design and cutting. 

During the project Kirklees Year of Music 23 HERD  was taking place and a few of the women were able to make headscarves for the performers taking part in a major music and dance event in the centre of Huddersfield.  

As part of the courses we worked with Kirklees ‘Works Better’ to run sessions on access to employment, health and safety in the workplace and employment rights preparing the women for jobs with industry employers. 

All courses have been successful in developing  confidence and skills to the extent that several women have taken up employment with local textiles employers, some have gone down self-employment routes and a group of six women are currently working with Kirklees Business Start-Up Gateway Manager in the process of starting up a sewing collaborative business.

“The support and guidance has boosted my confidence… and stopped me from being lonely and unproductive.  Thank you so much for the opportunity.”

The classes have also had spin off benefits other than those originally anticipated. The social aspect of these courses is obvious. The women find this important and the atmosphere in each class has been one of welcome and acceptance. They offer nurturing support for each other as they discover new skills and consider how and where they would like to use them in the future.

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