Salvation Army sewing classes teach a new skill, one stitch at a time

By Hugo Bravo

Years before she hosted her first sewing class, Major Claudia Germain, Chaplain at The Salvation Army Briarwood Family Residence in Briarwood, NY, was learning to sew from her mother in their home country of Antigua. Major Claudia’s mother was an experienced seamstress that made clothing for all her children and worked for a store that sold handmade outfits to tourists of the island.

“She always said that one day, I would be thanking her for teaching me how to sew, and I’ve been thanking her ever since,” says Major Claudia.

Major Claudia first brought sewing to The Salvation Army in Massachusetts. During a three-week summer program, she taught children basic sewing and crocheting. But before Major Claudia could introduce an adult sewing program, (something that the parents had long requested), she was transferred to serve in New York. There, she was able to finally teach sewing to adults.

“I remember that one of the women who attended asked if I could teach how to make curtains. She said that every time her and the other women went to women ministries at a Salvation Army camp, the windows had no curtains. They were putting up sheets so the bright sun wouldn’t shine in their face while they were trying to sleep.”

Though she is no longer serving in Astoria, Major Claudia returned last fall to host sewing classes on Thursday morning at the corps. Most of her students are immigrant women from Latin America who do not speak English. Major Claudia, who does not speak Spanish, uses a translator to show them how to hem pants, fix buttons, and even make their own curtains, tote bags, and baby clothes, by hand or by sewing machine.

When the local press wanted to cover Major Claudia’s sewing class, she was wary of being the center of attention. Sewing, says Major Claudia, is done behind the scenes, which is how she also likes to work.

“I do things from the heart, and I’m not very in your face about it. But when the reporter came to do the story, she asked me if I could teach her how to sew a button. She didn’t have a machine at home, so I taught her how to do it by hand,” remembers Major Claudia.

Days later, the reporter came back to the class, asking to learn how to do it with the sewing machine; seeing Major Claudia and her class had inspired her to buy a sewing machine of her own.

“A skill like this is needed again. Young people used to be taught how to fix buttons or rips in their clothes. Now tailors and laundromats charge so much for something you can fix yourself for almost nothing. Everyone can save money by learning how to do this themselves,” says Major Claudia.