Sewing For Jobs: Spring 2023 Graduation!

On June 15th, we celebrated the graduates from all three levels of our Sewing For Jobs program! At EcoEquitable, we provide the lessons, but the students do the hardest work. Not only do they attend every class and finish the projects, but they also do this while also working full-/part-time, volunteering with us or in other spaces, and in some cases,  taking care of their children. We are so grateful to have seen the growth of each woman, whether that be in the sewing room, in their confidence, or on the runway!

At the ceremony, everyone was filled with admiration for the graduates' hard work. We heard emotional testimonies from students, instructors, and partners, and there were many moments of gratitude. Read on, Eco Enthusiasts, for more details on what the Sewing For Jobs program looks like, how the day went, and features from the ceremony's fashion show!


Our Sewing For Jobs program consists of three levels: Level 1 - Beginner, Level 2 - Intermediate, and Level 3 - Advanced. In each of these courses, the students work on multiple projects which are then displayed at their graduation. 

In Level 1 (Beginner), the students learn the basics of sewing, an gradually advance throughout the course by sewing small projects. This semester, they made: A hand sewn pouch with a flap and button closure,  a pin cushion, a reversible placemat,  a shoulder bag with coordinating fabric, a t-shirt and a flared skirt with a zipper and waistband. This course also promotes the soft skills of time-management, community building, language practice, and for many, shifting child care and home arrangements. 

                                        Items from our Level One class including three pin cushions of various floral/colourful patterns, two small cases of different colourful patterns, a large bag with a purple and blue colour scheme, and a red, foldedshirt.

When asked her thoughts on the past semester, the instructor for this level, Carroll Piotrkowski, had this to say:

"I am very proud of what my students accomplished this semester.  They came with little to no experience and learned to sew a variety of hand stitches, how to operate a sewing machine and a serger. They also learned about textiles, and commercial patterns and they built relationships with their fellow students.  Congratulations Level 1 students on a job well done!"

Level 2 (Intermediate) of our Sewing For Jobs program focuses on more professional garment construction and finishing techniques for a clean look. This semester, the students created: a shirt, a skirt, and a dress. Students are also introduced to home business habits to keep, meeting client expectations, and how to price their work.  

Level 3 is unique in that there are two versions that participants can choose from. Module 1 is Advanced Industrial Sewing/Apprenticeship and involves learning how to operate an industrial sewing machine, how to use different settings, and how to improve their working speed to have more opportunities for employment. Some projects they work on are creating a Chef's apron and a Zipper lined cosmetic pouch, among other things.

Module 2 is about Alterations. For this course, the students learned how to do complex techniques such as the French hem, how to make tailoring marks on trousers, how to replace a jeans pocket when they have rivets on their corners, and how to readjust alteration techniques for poorly made garments. They learned on sergers, industrial sewing machines, and regular sewing machines. 

Belkis Navas is our instructor for both Levels 2 and 3 of our Sewing For Jobs classes. When asked how she felt about the past semester, she said:

"I feel blessed to have the opportunity to teach these groups of women.  The most rewarding point for me is to see them at the start of every class with the thought of 'can I really do it?'  As we move through the semester I can see their smiles and the support they give one another to celebrate their daily success, to complete every project, and to model their own creations on our Fashion Show at the graduation day.  That’s priceless. I say to them this quote I read somewhere. 'So spread your wings and fly'."

Graduation Station! What did the day look like?

The ceremony opened with speeches by our Executive Director, Julia Hunter, as well as a member of our board, Charlene Elgee, and a representative of United Way, Christine Lauzon-Foley. Each of these women shared their pride and inspiration at seeing the students graduate after months of work.  

We then moved on to the fashion show! Each student picked some of their best work, and displayed it on the runway for all of our guests to admire. We had everything from t-shirts which were serged by beginner students, to intricately beaded gowns crafted by a student in our most advanced level. 

When the fashion show came to a close, the certificates were handed out to each of the graduating students. The acceptance of these came with big hugs, big thanks, and big laughs as supporters in the audience scrambled to take pictures of this moment for each fo the students. 

We were especially grateful for the opportunity to present our Program Coordinator, Carolina Niño, with a long-overdue certificate in Professional Sewing.

                              One of our teachers (Belkis) on the right. Our Boutique and Volunteer Coordinator (Carolina) in the middle. Our Executive Director (Julia) on the left. Belkis and Julia are presenting Carolina with her certificate.

                                                   Photo by: Kathleen Reichelt

We also got to hear from three students, one from each level of the program, about what their time at EcoEquitable has meant to them. The room was silent with listening ears, the quiet only interrupted by the occasional sniffle of emotion as we listened to the wisdom from each graduate.

"There will never be a perfect time to learn". Sara, a student from our Level 1 (Beginner) Course, said this during her speech, and this is the epitome of what the Sewing For Jobs program is all about. Our program is designed to accommodate for all circumstances. We have connections with childcare services so that parents with young children are able to attend classes. We also host Studio Drop-In days during the semesters so that students who do not have an ideal working space at home can come into the classroom for an extra period fo time every week. These are just some of the ways in which we accommodate, and we strive to ensure that, even though it may not be the perfect time to learn, each student will come out of the program with a positive experience, knowledge that they did not have before, and the confidence to start their new chapter in life. 

"EcoEquitable is a true safe space and place to make unexpected friendships and to gain skills to enter the workforce". From Level 2 (Intermediate), we heard from Selina, who also spoke to the accommodations that EcoEquitable provided for her, as well as the positive experience that she had in meeting so many new people. 

"The most valuable tools we leave with are the resources and contacts we've made here at Eco. This, more than anything else, will support us and any graduates to come in our development, and guarantee their continued success once they leave the cozy nest that is Eco, and fly into the larger creative community." From Level Three, Lorayne's words reflected the feeling that many of our graduates share, and that is that Eco has prepared them all very well for their professional futures. 

We took in the words of each graduate, admiring the strength it takes to speak in public, laughing at the classy quips, and yes, tearing up with pride and joy at how far each of them has come over the past semester. 

What items were shown off at the fashion show?

   One of our graduates, wearing a dress that she made and added pockets to!.           

                          One of our students stands in from of our purple "EcoEquitable" banner, wearing one of the dresses made for the fashion show!

One of our teachers, showing off a graduates' work.   One of our staff members, wearing a coat made by one of our graduates!

                                       The EcoEquitable community poses for a group picture at the graduation.

The above photos were taken by Kathleen Reichelt from United Way. These are just a few of the wonderful creations that we got to see that day, and we are definitely all wishing we could have them in our wardrobes! 

Thank you so much to everyone who came to the ceremony. We are incredibly excited to see where each of our graduates go with their newfound skills, and we are equally excited to meet and support future students!

Written by: A. B. Hart 

We also invite you to check out this article by United Way of Eastern Ontario that recaps the 2023 Graduation, "Walking the Runway to Success".

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