SeaHope Partners and More: News from The Sewing Machine Project

Many of you enjoyed learning about The Sewing Machine Project from Linzee Kull McCray’s profile in our current issue of Stitch (page 9). Inspired to help tsunami victims in Thailand in 2005, founder Margaret Jankowski began to solicit donated sewing machines to send overseas. After Hurricane Katrina, Margaret also began to work closely with stricken people in the New Orleans community, where she’s distributed more than 650 machines to date. Sewing machines help people to reconstruct their lives, to be creative, and to begin again, and the response to the project has been tremendous.



SeaHope Partners logo and sample messenger bags made from recycled sails.


We thought we’d give Margaret a call and get an update on The Sewing Machine Project, and find out what’s new and how Stitch readers can help. “The project keeps growing, and growing so beautifully,” she says, “and we have a lot of new things going on.” She wasn’t kidding, as you’ll see!

While still taking machines to New Orleans and working closely with community centers and other groups to distribute them efficiently among those most in need, Margaret is also helping those whose lives have been disrupted by this year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with a new initiative called Seahope Partners. (Seahope Partners will have its own brand-new website in just a week or so at, and has a Facebook page here). While visiting the region, Margaret saw that sewing machines weren’t quite what the people there needed most. “Creating a fund was a better choice in that situation,” she says–and yes, the impact of the oil spill is still serious and ongoing for the community. 

Seahope Partners was formed. “We’re creating messenger-style bags made of donated, recycled sails from sailboats,” Margaret says (see photo at left). “We’re going to sell a line of bags to raise funds for the Gulf.” A contract sewer in Madison is making the initial bags, but Margaret will eventually transfer manufacturing to Louisiana to create jobs.



Margaret (at left) and Agnes, a young woman who won a sewing machine that Margaret took on her visit to Enchanted Makeovers headquarters in New Jersey.

There’s more! SeaHope Partners will be selling some unusual, high-end, one-of-a-kind bags crafted by artisans. These bags will be showcased in a gallery on the new website. “I have a Mardi Gras Indian queen doing a beaded bag, and another with voodoo dolls!” Margaret says. “They’re totally one of a kind.” (Designers, if you’re interested in designing a bag, contact Margaret here–let her know you’re a Stitch reader).

Margaret’s second new project, still in the works, is a joint effort with Enchanted Makeovers to create sewing areas with sewing machines in women’s shelters and homeless shelters, along with a network of instructors to help teach the women how to sew. “We’ll have an official kickoff for this project in 2011,” Margaret says.

And Margaret is still working with people in need overseas. To help make the most of the organization’s resources, Margaret is talking with her board about working with selected groups in different countries to supply machines and education, all with the intent of helping women become self-sufficient. “This project strikes a chord with so many people, and sewing is such a global art–people from all over the world have been contacting me and saying that they need sewing machines,” she says. 


Margaret (center) with her friend Steffani (left) and Margaret Burlew (right) in Houma, Louisiana, last August, working on a prototype for the SeaHope bags.


Are you moved by what one woman has done with her love of sewing and her wish to help others? Inspired to contribute? Margaret says that the biggest need right now is financial help, and even small amounts can make a big difference. If you have a sewing machine to donate, it’s welcome and wanted; please consider including a small donation to help cover the cost of getting the machine where it needs to go. Fabric and notions are also welcome, but fabric cuts should be at least a half-yard, appropriate for warm weather, and clean and in good shape (no scraps!). Read the guidelines for donating fabric and notions here.

We were also thrilled to learn that Margaret is a Stitch reader–but we needed no convincing that Stitch readers are the very best people around. If you know of other ways that sewists are helping their communities, please let us know; we always love to hear from you.

Happy sewing!

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