My aunt came over to our house one day to teach me to sew. We picked out a pattern for a simple jumper and a beautiful dark green corduroy fabric. She insisted that we should make a prototype out of cheap muslin for practice. I think this was to save the more expensive corduroy from being destroyed. We cut, measured, pinned and sewed to finally have a jumper that was passable as a piece of clothing. She handed me the pattern, corduroy and told me to give it a try. And with that she went home. All week I tried, cried, yelled, threw the fabric, threaded and rethreaded the machine. On the weekend my aunt came back and I tried on the severely misshapen corduroy jumper. She pointed out a few things that might have gone wrong, armhole facings to name one big snafu, and declared the best way to learn was to keep sewing. And with that my sewing lessons were complete. Not a method I would recommend. However my aunt did give me enough knowledge to create an appetite for making many of my own clothes through junior high and high school. I made more than I wore, and if you have ever attempted to sew you know exactly what I mean by that, and can truly appreciate those who are skilled dressmakers. A skill and title I do not even come close to.
The book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is set in Afghanistan during the past 15 years surrounding the rise of the Taliban rule. It gives a glimpse into the lives of the women who lived during the oppression of this era. The young women in the Sidiqi family are living lives with school, career and choices in front of them. In just a few short days in 1996 they are sequestered to their homes, banned from school, work, and restricted to public appearances only when accompanied by a male family member. The burqa, the head to toe fabric covering, was required for any travel outside the home. These young women were industrious, creative and immensely courageous. They learn to sew and develop a thriving dressmaker business and sewing school in spite of great personal danger.
As I recalled my experience with sewing and then contrasted it with theirs I developed great respect for these women. They have persevered under stress, oppression and danger. Their resourcefulness was not just self-serving but for the community as well. They looked beyond their own needs to give opportunities and hope for other women as well. My sewing never had a purpose greater than to increase my wardrobe. Kamila Jan and her sisters were thrown into difficult circumstances and found strength not only to survive but to look beyond themselves. They brought hope and courage to everyone around them. Including those who read their story. It is a story well worth reading for yourself.