Teaching the World to Sew

December 18, 2014

Lord of Life, Tabernacle

In 2009, Penny Miller, a member of Lord of Life in Tabernacle and a registered nurse, went with a 25-

person medical team to Haiti, providing medical support.  The need was enormous, both for medical supplies and for basic personal and household items.  But Penny noticed that the women were reluctant to pick up pants, and after inquiring, learned that Christian women there wear skirts. This one conversation has guided Penny and a host of other people and communities  to create the Penny Miller Sewing Academy.

Penny, who counts sewing as one of her passions, came home from this trip and turned to her church home, Lord of Life Lutheran in Tabernacle.  After talking about the need that she witnessed, a group gathered and began to make skirts to send with Penny on her next trip to Haiti, culminating in 185 skirts.  In March 2010, following the devastating earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions, Penny  brought the skirts to the Hope Alive Clinic, and they were gone in no time.  It became apparent to Penny that a more long-term and permanent solution was needed, and she began looking for ways to train people to make skirts and other necessary items. She was able to recruit three people and providetraining, sewing machines, fabric, thread, and allthe needed equipment.  After their training, two of the recruits started their own businesses, while the third was interested in more schooling.  Penny offered to pay for that schooling on the condition she would come back and teach the next group  how to sew. So, after another year of studies, a class of 13 young women gathered and spent several months learning how to make skirts, schoolbags, children’s dresses, backpacks, baby slings, and a host of other items. The sewing academy was born!

After the school had been created, other challenges arose.  Sewing machines had to be pedal-driven, due to unreliable electricity around the country.  After speaking with her accountant, Scott McClean, about this problem, Penny was surprised to find a large box on her front porch containing a sewing machine.  Scott was connected to a man named Benny who repaired old sewing machines, and who promised to get her twelve a year, which Scott  offered to pay for. Donations came in from people at Lord of Life for thread, fabric, zippers, buttons and needles.  Fundraisers were held to help defer the $5000 a year that this ministry cost, with Penny’s employer paying for the rental of the building that the academy uses. In March of 2015, the 4th class of the Penny Miller Sewing Academy (named for her by its students) will graduate with their own sewing machine, sewing kit including scissors, needles, and all the needed equipment for their future work.

Throughout all of this, Penny points continually to the amazing way that God has been pushing her along: providing answers in difficult times and helping things to fall into place.  She has been supported by Lord of Life Lutheran, as well as the multitude of people from her life that have supported her in this ministry.  And Penny’s hope is that this ministry continues.  She is seeking out

ways to make it more self-sufficient, as well as expand to teach shoe-making, woodworking, and making windows and screens.

This is the story of how God moves and works, bringing people together and guided by “God’s hand that is moving in this”, says Penny. It has brought together an entire group of people from many different places and faith communities over a conversation and an idea that seeks to support and shape a community of people in need.

If you are interested in supporting the sewing academy, please contact Penny Miller at driven2sew@hotmail.com.  Financial donations, as well as gifts of fabric, zippers, thread, needles, and sewing machines are needed.  To make a sewing equipment kit, gather together these items:

large scissors, small scissors, sewing needles, straight pins, pin cushion, tape measure, 6″ ruler, thimble, snaps, hooks

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