Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tewassa - Handmade with love in Boston

10/24/15: Hello! If you've found this post after reading about it in a book, please note that this was written in 2012 and is no longer current with the group's activities and needs. Please don't send any quilt squares to Tewassa! Check out Tewassa's blog (this mainly cover's Boston's activities) or connect with one of the group's chapters – Boston, Massachusetts, Orlando, Florida and Japan – on Facebook for more information. Thanks!

My involvement with Tewassa was a happy accident. I first came across this volunteer organization at Boston's Haru Matsuri 2012 (Spring Festival) in April. Unfortunately, the festival was so crowded I couldn't bear to stay, so I snapped a picture, took a brochure, and told myself I'd look it up later.

Tewassa quilt at Boston Haru Matsuri 2012.

Weeks passed and I forgot to look it up. I even found the brochure amongst my stuff and recycled it without checking out their website. I'd purchased a fish-shaped rice paddle from the GrayMist booth and later, I found that they'd put a GrayMist brochure in my bag. I was surprised to discover that the studio is near my place and I've driven past it dozens of times. I decided I should stop in and check out the shop.

On my first visit, I bought a fish-shaped sponge for washing dishes. I noticed information about Tewassa, but didn't inquire. A few days later, a friend told me how much she loves the fish sponges (she brings them back when she goes home to Japan) so I went back to get another. It was a Saturday afternoon and they were working on adding hand-stitched embellishments to the quilt pictured above. They invited me to come back the following Saturday, but I had plans, so I stayed that day.

I was born in Japan, but moved to the U.S. as a toddler. Although I haven't been back to Japan in 26 years (when I was 10) and have only vague memories, I still feel a deep connection with my birth country. I was so sad for Japan after the Tohoku earthquake & tsunami and the subsequent nuclear disaster at Fukushima, but I had no idea what I could do. I didn't have any Japanese friends at the time and didn't know how to find local organizations that were helping. Google led me to a concert series. I made it to 2 out of 3, but since I'm self-conscious about the fact that I can't really carry on a conversation in Japanese, I didn't talk to anyone.

Tewassa, which means "handmade" in the Fukushima dialect, produces and delivers quilts to Japanese communities in the disaster-hit areas.  Since I joined Tewassa, the group has screened Fukushima 2011: Chronicles from the Heartland at MIT. Ours was only the second screening of this documentary in the U.S. We were joined by director Hidetaka Inazuka and the producer who did a Q&A in Japanese & English.  The film was quite grim and brought home the fact that there's still much more work to be done. People forget about disaster areas as time passes. Tewassa aims to keep people in the Boston area from forgetting about the people who still need help and support in Japan.

We recently completed the quilt pictured above and sent it off to Toyoma Elementary School in Iwaki with one of our members. There was a big send-off party at GrayMist complete with delicious yakitori and yaki onigiri compliments of Yakitori Zai!

We're currently working on several projects:

* We started cutting fabric for a Christmas tree quilt to which we'll attach hand-made ornaments.
* We'll be helping Brookline High School students who are working on a quilt that will be delivered to a Japanese high school in Minamisōma next spring.
* We're collecting squares for a quilt that we'll begin work on next spring which will be delivered to a school in Iwate, probably next fall.  We need 144 squares to make a quilt and at last count, we had around 60.

We also have a Tewassa group in Orlando, FL (Facebook) that is working on their own projects.

Our next public appearance will be at the Black Ships Festival in Newport, RI on July 21 and 22.

If you'd like to participate, please stop by GrayMist Studio & Shop in Huron Village in Cambridge, MA Saturdays between 4PM and 6PM. No experience is necessary - just a willingness to learn.
Many people who have never picked up a needle or operated a sewing machine before have worked on our quilts.  Children have helped with the sewing.  Even Boston's Consul General of Japan, Takeshi Hikihara, picked up a needle.

Meetings are generally conducted in Japanese which can be challenging for me since I can barely understand. Usually someone translates for me, but if not, I just soak in the Japanese and hope that something will rattle loose in my brain. We've had a few non-Japanese speakers join us on Saturday afternoons. Everyone in Tewassa can speak some English, so if you don't speak Japanese, that's okay!

If you're busy and just want to decorate a square for our next big quilt, you can stop by the shop any time and ask to decorate a square. If you happen to have fabric at home and want to use your own, squares should be 6" by 6" which includes a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  The decoration area is 5" by 5".  Monetary donations are always welcome, although we don't currently have non-profit status. We can also use quilting supplies if you're looking to destash & declutter the following supplies would be welcome:

* fabric
* marking pencils
* pins
* hand sewing needles
* thread: sewing, quilting, & embroidery
* beads
* fabric pens & paint

You can also help by spreading the word. If you run a business and have an area where you could put some of our brochures, please contact me at keiko dot in dot boston [at] gmail dot com. Domo arigato gozaimasu!

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