BY JELANI GRANT
Toronto fashion designers Lorena Santin-Andrade and Sonja Fijn gave fourteen young girls, aged twelve and thirteen, in the Jane and Finch area an opportunity to learn post-graduate level textile design skills.
After working alongside social worker Janice Morrison back in January and receiving a grant from the Ontario Art Council, Santin-Andrade and Fijn managed to fit in with the already scheduled free kids program at Oakdale Community Centre, offering lessons in sustainable textile making.
Despite distractions, such as teaching in a hot room, loud music being played in the room next door, a potential work to rule strike, staff changes and limited time to organize, the more than thirty-year fashion veterans taught the young ladies knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidering, macramé, knotting, machine knitting and felting, focusing one-on-one with each girl in the class. “Many times they did get discouraged, but we focused on each of them one on one…in school maybe they can’t keep up, but that doesn’t happen in this class,” said Santin-Andrade.
Growing up in the area Santin-Andrade said she felt it was necessary to focus on the Jane and Finch area given the economical and social challenges associated with this community. “We wanted to provide an advantage to the youth here which does not exist elsewhere in the city.”
She says all of these crafts are becoming dying arts despite being something practical that can be utilized everyday to fix torn material. “Textile art is a dying art form,” she said, “I find that we’re losing it with the production of ‘Made in China’ products and disposable clothing. Even though its taught at the university level its not taught to the youth.”
On Aug. 29th, a fashion show was held in the afternoon at Oakdale Community Centre to demonstrate how much the girls learned and what they designed themselves. Though the fashion show was during work hours, some parents were in attendance and expressed to Santin-Andrade their appreciation. She said one mother told her how proud she was of her daughter’s work and how she didn’t embrace crocheting until attending the class. Being able to showcase their hard work “Really empowered them with knowledge, confidence, self esteem and pride,” said Santin Andrade. “The ones that were initially hesitant loved the idea of having to make ten pieces to keep for themselves.”
After the fashion show, each girl was given her own personal kit, which included wood yarns, crochet hooks, and knitting needles with some getting embroidery kits. Each bag had the message ‘This bag holds inspiration and creative ideas in the making’ on it, with their name.
Though the Sustainable Textile Art program has concluded for the summer, Santin-Andrade intends to apply for more grants and continue the program into next year in the same area. “We feel this area could be the perfect location because there was a large group of kids who didn’t get the chance to participate.”
Listed as #24 on Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, neighbourhoods falling below the neighbourhood equity score, an arts program targeting the youth in the Jane and Finch area can only prove beneficial to the community’s overall unification and improvement.