Sewing my Own Clothes got me a $1,000 Sympathy Cheque!

Nini Mappo
Posted September 9, 2020 from Kenya
Multi-purpose self made dress, 2014
First ever dress I made, in 2011 (1/3)


Since we are all sharing our crafts to engage or connect or  entertain or be inspired, I thought I would share this humorous story. Before I had children, I had time to play around with a sewing machine.  I had also received plenty of free fabric from my grandmother-in-law, while cleaning up stock from her seamstress days. 

I was determined to succeed, because I had just moved to Australia, and still converting all prices from $$ back to Kenya shillings, which made everything look EXTREMELY expensive. Still a villager, and therefore still frugal, I was not going to buy any off-the-peg dresses for Thousands of Kenya shillings equivalent. I would try sewing my own clothes.

Skills gained from home economics lessons, and from playing assistant seamstress to my older sister during school holidays came in handy, and, after much frustration, I produced my first dress and wore it to a wedding.

For the life of me, whenever I try to follow a pattern, my project flops. Plenty of wasted fabric, time and more frustration later, I decided to stick to designs that spring from my imagination. This creative licence to have such a wardrobe as I may please comes with a great advantage, or disadvantage: unique designs and vibrant colours that stand out in a crowd.

Many conversations at dress up occasions, such as weddings or parties for example, have erupted around my dress (or my hair). It is not that I am ultra- creative, but that there are not as many 'villagers' in my circles, making meeting one an education, or a novelty. If people are just curious, I let them. Curiosity is a prerequisite to learning, but I digress. Back to my dresses.

During a friend's wedding two years ago, I wore such self made dress that sparked conversation (it's not in the pictures). While the girls marvelled at a girl who can make her own clothes with two babies at her hem, a job of sorts and a home to keep, a  friend of my husband's overheard the chatter and excitement and was quite horrified that I made my own clothes.

He later texted my husband, reproaching him for not 'taking better care of his wife'. According to him, it was a husband's job (and pride) to ensure that his wife is well dressed, including allocating enough 'wardrobe budget' in the family finances.

You know of course, about women and their clothes, accessories, make up. This man seemed to understand what women try to do: look beautiful without striving too much for it. It seemed to him that sewing my own clothes was striving. And my husband just let me strive! It made him uncomfortable.

There was a time, in the distant past, when I might have agreed with him. Agreed with a man, who viewed my creativity as my husband's neglect. 

This friend proceeded to send my husband a cheque of $1,000 in Aussie dollars 'to buy clothes for his wife'. $1,000! To dress another man's wife. Perhaps some men may do that, but not in my Africa. If you try that in my village at least, well, I'd need to write an essay to explain all the likely scenarios that might follow such a gesture. 

Did love to him,look like expensive clothes? Did it look like a carefree wife who did not need to strive? Did his proposing I buy boutique clothes make him superficial? He's a neat guy, perhaps that says something of his preference. But I don't know him well enough to comment.

I only know I am a villager, concerned more about the durability of my pot than the looks of it. And if it's durable, I know how to make the pot beautiful.  

Perhaps that is why he misunderstood me. You see, for me, love looked like free weekends while my husband minded the children, cooked dinners and kept house, so that I could mess up with fabric, for the joy of it.

Time and freedom to sew reminds me that I am not in the village, tethered to gender roles and  crushed under their weight without any help. It tells me that a hobby is not wasting time, even when it does not serve or enrich anyone else in my family. (Hand over my mouth: 'What would my mother say?')

How then, could one who did not know me, know how I wished to be loved? How I was loved?  

He only reached out with what he believed love to be, and although the situation might have called for awkwardness, we were awed by his commitment to teach his friend to love. This shone through his rare generosity. 

When a man has enough courage to send another man unsolicited money for his wife's 'coverings', you do not laugh at such gallantry. You do not resent his audacity. Maturity means you interpret such gestures as well meant friendly care, express sincere thanks and keep living, because friends are too valuable to flick off over how one dresses, or does not dress, his wife. 

We did. And we laughed. And we felt sorry for our friend while admiring his resoluteness at the same time. We are friends, still.

And no. I did not buy a thousand-dollar dress. I bought a $6 fabric from a thrifty store for more craft, and to remember. We gave away the rest of the money, as it did not seem right to keep it, and not buy dresses. 

Maybe that was one of a kind courage, although I am still looking out for any 'sympathy' from other courageous friends my husband might have ha ha:) This episode still tickles me.

You may not receive as heavy sympathy for your art as I did for mine, but craft on anyway. See life take form through your fingers. That too, is love.


This story was submitted in response to From Poetry to Paintings .

Comments 16

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Sep 09
Sep 09

" See life take form through your fingers. That too, is love."

Wow. Well said. Bravery indeed is to be admired, and on very rare occassions like the one you describe, one gets a chance to look, through an experience, into the minds and somewhat the hearts of other humans persons. I find that it can be edifying, if we allow it the opportunity to be.

Thank you for sharing this story. Reading it, I am reminded that as a humans person, one is challenged on the daily to at least attepmt, to see things through the lens of other humans persons.

On another note, I am reminded of moments when I was younger, conversations with my mom about what it means to be beautiful, " the thing takes the shape of its heart, be the heart"

P.S I love those dresses in the pics, I wish I was just a quarter as talented. : )

Nini Mappo
Sep 10
Sep 10

Hello dear Prozoe,
This whole episode reminds me of my favourite quote by Dr Heidi Baker: "Love looks like something."
And what it looks like to one person may not be what it looks like to another. Flexibility allows us to connect with what communicates love to others, and honour that, even if it does not feel like loving, especially if it is the opposite of what love looks like to us. So you are right, looking at love through another person's eyes can be edifying instead of awkward, depending on the stability of our identity to respond and not react.

I like that quite from your mum. It reminds me of another quote by Heidi Baker (haha today is Heidi Baker day). "You can only have influence over what you love."

Thank you for the compliments. I wouldn't say I am talented though, because I can't really sew for someone else, or translate my designs to patterns that I can share. I just try, I have had many, many fails. But in the midst of those fails, there are some successes. That's why I call it messing around with fabric!
You won't know how much skill you have until like me, you try ;) (hint hint ha ha)

Love and hugs.

Sep 10
Sep 10

Heidi Baker day ha, let the Woman have her day!!! ( he he he)

Indeed "depending on the stability of our identity to respond and not react."

That is another part of your story that is amazing, the fact that you know yourself and that your husband knows you and he knows how to love you. The fact that you are that woman whose pot the quality of, comes before all else. It is a beautiful thing and a powerful thing to know yourself and also your heart.

It reminds me of a quote by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, from her book, The Call: she says "Hold tenderly who you are, and let a deeper knowing colour the shape of your humanness. To truly know one makes understanding human nature less complicated, and highlights that the upside of offence, is an education.

Nini dear you have accomplished with a needle what I do in my dreams, best believe that that speaks volumes to your talent in comparison to mine. I am surely planning on taking on some more creative past times this year.

Once again, thanks for sharing and thanks for bringing Heidi go the party. She sure deserved the day (he he he)


Hello, Nini love,

Wow! You're a great writer, a poet, a teacher, and a fashion designer, too! You keep surprising us with your creativity, dear. I love that masterpiece in your photos. I've been planning to learn to sew dresses. I've been putting it off for my children's safety. A short story: when I was four years old, my thumb got stuck on the sewing machine's needle. I wanted to learn to sew at that age, however, that incident caused my mother to prohibit me from touching the sewing machine since then. LOL. But thanks for the inspiration, dear!

I love how you "sew" the connection of your creativity to the concept of love. Allowing you to have time to create and design your dress while your husband takes care of the kids and chores are definitely acts of love; more priceless than $1,000. I'm happy you married a man who loves you and allows you to bloom into the best version of you.

Thank you for this sharing this lovely post, although I'm certainly looking forward to reading what a gesture of giving cash to another man's wife means in Africa. Keep writing, Nini!

Nini Mappo
Sep 10
Sep 10

Thank you lovely Karen. You always cheer me on.
I'm just a villager he hee, where you can be everything except a tech hacker! Kneedle in a finger oouuch!! Mummy isn't watching now, you can give it another go ha ha.

Thank you for acknowledging my husband, yes he helps me bloom, even reminds me to write when I get sidetracked doing other things. As one who was taught that everything was up to me as wife and mother, service is priceless, and may be it is my love language, and I'll take that before I do a thousand dollars!

Oh dear, I wasn't planning on writing that post on what might happen if a man suggests to another man that he's not looking after his wife....mmhh.. But I look forward to seeing the first garment you sew!

Maybe you were like Moses when you were 4, too early on the right job. And now, you are being recommissioned for the task at the right time!

Hello, Nini Love,

Awww. That's nice to know. I can definitely say the same thing about you, dear. You're so proud of your roots as a villager. Makes me want to visit your village one day. Or better yet, paint us a story in your memoir, dear.

You're blessed to be with such a man. My husband reminds me when I get defocused. Wow, your love language is acts of service. My top two are words of affirmation and quality time.

Haha. Ok. I'll be curious for a lifetime then. Yes, thank you for the encouragement. I would like to learn to sew really.

Ohhh. You mentioned Moses here, too. Haha. I'm listening, dear. Thanks again! Have a great week ahead!

Sep 10
Sep 10

bonjour Nini!! quel émouvante femme vous êtes. vous savez donner de la valeur à l'amour et vous faites tout pour votre épanouissement. c'est merveilleux. merci de nous avoir partager votre histoire qui va aussi nous inspirer.
hâte de vous lire, à très bientôt.

Nini Mappo
Sep 10
Sep 10

Bonjour à nouveau Neema. Merci pour votre message. Oui, l'amour l'emporte sur tout, et si on le cherche, on le trouve toujours même au milieu des critiques.
Oui pour continuer le train de l'inspiration.
Restez brillant :)

Sep 10
Sep 10

Hi Nini,
I enjoyed laughing when I read your piece. Well-written as usual. So kind, generous and thoughtful of him. ..your hubby's friend was only being his brother's keeper. That is African too, although he isn't African. :) Hence, I can only dream I bump into his good self someday to enjoy some of the windfall too.

Anyway, big thanks to your hubby for taking such good care of you such that you have time to enjoy your hobby. We should always create time for our crafts. I think it truly helps us to rejuvenate.

Keep writing, Sis.

Love and hugs,
E. J.

Nini Mappo
Sep 22
Sep 22

Hello E.J.,
I am glad that you got a laugh out of this one. Yes I am sure he didn't want his friend's wife complaining that she didn't have clothes hah. And yes, my husband is definitely not a village husband; I am thankful.

Tamarack Verrall
Sep 13
Sep 13

Hi Nini,
This really made me laugh, too. Your creations are beautiful. I thought I was going to read that you had won a big prize! I love how both you and your husband handled it, and that you are all still friends.

Sep 16
Sep 16

interesting, courage go ahead my sister. Truly empowerment is a good thing for women, great

Nini Mappo
Sep 22
Sep 22

Thank you dear Tam. I am glad the story tickled you :) Maybe one day I can win a prize for a grand design, although that is unlikely. I like sympathy 'prize' better though, because it came and found me without my going in search of it.
Thank you for the complements, we understood that no slight was meant, and our friend was only trying to be as helpful as he knew how.

J Brenda Lanyero
Sep 16
Sep 16

Hello Nini.
I love every bit of this story, more so the love inter-twined in it. This kind of love brings such courage that nobody can challenge it. I call it stubborn love as it makes you do the same thing over and over but then getting better and better every time we get back to it.

I love how you do not waste resources as well as the love you spread through giving.

Go girl and keep getting better at what you do. I want to learn how to sew too such that I can make my own clothes.

Nini Mappo
Sep 22
Sep 22

Hello J Brenda,
Thank you for the insights into my story. Yes I didn't want to be defeated by fabric, so you can say it was a stubborn love!
And yes, I am madam DIY parse. I tell my husband that if you can buy it at the shops you can probably make it at home, and it is great to have time and freedom to create things.
As for giving "to whim is given much, much is expected". I give to acknowledge that I have received, and to anticipate that I will receive more so that I can continue to give. Learning to give set me free from 'poor thinking', and from hoarding too haha.
All the best when you start to learn to sew :)

Oct 05
Oct 05

Oh what a beautiful story to read, it kept me giggling all through.

This reminds me of a book I once read about love languages .
While some find service as a love gesture , some loves gifts and some love when their loved ones gives them time and attention.
Your husband taking care of the children and doing other chores while you attend to your creative side is also a great act of love .
More grace dear sister Nini .
Lot of love