Help other sewists all around the world and charitable sewing

Life in the Cayman Islands at Christmas and helping others at this time of year with Kiva and charitable sewing

This post started out as a DIY holiday gift guide – sewing for gifts, but the more I typed, the more it kept changing.  Want to give a gift – consider some of these options including charitable sewing.

Here in the Cayman Islands we have to shop early for Christmas. We order online, wait weeks for international (outrageously priced) shipping, wait for our notice from the post office that a parcel has arrived, wait in line for 2 hours or more at customs only to be interrogated by a surly customs official, our parcels opened and closely inspected, and our invoice closely examined.  Only when they are satisfied do they produce an invoice for the parcel tax and customs duty (again outrageous), which we queue up again to pay and get it stamped.  Once we get our paid stamp, we queue up again to pick up our parcel.

That wait in line is not only tedious, it's heartbreaking.  So many people leave without their parcels,  some in tears.  The majority of the Cayman population is temporary, allowed to come to work here for a short time on a temporary work permit.  Away from home and their families, Christmas is always an emotional time, but when the customs lady tears open your carefully wrapped Christmas present from your mother right in front of you and then refuses to let you have it because you don't have an invoice for the contents or she considers the contents ‘too generous' to be a gift – it really is too much for many of the people in line, and they breakdown right there at the counter.

Christmas in the Cayman Islands

Cayman Christmas lights

Usually the contents have little value -a persons favorite cookies from their home country, their favorite tea-bags, some photos or a dvd with a hello from the family, maybe a small gift.  But nothing worth the anguish the customs dept mete-out on the islands usually happy residents.

Every year the Cayman customs service refuses and returns more than a thousand parcels.  Christmas gifts sent at great expense from families back home to their loved ones thousands of miles away and alone at Christmas.  But no invoice proving the cost of the item, and it gets returned to sender.

Christmas in the Cayman Islands

Not exactly cold here at Christmas !

So why am I telling you this story of postal horror.  Well, I've actually had a few readers write to me and ask if they can send me a Christmas gift!  I know – I was totally blown away at their thought and generosity.  It seems some readers have enjoyed the site during the year and enjoyed downloading and using the free sewing patterns and just wanted to say a little ‘thank you'.  I can't explain how those offers have made me feel!

However please don't put me through the horror of the customs dept.  I can't stand it – even for fabric!  Instead, if you wish to express your thanks and share at this time of year, can I make a suggestion.  Please give generously to others less fortunate than us.

Christmas in the Cayman Islands

Christmas Day on the beach with the cats – our annual tradition

Although I do make charitable donations, my favorite way to give at this time of year is actually not giving at all – I love to loan.  I am an enthusiastic member of Kiva, an organisation that puts people like you and me in touch with small borrowers all around the world who might not qualify for loans any other way, than through these special schemes.  These people aren't looking for charity, but a way to make an honest living for themselves and their families – and they need capital to set up or expand their business, buy stock or equipment or training.

Help out sewists all around the world with loans through Kiva to help them with their business.

So far this year, I have helped:

  • A lady in Tajikistan to purchase fabric in order to expand sewing business
  • A man in Nicaragua to buy cloth, thread, elastics, and buttons for his tailor shop.
  • A lady in Samoa to buy a new sewing machine and needles and thread.
  • A lady in Jordan to buy sewing materials such as fabric, beads, and silk.
  • A group of ladies in Pakistan to buy a new overlock machine for a sewing business and sewing materials.

Help out sewists all around the world with loans through Kiva to help them with their business.

As you can see, I like to support sewing related businesses.  But there are small hard-working entrepreneurs out there in every type of business and in every country that need your help.

Here are just a few areas you could help in:  Agriculture, Arts, Clothing, Construction, Education, Food, Health, Housing, Manufacturing, Retail, Services, Transportation, Wholesale – and lots more

And how would you feel about helping people get started in business in these parts of the world?

Help out sewists all around the world with loans through Kiva to help them with their business.

When you sign up to Kiva, they give you $25 to try out for your first loan.  You don't have to add any money to it, just try out your first loan for free to learn about the process.  But of course they ( and I ) hope that you will go on to make more loans to help out small business, community businesses and perhaps especially women in business, around the world.

Help sewists around the world (and other people too) with Kiva.


And then this got me to thinking.  What other ways could we use our sewing skills to help others and be both thankful and giving as the holidays approach.  I Googled ‘Charitable Sewing' and came up with these links, I'm sure you could find some others.

Charity Sewing Projects to Fill Community Needs

Sewing for Charity – Using Your Sewing, Knitting and Crocheting Skills to Help Others

Give Yourself The Gift of Giving: Sewing for charity

Sewing Charity List

Sewing for Charity – Pinterest board

Charitable Sewing & Craft Projects

So my DIY holiday gift guide turned out to be quite different in the end.  Yes, DIY handmade items – make gifts, but consider using your sewing skills for gifts outside of family and friends too.  Think of those charities that struggle at this time of year when people spend their money on Christmas Gifts instead of charitable donations.  Consider donating those unwanted items in your stash, or using your stash to create gifts that would be very gratefully received.

And if you really want to buy me a Christmas present, maybe you could buy one of my patterns from my Craftsy store and use that to make some handmade gifts – the Super Simple Wallet and the Boxy Bag would both be great to give as gifts to your girlfriends.

Visit Deby Coles's Craftsy Pattern Store »

Can you think of any other ways you can use your sewing skills for good?

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Mimi O

Very nice post. I had never heard of KIVA but will surf on over and have a look see…I like your idea of helping sewing entrepreneurs around the world!

Franni V
Franni V

Thank you so much for pointing us to the ladies in Tajikistan, mine was the last $25 before the loan was fully funded! Was glad to see I could fund it from Paypal, making it a secure way to donate too

Mandie Marie
Mandie Marie

That’s a great cause. I went to Cayman on vacation once, wonderful place and wonderful people. Can’t believe it is so hard to get a package!! Ridiculous! But the Christmas lights you pictured are gorgeous. I will sew for one of these organizations. There is one called Little Dresses for Africa I have made a dress for in the past.I sew all the time and 9/10 times, it’s a gift for someone or for a charity cause. It is nice to have a hobby that I can feed my need to sew but for a cause.

Mandie Marie
Mandie Marie

It’s really fun even on a local level. I just sewed some aprons for a church auction and it was fun to see how much they went for.


I’ve only been reading your blog for a few weeks, but really enjoy it. What a great idea to jund the ladies in Tajikistan with you readers. I’ll be clicking the link as soon as I finish my comment. Thank you for generously sharing your skills!


Hi Deby,
I have been enjoying your blog, tutorials and patterns and found this post to be very timely. I recently started working a few days/week and have an action item to make a list of Kiva projects I could fund with some of my paycheck. In support of you and this family, I’m going to make a loan today to these ladies in Tajikistan! Thanks for your blog and Happy Holidays to you.


Deb…I am so moved by your generosity in giving back to the less fortunate and your kindness in sharing your knowledge and projects with all of us. When I receive an e mail from your site, I can’t wait to read it. I am always impressed with your projects, the clarity of your explanations and your entertaining commentaries.Thanks for doing what you do.!

MammaNene (@mamma_nene)
MammaNene (@mamma_nene)

That’s a great post, Deby, you took the right decision!
(And you made me laugh -my apologize!- thinking of your postal office’s tales….when we say Cayman, we think everything is the best there and knowing that it’s not really all a dream makes me feel better -again, sorry!!!-)
MammaNene @ SergerPepper