Common Threads of Maine

Visiting a new learning center in an old mill

Maine Fiberarts visited Common Threads of Maine in Westbrook just before the pandemic caused businesses to shut down. A huge room in an old mill had been renovated to include clean wooden floors, banks of windows, Juki sewing machines, cutting tables, sergers and classroom areas.

Dory Ann Waxman, the previous owner of both Old Port Wool and Textile Company and Casco Bay Wool Works, has started an enterprise teaching sewing skills to men and women from the greater Portland community. 

According to their website, 

“Since 2015, nearly 80 students at Common Threads of Maine have learned to become skilled industrial stitchers; we have placed 85 percent in good paying jobs with benefits at the workplaces of our employer partners; all have earned new confidence, workplace skills and improved English and math skills.”

The group holds three to four 10-week classes per year teaching industrial sewing skills. These include: pattern reading, making and cutting; learning to sew using a wide range of fabrics; how to utilize seven different kinds of sewing machines; piece work; blanket construction; accessory construction; and clothing construction, including: aprons, button down shirts, dresses, skirts, jackets, vests, and duck coats.

Students come from Maine and from a wide variety of foreign countries: Afghanistan, Somali, Pakistan, and others. Students are encouraged to write their goals on a “dream board” and to work to make those dreams happen. Several of the students go on to work for American Roots Wear, LLC, a manufacturing facility in the building owned and operated by Dory’s son, as well as a number of other manufacturers and companies.

The school has several goals to work towards in the future. One of them is creating incubator spaces for new textile entrepreneurs building their product lines. With Waxman’s years of experience and knowledge, many new garment lines and sewists are sure to emerge.

—Photos by Christine Macchi

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