On Saturday afternoon the women of Red Tent Gwynedd (a monthly public woman’s gathering centred around women’s empowerment, honouring menstruation and the environment in Wales UK) gathered for their very first ‘Eco Femme make your own pad’ stitching workshop.
Before the event the women took some time to read a little about the kits, the pad for pad scheme, and making re-usable pads in the larger context of the environment. One woman wrote “I am already feeling connected to other women just thinking about such an important step in creating this circle of pads.” I felt exactly same; the feeling of unity and harmony in knowing that similar groups and workshops are taking place all over the world.
As we gathered around in our sewing circle and opened up the kits, I noticed that every woman was smiling as she commented on the fabrics and the colours, the cycle chart, and the clarity of the instructions. For a while we took our time familiarizing ourselves with all the bits and then we started to create, joking that we would ‘stitch ‘til we drop’.
It was a lovely peaceful afternoon and we spoke of many things; inevitably we discussed the impact of disposable pads on the environment, and that by using cloth pads women (collectively) could cut down on millions of tons of needless waste. We felt very aware that the ‘birthing’ of the new pad in our hands represented at least 75 disposable pads (probably many more) from being used and discarded.
We touched on whether cloth pad sewing workshops could work as part of the curriculum for UK secondary school girls (why not?), and wondered how the modern young woman at menarche age really feels about her menstruation ‘these days’. Whether she would happily carry clean or used cloth pads in her school bag (cloth pads look very different from plastic ones and can be ‘disguised’ a lot easier in pretty pouches) or if she would be embarrassed like we used to be at school. The thought of our young women still feeling awkward about ‘being found out’ made us feel more determined than ever to spread the positive word!
Talking about our own school days made us recall and share stories of our own experiences of menstruation as a young woman, some positive and some negative. Sewing together as a group brought back all sorts of long forgotten memories of our own home economics and sewing classes, which we had fun sharing.
We also spoke of how we wished we could had been given cloth pads by our mothers. And that if good quality reliable cloth pads had been invented sooner our mothers could have used them too. So many generations already have passed with the pollution of plastic disposables taking 500-800 years to break down in landfill sites all round the world.
There was also silence for a while; with each woman quietly absorbed in her own activity. I reflected on this too, about how natural it felt for us women to sit together and take part in communal activities, exchanging information and tips, working together naturally and effortlessly. Exactly what I saw so often on my travels to different countries, with crinkly old bright-eyed women sitting on the ground, chatting laughing and cooking together around a fire. Sadly in our culture we are often isolated, with no circle of women to sit in at all.
Having this special pad workshop allowed us to set aside quality time and space deserving of this important activity, and made it really fun too. One pad took about 2 hours to stitch, including time to figure out the instructions and make some cups of tea. Everyone commented how great it was to be able to see inside the pad and feel the fabrics, and to see just how many cotton layers make up the pad. We chatted about general care instructions for cloth pads, the simple washing process (soak them rinse them then add them to the wash with your underwear), and how best to dry pads in our cooler rainier climate, where strong gusts of wind and warm fires make drying fairly easy.
This workshop also helped us to gain a new appreciation of the skill of the women tailors working from the Auroville Village Action Group campus, who produce the pads for Eco Femme! Some of our pads ended up a bit wonky, untidy, and a little uneven but despite some comical shapes and cries of “I’ve lost my wings” or “Which way round do the poppers go?” we still all produced functional cloth pads. Sewing our own pad was in some ways more meaningful than buying one, which happens when we create anything for ourselves. We all decided to love our newly stitched pad for all its imperfections.
What I was touched by was the enthusiasm for the sewing – women wanted to create nappies next, then breast pads, then pads of different sizes. It also turned out that the women were not just sewing for themselves but wishing to share the pads with their loved ones. One women was sewing for her niece, one for her friend, and another was sewing quickly so as to finish the whole set of three for herself ready for her menstruation in a few days!
For me, I just love that the pads are so pretty, and that the process was really enjoyable. The fact that I have sewn them with my own hands makes me look forward even more to using them each month, and that even in using the pads I have a connection with all the other women who have made them too, and who use cloth instead of plastic.
So today, as I write about the event, I feel enormously privileged to be a part of the movement towards re-usables; spreading the word about this positive action to my sisters, contributing in a physical sense by making a pad that will save dozens of plastic ones from being thrown away into our Earth. I would definitely love to run another pad stitching session again in the future, because in doing so it somehow feels as though the world is waking up, one pad at a time.