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CTM's thrift and gift shop

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One Stitch at a Time

At Common Threads of Maine, students learn more than just sewing skills

Article by Becca Abramson

Photography by Kelsey Riordan and Apphia Kamanda

Originally published in Portland City Lifestyle

When Dory Waxman struggled to find experienced stitchers who could craft wool capes at her small textile business in the Old Port, she decided to launch a training program: Waxman would teach refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants how to sew, then connect them with reputable employers offering stable, well-paying jobs in the area. In 2015, she founded Common Threads of Maine (CTM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting fulfilling careers in Maine’s textile industry by providing tuition-free classes and workshops, studio space, and sewing equipment to those looking to develop or improve their craft.

Apphia Kamanda, a fashion designer who moved from the Republic Democratic of Congo to the US in 2011, was one of Waxman’s first students. Today, Kamanda is the co-executive director and lead sewing instructor at CTM, where she teaches students of all skill levels how to stitch like a pro. “We have people who have never touched a sewing machine, and people who have a bit of experience but want to learn something new,” Kamanda says. “We find a balance to accommodate everybody, depending on their level.” Students who register for CTM’s twelve-week course (offered three times each year) learn every aspect of the sewing process, from manipulating industrial machines and working with different materials to measuring, understanding patterns, attaching zippers, and more. 

In addition to community courses, intensive workshops, and paid classes for hobbyists, CTM offers a shared makerspace in the Dana Warp Mill with industrial sewing machines, a large cutting table, and various tools, as well as private studios available for rent to those interested in starting their own textile-based businesses. Jo Bell, a former sewing instructor who now acts as Kamanda’s co-executive director at CTM, explains the origins of the organization’s secondhand sewing supply shop: “People kept offering us fabric, and we started saying yes, but we realized we weren’t able to use all of it in class. We started selling what was left over, in addition to sewing machines, patterns, books, and tools. We also sell items that former students and other members of the community have made, so it’s sort of a thrift and gift shop.”

Looking to the future, Kamada and Bell intend to expand CTM’s makerspace, launch an online store, and develop additional programming that will benefit the community. They’re currently working with Coastal Enterprises Incorporated to offer free business workshops for former students and plan to host a fashion show event in the fall. “I love my connections with students who come to the textile training, and all of the sewing enthusiasts and professionals that I’ve met. It’s a really wonderful community that we’ve built,” Bell says.

CTM welcomes volunteers (especially those with basic sewing skills) and accepts monetary donations in addition to fabric, sewing machines, and tools. Learn more at

  • Common Threads of Maine co-executive directors Apphia Kamanda and Jo Bell.
  • CTM graduates
  • CTM's thrift and gift shop