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Portrait: Patricia, a seamstress like no other

My immersion in the world of La Maison de la Maille did not just involve a visit to the Clos Tranquille farm and discussions on the future with Kali (see my other articles). 

A few hours before getting the bus back to the train station in Le Mans (yes, I took the bus so that FX didn’t have to drive two hours, even though of course he would), Charlotte took me to visit the KALISTA ESAT disability workshop. This is run by the APAJH 72-53 organization and makes tote bags for La Maison de la Maille. There I met Patricia, who runs the sewing workshop. We talked about what the ESAT workshop is, what it does, and who works there. 

20211109_Portrait Patricia_ESAT.jpg

In her lovely soft voice, Patricia told me how for the last 10 years she had been in charge of the sewing workshop on the second floor of the building. Her mission has been to give people with disabilities as many tools as possible to cope with their impairments and live autonomously. 


There is little conversation in the workshop as busy hands and bowed heads focus on their machines, but now and then a cheerful comment lightens the mood. Patricia smiles. 


There are about ten workers in the sewing workshop when we visit. It is here that they make La Maison de la Maille cotton tote bags – as well as a whole range of other things including cushions for campervans, covers for French health cards, surgical caps, satin pouches for presenting earthenware, and much more. A host of tasks in fact that require precision sewing and autonomy of action. 


Patricia’s role is to offer support through work. The staff learn to perform the tasks unaided to the standards required for the orders. 


“The aim of ESAT workshops is to help people with their problems and challenges by offering them work. My job is to give them the keys to unlock the recognition they need and to allow them to move forward with their daily lives. We don’t prioritize production, we adapt to their rhythm. Things are repeated as many times as necessary until they really take on board the instructions and the processes. Once they have got it, they have a lot of autonomy and do a great job.”


Patricia is proud. She doesn’t actually say that, but you can feel it. 

When she talks about her workers, she expresses such a commitment that you can’t help but be moved.

You clearly need a lot of patience and dedication for a job like this. 

But in truth, it’s more of a vocation than a job. 


“It’s not just luck that you end up here,” she confides.


A seamstress and dressmaker by trade, Patricia embarked on training as a special workshop instructor at ESAT and then progressed her studies to become an educator to assist people with disabilities. Patricia’s specific mission draws together technical, educational, and social strands. You certainly need to be flexible and dexterous for this job, but above all you need a sense of humanity. 


“I’m not just an instructor to them. I am someone they can confide in. Communication is very important, and my office is always open if they want to come and talk, whether about work or anything else. I like having the time for this, it’s essential for their well-being. I talk to them on a level, it’s not a hierarchical thing. It means they can trust me.” 


We smile at each other, and I realize it is time to let everyone get back to work (and not miss my bus). As I walk down the stairs, I can hear voices and laughter; the busy atmosphere has taken a cheerful turn. I leave the workshop feeling amused, moved and with my emotions charged. Charged with sweet memories of the Sarthe region, an undying love for alpacas, a sense of deep admiration and a love of the local tipples.


Thank you Charlotte and FX.


* Supporting people with disabilities through work opportunities

Article written by Laura Isaaz


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