HDIF first met Lena three years ago, when Peace Corps volunteer Laura invited us to make the trip up to Vardenis in the very first week of 2012 to visit a sewing project there. It was a very cold, windy, snowy day, and only the second time ever that I, Tim, founder of HDIF, had been in Vardenis. That freezing day, we gathered around the room heater at Lena's house and I presented my concept of making potholders using traditional Armenian themes like Ararat and pomegranates. Cake was on the table, of course!
Discussing the very first Vardenis Sewing potholder
Lena seemed that day more concerned with making sure that all the guests that came visiting were welcomed by a burgeoning table and a clean plate, as Armenian New Year tradition dictates, and many neighbors did drop by as we sat and tried to design our very first potholder. Having agreed on an Ararat theme, we were herded over to the table and had our fill of all that a warm home in Vardenis can offer.
Lena serves her guests on January 3rd, 2012
As soon as the holidays were over, I traveled up to Vardenis again, and Lena set out to make the first of what was to be one of their best sellers- Mt. Ararat.
Lena prepares the original Ararat design for cutting
The cutting block patterns are established
The cut fabric pieces are assembled
All the parts in place before sewing
The very first finished Ararat potholder
And then a very first pomegranate took shape.
The very first pomegranate potholder
I will never forget coming back to Yerevan that evening in February 2012 and sitting at a cafe at the Cascade in Yerevan, looking at two not-so-perfect but not-bad-either potholders. A couple of French Armenian ladies were sitting at the next table, and they asked where I had gotten those two potholders. I told them the story of how these were the very first two potholders from a new project to employ women in Vardenis. They bought them immediately! I knew that with both a good product and a compelling story, that this project was going to succeed.
And it has.
Inspired by this first small success, we asked Lena to produce oven gloves in the same patterns.
Ararat oven glove
Peace Corps volunteer Laura shows off one of the versions of the pomegranate potholder and oven glove
We asked for help in getting Lena and the four other women she now employed with a new sewing maching and our good friend Baronne Samedi i France happily produced the money. Lena came to Yerevan to pick out the machine she wanted.
Lena chooses her new sewing machine in Yerevan, thanks to Baronne Samedi!
Lena and the other ladies were soon churning out hundreds and then thousands of these high quality potholders and oven gloves and then branched out into other products like aprons, baby blankets, table mats, utensil holders, jazvee handle covers, tea cozies and more.
Ararat baby blanket in felt. An heirloom from the first day.
The Armen\Armine series has proven to be the most popular Vardenis Sewing series ever.
And a plethora of different designs were produced...for clients in the US, in Norway, in Lebanon and more....
Moo. They also make Oink, Baah, Meow and Woof.
Viking ship pattern for Norway
And of course for different holidays:
Lots of Christmas items!
Ghosts and pumpkins for Halloween
Chicks and eggs for Easter
Goggle gobble for Thanksgiving
And for various HDIF festivals!
for the Sheep Shearing Festival in Tatev valley in May 2014
For the Shamshadin Honey and Berry Festival in August 2014
For the Golden Wheat Festival in September
Lena and her ladies have been very busy trying to keep up with the demand for their products. Lena's family owns a small shop front in Vardenis, which is room enough for the five women who work there and her husband Armen who helps on on a regular basis. With huge potential with a client in Russia coming up in 2015, the challenge for Lena and Vardenis Sewing is not at all a lack of markets, but a need to find a bigger space to work in in order to hire more women to meet the demand that already exists. If inclined to help them do that, please let us know.
The next series to come out of Vardenis Sewing - Russian matryoshka doll patterned pot holder.
Lena is a shy, modest woman and she is a traditional Armenian wife and mother. Yet, she is reigning over a hub of optimism and daily positive buzz at their workshop in