A volunteer stocks shelves at the new Common Threads store at the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook. Chance Viles / American Journal

Common Threads, a nonprofit that focuses on textile work job training for new immigrant residents, is expanding operations with a store and new classes to increase community involvement.

At its location at the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook, the school has launched a textile store open to the public and will soon offer design classes to its students and community members.

“We are looking to start consignment selling here too, just to really open it up to the community at large,” said Common Threads founder Dory Waxman.

Former Common Threads student Apphia Kamanda is now a co-director of the organization. Her focus is on classwork and instruction. Chance Viles / American Journal

Waxman started Common Threads in 2015 as a sister company to her former wool and textile company in Portland. It has since trained more than 230 people, predominantly women, in sewing and working with textiles and provides business, English and math instruction as well. Enrollment for the free program dropped during the pandemic largely because of a shortage of child care available, Waxman said, and the program additions are aimed at bringing the numbers back up.

The organization also is offering two incubator spaces for start-up businesses, available to students and the community. One of those spaces is paid for with a grant, a third space will be opening soon.

Waxman said Common Thread’s new co-directors, Jo Bell and former student Apphia Kamanda, are steering the organization toward more community involvement in the organization’s work and offerings.


“They’ve really done an outstanding job growing this,” said Waxman, who has stepped back from the day to day operations. Kamanda’s focus is on class work and instruction and Bell’s is administrative work and grant writing.

Students circle round an instructor, who is teaching them a stitching technique. Chance Viles / American Journal

Kamanda, an immigrant from Angola and a member of the first Common Threads class in 2015, said the classes will bring in new people and new energy while also offering an extracurricular path for students to take their talents even further.

“This sort of can give them homework, ways to continue working,” Kamanda said. “We cover a lot in the normal 12-week program so these classes will go beyond that. “We are now able to offer more skills and really hit what students need.”

The textile store should bring new energy to Common Threads, Bell said. She envisions shoppers, from textile hobbyists to professionals, getting to know students and getting involved.

“It is now just a matter of people knowing it is here, knowing they can stop in and get whatever they need,” Bell said.

The consignment store, opening soon, will also be a community draw, she said, and an outlet for students’ work.

The most recent class at Common Threads is full with around 10 students, but the clamor to get in to the classes waned in the early part of the pandemic.

“Apphia really went above and beyond recruiting, but it is tough, people haven’t been able to do the school, work and cover child care like they had,” Waxman said.

One of two classrooms at the Common Threads space in Westbrook. Chance Viles / American Journal

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