The Sewing Circle Project began in 2007 as an exciting initiative to encourage production and marketing of traditional crafts among the many immigrant communities in the Greater Hartford area and across the state. Initiated by the Institute for Community Research’s Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program based in Hartford, the project develops the remarkable skills and traditional arts of these newcomers. Many members of the Sewing Circle meet regularly to work on their art forms, learn new skills, and share coffee and conversation. This supportive environment provides social interaction among the artists, respects their cultural heritage and artistic traditions, stimulates literacy improvement, and helps develop marketplaces for their artwork. Project artists have sold their work at the Hartford Public Library World Refugee Day; Hartford Open Studio Weekends; the Hillstead Museum; Trinity College and the University of Connecticut; several local house parties, and as regular vendors at the Billings Forge Farmers Market year-round on Thursdays.
Participants in the Sewing Circle include Fatuma, a Somali basket weaver; Fatima and her daughter Fikreta, Bosnian rug weavers; Ajisa, Hurriya, and Ajisa, Bosnian crochet and knit artists; Florence, an Assyrian lace maker from Iran; Mai Xiong, a master Hmong embroiderer; Sadiyo, a Somali Bantu needleworker; Mu Wah and Hser Nay Paw, Burmese Karen weavers; Edina, who crochets beautiful Bosnian lace, Nalifa, a talented seamstress from Sri Lanka, Elena, a Romanian lace maker, and several other textile artists. Although most of the artists have experienced war, trauma, and dislocation, they continue to practice their cultural heritage and traditions, blending these with current experiences to create artwork that is both beautiful and functional.
Engaging with public audiences has given project participants a chance to improve their English-speaking skills and broaden their social networks and support systems. The project has been a great success not only because it brings some additional income to the artists, but also because they have become friends and co-workers sharing techniques, styles, and supplies as they create their unusual and exquisite textiles. In collaboration with Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services and the Hartford Public Library, the project also offered small business training to the artists, thanks to grants from the Aurora Foundation for Women and Girls, the Avon Hello Tomorrow Fund, and the City of Hartford. The Sewing Circle Project will continue throughout 2012 and beyond, adding new training components and placing the women’s work in local shops as well as online.
For more information, please contact Lynne Williamson at 860-278-2044 x 251 or Lynne.Williamson@icrweb.org