Encouraging the production and marketing of traditional crafts
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 Connecticut Cultural Heritage Arts Program based at the Institute for Community Research in Hartford, the project fosters the remarkable traditional arts of these newcomers. 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. Participants have sold their work at the Hartford Public Library World Refugee Day; Hartford Open Studio Weekends; the UCONN International Night; the Vermont Folklife Center; Trinity College; Ten Thousand Villages; several local house parties, and as regular vendors at the Billings Forge Farmers Market on summer Thursdays. The artists also take commissions.
Participants in the Sewing Circle include Fatuma Ahmed, a Somali basket weaver; Fatima, a Bosnian master rug weaver and her daughter Fikreta; Ajisa Guster and several other Bosnian weavers, knitters, and crochet artists; Florence Betgeorge, an Assyrian lace maker; Mai Xiong, a master Hmong embroiderer; Sadiyo Aden, a Somali Bantu needleworker; Mu Wah, Hser Nay Paw, and Myint Khin—Burmese Karen weavers; Edina Udovcic, who crochets beautiful Bosnian lace, Elena Cupceancu who makes Romanian macramé; Rola Hamdan, a talented Palestinian embroiderer, 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 offered small business training to the artists, thanks to grants from the Aurora Foundation for Women and Girls, the Avon Hello Tomorrow Fund, the Institute for Community Research, and the City of Hartford. The Sewing Circle Project continues at the Connecticut Museum of Culture and History, adding new regional opportunities for sharing our experiences and serving many new members from our neighborhood of Asylum Hill in Hartford.