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AFG’s social enterprise, Sew Great Detroit (SGD), collaborated with artists Ruben and Isabel Toledo to create a collection of handmade limited-edition tote bags to compliment the artists’ new Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) exhibition, “Ruben & Isabel Toledo: Labor of Love.” It was a partnership months in the making.
Earlier this year, Laurie Ann Farrell, Curator and Department Head, James Pearson Duffy Department of Contemporary Art, visited the Sew Great Detroit team at their workshop at Ponyride in Corktown. She brought some of her fellow DIA colleagues with her and the SGD seamstresses had the opportunity to share examples of their work and talk about what they were learning. Laurie told the SGD team about Ruben and Isabel Toledo and described the concept for their exhibition that the DIA was planning to open in December. She invited the Sew Great Detroit team to meet Ruben and Isabel Toledo and to discuss how SGD could collaborate on a project related to the upcoming exhibition.
As a result of that discussion with the Toledo’s, the SGD team was hired to design and sew two types of canvas bags: a limited number of large bags that would be sent to The Toledo Studio in New York where Ruben agreed to hand paint each one with a unique design and 100 smaller canvas tote bags that would be screen printed with an original Ruben Toledo design.
On December 13, the Sew Great Detroit members were very excited to attend the preview of the new exhibition, “Ruben & Isabel Toledo: Labor of Love”, at the DIA. The SGD members were able to see the original paintings on the limited edition bags for the first time. They were beautiful, and they did not last long! The hand painted bags sold out quickly, but the 100 special screen printed totes are currently for sale in the DIA shop.
The women of Sew Great Detroit are so excited to have had the opportunity to partner with the Toledo’s and are honored to be featured in a DIA exhibit. They can’t wait to bring their children, grandchildren, friends and family to the exhibit and share this success with them. During the week following the opening, the women in the Sew Great program took a break from sewing to reflect on their experience collaborating with the Toledo’s. Here are some of their thoughts:
“It made us all feel happy. It made me feel that our skill—our learning to sew—is purposeful. I feel like we contribute something important to Alternatives For Girls and to the DIA.”
“Meeting the Toledo’s and hearing their story gives me hope. It helps me to realize that there are levels or steps to achievement. Becoming a fashion designer doesn’t happen overnight. Their story made me want to enjoy the journey.”
“I’m putting something of myself out there in the world and it makes me feel good. Sewing is something that I want to do. It is a labor of love. I’m paid for my work, but it is also something that I love.”
“I am amazed to see my picture on the wall of the DIA. When I see my picture on the wall, I think it’s somebody else….but it’s not, it is me!”
“People at the DIA event recognized us as the seamstresses and they were buying the bags right in front of me. It made me feel very special.”
“I enjoy the program and I’ve learned to do things that I thought I couldn’t do. I am thankful to Laurie Farrell. The Toledo project was awesome. I never thought I would have the chance to do something like this.”
“Who would think that a recovering addict and someone of my age, with no experience, could be taught something new and succeed. This impacts me but it also impacts people around me. My sister and I sew together now. I don’t miss watching T.V.! I think it helps the community—the people around us —to see that we can do this.”
The exhibit runs until July 7, 2019 and it is free for residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. While you are there, look for the pictures of the Sew Great Detroit members and be sure to pick up one of the screen printed bags from collaboration in the DIA gift shop!
Alternatives For Girls and Sew Great Detroit would like to thank: DIA Director, Salvador Salort-Pons, for his efforts to reach out to the community and find ways to bring the joy of art to everyone, Laurie Ann Farrell, and her wonderful staff, for making this such a positive and life affirming experience, Eric Huck, Director of Retail Operations, for his kindness, his guidance and for giving us an opportunity to sell our items in the DIA gift shop, Mark Valade, C.E.O., Carhartt, Inc. for his generous donation of canvas fabric, and Lois Cohn, who, since Sew Great Detroit launched in 2014, has been SGD’s steadfast champion.