Sew Great Detroit Archives - Alternatives For Girls

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Sew Great Detroit Featured in Detroit Institute of Arts Exhibition: As part of a nearly year long project, AFG’s Sew Great Detroit is featured in the DIA’s “Ruben & Isabel Toledo: Labor of Love”

Dec. 27 2018 | Tags: ,

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.

Local Stores, Girlie Girl, Tenue, and Lori Karbal, Support Sew Great Detroit Knit

Oct. 30 2018 | Tags: , ,

Members of Sew Great Detroit (SGD) Knit meet weekly to create beautiful, handmade knitted items, such as scarves and hats. Thanks to the support of local stores through contracted projects, the members of SGD Knit also receive a stipend for their work, just like the Sew Great Detroit sewers! This holiday season, you can purchase these special items from local stores in Grosse Pointe Woods and Birmingham: Girlie Girl, Tenue, and Lori Karbal.

Michelle Beaudette Grates opened her salon, Girlie Girl, in Grosse Pointe Woods in 2005. Since then, Girlie Girl has been providing the community with full salon services, as well as beauty products, candles, and women’s clothing. Just two years ago, Michelle opened her new boutique, Tenue, a lifestyle shop selling home, clothing, and table top items. Michelle was one of the first supporters and customers of Sew Great Detroit Knit and has been ordering hats and scarves for her stores for four years.

Sew Great Detroit Knit has another steadfast supporter in Lori Karbal, who opened her namesake boutique in Birmingham 28 years ago. Lori loves to adapt and bring her customers the very latest in style and fashion. While she started out selling beauty products, over the years she expanded her offerings to candles, home items, gifts, books, and women’s fashion. Lori was Sew Great Detroit’s first customer and has supported SGD’s efforts all year long – selling hats, scarves, knitted pumpkins, and kitchen items.

A special thank you to Michelle and Lori for their generous and continued support of Alternatives For Girls and Sew Great Detroit!

Sew Great Detroit Member and Volunteers Participate in the Detroit Free Press Marathon

Oct. 30 2018 | Tags: ,

This month, members and volunteers of Sew Great Detroit participated in the Detroit Free Press Marathon 5k race! We talked to Sharon, SGD member, after the race was over to discuss the exciting experience.

Alternatives For Girls (AFG): Sharon, why did you want to enter the Detroit Free Press Marathon 5K event?

Sharon: I wanted to make another healthy change in my life and I want to encourage other women and girls to make healthy changes in their lives.

AFG: What did you enjoy the most about being in the 5K?

Sharon: I loved talking with all the people.  Everywhere I turned my head I saw something I liked, a little baby smiling at me or someone ringing a bell for me.  And I liked being on the Riverwalk.  It was beautiful.  There is so much to see and do downtown.  Now I want to take my grandsons to the Riverwalk and walk with them.

AFG: What did it feel like when the finish sign was in sight?

Sharon: When I could see the sign for the finish line in the distance I was really happy.  Then I saw all the people waving to me and cheering for me and ringing the bells.  I kept walking at my pace but inside I was running and jumping and even doing cartwheels.  It was a great feeling.

AFG: What inspired you most about the experience?

Sharon: I was most inspired knowing that I was walking not just for me but for others, like the girls and women who come to Alternatives For Girls.  I was inspired by other people in the race too like cancer survivors and people who are elderly.

Congratulations on this amazing accomplishment, Sharon!

November Volunteer Spotlight: AFG’s Volunteer Department spotlights volunteers who have gone above and beyond

Dec. 7 2017 | Tags: , , ,

Each month, Alternatives For Girls’ Volunteer Department, highlights volunteers who go above and beyond. In November, the volunteers of AFG’s Sew Great Detroit program were selected for their hard work on one of the program’s largest orders yet!

On November 13th, Sew Great Detroit delivered 175 beautifully handmade canvas totes to the German Marshall Fund’s BUILD Conference. The German Marshall Fund is a Washington D. C. based nonprofit that works with local and regional leaders in the US and Europe on urban policy issues.  This year, the German Marshall Fund chose to host their BUILD conference in Detroit.  While planning for the conference, the Director of the German Marshall Fund, Geraldine Gardner, learned about Sew Great Detroit, and Alternatives For Girls’ mission.

Each year, the German Marshall Fund designs a welcome bag for conference attendees showcasing the talents of the host city’s vendors and artisans.  Believing that the mission of AFG spoke to the values of the BUILD conference – equity, inclusion, and sustainability – she reached out to Sew Great Detroit with the hopes of partnering. Sew Great Detroit’s canvas totes were a perfect fit, and the German Marshall Fund ordered 175 of Sew Great Detroit’s signature tote bags to print their artwork on and use as welcome bags!

To help the young women in Sew Great Detroit complete the order, the Sew Great Detroit volunteers went above and beyond. They worked many hours to cut, fold, and measure in order to meet the deadline. Each volunteer showed a level of dedication well above expectation in order to support the wonderful opportunity for the group. Without them, the tote bags would not have gotten completed in time!

Alternatives For Girls would like to thank the many Sew Great Detroit volunteers who gave so much of their time and talents to this project.  It is because of them that Sew Great Detroit is so great! 

Interested in volunteering? Please contact Jessica Pate, Volunteer Services Manager, at 313-361-4000 ext. 248 or volunteering@alternativesforgirls.org to discuss the next steps to becoming a volunteer at Alternatives For Girls!

Sew Great Detroit Moves to Ponyride: With the help of a group of dedicated volunteers, SGD moves to their new home

Aug. 31 2017 | Tags: , , , , ,

In July, Sew Great Detroit (SGD) moved from the crowded and cramped craft room at AFG that they had called home for nearly 3 years, to Ponyride. Bursting with inspiration and creativity, Ponyride is a nonprofit in Corktown that rents space to budding artists, makers, and entrepreneurs. Its mission is “to be a catalyst for deploying social capital to a diverse group of artists, creative entrepreneurs, and makers who are committed to working together to make communities in Detroit sustainable.”

SGD is a social enterprise program headed by AFG’s volunteers and supported by AFG’s donors, that teaches participants sewing and employment skills. With this move, SGD joins the ranks of over 60 other residents, including Anthology Coffee and The Lip Bar.

Four Young Women Learn to Sew, and Much More

The move coincides with the addition of four new members of the team. The young women, all residents of AFG’s Shelter, didn’t know how to sew before their first week. After only three days, each girl was able to make multiple baby bibs (a SGD staple) on her own.

“Sewing takes a lot of patience. I’m the type of person who has anxiety and sometimes panics. But it’s teaching me to pay attention and slow down. I really like it,” shares Angel, 18.

In addition to having more space and being around other creative business people, another benefit to the move is that it creates a separate space for work outside of their current home at AFG. It is also convenient, located only 2 miles away from AFG. This allows the young women to walk, bike, or take the bus to and from work. “I love that AFG offers a job for us. I like that SGD allows us to be productive and it makes us feel at home in the work place,” Angel explains.

Making the Move

With the support of AFG’s staff, Board of Directors, and Lois Cohn, new AFG Board Member and longtime SGD supporter, the process for applying for space and moving to Ponyride began more than a year ago. “The idea of moving to Ponyride has been a dream since we first launched Sew Great Detroit,” shared Janet McAuliffe, SGD volunteer since 2014.

Once the lease was signed, the space required electrical wiring and lighting to suit SGD’s needs. Thanks to a generous in kind donation from electrical contractor, John Jacobson, owner of J-Power, LLC, the work took only one day to complete.

Finally, with the help of AFG Facilities Coordinator, Robert Blurton, volunteers, and family members, the sewing machines, tables, and supplies were moved to the new space and operation resumed!

SGD Volunteers Teach Girls to Sew, and Build Confidence

SGD was created and made possible by a group of dedicated volunteers. “My favorite part of volunteering [with SGD] is seeing how the women blossom when they learn that they can do something new. The look of satisfaction on their faces when they sew for the first time is priceless!” shares Muriel, who has been volunteering with SGD for two and a half years. Toni, who has been volunteering for one year, agrees, “I love being at the beginning of a promising social enterprise that provides valuable skills to women.”

The new space is a dream come true for the volunteers. “It’s such an upbeat, stimulating place. Our space is light and bright. Even more importantly – it’s ours. We don’t have to share it with anyone. It feels so professional. The move is really a growth step for us,” says Muriel.

“Although we have a small shop (only 300 square feet), the Sew Great Detroit team, seamstresses and volunteers are working in the midst of other artisans that are producing exciting products and services. We have our products on display and every day both visitors and other artisans stop to admire the progress of our new team.  This encouragement is an emotional boost as well as a source of pride that really helps when learning something very new.” Janet adds.

Planning for the Future

SGD has big dreams for the future, “We believe that the entrepreneurial focused environment [at Ponyride] will help our team achieve the goals of expanding capacity to include more members and achieve financial sustainability,” reflects Janet. Another volunteer, Fran, who has been with SGD for almost 3 years, said; “I’m looking forward to watching SGD grow and expand into a viable manufacturing business.”

Currently, SGD is producing its “Hold the Phone” cross body cell phone bag, adult size chef bib aprons, child size reversible bib aprons, and kerchief style baby bibs. As the team develops their sewing skills, additional products will be added to the lineup.

As SGD settles into their new home, one thing that won’t change is the impact it has on its members. “I love being around other productive women. There’s going to be so many skills that I will take out of here,” Angel smiles.

You can check out SGD’s handmade goods at the Ponyride Detroit Design Festival on Wednesday, September 20th from 4 pm – 10 pm and Saturday, September 30th from 10 am – 6 pm and at the Ponyride Market on Saturday, October 14th from 10 am – 2 pm. We hope to see you there!

Sew Great Detroit Helps Build Confidence: One young woman’s experience learning how to sew

Jul. 5 2017 | Tags: , ,

Sew Great Detroit (SGD), Alternatives For Girls’ social enterprise program that teaches participants both sewing and employment skills, has been hard at work the past couple of months. This summer, they are selling their handmade goods at Ponyride Detroit’s Summer Market Series. The five members, who are also participants in other AFG programs, have created beautiful adult and children’s aprons to add to their supply of tote bags, baby items, cell phone bags, and more.

Building Confidence

Maddie, one of SGD’s newest members, joined in April. She has been a resident in AFG’s Shelter since February and before joining SGD she didn’t know how to sew. “It’s been so great!” Maddie smiles while sharing how her experience in SGD has been so far. “I like it a lot. I’ve been learning fast.”

Since April, Maddie has learned valuable sewing skills, like machine sewing and hand finishing techniques, cutting techniques, and more. “I’ve learned how to thread the needle and the bobbin on the machine, different stitches, and how to align the fabric on the sewing machine,” Maddie recalls.

For Maddie, her favorite part of being in SGD is the self-confidence she has found while learning a new skill. “I love looking at the project that I’ve finished and thinking ‘Dang, I did really good!’ It makes me feel accomplished,” she shares. After meeting specific sewing skill and job performance goals, Maddie earned her own sewing machine. The machine, which was generously donated by an AFG donor, has allowed her to practice sewing in her free time.

Dreaming of the Future

Maddie has also used her machine and new skills for practical uses. “I like sewing because it’s not expensive. If you rip a pair of jeans, you don’t have to buy another pair, you can fix it!” In the future, Maddie plans to expand her skills so she can make her own clothing. “I’d really like to start making clothing, like dresses and stuff, using patterns but choosing my own colors and fabrics,” Maddie dreams.

November Volunteer Spotlight: Muriel Van Dyke

Nov. 28 2016 | Tags: , , ,

Each month, Alternatives For Girls’ Volunteer Department, highlights one volunteer who AFG staff recognize as being a dedicated and passionate volunteer. This month we spotlight Muriel Van Dyke, a committed and creative volunteer from AFG’s Outreach Department.

Before volunteering, Muriel worked as a social worker and recognized the importance of programs that provide others an opportunity to learn a new skill and launch them into the workforce. After learning about AFG’s social enterprise program, Sew Great Detroit, she recognized the program’s value in the community and knew it would be a good fit for her to volunteer her time with. Since becoming a volunteer two years ago, Muriel has provided a wealth of knowledge and guidance to AFG’s participants and the growing Sew Great Detroit program.

In Muriel’s kitchen is a sign that says, “Rise by lifting others.” This is a phrase that Muriel lives by and incorporates into her volunteer work. “My goal as a volunteer is to ‘lift up’ the participants in Sew Great Detroit so that they can not only feel good about themselves but also begin to affirm others in their life – especially family members”. In doing this, Muriel hopes that she can inspire participants to have a positive outlook on their future.

Muriel’s greatest strength as a volunteer is her ability to recognize the potential in each and every one of the women that she has worked with. Muriel says, “I try to pass on a ‘can do’ attitude –with women who sometimes haven’t had a sense of worth or self-esteem– that gives them that belief. To see their smiles of satisfaction when they have successfully learned a new skill – and then have the confidence to move on to the next – is priceless.”

As a veteran volunteer, Muriel is continuously inspired by participants and their accomplishments and grateful for the relationships she has formed with the other Sew Great Detroit volunteers.

Thank you, Muriel, for your continued dedication towards AFG’s mission!

Interested in volunteering? Please contact Jenny Clement, Volunteer Services Manager, at 313-361-4000 x248 or volunteering@alternativesforgirls.org to discuss the next steps to becoming a volunteer at Alternatives For Girls!

ARTIFACTRY Partners with AFG’s Sew Great Detroit: The Corktown boutique is now selling market tote bags handmade by women in AFG’s program

Nov. 1 2016 | Tags: , , , ,

One of the exciting things about AFG’s location in southwest Detroit is its entrepreneurial energy.  So many new businesses in the area are contributing creativity and opportunity to the neighborhood that AFG calls home.  Gail Kwiatkowski, the owner of ARTIFACTRY located in Corktown, is an example of someone who is contributing to the neighborhood buzz!  Gail describes ARTIFACTRY as an eclectic collection of new and vintage gifts, including industrial style furniture.

Gail was eager to be an Alternatives For Girls supporter when she learned about the women of Sew Great Detroit, AFG’s weekly commercial sewing employment training program, headed by volunteers and support staff.  Sew Great Detroit’s classes focus on teaching women valuable sewing skills, like machine sewing and hand finishing techniques, understanding the characteristics of fabric, fabric cutting techniques, and beginning design concepts. The women receive a stipend during their training, which is supported through contracted projects. Finally, the members of Sew Great Detroit also create life goals, for which they receive coaching from the team of volunteers.

Gail loved the excellent quality of the sewing demonstrated in Sew Great Detroit’s canvas market style tote bags so much, that she decided to contract them to make some for her store!  She purchased the bags and silk screened them with an original Corktown graphic designed by her son James.  Thanks to Gail, the Sew Great Detroit market style tote bags are now available to purchase at ARTIFACTRY!

The training stipends the women in Sew Great Detroit receive make an impact for them and their families. They are so excited for the opportunity to sell their handmade goods at ARTIFACTRY! Stop by ARTIFACTRY now and pick up an original Sew Great Detroit made tote bag. They would make a great gift this holiday season!

Thank you to Gail Kwiatkowski and ARTIFACTRY for supporting the Sew Great Detroit training program and Alternatives For Girls!

Sew Great Detroit’s Unexpected Outcome: One woman passes along her love and skill of sewing to her teenage daughter

Aug. 5 2016 | Tags: , ,

“I love these people,” Yolanda smiles. “I love Sew Great Detroit. Everyone is so nice and always in good spirits. I look forward to going each day.” Yolanda joined Sew Great Detroit (SGD), Alternatives For Girls’ weekly commercial sewing employment training program headed by volunteers and support staff, in March. Yolanda has been in AFG’s New Choices Program since August of 2015 and decided to apply for the SGD program because she likes to try new things and loves arts and crafts.

Learning to Sew

Since she entered the program, Yolanda has learned valuable sewing skills. She has learned machine sewing and hand finishing techniques, the characteristics of fabric, fabric cutting techniques, and design concepts. “My mom started sewing when I was about 8 and she would make curtains. I would look over her shoulder and ask her to show me. She showed me how to thread [the sewing machine]. So, when Ms. Janet showed me how to thread the machine, I thought ‘I remember this’,” Yolanda reflects.

After meeting specific sewing skill and job performance goals, Yolanda earned her own sewing machine. The machine, which was generously donated by an AFG donor, has allowed her to start working on her own sewing projects at home. “I’ve made pillow cases and I want to make an apron! I’m working on getting more professional tools at home so I can make more,” Yolanda shares.

An Unexpected Outcome

Yolanda has also started teaching her daughter how to sew! “I showed her the purses we made and she wanted to learn how to do it,” Yolanda smiles. Now her daughter works on her own projects and Yolanda says her daughter is keeping up with her! “It’s something we do together. Right now, it’s just a hobby for her, but I want to encourage her to show her friends and do more with it,” Yolanda shares.

One day, Yolanda hopes to start a business of her own. “Once I get the hang of it and I can expand it more, I think I could make and sell stuff. It’s fun and relaxing! But I have to push myself to keep going,” she dreams.

AFG’s Sew Great Detroit Teaches Profitable Skills

May. 4 2016 | Tags: , , ,

Sew Great Detroit has recruited four new women to participate in the weekly commercial sewing employment training program, headed by volunteers and support staff. Last September, four women from the first class of Sew Great Detroit graduated from the program. Since their graduation, all have continued sewing and some have earned income from their new skills!

The classes focus on teaching women valuable sewing skills, like machine sewing and hand finishing techniques, understanding characteristics of fabric, fabric cutting techniques, and beginning design concepts. The women earn a stipend based upon their time sewing, which is supported through contracted projects.

Sew Great Detroit hired to create baby items for special initiative

Their newest project is for Robbi Lindeman, owner of Salt Lab of Detroit, a Detroit-area work studio creating small-batch, map-inspired home products. Robbi has hired Sew Great Detroit to sew bibs and burp cloths, which will be used as incentive gifts for those who donate to Rotary International’s Construction Training Program for local villagers in Nepal. The program will teach villagers the skills they need to participate in rebuilding their village, which was devastated by earthquakes one year ago.

Through contracting Sew Great Detroit to create these gifts, Robbi hopes to support skilled training for people in both Detroit and Nepal. The stipend the women in Sew Great Detroit receive will make a big impact for them and their families and they are so happy to be helping with this important project!

Since the new class started in the beginning of March, the women have made a very fast start on the project. Some of the women had never used a sewing machine before, yet, they have already completed 50 burp cloths and are hard at work to complete 50 bibs in early May! “I knew how to sew by hand, but I didn’t know how to use the machine. But I learned pretty quickly!” Naisha, a former resident in AFG’s Shelter, says.

Donated sewing machines allow for creativity and practice 

Thanks to AFG’s generous supporters who have donated used sewing machines, each member is able to receive their own reconditioned sewing machine because of their exemplary attendance and sustained focus on their work. So far, all four women have received their very own sewing machines for their home! This allows Naisha and the other three Sew Great Detroit members to work on their own projects, sewing things for themselves, family, and friends.

Do you have a sewing machine you would like to donate? Don’t let the age of the machine stop you! We love machines that were built in the 1970s and 1980s because they are both reliable and well made. Contact Niki Grabowski, Development Coordinator, at 313-361-4000 x273 or ngrabowski@alternativesforgirls.org to find out how to donate!