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
“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
“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.