You may have seen these beautiful hearts, necklaces and other gorgeous pieces around the area. They all made by the folks at Stitch Buffalo and their volunteers. Stitch Buffalo creates opportunities for cross-cultural experiences and economic empowerment for resettled refugee women in Buffalo. Each week a growing group gathers to weave and embroider. It is a time of laughter, socialization, curiosity and learning. Colors and patterns are chosen, beads are strung and women on the edge of society redefine their identity while building bridges of confidence and community. It’s a community within a community.
Joanna Stott and Dawne Hoeg are co-directors of Stitch Buffalo. We talked with them about their mission, their plans, and their hopes for the future. They are making a difference right here in our community, but can’t do it alone.
Tell us about Stitch Buffalo.
Stitch Buffalo began in 2014 and we have since grown into a thriving organization with over 55 members. The project began with a desire to provide cross-cultural experiences around the medium of textile arts, embroidery in particular. As we have grown we’ve expanded that vision to preserve heritage textile traditions, provide community education and to bring the joy of beautiful hand-crafted textiles to the city of Buffalo. Our main focus is working with refugee women on the west side and our mission is provide opportunities for economic empowerment through meaningful work and a fair wage.
Why is it important for you to work with and help refugees?
We believe that every refugee woman has the right to find meaningful work and garner a fair wage. Many of these women have lived through tragic conditions before arriving here and we believe that these women and their collective skills and knowledge can fuel the growth of the city of Buffalo. Our Refugee Women’s Workshop teaches women to hand-embroider, to bead, to weave and to sew on a machine. Research shows that the act of sewing in a group can have a profound impact on people’s lives. The act of collective stitching improves cognitive, emotional and social well-being and the social network fosters the formation of strong friendships. Our members are also able to improve their English, develop financial literacy skills and most importantly they build community.
Goods handcrafted by the Refugee Women’s Workshop are sold locally at retail shops and craft fairs and the earnings of the refugee women are, in large part, spent within the city on their families. When you purchase a Stitch Buffalo product you are supporting the prosperity and development of the city as a whole.
What can folks in the community do to help?
Stitch Buffalo has recently received it’s official 501c3 status and we are now a registered nonprofit organization. We are thrilled with this development. As the organization has grown we have faced new challenges but the community has been a real source of inspiration to us. We always need donations, both financial and material. We have an extensive wish list on our website and we always need embroidery floss and beads. We are hoping to transition into our new permanent location later this year and we are actively seeking financial donations to support this move and our programming. We have an online donations button on our website.
Tell us about the beautiful stitching.
The stitching is all done by our Refugee Women’s Workshop. On each item you can find a tag with the name of the woman who created the item and her country of origin. We have had some members come regularly to class for almost three years and our newest members will be joining us this week.
How are things going?
We feel blessed to be working with such an amazing community of women as they have fueled the many successes of Stitch Buffalo. We have grown so quickly and have an incredibly high rate of retention. Some of the biggest successes have been in the smallest moments such as, paying one of members for the first time (in some cases this is the first independent income the participant has ever received), in having one of our older members teach a new student how to stitch and in being able to ask someone who previously spoke little English to translate something for us.
We are proud to say we had our first ever fundraiser in April and the success was overwhelming. We had over 300 people come and show their support for the organization. Going forward we are developing our educational programming by offering more classes for the broader community and we are developing our community outreach programs, working with schools and other organizations to bring the benefits of Stitch Buffalo to a wider audience. We have plans for an independent retail venue that has room for classes in the back and we are developing our new re-use project which aligns with our goal of sound environmental stewardship where second-hand clothes are re-fashioned into beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces.
You can buy their products all at various places around the area. I bought some Buffalove hearts at Elm Street Bakery in East Aurora. You can find more locations to purchase the products on their website.