“This is my home”: Stitch Buffalo, refugee textile art presented at the History Museum | Local News
Bright colors are inseparable from Nepalese culture. Vibrant shades of red, in particular, adorn the vestments of women and monks, while the national flag and flower of Nepal are both red.
Tila Bastola and her sisters Saraswati Tiwari and Tika Bhattarai — three Nepalese textile artists at Stitch, a nonprofit at 1215 Niagara St. — agreed that the door hangings are far from an American welcome mat; they adorn the door frames of every room in a Nepalese home, even the bathroom.
Dawne Hoeg, the founder and executive director of Stitch, once approached American pom pom makers to help with the process of making these door hangings, but she was quickly rebuffed.
“No, no, no pom-pom makers,” Tiwari recalled telling Hoeg. “We like to do it our way.”
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The Nepalese method, which takes three to four hours for a finished product, involves a technique called finger wrapping, where yarn is hand-formed into balls that look like marigold flowers, Tiwari said. If there’s one area where Nepalese women are straying from tradition, it’s by browsing YouTube for design ideas.
Bastola has been part of Stitch since its first meeting in 2014 and remains an enthusiastic participant in the refugee women’s workshop, two narrow rooms behind the retail section that are a hodgepodge of sewing machines, cutting boards, materials , tables and narrow aisles. It’s intimate, crowded, and a bit chaotic – but still a creative, communal environment.
“The foundation is creativity – it’s not political, it’s not religious – it’s creativity,” Hoeg said.
A festive exhibition
Along with Stitch Buffalo’s work and support for the refugee community comes a renewed energy at the museum, sparking the launch of “Creative Journeys: Celebrating the Art of Refugee Women in Western New York.The exhibit, which opens with a hands-on embroidery workshop and meet and greet with artists from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday on the second floor of the museum, will run through August 20. Admission is free.
Hoeg met last year with Melissa Brown, the museum’s executive director, at Erie County Bicentennial Launchforging a friendship that has now blossomed into a partnership.
The exhibition – showcasing sewn, woven or embroidered objects – incorporates more than the work of Nepalese natives. Forty-four textile artists are featured, the majority of whom are from Burma, where 10,000 refugees have come to Buffalo from over the past decade. A museum spokesperson noted the importance of their stories in the larger narrative of Buffalo’s history.
“We tell the whole story of Buffalo and how our story continues to be made,” said Brian Hayden, director of communications for the History Museum. “We want to make sure we celebrate the diverse populations around the world who have already contributed so much to our city.”
“Going to the Buffalo History Museum is a big deal,” Hoeg said, citing the opportunity for refugee women to step outside the studio walls and see their work on display.
Stitch’s fleet of artisans are considered “shippers,” Hoeg said, with the goal of earning money from the textile art they create, ranging from embellishments to jackets to shawls and small gifts. Almost all of the money from merchandise sold outside of the storefront goes to the shippers themselves, not Stitch as a whole.
“We give the base to various projects, but they have complete creative freedom,” Hoeg said of the consignees. “They can choose their colors, choose their design, whether they want beads or not; are they going to do appliqués?”
Hoeg remains the only paid employee; it is supported by volunteers who help with skills developmentinventory, selling items, leading community classes, and sorting materials for Second Stitch, a lightly repurposed textile craft supply store that helps move discounted donated supplies and equipment.
As an overseer, Hoeg — who has worked as a textile arts professor and teacher at SUNY Buffalo State College and Aurora Waldorf School — trusts her expertise to understand consignees’ skills and suggest their best route to selling items. goods. She noted that Buffalo seems to offer refugees the most opportunities in the culinary field, but other skills – of which refugees bring a lot – have much more difficult paths to join the job market.
“Refugees can learn industrial sewing machine skills, which gives them a skill for workforce development,” said Hoeg, who said a textile background was not necessary. .
Fueled by Hoeg’s energy and volunteer support, Stitch’s growth was rapid. What started as a community project in 2014 in the Concerned Ecumenical Ministries building morphed into an official nonprofit in 2017, and then Rich Products’ donation of the building at 1215 Niagara St. enabled Stitch to open its first window the following year. Now Stitch has outgrown his space, with the basement and second floor full of supplies, and little valuable space for consignees to work in the back of the building.
The Stitch founder envisions a larger space where industrial sewing machines can sit on tables for longer access, with studio space for tables dedicated to cutting fabric and a wet space for printing and dyeing .
“We’re pushing at the seams of this building, and now we’re trying to figure out that next leap, which will be this fully functioning textile arts center,” Hoeg said.
As much as it is a space for creating and selling textiles, Stitch doubles as a chance to build community. This is the case of Munawara Sultana and Palwasha Basir, two refugees from different countries who have become friends through their work.
Sultana came to Buffalo from Pakistan, where she owned a business that sold handicrafts. She learned to sew from her mother, but also has a passion for traditional hand printing, using natural dyes on unisex jackets, shirts, tunics and shawls. Her block printing style is traditional Ajrak, which dates back to the beginning of civilization in the Indus Valley, she said.
She’s excited about her home country’s role reversal — “I’m the creative people now,” she said — but is also grateful for Stitch’s willingness to help her adjust to America after three months Long live, a shelter for asylum seekers run by Jericho Road Community Health Center. Over the next nine months, Sultana has learned to manage her own finances and isn’t intimidated by a bank.
Her friendship with Basir, a native of Afghanistan and a talented tailor, made Fridays at Stitch more enjoyable. Hoeg is encouraged by their interactions, which seem to brighten up the space. “They just talk – they share a lot of the same interests and the same language.”
Community is meaningful to Sultana, who feels a sense of belonging.
“I hadn’t planned to stay here, but I love this place,” Sultana said. “As soon as I walked into Stitch, I said, ‘This is my house.’ “
Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at [email protected], (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.