The cinder-block hallways of the Americana Community Center are covered in colorful murals. The classroom that staff member Justine Brunett leads me into is bright and sunny, with huge windows and walls lined with bins and boxes of fabric and craft supplies. This is the home of the Americana FiberWorks program, an arts and educational group which offers refugee, immigrant and low-income women in Louisville an opportunity to come together around a common interest in fiber crafts to develop confidence, relationships and skills.
Participants in the program come from Egypt, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Congo, Mexico and Taiwan, usually 5-7 women at any given time. Some worked as seamstresses in their home countries and have sophisticated skills, and others come in knowing nothing. Some speak English, and others are just beginning to learn. At FiberWorks they learn sewing, dyeing, knitting and crochet, and get to practice their english skills in a friendly and low-pressure environment. Despite their diverse backgrounds, FiberWorks Coordinator Belissa Middleton describes it as an old-fashioned sewing-circle atmosphere, where all are welcome and support each other.
She acknowledges the challenge of teaching without words. Patience and good humor come in handy when bridging the language gap. The self-confidence that the participants are able to build through these interactions help them not only to learn a craft, but to integrate more easily into the Louisville community. There’s always food around, favorite dishes and snacks that the women bring to share. They talk about learning to drive in the US, about the challenges of motherhood, and navigating a new country. They recently hosted a seminar on the ins and outs of starting your own business, and often take time out of sewing to work on English homework. One of the participants recently had her own booth at the Islamic School of Louisville’s Craft Bazaar, Belissa tells me proudly with a broad smile; they’re thrilled that she overcame her shyness to branch out on her own.
The long work tables are unoccupied today; the week’s heavy rains and flooding have made transportation to the Community Center a challenge for many of the women. But Belissa is here, and happy to talk to me about one of Fiberworks’ latest projects.
For years Heine Brothers’ has sold the colorful, printed burlap bags that our green coffee comes in for $2 apiece, and then donated that money to The Center for Women and Families. But since we go through 1100 bags of green coffee each year, we still have quite an impressive pile of burlap sitting around the roastery!
Several months ago I approached Justine to see if they might be interested in working with some of our green coffee bags. They were happy to take a couple dozen bags from us to experiment with. The women were a bit skeptical at first, but soon started creating beautiful purses and bags using our burlap! This has given Heine Brothers’ an opportunity to be a part of one of the other benefits of the FiberWorks program: giving the participating women an opportunity to contribute financially to their families. Items that the FiberWorks crafters have created are for sale at 21C, Kaviar Forge, at local craft fairs and bazaars, as well as online via their Etsy Store.
And now you can purchase one of these beautifully transformed burlap bags at one of several Heine Brothers’ Coffee locations! Each bag comes with a tag that tells you a little about the woman who sewed it.
Heine Brothers’ is thrilled to be able partner with this excellent program. FiberWorks depends on donations of materials from the community. They are in need specifically of sewing machines, yarn, fabric, and thread. If you would like to learn more about the program and how you can get involved as a donor or volunteer, contact Belissa Middleton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about the program, read bios of the women of FiberWorks, and see pictures of their work on the FiberWorks Blog.