Shelter. Cuddly blanket. Computer. Bomb. Vein. What do these have in common? Weaving.
Begun as early as the Paleolithic era, this craft has contributed to the common good in myriad ways. The Bedouin nomadic tribes wove tents for shelters that could be moved quickly. Woven Navajo blankets provided protection and warmth in a harsh climate. Jacquard weaving loom punch cards were the precursor to the development of computer programming. Woven bomb blankets lessen pressure and deflect electrical explosions. Grafts comprised of woven fabric fix human veins and arteries in vascular replacement surgery.
Weaving. Housing. Money. Job skills. Self-Esteem. What do these have in common? Re:loom.
Re:loom is a non-profit organization that teaches weaving as a trade to at-risk and homeless individuals, ten at a time. The program, which also provides training in workplace skills, offers its trainees full-time wages and health insurance.
The banging sound that greeted my arrival at its bright, welcoming space in Scottdale, Georgia, was as familiar to me — a lapsed weaver — as the beating of my own heart. Several people were thumping away on the warps of rugs, place mats, handbags and more constructed from donated, recycled clothing and fabrics on looms named for their donors.
An air of human contentment and creativity permeates the lint-laden rooms. Balls of stripped fabrics, piles and piles of donated clothing, linens and upholstery fabrics – and the products woven from them — are everywhere. The people I met were friendly and welcoming, happy to talk about what they do. They were eager to learn and grow as well; a few of us ended up working together on a loom as I demonstrated how to make a rya rug knot. They expressed excitement at trying it out on their own.
Art and craft can be transformative. The tactility of fiber, its familiarity and associations with comfort and protection make it less intimidating than some art materials. The repetitive processes of fiber arts such as weaving can be cathartic, and life-altering. Internationally renowned embroidery artist Ray Materson, for example, transformed his life while in prison by using unraveled sock yarn to create embroideries, which led to a sustainable career and life when he was released.
Lisa Wise, executive director of the non-profit Initiative Homeless Services, was looking to change lives when she launched the program in 2010. Inspired by a weaving class she had taken and the mountains of donated clothing her organization couldn’t find uses for, the program does double duty as a creative way to recycle unwanted goods. The sustainability departments of Emory University and Delta Air Lines have forged supportive relationships with re:loom, providing used uniforms and other fabric for weaving. Spanx has given it prominence in its catalogue and website through the Spanx Leg Up prize, which the program received this fall.
A crew from Green Shortz www.greenshortz.com, which makes videos on sustainable living, filmed footage during my visit. In one shot, the weavers cut up an old, holey, t-shirt that crew-leader Tom Mill brought. They will use those shirt strips to create an iPad mini case that he designed with them and will purchase upon completion. iPad cases might be a new direction for re:loom as it broadens its range of products.
I couldn’t leave empty handed myself, and bought a great woven hip bag as a gift for my teen-aged daughter. But, it was really my heart that received a gift that day, as I experienced something positive and affirming in lives that can sometimes seem overwhelmingly challenging.
All photos by Leisa Rich. Click here to view more.