Women’s Fund grant launches sewing project for domestic-abuse survivors

Author: Laura Christman

Women affected by domestic violence are building skills and confidence through a unique sewing project funded by a $10,000 grant from The Women’s Fund of the Shasta Regional Community Foundation.

Making Opportunities for Success was designed by Redding Fashion Alliance and is offered in partnership with Women’s Business Center at Jefferson Economic Development Institute and One SAFE Place Shasta. The first-time project encompasses sewing, financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

“What we are doing is looking at a way to really assist women and their families to have a better life, whether it’s learning a skill, feeling better about themselves or having economic self-sufficiency,” says Jan Kearns, co-executive director of Redding Fashion Alliance. “Had it not been for this Women’s Fund grant, we would not be where we are in this short amount of time.”

“It gave us the opportunity to do something we could not have done otherwise,” adds Robin Fator, the alliance’s other executive director.

The nonprofit Redding Fashion Alliance, a fiscal project of Shasta County Arts Council, works to boost the region’s creative economy by fostering connections and offering classes, a maker area and retail space at its downtown Redding location.

The Women’s Fund grant to Redding Fashion Alliance was announced in October 2017 as part of the organization’s efforts to connect women who give to needs that matter.

Making Opportunities has six participants — women who are or were clients of One SAFE Place. One SAFE Place provides safety and healing resources to women impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault.

“This is a small group because this is a first-time program,” Fator says.

Participants have taken basic, intermediate and advanced sewing classes, ramping up skills for the final industrial sewing instruction on specialized machines. The aim is to master skills needed to pass a test for an industrial sewing job.

Fator says there’s demand for such technical sewing in the Redding area. Companies that make climbing harnesses, patio awnings, boat covers and backpacks and do upholstery work need workers capable of skilled sewing.

“There are places in town that will hire people right away,” she says. The jobs are not high paying but they do pay above minimum wage and are full-time positions with benefits, she says.

Fator tells the program participants: “This is a beginning point for you. It can be an avenue to open another door, a place to get started.”

There’s also demand in the Redding area for people with sewing skills to do clothing alterations and work on small-batch sewing projects for designers or businesses, Kearns says.

Making Opportunities participants explore entrepreneurship too. The project offers financial literacy training and classes on establishing a successful business venture on Etsy, an online marketplace for creative entrepreneurs.

While developing economic self-sufficiency is the key thread of the project, there are other pluses. Sewing has layers of complexity. Problem-solving and not giving up when things go wrong (rip out the stitches and start again) are part of the process.

Kearns has noticed participants gaining confidence as the project has progressed. Sense of accomplishment comes with making something, she notes, and that can be a big help in erasing self-doubt.

Sewing sessions also are a positive way to take a break from everyday concerns. “It’s nice to see them have a time to relax. They are enjoying it,” Kearns says.

Kearns and Fator hope to continue to work with current partners and to develop new partnerships so the project can continue.

“Other groups have shown interest … This isn’t a one-time, dead-end kind of project,” Fator says. “It’s a model that we see will meet a need in the community.”

One participant shared her appreciation in a written statement:

“The Making Opportunities program reminded me that whatever I will to happen will happen, and that knowledge is power. As a survivor of domestic violence and a single mother of two children under 2, this was a profound realization.”