Giving Back: Sew Hope Community Sewing Room

Kacie Starr Long knows how difficult it can be to find employment after public perception of you has shifted. As the city’s youngest ever elected alderman, she resigned amidst scandal and found people were unwilling to work with her. Luckily, she was able to use her sewing skills to make a living for herself. Now, she’s founded Sew Hope Community Sewing Room to serve as a creative resource for North County. As part of Jacob’s Ladder Ministries, the initiative also is dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated individuals develop a skill set that can be used to earn a living.

How did you learn to sew?
My paternal grandmother was a phenomenal seamstress. Despite growing up in rural Mississippi in the 1940s, she could create clothing that belonged on runways in Paris or Milan. She had great style, and I grew up with her running a sewing boutique where she would create items for herself or other people in the community. However, her daughters never took up sewing. She was diagnosed with ALS, and while she was in hospice, I realized that when she died, that legacy would die as well. I decided I needed to learn how to sew, so I started taking lessons.

Where did the idea of Sew Hope come from?
I stumbled across City Sewing Room in 2016. I was having difficulty with a commercial sewing pattern, and it was a resource to help people with sewing projects. I fell in love with the concept and developed a friendship with founder Anne Stirnemann. For a while, I ran my custom sewing business out of City Sewing Room, and I realized we needed something like this in North County. Anne offered to help, and that’s show Sew Hope materialized.

Why is it important to provide the community creative opportunities?
People from all walks of life need a creative sanctuary. I want Sew Hope to be a safe place where you can explore and develop your creativity without judgment. Since we’ve opened, we’ve had a lot of widows, widowers and other people who feel isolated or forgotten come in to find a sense of community and purpose by working with their hands. Part of our mission is to help formerly incarcerated people by teaching them how to sew so they can sustainably support their families. We want to nurture and encourage people to create beautiful things.

What programs does Sew Hope offer?
We offer kids and adults sewing and quilting classes, and there are one-day classes to teach people how sewing machines work in case theirs is broken or they’re having trouble with it. We also host sip and sew parties and have therapy groups for women who have been impacted by the criminal justice system. We offer space for designers and at-home sewers who need a large workplace, and our monthly memberships give people unlimited access to our fabric and notions. We also sell fabric for three dollars a pound, which is a big discount. Every month, we will do a service project, so our sewers have the opportunity to use their skills to give back to the community.

What do you hope for the initiative in the future?
Moving forward, we want to open a small batch manufacturing center where we can hire and train people who were previously incarcerated. We also want to be able to provide transitional housing for those individuals. Our goal is really to help those who have been set aside or discarded.

Photos courtesy of Sew Hope Community Sewing Room

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