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Sewing Rooms in Shelters Offer Hope

The bedroom at Detroit's Alternatives for Girls before its Enchanted Makeover.

Many sewers know and understand the therapeutic benefits of sewing: the calming effect of the Zen-like mindset sewing can induce; the pride in using one’s hands to create something unique and the confidence it builds; and the skills and lessons that can be transferred to other aspects of life.

With the help of Enchanted Makeovers, women and children living in shelters can experience these benefits, as well. The Taylor, Michigan-based nonprofit redesigns and converts rooms in women’s shelters to create spaces where creativity reigns.

Founded by award-winning interior decorator Terry Grahl, Enchanted Makeovers’ mission is to enhance the lives of women and children in shelters by coordinating events and programs to augment shelter services and by transforming shelter spaces into comforting havens.

The charity launched its Sacred Sewing Room Program–which aims to create places of retreat, creativity, learning, sharing, and healing inside shelters–in 2012 by transforming a bedroom at Detroit’s Alternatives for Girls into a sewing room with two Baby Lock sewing machines and other donated equipment. 

More recently, Enchanted Makeovers completed an even larger makeover at Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries that included a Sacred Sewing Room with six Baby Lock sewing machines and 21 redecorated bedrooms.

Local Baby Locker dealers provide maintenance on the Sacred Sewing Room machines so that they are always in good working order, and local sewing groups have established volunteer teaching programs for the shelter’s, as well. These sewing rooms provide an inspiring place for shelter residents and clients to get away from their troubles and to express themselves creatively–an important coping and survival skill, Terry says.

Enchanted Makeovers is hoping to expand its reach nationally to create Sacred Sewing Rooms and sewing education programs for shelters in other states. “It’s important to get more crafters and sewers involved, because we believe that hand-made is very powerful. There’s a lot of energy and love put into hand-made items, and that’s part of the healing process for the giver and the recipient,” says Terry.

Why do you think sewing has such a beneficial effect on individuals who may struggle in other areas of their lives? Are there women’s shelters in your area that would benefit from sewing rooms and teaching programs?


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  1. EllenMorrison | | #1

    Wow, I'm shocked that this post hasn't generated any comments in a week! This is such a great idea; in a way it's an extension of art or music therapy. Sewing gives the practitioner something practical and lovely to take away and use again and again, while developing a skill.

    I've learned so much from sewing, from how to read and follow directions, even when difficult, to budgeting, project planning, practical and esthetic considerations, and how to wing in to fix a problem or go out on my own and make alterations to my project. And it's fun! It's such a great use of concentration and inner creativity. The deep personal satisfaction that comes from sitting at a machine, watching a project progress well, is a great distraction from the stressful pressures of life. It's a great self-esteem builder as well.

    A sewing machine is iconic for women. The connection to family and previous generations is there. This is a great program; thanks for writing about it.

  2. [email protected] | | #2

    What inspiration ! In Kansas City we have a similar group at a day shelter. The clients mend their own clothes, make bags & totes. Some go on to major projects. All are so proud with a sense of accomplishment when competing as task. Something that is taken into the outside world. As Ellen mentions, it is great therapy!

  3. scrubble4 | | #3

    This seems so sensible. When I am working on a project whether it is sewing, gardening, baking or even biking, I am immersed in it. I emerge better in some way, perhaps rejuvenated or calmer or more accepting. It is a privilege to have the resources and time to do such projects. For folks who have time on their hands, is simply logical to give them the resources to do something creative and useful. No its not a panacea, but I think it is part of a wholesome whole picture of survival on so many levels. Thanks for sharing this inspiring article. Not only does it make me appreciate what I daily live, but also I appreciate that there are such thoughtful folks as the ones who imagined and implemented this great idea.

  4. seniorslugger | | #4

    How interesting, I have reconditioned several machines that were given to me (because people know i sew)with the intention of doing some sort of volunteer project, but not sure What. This sounds like it would fit,. I do live in Canada though, so how and where would I begin? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  5. seniorslugger | | #5

    How interesting, I have reconditioned several machines that were given to me (because people know i sew)with the intention of doing some sort of volunteer project, but not sure What. This sounds like it would fit,. I do live in Canada though, so how and where would I begin? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  6. sewinggalinaz | | #6

    I absolutely love this idea and it is so true. Sewing is a healing art that is very therapeutic and I always tell my sewing students, "When you sew, it is made with your hands, but comes from your heart." To hear them say, "I can't believe I made this and I am so proud of myself" is worth a thousand words. Their smiles are contagious and it makes me feel like I am continuing to make a difference in someone's life.

  7. Suellap | | #7

    Some lovely offers of help here. I will follow this up with queries to local women's forums to find who the best contact would be. If they were at a secret location I need to set up a meeting with a representative to raise the issue of passing my sewing machines over to them. I'd also discuss the issue with all the local providers of sewing machines, fabrics and notions in my area (3 or 4) and see if I could enlist one of them to step forward for the maintenance of the machines.

    A wonderful opportunity to make a difference to the hidden numbers of battered womena nd families to whom these shelters are a god-send.


  8. User avater
    sewold | | #8

    Completing a project you can wear is really satisfying. But learning how to mend or alter is really a life skill. Having someone show how to fix a seam or hem is something that can save money for anyone. Even without a sewing machine, you can learn to do that. Having the availability of the sewing machines is terrific. Keep up the good work.

  9. tarsier | | #9

    This is a wonderful idea.

    I have worked with a group called "Our Children's Place" in North Carolina. The group helps mothers who are in prison. The main goal is to help moms keep up strong relationships with their children, and a major activity is crocheting. Women all over the area donate yarn, and the mothers crochet beautiful hats and scarves and layettes. Some are for their own children, and many are sold in the Christmas season at church markets, with the proceeds supporting visitation and picnics for the kids.

    Maybe we can add some sewing to the mothers' skill set. I agree it is an important life skill to mend clothing and look presentable, but it is also very gratifying. I can't think of a better use for my 3 extra sewing machines and closet full of unused fabrics.

  10. Tempest1961 | | #10

    On a daily basis my son tells me "smile mom". He saw me sewing one day and said "Hey I don't even have to tell you to smile!" Sewing is a "Balm in Gilead". This could be a break through for the violence and gay abandon being experienced today. Are there any groups catering to males? Would like to hear how those are going.

  11. Mamato8 | | #11

    For those who sew already, these sewing rooms can be a great refuge. For those who do not know yet how to sew, it can become a tool towards more independence. Learning how to mend and create is so empowering and can produce an income!

    Studies have been done to see what hobbies did the most to reduce stress. Sewing won! It's hard to be thinking of other things while running a sewing machine! Cross stitch, crochet, knitting etc. didn't require as much concentration. The mind could still dwell on the problems. Sewing makes the best escape!

    The sense of accomplishment helps to rebuild someone who is down. If I knew we had something like that around where we live, not only would I have sewing machines, but also teaching time to offer. What a great ministry!

    Thank you for sharing!

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