‘Sacred sewing room’ comes to Hope House

Karma Vowell (right) of Kansas City was impressed Monday, during a tour of the new Sacred Sewing Room.
Karma Vowell (right) of Kansas City was impressed Monday, during a tour of the new Sacred Sewing Room. The Kansas City Star

“I’m not going to cry,” said Terry Grahl, CEO of the Enchanted Makeovers charity, just before she broke down in tears.

The occasion?

The opening ceremony Monday afternoon for a “sacred sewing room” at Hope House in Independence.

“This whole project is about my mother,” Grahl said. “My mom always battled depression, but she made sure we had clothes on our backs.

“In the dark days, when there was no food on the table, I tried to focus on the light — the James Taylor and Carly Simon and Carole King records playing, and her at that (sewing) machine. It was her coping skill. … We all need somewhere where we can escape and cope and be creative.”

That was Grahl’s motivation to embark on a “national tour” creating sacred sewing rooms in shelters for women this year. Hope House, which also has a shelter in Lee’s Summit, is the third of five that are planned.

For 30 years, Hope House has helped victims of domestic violence with safe shelter, counseling, legal advice and more. Now, thanks to Grahl’s seven-year-old Detroit-based charity, it can offer clients an opportunity for skill training, creative expression and solace with a fully stocked sewing room.

Talesha, a Hope House client since July 27, said she was eager to give the sewing room a whirl. She agreed that it could provide a spiritual oasis.

“My grandmother made wedding dresses, and she taught me the basics,” Talesha said. “I was looking at that polka-dot fabric for a pillow case and sheet set. … Sewing takes your mind off of whatever turmoil you might be going through. Ladies in this situation, with whatever issues they’re facing, it might give them the time to sit and think what their next steps will be and how to move on from here.”

Joining Grahl on Monday were Samantha Palmere, a spokeswoman for the St. Louis-based Baby Lock sewing machine company, which donated four machines to the Hope House sewing room, and Amy Barickman, founder of Kansas City-based Indygo Junction, a purveyor of patterns and an Enchanted Makeovers board member.

The room was decorated with a mural on its walls painted by volunteer artist Anita Roll of Evansville, Ind., who worked on it all weekend and stayed for the “reveal.” In addition to bolts of fabric and patterns from Indygo and McCall, there were Ball jars labeled “Rick Rack” and “Buttons,” scissors and rulers, tape measures and thimbles.

In a phone interview before the reveal, Grahl said the sacred sewing room was inspired by her mother, who struggled to keep their family together through hard times when Grahl was a child.

“She told me years ago ‘This sewing machine saved my life,’” Grahl said. “As a kid, I didn’t really know that that was how she was coping. We lived on food stamps; we lost our home. My mom tried to hide it from me, of course. … But I can think back and see my mom sitting at that machine. … and it was like everything is going to be OK.”

Grahl described sewing as “a form of meditation.”

“We all need that creative outlet, whether it’s painting or drawing or working on an engine,” she said. “My mom said, ‘I need to keep my hands busy.’”

Grahl said that through Enchanted Makeovers, she wanted to transmit that feeling to clients of shelters like Hope House.

“It’s visual beauty that says you are worthy and you matter,” Grahl said. “Even though you might feel broken, do we have to visually see that, as well? Beauty represents hope, that tomorrow is going to be a better day. We all need some kind of dream.”

There’s a practical side to the sacred sewing room, too. It can provide women with income directly, if they sell what they make, and skills to help them land a job.

Even if they don’t know how to sew, volunteers will come by Hope House regularly to lead classes.

“We have volunteers who are willing to help,” said Hope House CEO MaryAnne Metheny. “We have groups who make things for us, quilting groups, that we hope will become part of it. … We hope it will become an ongoing thing that will happen regularly.”

Metheny also sees the psychological benefit of a sacred sewing room. The room is part of Hope House’s community partnership building, which already houses a beauty salon and an office for visiting dentists to treat clients. The sewing room was formerly used as a space for children to wait while their mothers received those other services.

“It’s really so wonderful to be able to offer things that help clients to learn that skill and to be able to create things,” Metheny said. “They can go there and relax and be calm and focus on something positive.”

Palmere explained that the name Baby Lock comes from the company’s signature product — a small, or baby, version of an industrial overlock sewing machine, also known as a serger. With it, Palmere said, “home sewers are able to finish clothes like the professionals.”

Baby Lock has donated a number of “Rachel” model machines to Enchanted Makeovers’ sacred sewing room national tour.

“It’s very user-friendly,” Palmere said. “It’s geared to beginner sewers, but it has computerized features so you can sew more than the basics. It can make 50 different stitches. It has a buttonhole feature. It has everything they’d need for any type of project.”

Other Enchanted Makeover partners donated tables, chairs and other accessories. Arizona-based CeCe Caldwell’s Paints even created a special color – Enchanted Lilac — that is used in each sacred sewing room. A portion of the proceeds from sales of that color to the public is donated to Enchanted Makeovers.

Shelter clients, too, are expected eventually to make their own contributions through the project, working on items that will be given to their peers.

That’s the Enchanted Makeovers ethos.