Recycle. Retrain. Re Sew.
The cosy mezzanine looking out over the Vinnies Op Shop in Kilbirnie is more than just a sewing space. For the people who attend Re Sew it’s a safe haven. A sanctuary. A creative space. A second chance.
Among the sewing machines, stacks of fabrics and beautiful creations piled around the small space, people from all walks of life come to make friends, gain self-confidence, learn or refine sewing skills and create an item from recycled fabric.
“There’s a lot of laughter, happiness, sharing and support,” says Re Sew coordinator Caroline O’Reilly. The initiative attracts “all sorts” - from patients in Wellington Hospital’s mental health ward and members of the local disability service to recently arrived refugees and retirees.
Speaking from her own experiences of isolation and uncertainty in life - arriving to a new country where she knew no one and being made redundant from full time employment - Caroline says Re Sew is a stabilising force.
It gives people the opportunity not only to upskill but to meet different types of people and have a place to be creative, free from any judgement, she says. “It’s a great melting pot and you get to meet these really interesting characters; we have some amazing conversations.”
Re Sew gives recycled clothing and participants another chance in life. While making blankets for the Special Care Baby Unit in Hutt Hospital or denim dog toys everyone who participates in Re Sew learns a skill and finds their niche.
“There will always be something they excel at, even if it’s not sewing it could be doing the buttons, and failure doesn’t matter because it’s all scrap material so there’s much less pressure.”
The creations made by participants have been included in an exhibition at Thistle Hall in Wellington – a privilege usually reserved for high-level artists – sold online, in shops and at fairs. “A lot of the people who come here would never have access because of prior marginalisation. It breaks down those barriers,” Caroline says.
She says people get real satisfaction out of making things for people in need or selling the creations. “They get a real kick out of the fact we make a lot of stuff for the homeless or people on the benefit who go into a Vinnies and leave with something brand new, that someone else has never owned, for free.”
Since November, six participants have moved into employment, through networking at Re Sew and refining skills needed for employment. For Caroline, the real success in such a short time has been in creating a place where people feel welcome, to learn new skills and improve confidence, all of which feeds into all other aspects of life.
For Tina, a regular participant and helper, it’s her “escape haven”. After being made redundant at the local Pak’N’Save supermarket Tina comes to Re Sew every week where she finds meaning in what she does and a community to support her. “I’ve been sleeping better and right now I’m making a little hat for a new Ethiopian mother’s little baby.” She has even had sewing requests from her neighbours, one mother requesting some booties for her baby after discovering Tina had been going regularly to Re Sew.