On a recent Saturday, a handful of people gathered for a lesson on how to care for wool and cashmere clothing. In a light-filled room, Reed McLaren led a demonstration on how to properly groom sweaters. As she spoke, she stretched a sweater out on a table and began combing the material (softly and in one direction), sharing all sorts of knowledge and pro tips as she went. It almost felt like she was peering over my shoulder, watching me work the red sweater laid out on the desk before me. But instead she was using Zoom to peer through a computer screen and watch a dozen or so people in their own homes, sweaters stretched before them as they, too, practiced grooming.
This gathering was part of The Green Stitch program offered through Hera Gallery, which aims to “knit community together,” specifically around issues of environmental awareness. In warmer months the group met outside (socially distanced, of course), but its plans to move inside became a challenge in the age of COVID-19. So in December the program was moved online, and it has been convening weekly on Saturdays via Zoom from 2-3 p.m.
For just over an hour, McLaren, who runs The Sustainable Garment, spoke on the history of grooming and how it used to be more of a common practice, explained garment brushing and basic care, discussed dry cleaning versus home washing, and demonstrated how to mend sweaters via needle felting (for anyone interested in learning more, a recording of the Zoom session is available on Hera’s website).
“You’re very passionate about this and it’s coming though,” said Green Stitch program coordinator Jaimee Roberts, grinning from her own sunny home, when McLaren worried about the time and asked if she was talking too much. No one on the call seemed to mind, and most looked busy grooming or mending.
About a year ago, Uli Brahmst, president of Hera’s board; and Viera Levitt, board member, applied for a Community Grant through the Rhode Island Foundation and were awarded $8,000 to create The Green Stitch program. Their initial vision was to host a weekly in-person gathering, but COVID changed the nature of those events.
“The program is designed in response to our local environment and the seasons as they unfold throughout the school year,” Brahmst explained. “I hope that educational programs, homeschoolers and caretakers, as well as the larger community, will feel supported and inspired by the units.”
An important component of the program is its collaboration with Rhode Island Natural History Survey and Save The Bay, two partners who have helped generate much of the environmental programming.
Roberts was hired as the program coordinator in January. She moved to the area about eight years ago from Brooklyn, New York, and has a background in sewing, weaving and textile design. She first met Brahmst at the Saunderstown Weaving School and was part of the “Visions From The Loom” exhibit at Hera in September.
“Materials and fiber is really my specialty,” Roberts said. As program coordinator, she facilitates the weekly gatherings, which have drawn a diverse age range of mostly local attendees. Given the nature of Zoom, the sessions have taken on the feeling of a weekly craft club, with everyone working on something slightly different, happy to be in the company of others — even if remotely.
“We encourage people to pick up the craft kits and do the craft at hand, and also bring any craft and join the space,” Roberts said, adding the goal is for folks to “find your ‘craftivism’ and join the conversation.”
“We’re all just trying to take care of ourselves,” she added. “If it’s relaxing for you to have that here with friends, then join.”
Each month there is a different theme connected to the environment and a focus on simple crafts, like sewing or knitting. Once a month, a guest speaker is invited to share knowledge on a related topic. In September, the theme was “Seeding,” and Hope Lesson led a seed walk around Saugatucket Park, which correlated with a project to make hand-sewn seed bags (a downloadable PDF for this craft and others is available on Hera’s website, as are videos of the presentations featuring guest speakers).
In October the theme was mushrooms, and the group learned to sew felt shrooms. Ryan Bouchard and Emily Schmidt from the Mushroom Hunting Foundation gave a guest lecture. November was about natural buffers, and group members learned to stitch, draw and paint fabric banner squares that were attached together and displayed for the community, complete with text and images about buffers and their importance in protecting natural environments. Kate McPherson, a Narragansett Bay Riverkeeper with Save The Bay, led that month’s talk.
December focused on recycled holiday gift wrapping, and January on identifying tracks and trails below the snow. The craft? Making paw print baby blanket squares using hand stitching and reverse appliqué. February centered on upcycling, and group members learned to make mittens from old sweaters, with Reed McLaren sharing her knowledge on all things sustainable clothing.
March expanded on February’s lessons of mending by exploring the history and techniques of sashiko mending, with a craft of stitching denim patches to resemble area salt marshes — the topic of the monthly lecture, which was led by David Prescott of Save The Bay. The plan for April is to learn about leaf-runners and the patterns of leaves. May and June’s topics will be announced closer to their dates.
The Green Stitch program runs through June, and will resume outdoor meetings as the weather permits. Materials for each project are provided for free at Hera Gallery each week (located at 10 High Street, Wakefield), and community members can pick them up ahead of the Saturday sessions. Prior crafting knowledge is not necessary, and all are welcome to attend.
For more information about upcoming projects or past gatherings, visit heragallery.org/the-green-stitch.