Photo by Jackie Wong.
Bolts of sturdy fabric for making tote bags and aprons hang on the wall behind the work table where Naomi* is seated at the back of the Window Community Art Shop, a PHS Community Services Society enterprise that celebrated its one-year anniversary this November. This afternoon, Naomi is sewing handles on a series of black, cream and grey canvas tote bags. In addition to working as a part-time textile assistant at the Window, Naomi sells her own work in the shop, which is dedicated to showcasing, celebrating and selling the work of local artists.
Naomi’s line of textile materials, called “Secondlife Creations,” uses upcycled fabric in innovative ways. She breathes new life into the oilskin from a hunter-green rain jacket to sew a waterproof carrier bag for a yoga mat. Pretty baroque fabrics are re-purposed as coffee cup cozies. Her industrial, contemporary hair accessories and bracelets make creative use of a variety of textures and materials.
“Instead of going to therapy, knit!” Naomi jokes. For her, textile arts like sewing and knitting have been an immensely healing new feature in her life since she learned to sew through Enterprising Women Making Art (EWMA), a self-employment initiative operated by the Atira Women’s Resource Society. “I learned to sew through the program,” she says. “I loved it, and got a sewing machine.”
Naomi can often be found sewing in her room at the PHS-operated Rainier Hotel, where she has lived since it opened in February 2009. The Rainier, having lost funding as of the beginning of this month, is widely known as a transformational place of positive, tangible healing for the female residents who have lived in the 40-bed treatment centre and supportive housing facility. Naomi’s experiences there echo the trend.
Among other positive steps forward while living at the Rainier, Naomi learned to sew and has had the opportunity to explore creative work. In only a few short years since learning the basics, her textiles practice has blossomed.
In addition to being a familiar face at the Window Community Art Shop, Naomi has sold her work at Blim art and craft facility, at art markets at the Roundhouse and Britannia community centres, and at the Make It! handmade arts fair. On December 15, she’ll join other Downtown Eastside female artists to showcase and sell her work at the third-annual Community Christmas Craft Fair in the Woodward’s atrium.
The Community Christmas Craft Fair is specifically designed to be an affordable, inclusive, community-minded hub for holiday shoppers and arts enthusiasts. While supplies last, a free gift will be given to each customer who makes a purchase, and guests are invited to write and send Christmas cards to family members from the fair.
Naomi will be selling her accessories, jewelry and yoga mat bags at the fair. She’s proud of the uniqueness of her work, which is as beautiful and functional as it is environmentally sustainable. She crafts her pieces from donated fabrics and materials.
“You don’t need to buy all new things,” she says. “I like to think outside the box.”
The creative process is as important to Naomi as the final product. “To me, medicine isn’t very healing. If you don’t like medicine, you can make something that can make you feel better,” she says.
“Knitting and sewing allows me to do something in my own space. If I do something in my own space, hopefully I can start to answer my own questions.”
The 3rd annual Community Christmas Craft Fair takes place this Saturday, December 15th in the Woodward’s atrium (126 West Hastings), from 12-5pm.
*Last name withheld by request.