Sew What: Local Women Sew Hundreds of Clothes for Foster Children

By Kayla Sosa

For more than 10 years, a group of women have been meeting each week at Gall Sewing & Vac Center to sew clothes for children at D.A. Blodgett St. John’s, a welfare agency (foster care) for children facing abuse and neglect. Together, they have supplied hundreds of garments a year to children in need. But beyond using their sewing skills, they find therapy through meeting each week and doing good for their community. They call themselves the Caregivers.

Salvatore Alaimo, filmmaker and Grand Valley State University professor, spent a year making a documentary about the group. The film was recently released and shown at Wealthy Theatre. He started by getting “footage of them in action.”

“Doing everything from cutting the fabric to choosing the fabric to looking at the patterns and figuring out how they’re going to make these garments,” Alaimo said. “Measuring, cutting, pinning and then, of course, sewing.”

Alaimo interviewed the women individually and together. He did two drive-alongs with women in the club, starting from their home and driving to the center, all the while talking about why they participate in the group.

“We would start in their homes, as they were packing up their stuff to get ready to go to the sewing center and we would be talking to them as we’re doing that, they’d be explaining the whole process,” Alaimo said. “They’re describing what it’s like to go every Friday to the center, but also how they got involved.”

The group was started by a woman named Nina Payne, who worked at Gall and put together the charity effort. She died in March of 2010.

Bette Brailey and Edie Ferguson have been friends since before they joined the sewing club, and said they were met warmly by Payne when they decided to join together in 2007.

“I hadn’t sewn since I sewed for my own kids,” Ferguson, 82, said. “It was such a good group of people.”

While some of the members of the group are more serious sewers than others, there isn’t a certain skill level required to join.

“Not everybody is a good sewer,” Brailey said. “But we get the jobs done.”

Every three months, the group turns in at least 100 items of clothing, from shirts, pants, dresses, skirts, to underwear. They make all sizes ranging from 12 months to 12 years and try to make a full outfit each time.

“I’m strictly a t-shirt, pants and PJs person,” Brailey said. “I get too frustrated if I try anything else.”

Meanwhile, some of the other ladies like to make fancy dresses with ruffles and lace. One woman makes dolls, and others make mittens, baby blankets and pillowcases. Every Christmas, the group also makes bags that D.A. Blodgett fills with presents for the kids.

But the idea is not about who can make what — it’s about spending time together while doing good.

“We constantly chit chat, we tell each other all of our problems and all things that are going on in our families,” Ferguson said. “These people are like sisters.”

“We get on some really crazy subjects sometimes. And we think, if anybody’s listening to us, they’d wonder about us,” Brailey laughed. Ferguson added they would be “laughing hysterically” sometimes.

Initially, Alaimo thought his film would lead up to the clothes being presented to the children and show video of the kids wearing them. In order to protect the identity of the kids at D.A. Blodgett, that couldn’t happen. Even Ferguson said the group has never once seen a child wearing the clothes they make.

“The more I shoot footage, the more I talk to these ladies, the story’s not about donating the clothes,” Alaimo said. “(It’s about their) deep friendship they have with each other and how sewing every Friday is almost a form of therapy.”

Almost all of the material the women sew from is donated. Brailey said the group is always in need of cotton material and fabric for pants like denim, corduroy and khaki.

Even when the ladies are having a hard time finding the energy to go, something keeps bringing them back each week.

“We’re doing something good for somebody,” Brailey smiled. “And they’re doing something good for us by letting us sew for them.”

The Caregivers meet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Friday at Gall Sewing & Vac Center, 3150 Plainfield Avenue NE. They’re always open to new members, no matter the skill level.

The documentary, titled “Sew What?” will be available for digital download after making its run on the film festival circuit.

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