Weaving new lives one strip of fabric at a time

One room at Weavers Warehouse is filled with donated bolts of fabric and clothing.

Fred Brown was in desperate need of a job, and when opportunity came his way he jumped at it. Then he learned the work involved weaving.

“I didn’t know if I was going to last,” Brown said.

Not only has Brown held the position for almost two years, now he loves it.

“You get to pick your own stuff out, create something,” he said.

What Brown and eight others do is weave cloth and plastic into rugs, placemats, bags, clutches, wine carriers, IPad sleeves, bracelets, hammocks and more. The merchandise is made from discarded materials such as bolts of fabric, used plastic bags and donated worn clothing.

This transformation from recyclables into handcrafted goods takes place at the Weavers Warehouse, 1434 Scott Boulevard in Decatur. But while the goods may be impressive, the transformation of lives is the goal of re:loom.

Fred Brown says he finds satisfaction in finishing a piece, showing it to colleagues and getting positive feedback on his work. Photos by Gale Horton Gay
Fred Brown says he finds satisfaction in finishing a piece, showing it to colleagues and getting positive feedback on his work. Photos by Gale Horton Gay

 

Lisa Wise, executive director of the Initiative for Affordable Housing Inc., said re:loom was started in 2009 as a means of creating employment opportunities for homeless and low-income persons who can’t find work. A $750,000 federal grant has kept the program running, funding the salaries and benefits of nine weavers and one supervisor.

The first loom came from Agnes Scott College and had sat unused in a basement for 30 years. Once the project got under way, other looms were donated by people who wanted to give the instruments a second life. Now the project has 15 looms. And the Chattahoochee Hand Weavers Guild provided a weaving instructor to train the workers in how to use them.

Brown, 30, of Decatur, said it didn’t take him long to learn how to weave and that he most enjoys finishing a piece, laying it out for inspection by his co-workers and hearing their compliments. He said he also enjoys the independence and creativity of choosing the materials and color combinations.

Donna Scott, 42, of Atlanta, has been working at the warehouse weaving for a year. Although she had no previous sewing experience, she, too, gets satisfaction from working with her hands and seeing a tangible result.

“I enjoy having people want to buy things that you create,” Scott said.

Tammy Carden, re:loom’s operations manager, cuts fabric into strips, the first step in the weaving process.
Tammy Carden, re:loom’s operations manager, cuts fabric into strips, the first step in the weaving process.

The job gives her the flexibility she needs to work on a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Phoenix. Her goal, she said, is to be a counselor and work with women and children affected by domestic violence.

Decatur resident Robin Upshur, 54, said her Weavers Warehouse income allows her to take care of her two children on her own.

Before the weavers can begin their work, volunteers assist in sorting through the goods, cutting plastic bags and fabric into strips. Plastic strips are piled into bins, and cloth strips are wrapped into colorful balls.

Even buttons, clasps and decorative accents are cut from clothing and re-purposed.

“We are trying to not throw anything away,” Wise said. “We try to upcycle as much as we can.”

Wise, who is also a weaver, said she appreciates that the project is a bonus for the environment, diverting some waste from going into the landfill.

Re:loom goods are sold at the Weavers Warehouse as well as the Initiative for Affordable Housing’s office in Scottdale, Wild Oats and Billy Goats in Decatur and at Atlanta Made in west Atlanta. Rugs range from $99 to $675, placemat sets $43-$86, clutches and bags $35-$125. They also produce commission work for individuals who bring in sentimental items they want turned into something new or organizations for special projects. Delta Air Lines commissioned re:loom to turn bright orange and green safety vests into passport holders, wine carriers, clutches and more. Wise said the items were a hit with Delta workers.

Profit from sales helps funds the Initiative’s homeless programs.

Wise hopes to see expansion in 2014.

“Our goal this year is to have more retail space and do more commission work,” she said.

For more information on the project, visit www.reloom.org.

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