Artist tailors literacy program to local needs

Pictured (far l to r) are Lorraine Bulson, Asma Begum (sitting) and Melissa Sarris during the final project for Ms. Sarris’s “Stitching Exchange” held at Columbia Opportunities in Hudson. Photo by David Lee

HUDSON–Chatham artist Melissa Sarris has for many years worked in the art form of community engagement. She has invited people to tell their stories and show their collections. Her personal specialty has long been quilt-making and sewing, so it’s natural that a community sewing project would ensue. This most recent project she called “Stitching Exchange” involved 10 women from the Bangladeshi community in Hudson.

Like they say about everything looking like a nail to a hammer, I am an artist so everything looks like a potential artwork,” said Ms. Sarris.

I didn’t know any of them when I started this,” she said, but she knew Tina Sharpe, director of Columbia Opportunities, through a sewing project she initiated with the county jail. At its conclusion Ms. Sharpe suggested she might work with a group with the Hudson Family Literacy Program that Columbia Opportunities administers.

That was on the back burner for a while, but there is so much in the news lately about how this country treats immigrants, so I proposed the project,” said Ms. Sarris.

They met in the boardroom of Columbia Opportunities at 540 Columbia Street starting last February. The project involved sewing and also language translation. Participants first embroidered pillows with a word they associated with home. The word was embroidered both in Bangla and English.

For the final project, Ms. Sarris facilitated the sewing of simple full length skirts from a pattern, pieced together with sewing machines donated for that purpose. The women chose their fabric. This was added to the project in response to participant interest.

Ms. Sarris is experienced with sewing machines, but she has never used piece patterns to make clothing. She recruited Lorraine Bulson, formerly of the Warm Ewe, to help teach the class and engaged other women at Columbia Opportunities with experience to act as tutors.

The class concluded June 21 with participants taking home a new tailor-made skirt and a sewing machine. If they already owned a sewing machine, they were presented with a complete box of embroidery floss.

Wearing her newly completed skirt, Shohana Nawab posed for a photo with her daughters. Photo by David Lee

Speaking of the women who run the Family Literacy Program–Sophia Becker, Rebecca Boushie, Jewell Chestnut and HosneAra Kader–Ms. Sarris said they were just amazing throughout the whole process, with rides, support and coordination.

Stitching Exchange” was made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a “re-grant” program of the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Greene County Council on the Arts.

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