“Beauty is not a luxury but a strategy for survival”–Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World.

In these desperate times for so many on our border, Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders (ABB) couldn’t be more grateful for our national textile arts community’s ongoing support of asylum seekers’ familial and cultural arts. It goes a long way in affirming these families’ humanity and dignity.

Donations from across the U.S. mean that we can stock “Maker Bags” with embroidery and weaving supplies for newly arrived asylum seekers in COVID quarantine at Casa Alitas, Tucson’s Lead Migrant shelter. The healing and grace that these kinds of trauma-informed arts and activities provide for families in isolation, who arrive sick and stressed to the max, cannot be underestimated. What a joy it has been this season to be able to help our new families have a moment’s peace and agency, a moment to breathe just a little easier. It has felt like the best gift of the season.

“The maker bags were such a delight for many of our adult guests, especially the single women that were staying with us. It is lovely to see the adults’ faces when they received a little gift along with the kiddos. … and kid-friendly kits keep the kids entertained and also give them the ability to bond with their parents with these crafts. Thank you so much to the volunteers for the love and care put into each of these kits and for thinking of our guests.”–Casa Alitas Staff Site Lead

Cash donations from International Textile Guilds like W.A.R.P. and local Guilds like the Saddlebrook Fine Arts Guild and the Tucson Handweavers and Spinners Guild allowed us to send end-of-the-year supplies (traditional manta cloth & hilo/thread) from Mexico to our bordadoras/embroiderers and tejedoras/weavers now in the U.S. awaiting asylum adjudication.

Tucson Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders now have a standing reservation to compile Maker bags at Tucson’s City Council Ward 6 building, on the third Friday of every month going forward in 2023. Steve K. has been a long-time and continuing supporter of Casa Alitas and other migrant agencies here in Tucson. Scroll down to see the photo, etc.

https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/AZTUCSON/bulletins/33ce6a1

Here are the 2023 dates volunteers will meet: 1/20/23, 2/17/23, 3/17/23, 4/21/23, and 5/20/23. You are welcome to join us anytime between 9-4 that day. Email Contact@ArtisansBeyondBorders.org if you would like to participate. 

Many Hands Make Light Work

Longtime ABB Volunteers Kat and Mary planning
Magda and Emily compiling donations into Maker Bags for Casa Alitas Guests
Val, Magda, and Halsey packing
Gael Cassidy volunteering with Tucson’s Iskashitaa Refugee Network. Generous donations mean that we can also disseminate handwork materials and supplies to other refugee groups in our area.

Angel Donors

Donors to ABB demonstrate time and again how more alike we are than different. We, humans, create better circumstances for ourselves and our families with our own hands, ingenuity, and creativity. Familial arts like embroidery, sewing, and weaving are homemaking traditions we all share.   

Terry Italia and her son Vinny from New Jersey personify the souls of our donors.  Terri was the daughter of Italian immigrants who came to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Terri Italia sewing

Always creative and enterprising, Terri first started a cake decorating business with a friend – “I can still taste the lemon filling and icing of those cakes,” Vinny writes.  She then moved on to knitting and crocheting blankets (an interest shared with her Mom) for family and friends. After her kids got on their feet, Terri worked in a local craft store.  There she learned about crewel/tapestry yarns and embroidery floss. She was eventually recruited by DMC, the supplier of the world-famous thread and embroidery supplies. Terri excelled as a DMC representative at trade shows and conferences around the country for over a decade.

Like so many women, Terri retired early to become her mother’s caregiver until her mom’s death. All along, though, Terri had multiple projects – embroidery, quilting, sewing – going at the same time. As her own health slowly deteriorated, “she would repeatedly ask me not to throw her inventory away after her passing,” writes Vinny. “She wanted things to go to a good cause and continue the benevolence she lived her life by.”

Terri’s is the largest donation ABB has received to date. The multi-colored crochet thread alone is an amazing gift for indigenous weavers in the U.S. who cannot afford the thread they need to complete their work. 

After Terri passed, Vinny contacted an old friend from college, Mary Hahola Rosell, for help in getting his Mom’s huge stash into the hands of weavers and embroiderers. Mary, who “learned to weave in the early 1990s with Deb Chandler’s seminal book “Learning to Weave,” and helpful fiber friends, contacted WARP, an organization that has always been an inspiration to her. WARP put her in touch with Artisans Beyond Borders in Tucson and the shipping began! The postage needed to send such a large amount was daunting, but Shore Fiber Arts Guild in Ocean, New Jersey, where Mary is a member, raised funds to help defray the costs. 

Vinny writes, “I hope that ABB can use the materials and supplies to create many items which will bring a smile and joy to the faces of the people you are helping. Terri would be very happy.”

More donations from long-time supporter Anita Tokos, also hailing from an immigrant family. Friends from her parish in Ohio added more and helped with the cost of shipping.

And this year, The West, a non-profit needlework and gift shop in Tucson that from 1981 – 2019 gave over $2.3 million to Tucson charities serving women and children, donated extra wool yarns to ABB. Thanks to their generosity, materials for up to three projects with kids can be included in each maker bag.

“Beauty scatters the seeds of Hope,” Joan Chittister

Our Etsy shop Bordando Esperanza is now officially closed as we focus more on service and education but you may find handcrafted items made by asylum seekers for sale through other border organizations tabling at the upcoming annual Common Ground on the Border conference, January 12-14 at the Good Shepherd Church in Sahuarita, AZ. Online, you can find wonderful original embroideries at Salvavision’s new shop benefitting the Esperanza Shelter in Sasabe on the Arizona-Mexico border.

Please continue to support our sister border organizations in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico that actively promote agency and dignity, beauty and hope: Casa de la Misericordia y de Todas Naciones, Voices from the Border, and Kino Border Initiative

Wishing you and your families a healthy, safe, and secure New Year,

Tucson’s Friends of Artisans Beyond Borders

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