Kari Cadenhead learned to sew and make things with her hands to have gifts to give as a child. She learned from her mother, a single mom, who made Halloween costumes and clothing for Kari and her sister.
Crafting has remained a way of life for Cadenhead, now a mother herself. Her home is full of items she has repurposed, crafted, painted or sewn. “I don’t believe in spending a lot of money,” she said.
Before her son, Johnny, was born, Cadenhead used those skills to make things for him. “It was nice to make all the little things for him to greet him when he came into the world ... booties, hats and such.”
And now Cadenhead is passing crafting down to her son, 4, who has started to learn embroidery.
Cadenhead, who teaches sewing classes at Cathey’s Sew and Vac for a living, has joined forces with crafter friend Aimee Cronenberg to share that love of craft, for free, with people who might not otherwise be able to afford to try.
“The people who can’t afford it are the ones who could benefit most from those skills,” Cadenhead said.
The duo has started a nonprofit company, Crafting Forward, to provide free classes and supplies to people who feel working with their hands would enrich their lives, but don’t have the means to give it a go. “You never know what people are going through,” Cadenhead said.
Starting up can be expensive, she says. For example, sewing lessons run up to $50 per hour. Then factor in another $200, at least, for the most inexpensive machine, as well as supplies. “I think people would do it more if they could afford it,” she added.
“We thought we’d have this open supply closet, and to teach how to repurpose stuff,” said Cronenberg, a 33-year-old stay-at-home mom. “If you go to a thrift store, you can get a cashmere or silk and angora blend sweater to repurpose into something better by unraveling it.”
Cronenberg is also passing the art of craft down to her daughter, 4, who is learning how to finger knit, which is a simple technique that doesn’t require knitting needles.
The women met in a moms group and had talked about how people don’t learn how to sew anymore. In generations past, it was an art traditionally passed down from mother to daughter.
“We talked about moving crafting into the future,” Cadenhead said. “A lot of my generation is just learning, and their kids don’t know how. ... So, we started it up.”
Crafting Forward currently offers to help with sewing, knitting and crocheting with an open craft night every Wednesday at Maker House, a collaborative workspace for artisans that opened downtown last year.
Attendees can bring whatever project they want to work on and can work independently, or get advice and help. If somebody doesn’t have anything to work on, but wants to learn a new skill, they can just show up. Students have access to all of the patterns, fabric and supplies they need if they can’t afford their own.
On craft night the group raises funds by offering a new guided craft to work on each month. Recently, Cadenhead taught how to make bunting flags, using skills such as sewing and spray paint stenciling. They ask for donations to participate and use the proceeds to fix more machines and buy supplies.
About 10 people showed up on a recent Wednesday. Most of them worked on their own projects, which gave the room an open, nonintimidating feel.
“Art supplies are expensive as hell,” said Sue Bond, a nursing instructor at Pima Community College, as she worked on a quilt for her mother. “This is like the stone soup of art. Everybody brings their carrots and potatoes and pitches in.”
Bond loves the relaxed, noncompetitive atmosphere at open craft night. “Here it’s like ‘What are you doing’ or ‘That looks interesting. Maybe I can do it, too,’ which makes it appealing.”
Stay-at-home mom Callie Jackson sat with her daughter as she worked on a knitting project.
“I learned recently how to knit,” Jackson, 28, said. “It’s always fun to come here. They’ve been useful if I’ve had questions. I think this is such a great idea. Crafting falls to the wayside nowadays, and it’s a lost art. So, it’s awesome they’re bringing it back, especially to those who wouldn’t be able to otherwise, and helping them to be self-sustainable.”
Crafting Forward not only provides lessons, it donates sewing machines to help people get started.
Cadenhead knows firsthand what it’s like to have a machine break and not be able to fix it. “When we were kids learning to sew and the machine wasn’t working, we couldn’t do much about it because she (Mom) was going to school and working,” she said.
Twenty sewing machines have been repaired or given away in just a couple of months. “I had broken sewing machines all over my house,” Cadenhead said.
As the duo gets more established it hopes to get a van or truck, filled with supplies, to offer mobile classes. Crafting Forward’s target market are people who might not be able to afford much, including a way to get to a class across town.
“Transportation is expensive,” Cronenberg said. “If we can go to people, on their schedule, we’re saving them a lot.”
By providing a creative outlet and the means to make money through teaching and crafting, Cadenhead and Cronenberg hope to instill a sense of camaraderie among their students.
“Amy and I always talk about how crafting gets communities together, like the old quilting bees, where people got together to quilt,” Cadenhead said.
Crafting Forward also teaches refugee women how to sew in a weekly class at the International Rescue Committee. “They’re so proud when they get it,” Cadenhead said. “It’s neat to see that fulfillment. These women are really in a position where they need an outlet.”
Most of the refugee women are mothers, Cadenhead said. “Their goals are to sew kids clothing, for the most part. I’ve found that a big motivation for learning is to be able to pass the skills down to their children as the kids grow.”