Brenda Grauer talks about her work with Stitching Hope with a glow and a warmth that can only come from finding one's true calling. And it seems the member of Federated Church United Church of Christ in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, has done exactly that. Combining the missions of her liturgical stole operation, In Stitches, with that of partner organization, Just Hope, Stitching Hope is a project that aims to help a group of women in Chacraseca, Nicaragua, startup and manage a sewing enterprise that will not only provide them with a living wage, but transform the workplace for their entire impoverished community.
"This is new life for me," said Grauer. "Meeting and working with the women in Chacraseca has taken that meaning of life for me and put it in full-blown color."
Grauer founded In Stitches in 1993 to fulfill what she saw as a need for more artistic expression within mainline Protestant denominations. She and her 14-person staff make liturgical stoles, banners, paraments (or altar coverings), and Jesus Dolls available to all denominations. For the UCC, In Stitches has crafted the stoles and paraments for each General Synod since 2003, creating unique designs based on each biannual event's theme and logo. The items are made using an array of fabric art techniques – such as applique, patchwork, fabric painting and surface embroidery – which Grauer says fulfills the need for religious art everywhere from the altar to the home.
The UCC played a role in finding Grauer's call. She met the Rev. Leslie Penrose, executive director of Just Hope, an organization that links communities in North America and Nicaragua to promote productive partnerships, at General Synod 2011. Working with Penrose, Grauer is now helping a group of Nicaraguan women learn the ins and outs of fabric arts while establishing Stitching Hope, an enterprise that will primarily produce religious-based fabric arts to sell in the United States, with a goal that it will be a fully functional business by Dec. 2015. To make this happen, Grauer has made numerous trips to Nicaragua and has hosted some of the women at her home, while working on business plans and traveling to events to solicit contracts.
Grauer recently utilized her long-standing partnership with the UCC to position Stitching Hope as the fabric provider for the 2013 General Synod stoles and paraments. Further conversations will determine if Stitching Hope will also have a booth in the General Synod exhibit hall, where they can sell more of their items. Regardless, Grauer believes this will be a wonderful opportunity for this group of motivated women to show their skills to the world.
"The vision of the women is that they could start a sewing enterprise for themselves and grow it into a transformative type of workplace for their community," Grauer said. "We are looking at a group of 10 women who want the opportunity to make a living through the use of their hands – and they are beginning to do that.
"I think pastors and churches are going to find it a very different kind of stole," Grauer added, of the creative work these women do. "They are going to beautiful."