With a keen sense of community, members of The Sewing Circle of Philadelphia meet at Coral Street Arts House on the first Sunday of every month not just to weave thread, but also to sew relationships.
While the needle meets thread, members use the time to discuss a variety of topics. From discussions of individuality, to how far back a member can recall their family member’s first name, the group takes advantage of the opportunity to socialize and collaborate ideas.
Meetups of this sort have gone on for two years, but the roots of the project go back to founder Scott Bickmore’s great-great-grandmother’s years.
“If anything, Bama was sort of the founder,” said Bickmore. “She kind of created this type of attitude and culture that we are acknowledging.”
Mary Jane Beers – who Bickmore refers to as, “Bama” – crafted many quilts during her time. Since her passing, members of Bickmore’s family have received what she has made. Some have framed her quilts, while others have used them for warmth.
One quilt in particular – which made its way from his cousin Silvio’s Penn State dorm to Bickmore’s apartment – serves as a relic of Bickmore’s hobby and was a means to the conversation that eventually led to the creation of the group.
“When Silvio wasn’t using the quilt anymore, my Aunt Randy told me that I should have it,” said Bickmore. “We met for dinner and that’s kind of where we had the conversation about starting a sewing circle – for a way for us to get together.
“We saw it as being something collaborative,” the 38-year-old added. “It became something I wanted to facilitate.”
Just as it was a quilt that served as a foundation of the group, members of the circle have been working on creating a quilt of their own, with a very specific purpose.
“Currently, we’re working on a timeshare blanket, which will be used by whoever is feeling the most upset at that point in time,” said Bickmore. “It’s really a way of reaching out, because when you ask for the blanket, whoever has it understands why you need it. Then they show up with the intent to pick you up when you’re down.
“When you get the blanket, you also can work on it,” added Bickmore. “It’s really therapeutic and the passing of the blanket shows other people’s support.”
The therapeutic value of sewing was an aspect that Bickmore noticed while at the Occupy Philly protests in 2011.
During the protests, Bickmore ran an initiative, which he called, “Preoccupy Philly.” Noticing a lack of functionality within the protest, Bickmore decided to provide protesters an alternative to the dysfunction that was taking place.
It was during one of his sewing workshops that Bickmore discovered the therapeutic qualities that the hobby yields.
“We had a good handful of people, and this one woman really got my attention,” said Bickmore. “At one point, she supposedly had her own fashion line and she was a nurse. She had been making good money, but got lost along the way.
“I was showing her how to sew the holes in her sweatshirt,” continued Bickmore. “As she was doing it, her eyes got all teary. Then she said, ‘you’re healing me.’ I don’t know what prompted that. But it was really sincere and I really felt that.”
Current members of the group do not fail to recognize the group for being something more than just simply sewing.
Many echo sentiments about the strong social interaction that the group allows.
Sarah Smothers, 27, works in the Cultural Arts department of the Philadelphia Developmental Disabilities Corporation (PDDC), assisting adults with intellectual disabilities through art. She joined the group after co-worker Emily Royer, a fellow sewing circle member, informed her of the opportunity.
Smothers believes that the group could serve as an alternative therapy for anyone who may be troubled.
“The more opportunities for people to connect with their communities in different ways is always a good thing,” said Smothers. “The fact that this group exists as an alternative form of doing something therapeutic is great.”
Royer, 31, also believes in the concept of the group, and she thinks that the fact that the group differs from other forms of social interaction is among one of its strongest benefits.
“The circle is an interesting way of meeting people,” said Royer. “This doesn’t exactly fit in with other groups, such as sport clubs or things along those lines. It’s just a different way of getting to know people in your community and sharing experiences and ideas.”
In the future, Bickmore hopes to expand the circle and bring in more members from the community.
But he recognizes the challenges of expansion.
“When people hear about a sewing circle, they picture old ladies,” said Bickmore. “I don’t really represent the typical sewing circler.
“It’s a matter of making it more translatable,” added Bickmore. “But when you see what I saw with the lady at the Occupy protest, it makes it something you’d want to do with more people.”
Text, Video, and Images by Mark Whited and Lauren Arute