Tonight & Next Wednesday: A good cause & a private peek

War refugees woven into Houston's Community Cloth

War refugees woven into Houston's Community Cloth

As I travel the world, I collect women’s needlework. Intricately embroidered cuffs from Thailand, a black silk, red cross-stitched Palestine Bedouin wedding dress, and reverse appliqué molas from Panama. These are my travel souvenirs. And in a fashion, my international folk art collection.

Now, I do not have to travel far to add to my collection. The recently formed Community Cloth, a weaving and knitting collective of Bhutanese and Burmese war refugees, is displaying and selling their handicrafts, from 5- 8 p.m. tonight and next Wednesday at The Downtown Club at Houston Center.

The event is open to the general public, so besides checking out the hand woven bags, scarves and knitted goods, you can enjoy a drink or two in the exclusive private club and soak in the panoramic scenery.

I totally grooved to this event because Community Cloth is 100 percent Houston. It is displaced women digging down to their generational traditions from their lost homelands. It is about ardent volunteers who offer enthusiasm, aid and connections. It  is about hope and empowerment. A small but mighty grass-roots effort that, since its inception last fall, has netted almost $15,000 for the weavers and knitters.

Last summer community activist Sally Russ held a meeting/reception at her home to discuss the status and needs of recent refugees to Houston. There a demure Karen refugee from Burma hesitantly explained that she and other tribal women, unable to work outside of their homes, wanted to contribute to the economic health of their families by weaving. The looms were portable; a few had brought them from the Thai refugee camps to the United States.

She was sure, that with a little funding, the others could build their own back strap looms. Cash for specific threads was also needed. The women wanted to use the same threads from Thailand that they had always used for weaving. Each spool costs less than $10 and can make several items. And the women needed organizational help, sales assistance, and language development. They needed connections.

Someone in the audience knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. Roxanne McCauley Paiva of The One Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers financial and organizational support to small grass-roots organizations and people creating change in their community stepped up with a small grant.

Paiva became so taken with the project that she volunteered  to become co-founder and co-facilitator of the Community Cloth project. Joining her in the same position was Quynh-Anh McMahan, a former social worker and an ardent volunteer in Houston’s refugee community . McMahan is now employed by a nonprofit agency.

With their connections, the dream became a reality. Community Cloth got their threads. The group expanded to include Bhutanese women with a tradition for knitting. 

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A Karenni artisan using a backstrap loom Photo by Jane Foster
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Woven works by the Karenni (Burmese) artisans Photo by Melissa Yan
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A Bhutanese Nepali artisan knitting Photo by Melissa Yan
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The Community Cloth's latest model for the Bhutanese dog sweaters Photo by Roxanne McCauley Paiva
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