Around six years ago, Suzanne Mancini started The Sew-Op with a goal: Not just to teach people to sew, but to create a community space.
Mancini, a career sewist who worked as a designer in New York City and taught pattern-making at her alma mater, Rhode Island School of Design, envisioned the shop as a place where people of all ages could learn to sew and work on projects.
She even made its motto “creating community, one stitch at a time.”
The Sew-Op has since grown —last September it moved to a bigger studio in Wickford Village — and Mancini has succeeded in creating community: Specifically, a community of sewists who volunteer their time to make goods and donate them to organizations in need statewide.
Around four years ago, Mancini said, she and a group of volunteers started sewing pillowcases that were donated to Ryan’s Case for Smiles — a nonprofit that collects pillowcases for children receiving hospital treatment.
Mancini chose that project because the first lesson she teaches sewing students is a pillowcase, she said, and over the years she and her students have donated hundreds of pillowcases to Hasbro Children’s Hospital through the nonprofit.
“It feels good to do something for somebody else. And a lot of when you sew, you’re making things for the people you love,” Mancini said. “So it’s really nice to give (a donation) to someone who’s really gonna use it and really appreciates it.”
When The Sew-Op moved to a bigger building, Mancini saw an opportunity to broaden the scope of her volunteer work as well. She dedicated part of the space specifically to community projects, and set out to find another group in need of her volunteers’ support.
“The parameters are, she wants it to be local, she wants it to be something in Rhode Island where she knows where it’s going,” said Mary LoPresti, a store associate at The Sew-Op. “It’s not just, ‘We’re gonna make a bunch of this and it’s gonna get shipped some place,’ and you don’t know anything else about it.”
Inspiration struck when a Sew-Op sewing instructor told LoPresti that kids in foster care need duffel bags to carry their belongings to and from their foster homes. Often, LoPresti learned, children arrive at foster homes with their belongings in plastic trash bags.
So Mancini’s group of volunteers — which had grown to around half a dozen — got to work, and recently gave 27 hand-sewn duffel bags to Family Services of Rhode Island, a nonprofit that contracts with the Department of Children, Youth and Families to connect kids with foster parents.
“A lot of the kids literally go from one place to another with a garbage bag,” Mancini said. “So we made large bags for them so that they could have something and call it their own, and take a little bit of pride in their things.”
Each bag has a drawstring at the top, two straps, and a pocket in the front, said Olivia DeManche, a project manager at Family Services of Rhode Island. And they were all made out of bold-colored fabric — which is great for kids, DeManche said.
DeManche said Family Services of Rhode Island is planning to give one bag to each child entering a foster home, and to distribute some to children already in the program as well.
Mancini and LoPresti made the process easy, DeManche said, and she said she appreciated that they reached out and wanted to help.
“What’s special about this is that each of these bags was made with one of these kids in mind,” DeManche said. “It was made with the purpose in mind. So I thought that was really special and sweet, and I know the program appreciates that too.”
And The Sew-Op’s volunteers aren’t done: They’re currently working on custom hospital gowns for patients at Hope Health Hospice and Palliative Care in Providence, and in the future Mancini wants to do a project that will benefit veterans.
“The list is endless of what we could do,” Mancini said. “But it’s gotta go to people who are local.”