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Loom Chicago Stiches Together Cultural Boundaries

The third floor of the Berry Methodist Church houses crates of yarn, sewing machines and a rack of tie-dyed scarfs. Women fleeing from war, poverty, politics or natural disasters meet here once a week to create handmade products to earn an income.

Loom Chicago, a social enterprise of Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program, hires Chicago artists to teach members how to create a specific craft. The handcrafted products, ranging from crochet earrings, painted totes and knitted hats, are sold at monthly craft shows or on Loom’s website.

Loom members converse with each other before Aulie's surprise party.

Loom members converse with each other before a surprise celebration.

The women are from all around the world, including Nepal, Bhutan and Tanzania. Klezar, a refugee from Iraq and a leader in crochet earring workshops, explains that she not only loves creating crafts, but also cherishes her friendships with Loom members.

“The most important thing that she likes it that Loom is diverse, and you can find a lot of people from different parts of the world,” said a translator for Klezar. “So she likes to do socializing at Loom and also if she has a lot of time at home, she would like to come [to Loom] to use that spare time.”

The craft materials were moved and replaced with worldly foods to host a going away celebration for founder Sarah Aulie on March 10. Now that Aulie has moved to Greece, Kait Madsen, Loom’s social enterprise coordinator, is taking over some of her responsibilities.

Founder Sarah Aulie is given a temporary mehndi tattoo at her surprising going away party. Mehnidis are used for festive occasions, in this case Aulie's wedding.

Loom founder Sarah Aulie is given a temporary mehndi tattoo at her surprise going away party. Mehnidis are used for festive occasions, in this case Aulie’s wedding that will take place in Greece.

Madsen, a 22-year-old Loyola student, found Loom through a college research project.

“Through working with them, I realized the heightened vulnerabilities that women refugees face, as far as violence goes and access to services,” said Madsen.

Madsen explained that Loom’s next goal is for women to become leaders of the program and help train other refugees.

“It’s kind of idealistic, but it’s also not. It’s something that we’re moving toward, to have women have different job titles,” said Madsen. “So [we’re] kind of moving in that direction so eventually women can get paid and feel that they’re not just artisans, but also running the business.”

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