By Beth Volpert-Johansen
Four years ago, Denise Smith had just returned from six years with her husband and their jobs in Beirut. Life in Lebanon had left her feeling out of place back in Georgia. She pondered and prayed on what meaning her life might take when her church, Grace (Snellville) called her and asked if she would come speak to a group of refugee women, most of whom only spoke Arabic.
She agreed and began to ponder and pray on what she could offer them. The plan revealed itself in her trusty old sewing machine. “I took it everywhere with me,” says Denise. “I am never without it.”
Denise first called the manager of the apartment building that housed many of the women. “I asked if they might be interested in learning to sew,” says Denise. “His enthusiastic answer was, ‘YES!’”. Denise made some calls to friends to gather scraps of fabric and ended up with a few sewing machines as well.
That first meeting began a journey that became the answer to many prayers. The prayers of women who have fled horrific conditions and only want one small opportunity to make a living, raise good children and BE American, as well as the prayers of a woman who wanted to know what she should do with herself. Peace of Thread was born of these prayers.
The designer accessories company provides training, language lessons, fellowship and jobs for women who have made their way from upheaval and threat to a place they can breathe and make a new life out of the patches of their former selves. The words from their website read: Peace of Thread is a not for profit organization that empowers women who have come to the United States seeking refuge from war, persecution and poverty to make a new life for themselves and their family. The women of Peace of Thread hand make high quality and one-of-a-kind accessories using top-of-the-line, refurbished fabric. Their mission is to “promote the exchanging of cultures and the international development of women in vulnerable populations by teaching and improving life, business, and language skills through the platform of designing and sewing "one-of-a-kind" purses, bags, and accessories using re-purposed materials and to engage in activities which are necessary.”
Founder, Denise Smith seeks to bring Eastern and Western women together to foster fellowship and peace. “Women need work to contribute to their economy and support their families,” says Denise. “We show the beauty of each woman by designing the inside of each bag even more beautifully than the outside and teach the women that they were designed in the same way.” Through sewing and mending, the physical, emotional and spiritual pieces of each woman are mended as well. “God is peace and we are all people of peace,” says Denise. “Each of these women want just one small chance to learn a craft and be able to contribute to their household needs.”
The need for sponsors is endless. Each woman who enters the program is given a sewing machine, thread, needles, patterns and scraps of fabric. The majority of the fabric comes from the Atlanta Decorative Art Center and are scraps from the finest interior design products in the world. Parisian silks, Belgium patterns and countless more of the world’s loveliest fabrics are cast aside after becoming pillows, upholstery, and curtains. These incredible fabric scraps are designed and sewn into amazing bags that show the heart and soul of the artist. “To turn our bags inside out, you will find beautifully appointed fabrics that complement each other,” says Denise. “They are just like the women who sew them, beautiful inside and out.”
Inside the pockets of each bag is tucked a card that tells the story of each artisan. “Six of our women have graduated Level 12 English which means they can read their own child a story or understand the papers that come home from school,” says Denise. “Education is power for the formerly unemployable.” Each woman has a means for an income and desire to live “West alongside East”. “By understanding the gaps in culture, the women shed fears and become good American Citizens,” says Denise. “They will not be going back to their birth countries, so they need to belong here.”
Peace of Thread continues to grow in popularity and has most recently begun producing stuffed animals patterned after local author, Erin Burchik’s book, “Animals of the Nativity”. Just like the accessories offered by their website, www.PeaceOfThread.com, each animal is handcrafted from carefully chosen patches of fabric to make the creatures a tactile delight. “We are growing,” says Denise. “Recently, we had two Afghan women come to us and ask to crochet hats.” While the original idea was to teach sewing, Denise is open to new ideas, as long as they are appropriately marketable and trendsetting. “We decided on a pattern that allowed for three flower changes,” says Denise. “The hats are made of the finest American made yarn that we could locate.”
Remaining true to her mission and relying on prayer, Denise Smith and her volunteers work hard to ensure that those who want to find a way to support themselves and their families are able to do so. Volunteers are needed for all manner of roles. Watching the children of the trainees during classes is important. Transportation to the training center is always needed. “You don’t need to know how to sew in order to help,” says Denise. “We can always use more volunteers.” To order a bag or learn how you can help, visit the website, www.PeaceOfThread.com.
Exclusive Animals of the Nativity created by the hands of the women who work with Peace of Thread.