I took Home Economics my freshman year in high school and a large part of our quarter grade was to make boxer shorts. I was excited about the assignment and picked a pretty pattern of pink flowers on a pink background. The only thing that wasn’t pink was the pale lime-colored leaves that formed under each tiny rose bud.
It looked very vintage and still very chic. I thought for sure Molly Ringwald would want to borrow them if she did a sequel to Pretty in Pink. But to my dismay, there was no sequel, which considering how my boxer shorts came out, I figured it was just as well.
It’s a shame what I did to that pretty fabric in the name of sewing. I cut, poked, and stitched in all the wrong places. As the end of the quarter approached and I saw the impressive results of my classmates cute little boxers, I resigned myself to sleeping in old t-shirts for the rest of my life. I begged my mom to take me to her alterations lady and have her fix the mess I had made. She refused – probably because she was so horrified at the mutilated fate of the pretty fabric.
I barely got a D that quarter, which was a little bit crushing since it was Home Ec, not rocket science. Apparently, I had about as much proclivity towards domesticity as I did algebra. Why couldn’t I have Molly Ringwald’s life? (Of course, I mean her life the last five minutes of the movie.)
Anyway, that is my experience with sewing. I don’t even do buttons.
Last year, when I heard about a new nonprofit that involved sewing, I was skeptical. I pictured a bunch of old grannies sitting around in their embroidered dresses threading needles. And while my own Granny was dearer to my heart than just about everybody, this concept seemed as unappealing to me as a 1986 Home Economics class.
How ironic then that Rethreaded’s mission is anything but antiquated and everything that is beautiful – no matter what your taste in fashion. According to their website, “Rethreaded seeks to unravel the effects of the sex trade, whether it takes the form of human trafficking, prostitution, pornography or strip clubs.”
That hardly makes me think of sewing. Yet women affected by the sex industry are taught self-worth, dignity, and a new way of life by becoming seamstresses. These castoff women who have experienced addiction, violence and prostitution transform old donated t-shirts into something new that they can sell – clothes, bags, purses and scarves. They call it up-cycling. I call it uplifting.
When you see the beautiful items they make and sell, it’s a marvel to think its physical transformation pales compared to how it changes worn, tired and broken lives into the vibrant colors of hope.
Rethreaded trains these women to become artisan seamstresses, pays them a living wage and most importantly, redresses them with dignity, compassion and love.
My boys and I spent part of an afternoon working with them and some other volunteers in a warehouse downtown. I explained to my children that we were going to a place that helps women who have had a hard life, maybe been on drugs, homeless or somehow hurt by other people. I told them that Rethreaded teaches them a new skill and gives them a job so they can start over.
The warehouse was clad in both old and new. There were worn t-shirts of every size, color and logo ever imagined. They lined the walls, filled bins and hung from hangers like a rainbow. There was also the up-cycled merchandise patched together from discarded garbs into beautiful boutique quality merchandise for sale. Weaving in between old and new were me, my children, other volunteers, staff and the women sewing a new story for themselves.
We sorted t-shirts by color, following a Pantone chart with names like vivacious, koi and turbulence. Their fall and winter merchandise would be derived from these colors. If the t-shirt wasn’t on the new chart, it was put away in bins. T-shirts that conformed to the chart’s palette were hung on wire hangers.
The air was stifling hot in the warehouse and almost immediately little beads of sweat formed on my son’s nose. While it was uncomfortable being that hot, it seemed somehow cathartic to sweat alongside and in honor of women who have been degraded, and yet are brave enough to choose a different pattern for their lives.
As a parent raising children in an over-sexualized culture, it is important to me that my boys understand the proper context of sex. Within love and marriage, it is a gift. It should never be violent or forceful. Nor is it something to sell or give away without regard to its sacred nature. Sex is also abused when we assign judgment to others for their choices or circumstances.
It is a challenging message to convey in a world where sex is a commodity, consent is ignored or given too freely, and pleasure takes priority over people.
It scares me as both a woman and a mother how sex is debased, rights are violated and lives ruined. So it was empowering to volunteer on behalf of an organization whose mission is to counter the effects of the sex industry.
Of course, my boys don’t understand all that now. But someday, they will recall how they sweat alongside their mama amid the myriad of colorful t-shirts. They will understand why what they did was so important. They will know what it means to respect women’s bodies and their own.
Among the countless other people who realize the true beauty of sexuality is based on love, I pray my children will be part of the color of hope in the bleak world of sexual exploitation.
Rethreaded enables women to rediscover the vivid colors unique to their lives, so they can begin to create a new tapestry sewn with love into a timeless story of hope.
Maybe these women will title it Pretty in Pink. No, that wouldn’t quite do. A story like that would have to begin with beautiful.