Sewing for purpose

Women become financially
empowered through community collective

By: Amanda Ducheminsky

“Behind every successful women is a tribe of other successful women who have her back."
- Anonymous

When women work together, nothing can stop them. The Women’s Sewing Collective (WSC) is part of a community economic development approach to help foster monetary security and independence within neighbourhoods. A project of the City of Calgary’s Community Social Work Program, the collective is empowering women to take charge of their financial futures.

“The WSC is an example of women finding innovative ways to generate supplementary income through micro enterprise. At the same time, the group of women come together to learn new skills, and build leadership and entrepreneurial capacity, while increasing their social network,” says City of Calgary, community social worker, Courtney Robertson.

The collective is made up of 13 diverse women who are supported by local community social workers, volunteer instructors, and even a summer student, who helps them bring their products to market. Every Monday, the women meet from 9AM to 12PM, at the Killarney Recreation & Aquatic Centre. Together they learn to sew, sell, and support one another as a team.

WSC volunteer, Jackie Papineau, has been sharing her sewing knowledge with the group for just over two years now. She says the women’s ability to learn hands on, while sharing information with one another, has really created the perfect environment for them succeed.

“There are lots of outlets for learning to sew, but it’s really good to communicate and share experiences of sewing. That’s what you find is missing a lot now. It’s important to pass along things that you’ve done before, or a little trick you’ve learned to make something better. Many joined, not knowing anything about sewing. They often catch on really quickly and preserver together, learning new techniques as a whole.”

Nina Ceapa says the program is a great place for her to learn.

“I’m so happy to share with everyone what I’ve made. If I have questions, I can ask someone to help me, learn what I did wrong, and figure out what I can do better next time. Everyone here is really nice, friendly, and willing to share their experiences. They also offer us free child care at the pool. It’s so convenient for a mom like me with kids.”

The ladies’ work doesn’t stop at noon. They take it very seriously, putting in extra time to perfect their skills.

“Monday, we’re learning here. Then Tuesday to Sunday, we are learning at home. That’s a major thing. It’s not easy. It’s like school work, you have to do your homework,” says collective participant Ruchi Singh.


For the past two years, Calgary Neighbourhoods community social workers, Lemlem Haile and Silvia Ross, have helped facilitate the program. Haile explains that group is so much more than sewing.

“Our sewing is for purpose. We’re trying to help women who aren’t able to work at this point. Most of the women have young kids and have other barriers for employment. It’s a way for them to gain supplementary income. The skills they’re learning here, they can use to start a business, work in alterations, or sell full-time. We support a comprehensive program providing all different kinds of capacity building options, other than just sewing, so that the women can upscale their skills and start imagining what’s possible for them.”

Since joining the WSC, Singh says she’s feeling grateful and optimistic.

“I came to Canada two and a half years ago. After one year, I joined this. Now I can look into a future in sewing. I’ve learned many things here. I’m feeling so grateful. I can now make handbags, aprons, and household items, like cushions and table runners. I can even make clothes and Halloween outfits for my daughter. She tells her friends, ‘My mom made this!’ I’m feeling so proud knowing that I’m making things. I’m also now able to watch online instructional videos and go on websites for ideas. Slowly we gain more confidence so that we can sell to the public.”

The group had their first sale this past Christmas. It was hugely successful, with the ladies planning to host/attend four more markets this summer.

If you would like to support the WSC, their next market will take place at the Killarney pool (1919 29 St SW) on June 21st from 5:30 to 8:30PM.

They also happily accept financial donations for new equipment/tools, as well as select fabrics, and other clothing donations/materials – that they can up-cycle into new products.

Are you a local business, entrepreneur, or organization looking create community financial empowerment in your neighbourhood? Visit Thrive Calgary to get inspired and learn what’s possible.