How Do Story Cloths Help?

Building Connections With Others

In a community that has been torn apart by mass violence and displacement strengthening bonds and restoring trust is essential.  In small sewing circles, women share with each other and build close relationships. They discover that they are not alone, and that their reactions to their circumstances are understandable. This process reduces stigma and shame.  Common Threads Projects create a safe community for survivors.
“I sewed my past events in the textile, shared it with my friends – it was then where I realized that I wasn’t the only one suffering but, my friends too were on the same road. Earlier, when I used to get tense, instead of sharing it with others I would sit all by myself, quietly. I realized if you share your problems, you’ll feel lighter and at peace.”

Providing safety

Hand-sewing is non-threatening, familiar and reparative. When the hands are busy and eye-contact is not expected, people find it easier to talk. At the patient pace of sewing, trust can gradually develop. This provides an optimal context for processing emotional material that has people feeling at their most vulnerable.
“It’s here that we can share what we keep hidden.”
“Earlier I didn’t know how to talk in front of others, used to feel palpitation and words would tangle inside my head. Slowly, I started expressing myself during the sessions and I even made a few friends.”

Encouraging Non-verbal Self-Expression

Current neuroscientific research demonstrates that traumatic experience is encoded non-verbally– in visual images and in somatic sensation (the verbal processing centers in the prefrontal cortex de-activate during moral threat, and the visual cortex ‘lights up’ to promote survival). This helps us understand why exclusively verbal treatment approaches often are not effective for survivors of severe trauma and why we must offer them an opportunity to express themselves in images.
“The pain we were going through was inside our hearts for very long but we were unable to pour it out in any form. … That’s what I wanted to portray with this textile. After looking at this, my own, and even other group member’s grief lessened a bit. I felt relieved a bit too while making it. I have tried to reflect this situation because the situation is indescribably. But, with this I felt quite relieved.”

Promoting Stress Reduction

Hand sewing is a profoundly self-calming activity. When survivors of violence struggle to find ways to quiet a nervous system that has had to function for long periods on high alert, it’s important to practice self-soothing behaviors. While involved in the meditative, rhythmic motion of stitching, the body’s relaxation response is engaged, enhancing concentration and slowing down breathing.
“I feel relieved when I come here. I feel that this is time for me. I mean I feel like I exist. We have tension but when we come here we feel relieved. That is why we wait for the day to come.”

Achieving Mastery

To plan, persevere and complete a project promotes a deep sense of self-efficacy, (which has often been lost in the face of enduring violence). Creating something intricate out of a hideous trauma is a component of mastering the experience.
“I used to be disturbed while recalling my past incidents. I always thought about it. But this made us express our stories into a textile and now I don’t feel very disturbed when I express those things. We expressed it in a piece of cloth. That’s it.”

Fostering Empowerment

Story quilts have exposed torture, rape, and genocide where regimes have attempted to silence their victims. Part of the healing process is finding a way to be heard, and sewing story cloths can begin the process of developing a voice and reclaiming agency.
“The other women are my sisters. With them I cried and I laughed. I learned to value many things; above all to value myself.  It is important that somebody hears you.”

Preserving Cultural Identity

Creating textiles offers a way for women to affirm cultural identity, particularly when they have had to flee from their communities. Preserving these traditions is an important element of the group sewing experience. By practicing these techniques with experts in their community, survivors can make a vibrant connection to their past.

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