Helping hands

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Helping hands

It’s the first time Andy Brown has picked up a sewing needle since his junior high home economics class, and he’s glad it’s for a good cause.

Labour, love and leather power the weekly Warm Hands, Warm Hearts workshop at the C2 Centre for Craft, where volunteer sewers of all levels make mittens for those in need.

During the second session, not a single chair is empty in the room. Most participants are strangers, yet within an hour, the conversation is already flowing.

photos by RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Andy Brown will turn his old leather chaps into mitts that will be distributed to unhoused people this winter.

“This is a really unique opportunity to use craft as a way to address, in a small way, people being underclad in the winter,” says Tammy Sutherland, the director of the Manitoba Crafts Council. “What this project has is that thrift element, like recycling items that are no longer viable to be used in their current form.”

Brown brought his curiosity, creativity and old leather motorcycle gear that had been sitting in his garage for too long. Soon, it will be repurposed into a pair of mittens to protect someone’s hands from the brisk Prairie cold.

“This project is just so important. I wanted to support it, not only with the materials I donate but with my time as well,” Brown says.

The project was spearheaded by leather worker Sheila Cailleau, the owner of Magpie Chiq, and the Manitoba Crafts Council. Initially, Cailleau donated her own stock of handmade mittens — sometimes even the ones she was wearing — but soon realized she needed more helping hands.

“There’s too much cold in the city, and it was hard to see,” Cailleau said. “I was taking the mitts I make to sell and giving those away.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Manitoba Craft Council has partnered with leather worker Sheila Cailleau to host Warm Hands, Warm Hearts, a weekly mitten sewing workshop.

“I have the privilege to make them and wear them, and I think everybody else has that right.”

By winter, Cailleau hopes to have 200 pairs of cosy leather mittens ready to warm frozen fingers. To reach that goal, she’s dedicating her Wednesday afternoons to teaching volunteers the ins and outs of leather stitching.

The initiative is deeply personal for Cailleau, who once experienced homelessness herself.

“Years ago, I was part of CFS and fell through the cracks,” Cailleau says. “For a brief time, but long enough to get a grasp of what it is, I ended up homeless.”

Knowing how difficult it can be to ask for help, Cailleau wants to make sure those with cold hands in the winter can secure a pair of mittens with no questions asked.

“Anytime you see somebody on a median asking for something, they never asked for that,” Cailleau said. “One of the hardest things for people to do is to admit that they need help and to openly ask for it.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Participants learn to work with leather to make mittens at the workshop.

Hosting the workshops in the summer, when more people are on holidays, will ensure the mitts are ready when people need them most, Sutherland said. Although the program has only been running for two weeks, the hand-sewing project has brought the community together through a labour of love.

“Craft history is full of generosity, gifting, and people making things as a sign of care,” Sutherland says. “It’s easy to get cynical or get inured to it, but people like Sheila are not inured. They understand what’s going on from a more deeply personal level and see past where people are at right at the moment.”

Once the sun starts setting earlier and snow begins to blanket Winnipeg streets, Cailleau hopes to partner with organizations to distribute the mittens. The program is always looking for donations of leather and fur items, which can be dropped off at the C2 Centre for Craft Wednesday to Saturday, noon to 4 p.m.

“I want to have this before they’re needed and have this project run all year round,” Cailleau. “To prepare enough mitts once the cold hits takes a lot of effort and a lot of work.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mittens are made from donated leather and fur items.

Brown, who is fairly new to Winnipeg, says seeing people share their knowledge and time for a good cause has been refreshing. Next Wednesday, he plans to return with friends to lend a few extra helping hands.

“The kindness that Winnipeggers and Manitobans show each other is really important and really inspiring,” Brown said.

“I think we’ve all learned that we need each other after these past couple of years.”

The Warm Hands, Warm Hearts free mitten-making workshop takes place every Wednesday from noon to 3:30 p.m. at C2 Centre for Craft, 1-329 Cumberland Ave. For more information and to register, visit wfp.to/mittens.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Warm Hands, Warm Hearts is a weekly mitten-sewing workshop for volunteers, with the goal of creating 200 pairs to hand out to vulnerable people in the winter.

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