For Barbara Ery, sewing is a metaphor for life.
The DACO teaching artist often asks the women she works with questions like, “What are we sewing into our life?” and “What are we stitching?”
For those who are part of the Women in Recovery group that regularly meets at DACO, it’s a way to reflect on the choices they have made and how the fabric of their lives can change in look, or evolve, over time.
“I like to present that there’s different choices,” she said. “And when it comes to art, there’s not really a wrong choice. You decide and it’s a safe place to make that decision.”
The support group that Ery leads consists of women from all backgrounds. But they all have one thing in common—they’re there to support one another and gain strength from the group.
Women come to The Recovery Center, through which the Women in Recovery support group is based, for many reasons. Addiction, domestic violence and exploitation are common among its clients.
For many of the group members, the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio serves as a vessel through which the group members can experience art therapy. Sewing, in particular, allows participants to take the project one step at a time—good practice for handling life events that may come their way, Ery says.
“It’s methodical—when you slow down and you experience this whole new catchword of ‘mindfulness,’ ” she said. “You begin thinking about your life and what can I do for me?”
Sometimes that therapy helps others as well, as was the case with a recent project. Group members worked together to create a quilt that will be donated to The Lighthouse, a women’s shelter in Lancaster.
Sewing, or another art project, are often just one component to the meetings, which are typically court-ordered for the women who participate. A trained clinical counselor attends and often uses the art projects as a gateway into helping participants open up about the struggles they are facing.
“A lot of times the women open up about their situations and are very forthright about what’s going on,” Ery said. “I’m really blown away. Sometimes I cry and sometimes it’s really tough. It’s hard to hear.”
For Ery personally, the opportunity to help women in recovery heal through the arts has made a big impact on her.
“It’s my duty, my responsibility as a human being on this planet, to help other people and pay it forward when I’ve been given an opportunity,” she says. “Sometimes you find that hard in your life to do, but I really want to be part of this group and give back.”