Refugee Women Find Friendship, Income In Making Scarves For Chicagoans

By Alison Bowen
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) “The Loom” is a project of the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program. Volunteers teach refugees from places like Iraq crafting and jewelry making skills so that they can make money.


Peering at the piece of paper, Saleemah Hammadi evaluated the pattern, a scarf with draping fringe. Scrunching her nose, she picked up a knitting needle. Put it down. Shook her head.

“Too big.”

She knows her needles. As a girl in Iraq, her mother taught her how to sew. Classes in a Baghdad classroom boosted her skills.

Now, on the second floor of a Lincoln Square church, she uses her craftsmanship to knit scarves that will be worn around Chicago.

Hammadi is one of the women in Loom, a project of the Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Program. Volunteers teach the women crafts, scarf patterns, tying tassels, creating jewelry _ that become a means of making money.

Because of privacy concerns, federal officials cannot confirm or deny someone’s refugee status. Kristine Kappel, communications director for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, explains that women like Hammadi come to the program through the government.

When refugees arrive in the United States, the State Department connects them to authorized resettlement agencies, including the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. Then, those organizations connect refugees to groups like Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, which runs Loom.

The women in Loom come from different countries and backgrounds. Some learned to sew as children; some are learning now.
“Saleemah can just look at a knit scarf and replicate it,” said Alexandra Sundet, who worked with the women until recently taking a new position at a different organization.

Hammadi is a vibrant presence. A wrinkle of her nose can destine a potential pattern for the wastebasket. A not-so-right seam is quickly unraveled and fixed before its creator notices. Standing over the work table, she suggests playing an Arabic Pandora station and dances.

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