Above, Frau Fiber teaches Britney C., 26, how to use a 100-year-old hand crank sewing machine. Photos by Desarae Gomez.
LONG BEACH, Calif. — Frau Fiber, a 51-year-old activist and German native, sets up materials and sewing machines in a room at the LGBTQ Center in Long Beach. It’s a Saturday afternoon, and Fiber is preparing for people to stop by with clothes to mend and projects to create.
On her all-denim outfit, Fiber proudly displays various patches, including one in the shape of the United States that says, “Mend America.”
The Sewing Rebellion is a free community sewing event hosted at locations throughout Long Beach and Los Angeles, with other chapters spread across the country. Events have also been hosted in parts of Europe, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and Finland.
Originally from a small town in what was then East Germany, Fiber came to America as a child and lived with relatives in North Dakota. One of the first things she noticed about Americans then was that many don’t really know how to sew for themselves.
“It’s my personal mission to teach people how to sew,” says Fiber. “We don’t teach it in our schools. It’s not part of the school curriculum anymore, like home economics, and it should be—it’s a practical life skill.”
Fiber started the Sewing Rebellion in Chicago in 2006, seeing it as a way to bring people back to the art and practice of sewing. Attendees typically range from young to old, novice to experienced.
A newcomer to Sewing Rebellion, 26-year-old Long Beach resident Britney C., found out about the event after seeing a flyer posted up in the LGBTQ Center and decided to check it out.
“I live nearby so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to stop by,” says Britney as she pulls out some clothes to mend from her backpack.
On the other side of the table, Long Beach resident Norky Diaz has already begun hemming her jeans. She has been coming to Sewing Rebellion events for the past three months. Being here, she says, elicits fond memories of her mother and the times they spent sewing together.
“I use to do sewing when I was a teenager with my mom. It was so beautiful,” Diaz remembers. “My mom was so much into creating and doing handicrafts.”
For Fiber, what began as a way to bring people together through sewing has morphed into an effort to address the huge political rifts tearing at the country, rifts that have grown with the election of President Donald Trump.
On Inauguration Day Fiber launched the Mend America campaign. Over the next four years, she has committed herself to contacting lawmakers and other leaders, urging them to stand up for justice and equality and help mend America back together. Along with each personal note that is sent out, a patch with a sewn outline of the United States of America is attached.
Fiber has already sent out patches to California senators, including some Republican senators. The first she sent, of course, went to President Trump.
The campaign has already generated national interest. “We just finished a month long event but the intention is to combine the [Mend America campaign] with the Sewing Rebellion,” says Fiber, adding that demand for the courses has put a strain on resources. She says she is running to keep up with demand.
In the meantime, Sewing Rebellion attendees can create their own patches. Choosing from a collection of patterns, attendees will be able to stencil personal or political message onto hats, t-shirts, sashes and more.
Fiber, meanwhile, plans to continue sending out her letters.
“Next on my list is to start to write to the Cabinet,” states Frau. “I’m just trying to reach everybody. It’s something I’m going to keep doing for the next four years.”
Other local “sewing rebellion” dates can be found here.