Celebrating 20 years of Honduras Threads Through a Collaborative Art Project
By Allison Tucker, Sunwest Communications
Honduras Threads is celebrating 20 years of strengthening the fabric of lives through work, pride, and faith. This nonprofit organization provides support to a social enterprise owned by 30 women in rural areas outside Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. The support of the nonprofit enables these women to earn money in their own communities to help themselves, their families, and future generations, by making beautiful products in a safe environment. Honduras Threads began in 2002 when Saint Michael and All Angels parishioners Bill Bancroft and his wife M’Lou started the first sewing co-op in Santa Cruz Arriba, as a part of a multi-faceted mission trip. Their initial hope was to provide the women with a way to earn money in their own village through their own handiwork. The couple discussed their idea with representatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Honduras and thought that embroidery and appliqué work would be the perfect product to focus on, given that the women in Honduras learned to embroider as little girls. They also chose this product, as it could be easily exported to bring new capital into the community.
As they began the partnership, the Bancrofts quickly learned that although the women learned embroidery as young girls, they hadn’t embroidered since and only knew one stitch. Missioners taught the women more embroidery techniques, and the women stuck with it, persevered and were determined to learn. After a time, the Honduran women became experts in embroidery techniques and now, they are self-sufficient, training their own members.
In addition to embroidery, Honduras Threads also set up classes that teach the women other marketable skill sets such as computer literacy and record keeping, in order to prepare them to run their business. As part of the 20th anniversary of Honduras Threads, the Bancrofts knew they had to celebrate all the great work that has been done the past two decades. Working with the 20th theme, they invited Texas female artists to submit a line drawing that could inspire a pillow design. Their goal was to secure the interest of 20 artists to participate. Twenty-one artists agreed to partake, including renowned Dallas artist Pamela Nelson whose color theory artwork is featured in NorthPark where shoppers admire her work daily.
Many other successful women are a part of this program including incredible women of Saint Michael such as Kate Juett, Mary Elizabeth Schleier, Sally Schupp, and Susan Johnson. Each of these women contributed a drawing and are inspired by the work Honduras Threads has accomplished over the past 20 years.
Susan noted how happy and honored she is to support this Honduras Threads project, as she has purchased several of the fabulous pillows over the years and they bring great joy to her home. She is excited to now participate as an artist who donated her services to this cause.
To kick off the 20th celebration, the artists submitted their drawings to Honduras Threads in June and all 21 images were then taken to Honduras for the women to select three drawings to interpret and design into pillows. The selection day for the women was an exciting process of choosing three designs, fabrics, and thread, which were all provided by Honduras Threads. The women had free reign to design the pillows however they saw fit. Some designs were more abstract while others were inspired by nature, such as Mary Elizabeth’s image.
“When I was trying to decide what my design should be, I feel like the Holy Spirit guided me and gave me the inspiration to draw a butterfly,” said Mary Elizabeth Schleier, artist and parishioner at Saint Michael and All Angels. “I could make it symmetrical, but this would also give the women creative freedom to fill in the butterfly through their own creative prowess. I’m truly flattered to be included with these incredible local big-name artists.”
Mary Elizabeth has a very personal tie to Honduras Threads: this nonprofit is how her family grew by one. Mary Elizabeth and her husband bonded with a young, intelligent girl and ultimately asked if she wanted to come live with them in America. This way, she could continue high school—since Honduras doesn’t have a 12th grade—and attend college in the United States. She said yes! This was eight years ago, and the young girl, Jennifer, has since graduated from SMU. She has become a fond part of their family, going on many family vacations— including a trip to Europe this fall.
“Because my husband Grady and I have a special relationship with Honduras, it’s especially meaningful for me to be able to contribute in the way that I can,” said Mary Elizabeth. “I spent many years as a mom art volunteer for our church and schools, which I loved, but the Honduras mission trips and Honduras Threads give me an opportunity to use my skills to help people who don’t have the privileges that we have here.”
Many of the families involved with Honduras Threads have a personal story of their own that highlights the deep relationships made while visiting Honduras during mission trips and spending time with the enterprising women. The connections people foster are as unique as the pillows the artisans make. Even though many of the people who go on the Honduras Threads mission trips are not fluent in Spanish, they are able to communicate together through art in a way that supersedes everyday language.
Each pillow will truly be a one-of a-kind creation that will be unable to be mass produced or replicated due to the nature of the artistic process. The fabric the women use is donated to the project from local Dallas design groups. Bill started a recycling program with local design groups and individuals to help supply the women in Honduras with luxury fabric to use for the pillows.
In the design industry, about 60-70% of textiles are wasted because there might not be a use for the leftover cloth once it is used. Through this project, the stunning fabric is given a second chance to be a part of someone’s home and kept out of the landfill.
Since early this summer, the Honduran artists have been hard at work creating their three pillows that will be on display and available for purchase during the 20th anniversary event on October 20th through the 22nd. The line drawings from the Texas artists who provided the inspiration for the pillows have been framed and will also be for sale in a silent auction at the exhibition.
“I was very honored to be asked to participate in this event,” said Kate Juett, artist and parishioner at Saint Michael and All Angels. “The women of Honduras have mastered the craft of embroidery along with the use of their vibrant colors. The modest income they get from the sale of these pieces has allowed them to afford many of life’s essentials that were not available before. Their stories are quite heartwarming. I am also an artist and include beading and embroidery and stitching in the canvases that I create. So, I truly appreciate their talent and how it has been able to change their lives.”
If you have questions or would like to get involved with Honduras Threads, including the 2023 mission trip, please contact M’Lou Bancroft at [email protected].
**This article was written by Allison Tucker, Sunwest Communications, and was featured in the 2022 Winter Archangel.