Threads of Culture: Seamstress’ job gives her passion, cause
By Sherri Kolade
Public Relations Associate for the International Institute
Sewing has always been a passion for Dijana Bucalo, even in the days of her youth in Bosnia. Bucalo, now 48 years old, still fondly recalls the memories of her aunt, sister and mother sewing clothes together. Those memories, along with an undeniable knack for fashion and persistence, have guided Bucalo to a point in her life now where everything has fallen into place – but not without challenges.
“This was always my dream,” Bucalo said of sewing and owning her own sewing business. “I didn’t burst into it but it was like a quiet path that I made with the help of my parents, husband, my daughter, friends. I am glad that I was able to quietly achieve it.” Since March, Bucalo has rented space for her sewing company, Dijana Creative Sewing and Embroidery, at the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, 111 E. Kirby St., Detroit. The pixie-like woman, who is bursting with energy at the seams, said she doesn’t know where she would be without the International Institute, a place that she considers home. “The IIMD is not just a house for an immigrant but a home for an immigrant. I have a house with a mortgage but I have a home here.”
Bucalo emigrated from Bosnia to the United States in 1996 and she became affiliated with the IIMD since 1998, where she met IIMD Ethnic Enrichment Experience Director Nada Dalgamouni. Bucalo said since meeting Dalgamouni at a cultural event, the IIMD is now stuck with her. “Since then, they couldn’t get rid of me,” Bucalo said with a knowing smile. “I was always around.”
Bucalo, who studied fashion design at the Faculty of Textile Technology, in Croatia, and was a fashion designer back home, said when she first came to America, she didn’t know what her professional future looked like. “When I came in the States, I didn’t speak English and I never thought that I was going to be able to do something like that,” she said of owning her own sewing company. “Then I got involved with our Bosnian culture group – “Bemar” – and I started making costumes for them little by little and others and Nada found out and then she asked me if I can help her with cultural attire.”
The IIMD houses a vast inventory of cultural attire from around the world. Most recently over the summer, Dalgamouni asked Bucalo to help repair and clean about ten Japanese kimonos that became ruined from rain. Before that, Bucalo worked her way up from volunteer to private owner of her sewing shop, and as a seamstress in between. “I was always here working, volunteering and being sure that I know what is going on here,” Bucalo said. “I really feel comfortable here – welcomed – it is a perfect place to have all answers actually.”
Having some of the answers includes being a non-profit organization, located in Detroit’s University-Cultural Center/Midtown District, that offers a variety of legal and educational services and programs to assist immigrants become productive and patriotic U.S. citizens, while preserving the cultures of their native countries from around the world.
In February, before Bucalo rented out one of the IIMD’s front corner pocket spaces, it was an empty place waiting to receive several coats of paint and a little love. At that time, Bucalo worked out of her own home in Hamtramck for the past four years, where her work space progressed from the basement to the living room. “It started being overwhelming having customers in your house and everything,” Bucalo said of working from home.
When Bucalo first started looking for a place to open up her shop in February, she wanted a place that was culturally relevant in a metropolitan area. “I am very artsy and I want to be in an artsy environment and in a city,” Bucalo said. “When you put all the requirements on paper, it is like where should I go? My husband said, ‘You should go to the International Institute.’” Bucalo said she is always gravitating to the area and it made perfect sense. “I came here and I spoke to Wojciech (Zolnowski – IIMD Executive Director) and he said I was welcome to rent a room and my dream came true.”
Bucalo moved into her new space, which is known as The Knudsen Room, in honor of William S. Knudsen (1879-1948), an immigrant from Denmark who became the President of General Motors, among other prestigious ranks. The once-empty room is now adorned with brightly colored curtains that rest against a large window with mannequin heads wearing colorful hats, scarves and sewn items. Inside the one-room space, Bucalo’s mustard yellow room is a haven to her where she sets up appointments with clients, sews, cuts and sometimes works to the wee hours of the morning to finish last-minute projects.
Bucalo also teaches a sewing class. Other teachers will soon start knitting and crocheting lessons in her shop. She tells everyone that, even though she is where she wants to be, many more opportunities are ahead of her. “I am almost 50 years old, but that does not mean life is not in front of me,” Bucalo said. “You should never be limited with the age, with the language; if you want to do it, you can do it.”
Bucalo added that the IIMD is a place that gives her constant support, just like her family does. “We are not strong, we are not loud, we are not rich people, but we do support each other,” Bucalo said of her family. “It is the same thing with the IIMD. I am trying to bring attention as much as I can because I love this place and they are still going to give you that support. It doesn’t matter if it is legal, cultural or just a friendship; they give it to you here.”
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