By Tyria Bourda
In honor of David Lyles’ Sewing Your Story program, Chapel Hill residents and UNC-Chapel Hill students will gather at the Hargraves Center for the Three Seasons Fashion Show. The show will be held on Saturday, January 20, from noon to 3 p.m. Fashion students from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill will model garments designed by Lyles.
The Sewing Your Story program is based on Lyles’ passion for sewing. As someone who has experienced the isolation of homelessness, he pointed out that designing garments brings people together while displaying love and creativity.
The fashion show provides a way for Lyles to obtain more fabric donations for the program and share his new creations with the Chapel Hill community. The garments are not for sale; all will be donated to those in need. These donations could relieve students of the burden of paying for sewing necessities out of pocket.
“ I began this program because sewing and quilting is my passion. Chapel Hill is a college town and it brings students and residents together to know each other. Therefore, the program and fashion show are a way for members to expand their creativity. The cost of sewing materials is high, so holding this donation drive and fundraiser is very important to me and to the people within the program who love to sew.”
Lyles said that he tells a story when making a quilt. Quilting creates a safe space for people to express what is close to their hearts, whether it’s a romantic relationship, friendship, family, or even a commemoration.
“When I began this program, I first started at a small facility, but now I am at Hargraves, which allows me more room, and I can lay out all the garments and begin designing. Hargraves is a fitting location for the program due to its historical significance.” Lyles feels connected to the Center as a Black man offering ways for people to express themselves and recognize their heritage.
Hargraves Center history – a symbol of racial equity
Originally named the Negro Community Center, the center was renamed in honor of former Chapel Hill Parks & Recreation Commission member William M. Hargraves. During the 1930’s and 40’s, it was uncommon for African Americans to gather peacefully in public without backlash from whites. Black youth, in particular, did not have places to socialize and participate in organized recreational activities. Recognizing the dire need for safe spaces for Black youth, the Negro Civic Club advocated for a center. Once the community learned of this, members began raising funds for the construction and operation of the Center. The land for the Center was purchased on September 8, 1939, and construction was finished in 1942.
“Hargraves is central to the history of both Chapel Hill and North Carolina. This is a place where the community has always gathered, struggled, celebrated, and moved forward together. The Hargraves staff and the community we serve are thrilled and honored to be recognized in this way.” said John French, Hargraves Center Recreation Supervisor.
David Lyles’ background
Lyles said he began sewing as an adolescent. His mother was a seamstress, and he would use remnants from her garments to design his own clothing. Even though he was unsure about sewing at that time, it eventually became a passion.
He honed in on his love of sewing and quilting over the years due to experiencing homelessness in 2016 . Lyles moved to Chapel Hill during that time and lived at the IFC shelter on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. While there, he started a quilting program to help others experiencing homelessness to feel connected.
“I love people and I love helping people out. To me, putting a beautiful quilt in a person’s hand is just adding beauty and life to many things that would normally be forgotten about. Quilting is a great outlet to ease frustrations and calm the mind and a great way to give back.”
Just four years later, the COVID-19 pandemic occurred and during his free time Lyles designed more than 200 quilts. In October 2021, he created a GoFundMe page to help buy a long-arm quilting machine that sews all three layers of the quilt together. Once the fundraiser began, the community raised $4,000.
Fast forward to 2024: The Three Seasons Fashion Show will be a chance for residents and students to embrace one another and their designs. He added that the sewing program needs donations such as fabric, batting, lining for quilts, rotary cutters, self-healing boards, threads, needles, and scissors.
“Many people are excited about this event. This is really important to people in the community because they are able to take pieces and make something beautiful out of it. With everything going on now, people need a safe space to take their minds off of their day-to-day worries. I like to involve myself with people because I am a people person. I like to see people smiling; this program gives us a chance to see and notice each other. Quilting helped me get through a difficult time, and now I am using it as a vehicle to assist others. I am excited because I am able to take that sewing ability that I have and apply it to other folks, which means that the gift of sewing is going on. That is what makes me happy.”
Admission is free, and all ages can attend and support the fashion show. The Hargraves Center is located at 216 North Roberson Street, Chapel Hill, NC.
Tyria McCray-Bourda is a story-driven journalist whose work also appears in The Carolinian newspaper in Raleigh. With a bachelor’s in journalism & mass communication from North Carolina A&T State University, she has the distinction of having interviewed President Joe Biden when he was a candidate on the campaign trail and Vice President Kamala Harris.