Saturday 18 February 2012

Sew Good: Sewing Workshops

On the last day of 2011, I laid down some creative intentions I had for 2012. One of those was:

'Teach a sewing class/workshop. The plans I had for this have had to be aborted, but hopefully an opportunity will present itself by the end of the year that will make it possible'

I feel strongly that sewing is an important life skill, and that pretty much everyone should have, at the very least, a vague knowledge of how to do basic sewing repairs and alterations. It's very sad that sewing, or at least genuinely useful sewing, isn't being taught in every school today. It is also really sad that the prevalence of dirt-cheap 'disposible' clothing make many people think that the necessity for clothing maintenance is now obsolete.

I think it would be optimistic to say that the general mentality of the UK population is shifting towards a more sustainble mindset, but it is clear that a certain sea-change is taking place and many 'early adopters' or more naturally sustainably-minded individuals are seeking out places to pick up sewing and dress-making skills. The fresh crop of sewing lounges offering access to machinery and/or sewing classes and is a well documented and heartening phenomenon and lays testiment to this trend.

I've always really enjoyed helping out whenever a friend or aquaintance has asked me a sewing quuestion or wanted to learn a sewing or pattern cutting skill, so I've been thinking for a while now that I'd love to share my knowledge in a more structured format. Whether my assistance resulted in someone discovering a new life-long passion for sewing, or simply making one pair of jeans last longer by helping their owner to re-hem them, I think it'd be a worthwhile endeavour.

Towards the tail-end of last year, I had high hopes and fairly developed plans about creating a drop-in 'sewing surgery' in the basement room of the Handmade Co-op shop here in Brighton. But unforeseen circumstances, plus the recent transformation of the basement from useful space to store room for junk, has scuppered those plans. And it was at that point that I laid down those creative aims for 2012.

Well, I very pleased to say that only two months into the new year, I have already had the opportunity to begin making good on that original endeavour. And I didn't need to look as far afield for that opportunity as I thought I would, either. As you may know about my job, I make clothing from donated clothing and textiles that sells under the name TRAIDremade. But the charity Traid's activities are myriad and far reaching. There is a small but fantastic Education team who organise lots of talk, seminars and workshops in schools, colleges, universities, companies, social spaces etc. This department is lead by a dynamic and interesting lady called Lyla (pictured above on the left) who, incidentally, features a fair bit in John-Paul Flintoff's 'Sew Your Own'. When I saw in Traid's newsletter that the 2012 dates were confirmed for the 'Sew Good' workshops Lyla and her team run in the Traid shops in London, I got in contact to see if I could come along and help out.

Which is what I did one (snowy) night last week. The workshop was held at the Camden shop after normal trading (pun intended) hours. Accommodating up to five members of the public, it was free as long as they confirmed they were going to attend, and could bring any garment/s or aspect of sewing/mending/alteration they wanted. They could have one-on-one assistance from one of the 'experts' or simply have access to the sewing machines and equipment.

From my perspective, it was an interesting evening seeing how Lyla and her ladies run these events. For a while I gave some help and advice to a girl wishing to make a polo shirt style T-shirt from a couple of patterns she was trying to frankenstein together. But the fact she had only brought one of those patterns with her kind of limited the amount of progress she could make in that session. I then went on to help another woman who was actually a journalist for the Metro who was there to write a piece for the free newspaper about the workshop and making an on-trend rip-off (see Karl Lagerfeld sweatshirt pictured below). Despite my dislike for the advert-peddaling free papers like the Metro that have been littering London and other parts of the UK for the past six year or so, AND my hatred for (what I view to be) the self-esteem damaging glossy 'Grazia' that she also writes for, the journalist was lovely and really good company. Anyways...

The fashion editor or someone had contacted Lyla in advance asking if PVC and sequins could be provided because, due to deadline pressures I'd imagine, the journalist had effectively already written the article, and was merely there so she could add the final 'annecdotal' flourishes and create the actual garment to be photographed for the piece. That was a bit frustrating for Lyla and myself because it would have been preferable for the journalist to attend the workshop, having brought any materials with her, and experienced what she could achieve in the workshop in a less contrived set-up. But I know that I'm being naïve about how journalism really works, and we are grateful for any exposure Traid can obtain.

Conclusions? Well, it was a very interesting experience, but I'm not sure how much of my sewing/pattern making ability I was really able to share at that event. Plus it was a long way to go (two hours travelling to London each way after having already worked a full day at the studio in Brighton) for no extra pay. Maybe it was that my presence was a bit superfluous and that with fewer 'experts' (there was four in total for five attendees) there would be more to do and you'd feel you had helped more by the end of the session.

I'm very interested in helping out Traid's Education team again, probably in different and perhaps more structured scenerios that they are currently working on (fingers crossed that some of those come to fruition because they sound exciting). I am also still very interested in my drop-in sewing surgery plan, or perhaps extending that to more structured workshops/classes, in Brighton. Those ideas are napping but haven't been put to bed.


Liz said...

That all sounds very exciting - I hope the right opportunity comes along for you soon.

badmomgoodmom said...

Have you heard about Nikki's new endeavor?

I'm generally excited about the sewing studio concept; who didn't live in cramped quarters at one time or another and needed a space to spread out a their projects?

But, when I hear the quoted hourly shop charges, and total up how long it takes for me to make something, it gets expensive. Plus, they generally provide low-end machines, often with incompatible bobbins and can't guarantee which machine will be available when you show up. Things always take longer on unfamiliar equipment.

Nikki's locker and membership idea sounds interesting. At least, you can keep your own equipment there.

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Interesting idea! Sounds like the brief for the event was so wide as to not give an uncertain new sewist a good take on what to do, like the poloshirt lass. But good on you for taking such a long trip to check it out and help. I hope you get something up and running in Brighton - maybe start with a few friends, and they can extend to theirs until you're dealing with friends of friends of friends, who are nice strangers, and see here it leads? :)

katherine h said...

I hope that you get another opportunity to share your amazing talents with willing learners.

ScarletteOTara said...

Hello! Firstly I just want to say stumbled across your blog a few months ago and I totally love it. I really enjoy reading what you have to say from a feminist, sewist and sustainability point of view. Yay.

I work in Camden but had no idea Traid did these courses. If only I'd known I definitely would have come along to ask or assistance with grading vintage patterns to fit! Would have been nice to meet you in person, too! Will definitely get my ass along to the next session - do you know how I go about booking them?

Zoe said...

Thanks everyone for your comments,

@badmomgoodmom, thanks for that, I hadn't heard she was doing that, I'll check it out.

@ScarletteOTara, thanks for your interest! You can email Lyla at for details about future workshops in Camden. It'd be best to tell her what kind of assistance you require so she can tell you if there will be someone there on that evening to help you. It may be that your level is too high for those workshops. It would have been nice to meet you, hopefully in the future!

All the best
Zoe xxx

Anonymous said...

I went to one of these at the Traid branch in Shepherds Bush last year. There were 2 experts on hand to help and they were rushed off their feet helping everyone. I think about 6 people turned up. I was really inspired with what you can do with your existing wardrobe. It's great that Traid do this and good on you for volunteering your time.

Karen said...

Here's an idea - I know you're busy but maybe one day....

One of my friends goes to a sewing club every Thursday for 3 hours - they only sew curtains but the idea is that the teacher hires the local church hall and students turn up with their projects and all sew together with the teacher helping out when they get stuck. She charges a nominal amount to cover the hire of the church hall and her time. My friend has been going for 6 years now and she is still the new girl!

Lavender said...

I always love your posts about Traid, if only so I can live vicariously. If they ever come stateside, I'd be knocking down the doors :)

Unknown said...

Lots of time I read your post and you are right every person should know basic of sewing. your post really interested. sewing courses london

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