Three local fashionistas are teaching a generation of would-be seamstresses the fine art of sewing at the Mother Lode’s very own sewing school.
The Sonora School of Sewing opened last year as part of a nonprofit program to teach youth to design and sew their own garments. The program proved to be so popular that organizers began offering classes to adults as well, according to school director Karen Griffin.
“At that point we said, ‘let’s open it to the general public and see if they’re interested in sewing,’” she said.
As it turns out, they were very interested.
Griffin expects to have 50 students once enrollment is closed and the school has expanded to offer five separate classes, numerous workshops and youth sewing camp. The six-week course for beginners and intermediate sewers is split into two-hour sessions once a week. For a $150 fee, adults have full access to all the school’s sewing machines, special equipment and a wide range of fabric styles.
Griffin and fellow teachers Megan Houseberg and Debbi Poterlance all possess fashion degrees and have endeavored to build a local version of “Project Runway.” Students come from as far away as Merced to learn how to wield a needle and thread, and classes are offered at a variety of times to suit busy schedules.
The classes begin with an introduction to the sewing machine and move on to basic seams, buttons, darts and zippers. By the end of the course, Griffin promises, students will walk away with a completed simple top, skirt or dress.
“They come in not knowing how to use a sewing machine and walk out with a finished product,” she said.
Youth seamstresses older than 10 pay $120 for a eight-week course that runs on Mondays and Wednesdays. All of the classes are small and Griffin said she generally doesn’t work with more than six students at a time.
She said her students encompass a wide cross section of Tuolumne County and include students, working adults, stay-at-home moms and seniors. She said the classes are popular with tweens and eighth graders, but the biggest challenge has been getting more high school-aged students interested in the classes. As a result, the school will begin offering classes to make and alter prom dresses.
The school also holds several workshops that focus on some of the finer points of sewing like tailoring to fit garments, hat and scarf making, jean construction and introduction to pattern drafting.
“Bring in a pair of jeans you really like and we teach you how to recreate them,” Griffin said. “In the process, you learn to sew.”
Griffin learned to sew at a young age from her grandmother and her skills led her to win the prestigious Prince’s Trust award in the United Kingdom. She used the money from the prize to start her own clothing and design business at age 21. Since moving to Sonora, she began working for the nonprofit Senior Youth Partnership and has focused her attention on teaching kids to love sewing.
"I felt that it was a skill that was dying out — it wasn’t being passed on,” she said.
Three winter sewing classes will begin this month with the next sewing class starting on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon. Classes will also begin on Feb. 7 from 10 a.m. to noon and Feb. 9 from 6 to 8 p.m.
The school is located in downtown Sonora at 77 N. Washington St. For more information or to register for classes, call 533-5641 or 743-6034, or visit sypartnership.com.
“Once we get people in the door, they want to stay and they want to keep learning,” Griffin said.