by SHALWAH EVANS
Joseph Hall, the oldest of nine from a family of sewers, begins the Tuesday night class at Galeria de la Raza showing students sheers, seam rippers, pattern chalk and needles.
“Your straight stitch is the most important one,” he says to the room of four women and one man ranging in age from 15 to 30-something and experience from the novice to the budding designer.
“Joe told me I should start coming to the classes so that I can learn how to make my own clothes,” said 15-year-old Kassandra Valenzuela, who said she will come on Tuesday and Thursday nights until the class ends on Aug. 27. “It’s kind of hard at the beginning though because you feel like you’re going to mess it up.”
So far she’s only stitched shapes Hall draws on fabric so students can practice different techniques. Her triangle—the first shape—needs a lot of work, but by the time she gets to the swirl and circle, she can already see some improvement.
“You just need to slow down a little on your circle,” he tells her examining her fabric. “But good job.”
Hall, a designer who gets to use space on the corner of 24th and Bryant in exchange for 10 percent of the revenue from his line JoJi Star that sells at Lower Haters and D-Structure, first taught sewing several years ago at the Brava Theatre to a group of women between the ages of 12 and 26.
“From there I was like I got to keep on doing this. This is too awesome,” said Hall who teamed up with Audra Ponce, operations manager at Galeria and a sewer who wanted to start something that would bring community members together.
Sew-Op, she said, is like a sewing circle.
“Sewing is a solitary thing for a lot of people, so if you just want to come hang out its definitely a place to hang out and have that creative energy,” said Ponce. “We’re getting a lot of good feedback, people are really stoked on it.”
Machines go at various speeds as students stitch their shapes. Hall keeps the tone light—his mother used to make him sew for punishment.
“My circle is a mess, ugh!” says one student, who says that as a teacher she makes the worst student.
“Practice and learn how to control your foot,” says Hall, as the student takes the botched up stitching out with a seam ripper. “It’s a lot of thinking about a lot of stuff at the same time.”
Sewing machines, he warns, are as delicate as computers.
Mission Resident Brian Perrin, who had a pretty easy time even with the most difficult backstitching, said he took a few sewing classes back in high school and wanted to get re-acquainted with the process after an old roommate left a dress form in his apartment.
Who knows, he said, maybe he’ll start a line of dresses.
“We’ll see how it goes. I paint and studied art so I think I have a pretty good idea of the use of color,” said Perrin. “So it’d be fun to make something more useful.”
On Thursday the instructors and most will return for open studio time, where they can work on their own projects or finish Tuesday’s effort.
Galeria hopes to merge with a local sewing machine dealer to allow students to purchase machines at discounted prices, so they can continue working at home. A relatively decent, but basic Singer sewing machine can cost somewhere around $130.
For Hall, teaching the classes is an opportunity to give back and use his 20 years of sewing experience.
“We’re here for the community,” he said. “Anybody who wants to learn to sew does not have to pay a college $1,600 to learn.”
He added that’s it’s also a skill that can help some make money. “We want the knowledge to be there—more educated people, more people who can do things, the better off the economy,” he said.
Galeria de la Raza received donations from Buffalo Exchange and Minnie Wilde. When Stitch Town went out of business it gave them pattern paper, sewing machines, books and patterns. They also hope to form a relationship with local fabric store Fabric Outlet, on Mission Street.
Classes are scheduled to run until August 27, though Ponce is anticipating they will continue to meet once a week through the fall. Students can drop-in for one workshop for $20, or purchase a package, which includes the materials, sewing machine, and help from the staff.
During a ten-minute break Hall goes outside to have a cigarette. He ignores the incessant ringing of his cell phone—P. Diddy’s “Bad Boy For Life” instrumental.
The street noise contrasts sharply with the humming of the sewing machines inside. Through the windows, he can see students at their machines.
“I enjoy sewing. It’s meditation for me,” he says before stepping back in.