When I last actively sewed, I was a tween rocking a purely ornamental training bra and had a mad crush on Bret Michaels. (Feel free to judge me.) I learned how to work the machine in 4-H and racked up a few blue ribbons, but I quickly succumbed to teenage desires for Guess jeans and wildly overpriced Lycra dresses. At age 34, I possess a voluptuous figure—that I'm not about to diet away—and often find myself unable to reconcile my yearning for fashionable clothes with my devotion to thriftiness. Even if I loosened my white-knuckled purse string death-grip, most of the mall fashions of today seem to take it for granted that women over a size 16 prefer to clothe themselves in bejeweled tents.
Learning to sew again has been on my resolution list for at least five years. Patterns have accumulated, and my browser's DIY sewing project bookmarks have grown unwieldy. After doing a little research, I ended up contacting the first person who sprang to mind. I've followed The Designer's Lounge on Facebook for a while, and I always find it inspiring to see students of all ages showing their finished garments or working away on their current inspired idea. I messaged co-owner Teresa Romero, and she offered to give me a lesson on the basics. Her mother and business partner, Patty Melvin, has largely taken over beginner lessons so Romero can focus on her bridal couture work and teaching advanced illustration, design and pattern-making. I may have been the most pedal-shy student ever, but Romero's patience and encouragement and her clear demonstrations and descriptions had me anxiously but steadily humming away.
My lesson included basic sewing machine anatomy and practice stitching on muslin. Romero recommends fitting all commercial patterns by making them in muslin first. She says the measurements and sizing are frequently imprecise and require alteration for a truly good fit. The practice stitching involves drawing straight, zig-zag, spiral and curved lines and sewing along the lines. This helps with fine motor dexterity and learning how to position and move fabric to avoid bunching. Sewing the straight line was pretty easy, save my initial apprehension of the needle-fanged mechanism itself.
Judging from my finished product, the zig-zag, curves and spiral were considerably more challenging. Why practice these lines and curves? Surely, I won't be sewing spirals. This practice encompasses all the facets of creating a garment, including sleeves, pockets, buttonholes, lining or hems and so on.
The space is gorgeous, with crystal chandeliers, intelligent lighting, a chic but homey foyer and rows of neatly arranged machines. The mother-and-daughter instructors are charming, warm and funny. Romero studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in San Francisco, and Melvin's a lifelong seamstress. They've really threaded the educational needle with their method. While it might seem like a bargain to study sewing in one chunk, this way makes more sense. For the new and beginning sewing enthusiast, each new garment will bring fresh challenges. Working with students one-on-one also brings creativity to the forefront better than a cookie-cutter sewing course ever could. Lessons are $25 an hour or can be purchased in a block of five for $100. Whether you want to perfect a couture sewing technique or learn how to make a pillow, this is a great place to sew.