Sewing Circles

Jan sent me a card all the way from Australia asking me to comment on not-for-profit sewing rooms. Not that I have any intimate experience with such an entity, but that won't stop me from putting in my two cents worth!

I am very fortunate to have a studio space away from my home. It actually belongs to a clothing designer who is off working in film, so she has sublet it to me. The absolute best thing about the space, other than it being in 1000 Parker, the coolest artist building in Vancouver, is the CUTTING TABLE! 8 by 16 feet of glorious flat space! If you sew, you will appreciate how luxurious having a cutting table can be after years of making do on the kitchen table or even the floor!

Having a separate space is good for many other reasons too. There is room to organize my fabrics and supplies. I can shut the door at the end of the day and leave the mess where it is. Paying rent is motivating in that, being Scottish and all, I want to get my money's worth, so I actually come in on a regular basis. (And of course I can deduct the rent as a business expense.) I feel more professional and legitimate having a proper workspace.

So that's where it starts, I think. If you're thinking of creating a sewing space for others, make one for yourself first. In my own case, once people find out I have a studio and I sew, they often ask if I teach. This is an avenue I haven't developed at all, but it would be easy to put a sign out and simply offer weekly sewing workshops, where people might pay $5 or $10 for a evening of shared information and an opportunity to use the cutting table or machine, or learn hand sewing skills. I think that would be fun, and it wouldn't take long for the group to start covering my rent.

There are definitely lots of for-profit sewing spaces out there. Many cities now have Stitch Lounge type shops. Generally they offer plenty of classes, and rent out time on the machines for $10/hour or so. Running a shop like this would require a good head for business (or at least the willingness to learn), and all the rewards and headaches of having your own business.

I like the co-op model myself. Get together with a few other skilled and enthusiastic people and offer open studio time, workshops and classes as you choose, figuring out a formula for buying a "share" of the co-op. Members could use the space at a reduced rate, while the general public might pay more.

Basically, you want to cover your expenses, have some money in the bank for future growth, and be enjoying yourself. The non-for-profit thing gets old really fast when it begins to feel like work. I think one could set up an inviting workspace with a half dozen machines (and good old Singers from Craigslist work just as well as middle range new machines for learning on!) a cutting table and a couple of irons for a fairly minimal investment and you'd be off! There could be the possibility of partnering with your local arts council, community centre or guild if you don't want to go it alone.

I don't know if that covers your question, Jan, but let's hope it starts a bit of a dialogue! I'd love to hear from others as to what experience they might have with communal workspaces or shared sewing studios.

And I'll take this opportunity to plug once again the joy of sewing with others. The ideas flow, laughter and tears are shared, friendships are made. The practical pleasure of making something yourself is amplified by the support and companionship of a group.


  1. Anonymous10:02 PM

    Thanks Heather,
    That did answer my questions.
    I want to recreate the excitment of group creativity at a neutral setting, not in my own home.
    A large cutting/work table and a mid arm quilting machine require the extra space a rented studio can offer.
    I have some friends in town who are looking for the same thing, so I think the time is right to set this space up.
    Cheers Jan

  2. a cutting table would be heaven, and i love the idea of a shared space, my son is buying a farm upsate new york with 5 woodworkers so they can turn an olds dairy barn into a community woodshop. you have inspired me to organize something....

  3. What a great idea. If you ever have anything like that going in your space Miss Heather, I'd love to participate.

  4. Anonymous4:31 AM

    The idea is great! And I would love to have the possibility to go to a place with a big cutting table and alo machines I don't own myself. (I have neither a serger nor a cover maschine.)

    But for Germany I think it would not work. (After my experience with organising non profit gatherings of sewing enthusiasts.)

    First problem is that most people demand a lot for free AND it should be next door. (Okay, gaz has always been more expensive in Germany than in the US and price is up now.) I live in a city (Cologne) and people are not really willing to move further than... 500m or so. (Okay, that is a bit exagerating... but changing tramway or bus is already an issue for some.) Also is driving for more than 15 minutes.
    Other people feel that they are not able to work on another machine than their prefered brand. Or cannot do without this, without that... and of course the space should be open all the time (lot of woman work, so they would need it more at night than at day), the machines should be the latest top of line models and, of course, for free.

    And if you want to maintain a space and machinery all the time you need money. For the rent, for at least from time to time servicing the machines and to replace "loss". (No matter who comes... tiny items like scissors, packets of pins but also pressure feet will geht "lost". Some because people just put them in their bag when they have to pack in a hurry to catch their bus, and others... well... ) Plus (at least in Germany) when you are the responsible person for such a place you need insurances to cover the risk that someone hurts himself on your machine.

    So you have to take money and people here are not willing to pay it. (Or not enough people.)

    But (also something positive) what works well in my area but also other regions of Germany, are meetings like every six or eight weeks, where someone organizes a room (chorch, community center, kindergarden on sundays) with large tables and everyone brings her own material and machinery for a whole day of sewing. (Even though one of the groups in my region had issues about the question if people have to pay their share of the (low) rent of the place (we are talking about 2-3 EUR per person) if they don't come to sew, but only to chat...)

    But anything on a more regular basis... just did not work. Neither did anything that costs more than a symbolic sum of money. :-(

    But I wish all of you the best for such projects in your places! Really.. and I don't stop wishing I could have something like that at my place, too.


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