Brightly-lit, pink-and-white wallpapered Hipstitch studio is filled with so much color, from the rainbow array of bold fabrics lining the back walls to the dozens of purple flowered chairs pulled up to the sewing machines, that the red-cheeked elementary school girls running from place to place with fabric draped over their arms simply merge with the vibrancy.
It is in this studio of color that senior Sophie Kaplan, a tall figure in a black dress standing at a small table, spends her afternoons. She lays out orange cloth and tells a small girl with a messy ponytail next to her to “go slow and careful on this. Even I have to go slow when sewing on sleeves, you know.”
Kaplan, along with sophomores Kaija Gahm, Jessica Moylan and Danielle Tibbets, is a student from this school that is currently employed at the West Newton sewing boutique Hipstitch. Her job involves sharing her love and knowledge of clothes-making with the hundreds of children that make their way through the funky, vibrant studio for sewing classes.
Students’ passion for sewing
Kaplan said she was originally drawn to sewing because of the creative, experimental nature of the activity.
“I am totally self-taught. My step-mother got me a sewing machine for Hannukah in fifth grade and taught me how to thread it, and then I just played around for a while. I remember at first, I just sat around and cut up old pillowcases,” Kaplan said.
The pillowcases were soon traded in for other fabric, and by eighth grade, Kaplan started to make her own clothes. She “cut up old dresses and shirts to see how they were made” and then tried to imitate the patterns and arrangements she observed, she said.
After her first project, a dress made out of red velvet fabric, Kaplan went on to tackle a huge number of adventurous pieces, inspired by her bursting binder filled with magazine clippings, she said.
Last year, she sewed prom dresses for students at this school and even sold some of her work on Etsy.com, an online marketplace for handmade items. Her latest creation, which she explained with a smile, is a pair of shorts made completely out of gold leather.
Gahm, like Kaplan, was first drawn to sewing because of her desire to fiddle around and create something creative and out-of-the-ordinary, she said.
“I wanted to make something that was usable and that was my own, something that fit me better than clothing in the store and that was more interesting,” Gahm said.
After taking a class at Hipstitch with her mother and finding it “really cool,” Gahm went on to embrace the art of clothes-making, sewing her own middle-school graduation dress.
“I love to just go to fabric stores for inspiration and stare at all the pretty colors and patterns,” Gahm said. “I often like to pick out seemingly completely unrelated fabrics and put them together into a piece of clothing.”
Benefits of teaching experience
It was a love for color and experimentation that drew Kaplan and Gahm to apply for jobs at Hipstitch, they each said.
A typical sewing class at Hipstitch varies by day, with the weekly schedule packed with kids/teen classes, mother-daughter classes and sewing birthday parties. Kaplan admits that “some days can get hectic with so many kids running around.”
In general, a class begins as the teacher walks through the basics with those that have never sewn before, according to Kaplan. Kids with more experience skip right to tackling more complicated projects, and “we encourage them to do things on their own and come up with cool, unique projects,” Kaplan said.
According to Kaplan, her work with kids has helped her to develop her own passion and clothes-making skills.
“Kids will come up to me with a picture of a dress they have picked out and say, ‘I want to make this,’ and I’ll have to figure out how to make it. This job has given me a lot of time to experiment and play around with new techniques,” she said.
Gahm also said teaching has been invaluable for her own sewing skills.
“Teaching others has demonstrated to me how important it is to visualize and to have a solid spatial sense of what you are making,” Gahm said. “I often watch little kids trying to sew a seam, but they can screw up because they don’t know how to line it up to the rest of what they are doing, and they don’t have a good sense of what they are ultimately trying to accomplish. This idea of having a three-dimensional sense of what you are making is something I am trying to take back to my own work and improve.”
Dynamic between teenagers and younger children
According to Kaplan, the relationship between the teenage employees and the younger children is phenomenal.
“The kids really look up to us, and I think that is one of the things that is wonderful about the teenagers teaching younger children. We are old enough to be role models, but also young enough to relate to. It shows them that sewing is not just something taught by old ladies—it is something hip and interesting that the kids see us doing and realize that they, too, could do in a few years,” Kaplan said.
Nicola Day, the owner of Hipstitch, cited the teenager-child dynamic that Kaplan referenced as one of the reasons why she hires so many high schoolers.
“The experience is positive for both sides. Teenagers interested in fashion gain a good work experience and learn teaching and communication skills, and the opportunity to learn from teenagers closer to their age provides the little kids with a perhaps more light-hearted, more fun and more comfortable experience, where they can be creative and be individuals.”
This atmosphere of creativity, experimentation and individualism seems to recur again and again at Hipstitch. Indeed, Gahm and Kaplan’s plans for potential future projects speak perfectly of this idea of unconventional self-expression. Kaplan wants to make a full-on leather suit reminiscent of Spiderman or Catwoman, while Gahm, laughing, described her goal of trying to sew a little model of a sea slug inspired by the ones she saw on her family’s trip to Greece.
According to Kaplan, “The teenage employees at Hipstitch are definitely interesting, unconventional people, just like sewing is interesting and unconventional. We teach the kids that it is okay to be different, to wear crazy clothes and make whatever they want. We tell them to think outside the box.”
For students at this school interested in taking teen sewing classes or applying for a job at Hipstitch, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.