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Thursday, April 1, 2010

More on Portland Sewing: A Q&A with Sharon Blair

Posted by Marjorie Skinner on Thu, Apr 1, 2010 at 11:29 AM

This week I made brief mention of Portland Sewing, a new institution for sewing instruction and beyond founded by Sharon Blair. There's more to the story than what was crammed in that limited space, though! See below for the Q&A with Blair, and check it out yourself on Sunday's open house, 3-5 pm.

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What led to the decision to begin teaching sewing lessons?
Teaching has long been in my blood. I have to thank Pati Palmer for leading me to teach sewing. But before that I taught in high schools. And I've long been making and selling clothes — most recently under my StudioSKB and SKPDX lines. I'm interested in how things work, then sharing what I've learned with others.

How is PS different from classes offered at the Art Institute? Would you say that it is in competition with the school or that it compliments it?
S compliments AI. Most of the people who would come to PS would not likely go to AI. They want to know how to drape, pattern, sew with industrial machines and the like but they aren't inclined to go to AI. For the rest, you could say it's a prep and finishing school. We AI teachers have often expressed how we wished our new students would enter with more skills. Unlike other fashion design institutes, AI doesn't require a portfolio. Students don't even need to know how to sew or draw. But if they did know some of this going in, we all would have a richer, fuller experience at AI. Sue Bonde, AI's apparel department director, and I have talked about continuing education for graduates. So PS offers the facilities and classes to keep graduates' skills in tune with changing demands of the apparel industry.

What does PS bring to the community that is unique; what is it making available to Portlanders for the first time?
We offer apparel design and business classes people can't get anywhere else. Like many others, we teach beginning sewing, but we use professional, ready-to-wear techniques. And if you want to go on to industrial machines, you can. Like some, we teach patternmaking, but if you want to go on to draping and computer patternmaking you can. You can take fashion drawing, then if you want to learn how to do it on the computer you can. In fact, with these computer skills, you can get a foot in the door of some apparel companies. To that end, we offer a certificate once you've completed these courses. You can find business courses elsewhere, but my colleagues and I have created courses aimed just toward apparel business. To that end, we also offer a apparel business certificate. These are aimed at independent designers who want to start or maintain an apparel business. In fact, our slogan is "we are apparel people teaching apparel people."

I realize that you've been teaching as Portland Sewing since 2002, can you describe to me the growth that brought it up to the stage at which it was time to open a brick and mortar institution? Was that always the goal?
All this grew rather organically. I've taught at many places, including PCC. Along the way, people kept asking me for more classes, or the next class or they've suggested a class from my apparel design work. But I never found the right facilities to hold all the classes I had to offer. The last place where I was teaching sewing classes was Ruthie's Rags, a fabric store. Ruth decided to "retire" from her store. That gave me to push to buy and open my own place. So far, it's been great. It's big and homey and has room for all the classes plus one on textile manipulation — a basement where we can get really messy. Plus it has room for a little fabric and notions store and that drive-through notions window!

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