Last week Sunday, Shaerie Mead, the owner of Sew L.A., summoned the teaching staff to the shop for a meeting. I had a hunch I knew what this meeting was going to be about, as Shaerie had been transparent to all of us about the financial strain over the last few years at the shop. My suspicions were right–we were told that she had decided to close Sew L.A. after nearly 9 years of business.
Sew L.A. has been my local home for teaching for the last 5 years or so, and it has become a key player in my business, both emotionally and monetarily. When I started teaching at Sew L.A., I still had a day job, I was also teaching at the now closed Urban Craft Center in Santa Monica, and had just left the newly closed Home Ec. I didn't have any patterns yet, and only had written one book. After teaching for about a year and a half, Shaerie hired me as the shop manager. This was a huge change for me, going from a 9 to 5 office job to a retail schedule. But I quickly fell in love with the students, the community of customers, and loved learning all about this industry.
I knew little to nothing about the world of fabric, so working with all the independent fabric companies and selling their material was a huge education for me. Shaerie was kind and patient and taught me everything she knew about that world, taking me on buying trips to Quilt Market, where I met lifelong friends like Alexia Abegg and Melody Miller
I was hired at nearly the same time as my amazing friend Haley Glenn, and a little while later, my friend Devon Iott, whom I worked with at the Urban Craft Center, was brought on too, right when the shop was expanding into its big new home in Atwater Village. The three of us learned, grew, became better teachers, better people, great friends, and threw some mighty fine parties (like this book party and this pattern release party for Colette, a prom birthday party for Oona, a retro picnic book release party for Gertie, and this book release party for one of my books). Haley has since left us for Portland and is now the Managing Editor at Seamwork Magazine and has become a key player at Colette Patterns. Devon now lives in Nashville, and works for SVP (Singer Viking Pfaff), is in charge of The Sewing Party, and teaches at Anna Maria Horner's shop Craft South. Though I miss both of them everyday, I am so proud of both of these amazing ladies and all they are doing.
After Shaerie's baby was old enough for her to come back to work, I stepped down as shop manager and returned to just being a teacher, allowing me more time to focus on writing and patterns in addition to the teaching. Everything was so perfect, except for one thing–the shop portion of the business wasn't doing that well financially. And the nail in the coffin was the day that a big new Super Jo-ann Fabric & Craft store opened exactly 1.4 miles down the road, a short 5 minute drive away.
Shaerie's blog post on the Sew L.A. blog explains more in depth about her decisions to close and how much of it has to do with her debt, family, childcare, and other personal influences (I highly suggest you read it–it's so raw and honest). But I can also tell you that a big change in the shop was the day that Jo-ann's opened. I had students in class ask me if all the things they needed for class could be bought at Jo-ann's, as they were learning about tools from me, in the middle of our shop with scissors and thread for sale directly behind me. There was such a lack of respect for where they were and for keeping the money in the community, and much more focus on using their coupon mailer. Now, I get it. I am not made of money (HA! If only...) and I too try to save a buck when I can. But I will tell you that one of the reasons the shop failed was because of that Jo-ann's. It's not the only reason, but it is a factor.
Prior to the store opening, I almost never had anyone ask about Jo-ann's in the shop or in classes, except when they needed something that was really best found there, like novelty fleece, or holiday prints. And at the time, the closest Jo-ann's wasn't that close and wasn't that nice. But after they opened the closer and bigger super store, the word Jo-ann's was tossed around so casually in class and in the shop, I found it utterly shocking. I cannot imagine going into a small boutique, checking out the merchandise, then asking if the big super store down the road had something similar, but cheaper. And yet, this happened day after day. I saw it in the shop, and I saw it in class. It was hard not to be really rude to these questions, but now that it has done its damage, I am angry about it. All I could say at the time with a big smile was "well, of course it can be bought there, but we don't mark up our prices any higher than they do, and you shopping here helps keep us in business!" That was always followed by a reply involving the word "coupon."
If you wonder if your dollars actually help keep small business open, the answer is yes. I recently needed 3 spools of thread for a project I was working on. I could have driven to Jo-ann's to get it, but I didn't. I drove to The Fabric Store, where I found quality items, chatted with the lovely staff, and gave my dollars to real humans that I am helping support. That means something. Is the purchase of 3 spools of thread really going to help manager Brooke pay her rent? No, and yes. Because with each spool of thread that is sold, the shop does well, and she gets to keep her job that she loves.
Anyway, I think you all get the point I'm trying to make, and I don't want to make this more of a rant than I already have, but I do want to point out the importance of supporting the business you want to see in your community. Without your business, they will fail. Also closing this month on the east side of LA is the sewing shop and workshop space Common Thread Studio. This double whammy is a huge hit to LA's east side sewing scene. And yet the Jo-ann's lives on...
In a last-ditch Hail Mary effort to save the part of the business that was successful–the workshops–Shaerie closed the retail part of the shop earlier this year, renting out the front of the shop to another local business, and maintained the workshop space in its entirety. This changed the feel of the space dramatically, but at least we could keep doing the part that Jo-ann's couldn't do better than we could, and that is teach. I love that the classes are timed for complete learning and not with just the end project as the main goal, as most places schedule entire garments to be sewn in a class only 3–6 hours long. The only thing you can do in that amount of time is sew the garment at a break neck speed and do as you're told. You will not properly learn techniques to apply to future projects, and I respected Shaerie so much for this model of teaching. But this change in the business wasn't enough to keep the shop afloat, and alas, the end is near.
So, with all of that said, where does this leave me now? I have a full schedule of classes at Sew L.A. between now and the end of October when the shop is closing its doors forever. So if you want to learn from me at this awesome place, now's your chance! After the doors close, I have no firm plans yet that I'm ready to announce, other than the classes already on the calendar that are out of LA (Fancy Tiger Crafts, Superbuzzy, Camp Workroom Social, and QuiltCon West).
I can tell you that I fully intend to continue to teach, because I love it. I have been teaching all week at Sew L.A. since the announcement and my students have hit me with a few questions that you might be asking yourself too. So here are some of the FAQ's and answers. And if you have another question I didn't ask and answer below, ask me in the comments!
- Q: Will you be doing in-home private lessons?
- A: Maybe. I used to do this all the time, and sometimes it was fine, and sometimes it was really weird. But, if you were a student of mine at Sew L.A. and you want to hire me to teach you something in your home, ask me! I'd rather not take on new students that I don't know already, as that was the part that was sometimes uncomfortable and weird. You get it, I was going into complete stranger's homes...
- Q: Will you be opening your own workshop/shop space?
- A: No. If I could, I would. But I know that it takes a huge investment to open a space like Sew L.A. (with or without the retail part attached) and I do not have that kind of money, nor do I want to go into debt with a huge loan to make it possible. (Nor do I want to do a crow-funding campaign to fund it either!)
- Q: Can you just teach at your home/studio?
- A: Sadly no. I live and work in my apartment and not only is there no space for this in my home, it would disturb by neighbors and potentially be against the terms of my lease, so this is just not an option. If I lived in a live/work loft type space, that'd be a different story, but I don't and I'm not interested in moving. I live in a quiet residential neighborhood and it's just not an option.
- Q: What about renting a space for classes? i.e.- a warehouse, a church basement, etc...
- A: I'm not saying no to this per se, but the only way this would work is if I had a guarantee of students lined up to do a specific class. This is because I'd have to rent the space, rent tables/chairs/etc, all without the promise of making that money back in sign ups. If it didn't sell well, I'd be out that money, time, and effort. I understand the idea here, that it's not renting a space on a regular month-to-month basis, but rather renting for special occasions, but it's a gamble and I'm not ready to make that gamble right now.
- Q: I have a group that would be interested in a workshop and we could fill a church basement. Would you consider the above scenario then?
- A: Yes! If you are the leader of a group of adults or kids, or if you and a bunch of friends want to learn to sew or want to make something specific, and you have a place to rent that has enough room, contact me! I am not a shop with space or with machines for everyone to use, etc, so those kinds of details would need to be worked out, but I'm absolutely open to that kind of situation!
- Q: Have you considered teaching at another local shop?
- A: I have, but right now I'm focused on all the commitments I have between now and the end of October, and am mostly considering doing independent classes from that point on. However, I love all the other indie sewing shops and would be honored to teach at their places too. For full disclosure, I haven't approached anyone specific yet, nor has anyone approached me yet. If this happens, I will announce it for sure!
- Q: Will you do more on-line classes?
- A: Yes! This was in the works anyway, and soon you will hear all about a bunch of new on-line classes coming your way. I am also considering doing more than I had originally planned on because of this change, but I am taking this one day at a time for now.
So, there's where we are for now. I want to thank Shaerie for all I've learned from her and for all the wonderful opportunities she's given me. I also want to thank all the students I've taught, and all the loyal customers I've met through the years. While this is Shaerie's business and not mine, it is still a huge loss for me and for my fellow teachers, and we will be left with a huge hole in our community and in our hearts. (Sorry, that was cheesy, but it's true.)
I hope to see all you local LA people for some final classes, and if you're not following Sew L.A. on Instagram, I suggest you do because there will be some mega final sales (including machines and fixtures) and a blow out the jams final hurrah party to go with it. I think this closing calls for a cocktail!
Mad love to you all!