By Bob Brown
September 7, 2011
Lauren Johnston is doing her part to ensure sewing doesn’t become a lost art.
Sew Easy, a business she started 15 years ago in Needham to teach kids and teens how to sew, expanded this summer into a second floor space in Wellesley at 159 Linden St. 3C.
Sew easy, which begins its next 8-week session in Wellesley on Sept. 17, has taught more than 9,000 girls and boys to sew over the years. Students range in age from 5.5 to about 16, and classes are held after school and on Saturdays. Sew Easy charges about $325 per session, which includes materials. The Wellesley location has 12 sewing machines.
“I want to teach the world to sew,” says Johnston, whose programs mainly involve using sewing machines, though also include hand sewing. She says that she thinks sewing is coming back, even though most kids’ parents don’t sew and even though sewing classes are rare in school these days. “They’ve seen grandparents sewing,” she says.
At Sew Easy, kids learn how to sew buttonholes, zippers, pockets and hems as well as how to thread the sewing machines. They get to use a variety of fabrics, including cotton and fleece. Students complete between 5 and 10 projects per session, creating clothes, bags and even American Doll outfits.
While Sew Easy’s two locations are just a few miles far apart, Johnston says she appreciates that the closer the better for parents shuttling their children from activity to activity after school. She said parents of kids who have taken classes at the Needham spot have been begging her to open a place in Wellesley.
It would be a stretch to call Wellesley the sewing capital of the world, but there is maybe more needle-and-thread action around here than you might think. For example, there’s the Button Box shop on Rte. 9 that caters to quilters, the Wellesley Needlepoint Collection on Grove Street, and local artist Abby Glassenberg has made a name for herself via the soft sculptures she sews.
Classes start at 3:15 p.m., but children’s noses press up against the glass of the Needham storefront long before the door is unlocked. Here, six days a week, the nearly lost art of sewing is revered and creativity is unleashed.
By Susan Chaityn Lebovits
November 30, 2008
Lauren Johnston says she has taught over 8,000 students since launching Sew Easy 13 years ago. Last week she opened a second branch in West Roxbury, where she hopes to further disseminate an old-fashioned skill that is still indispensable in this high-tech age.
“In an instant, children feel empowered,” said Johnston, whose students, male and female, range in age from elementary through high school. “They choose the project that they want to work on and the fabrics that they want to use, and are excited and proud about expressing their creativity.”
Johnston has over 300 projects for her students to choose from – book bags, fleece vests, ponchos, mittens, quilts, American Girl Doll accessories, pajama pants. Some use their time to alter clothing, and during the holiday season they tend to make gifts.
Each time someone finishes a project, they ring a large bell and the class goes silent in order to see what has been completed and give the student a round of applause. Johnston then encourages them to place their project in the storefront window “to show the world what they’ve made.”
Some projects are basic, like small decorative pillows, and others are more elaborate. One girl, she said, walked in with a sketch of a lobster costume and made it for Halloween.
An eight-week session of one class a week costs $299, which includes all materials. On average, classes are capped at 18 students. With 15 sewing machines, no one has to wait to use one, since not every student needs a machine all the time. “They help each other out and really feel like they’re a part of this place,” she said.
Johnston said parents often tell her that their child is creating things using tape and staples to hold the fabric together. Those kids, she said, are really ready to learn. But it’s not just the creative and technical aspects of teaching that bring Johnston satisfaction, it’s also observing the emotional growth of her students.
“There is no gossip allowed in here,” said Johnston. “I tell the kids ‘I’d rather hear about you.’ ” Sometimes during a snack break, she will throw out questions for discussion, such as “What is something positive that we would never guess about you?” or “What are some experiences that you would like to have but aren’t yet old enough?”
And on occasion she will read aloud an inspirational thought for the day.
“They laugh, but then they quiet down and listen,” said Johnston, who hopes that insightful, introspective words will encourage self-awareness and confidence.
By Lee V. Gaines
Sept 15, 2011
Lauren Johnston, owner and founder of Sew Easy, has been teaching children how to sew since 1995. She said she’s taught the “dying art” to more than 9,000 kids and teens in the past 15 years.
Johnston recently expanded her operation to Wellesley. The Townsman caught up with Johnston at the new location, 159 Linden St., to ask her about her business and why so many children still want to learn to sew.
Where did you find the inspiration for this business?
“I always loved sewing,” Johnston said. “So my children always wanted to get at the machine. I saw that it was easy to teach them and then their friends started joining and the masses came.”
What prompted your expansion to Wellesley?
“Wellesley wanted us to come and so I said, ‘Why not?’” Johnston said. “Wellesley asked us over and over to come here.”
Why do you think kids and teens want to sew when they could just buy everything they needed?
“It’s not about being able to buy it,” Johnston said. “When you create something you feel empowered. Most of the last generation doesn’t know how to sew so kids feel empowered because their parents don’t know how to sew.”
What kind of items do the students sew?
“We have over 300 projects,” Johnston said. She said that students make everything from clothing to American Girl Doll accessories and even, sometimes, dog clothing.
Do any boys come to these classes?
“I usually have one or two in a class,” she said. Classes range in size from 12 to 20.
Where did you learn to sew?
“[I learned from] my grandma and Home Ec in junior high.”
Is that where the passion began?
“Yes, it felt so good to complete a project from scratch and I couldn’t believe I made it myself. The stuff I made when I was young was so elaborate,” Johnston said. “I really loved it.”
What would you say to a kid who said sewing is boring?
“I’ve never heard that once from the 9,000 kids I’ve taught,” Johnston said. “So I don’t think I have to answer that.”
“It’s word of mouth,” she added. “It’s the kids that do all the advertising. I’m always full despite the bad economy.”
How do you stay current?
“We know what kids like,” Johnston said. “After 15 years and 9,000 kids, we know. I have to buy fabric with peace signs, turtles, polka dots and monkeys.”
What do you love about teaching?
‘I love to teach,” Johnston said, “and the some of the kids come in nervous, but within an hour and a half they don’t want to leave.
“I love to see the shift in kids to when they start feeling empowered. I get to witness the shift from knowing nothing to feeling like they know a lot in a short amount of time – it’s instant.
“I ask them, ‘do you feel like a good sewer?’ and they say ‘yes.’”
“Our mission is to instill confidence and creativity. And we feel every child needs to feel success. We want them to walk away with that feeling and completing a project makes them feel that way.”
Johnston said it’s her particular system that helps her students find this success.
“The system is the reason why we are successful,” Johnston said. “It allows kids to create quicker. The way we design our things more streamlined. The detail is not like yesteryears.”
“The kids that come in with learning disabilities,” Johnston said, “in 99 percent of them I don’t find what they’ve been diagnosed with here. And I’m looking for it, but I never find it. They just take it in and grasp it.”