'Do you remember how to pivot?" Melissa Stasi-Thomas asks the four girls seated at sewing machines in her new, colorful "Little Miss Sew It All" sewing studio in East Moriches. "Needles down, presser foot up."
Fourth-grader Erin Cunningham, 9, concentrates, carefully turning her piece of material to sew around a corner. She and the other girls are making bags to keep their sewing projects in from week to week when they come to class.
"When I grow up, I want to be a fashion designer, and this will help me do it," Erin says.
The girls in Stasi-Thomas's summer program made sundresses, then modeled them in a fashion show for family and friends. Stasi-Thomas put up a tent in the parking lot, and 60 girls strutted the catwalk in front of 275 people. "I turned the parking lot into Bryant Park," she says, alluding to a former locale for New York City's semiannual Fashion Week.
Now Little Miss Sew It All offers after-school classes during which girls will make a variety of projects, from stuffed animals to pajamas to dresses. "All the girls at every level make the same projects. It's just a matter of how independently they work," Stasi-Thomas says. Each project takes four to six weeks to complete.
Stasi-Thomas also offers classes to Girl Scout troops. They can come to the studio, or Stasi-Thomas will bring her 12 portable sewing machines to them. She's even doing her first Boy Scout Troop this month, she says, and she's hoping the boys will embrace it. "A sewing machine is much like a power tool," she says.
Girls can have their birthday parties at the studio; high school girls can take a class in the winter called "Project Prom Gown," in which they can make their own proms dress in 12 weeks.
Stasi-Thomas says she approaches classes from a self-esteem standpoint. "They can be proud of what they are doing," she says. Mistakes are inevitable and easily repaired. "I tell them, 'It's just fabric.' "
During classes, the girls learn the parts of the machine. "We go over them again and again," Stasi-Thomas says. They choose material from her collection of florals, stripes, solids and patterns that include musical notes, colored hearts and black-and-white checks. Spools of colored thread hang on the wall; an ironing board and iron set up at the rear of the studio lets girls do their own pressing.
Stasi-Thomas calls the students her "pixies." Mackenzie Mahoney, 11, a sixth-grader in Manorville, is one. She took classes when they were offered in Stasi-Thomas's house and now takes them at the studio. "She's always been interested in arts and crafts," says Mackenzie's mom, Tricia. "I used to do little sewing things with her at home. When I brought this up to her, she said, 'I really want to do this.' "
The new studio offers the girls more room to spread out, Tricia says: "For them, they feel like this is their space. This is where they get to be creative and have fun."
Little Miss Sew It All Sewing Studio
Montauk Hwy., East Moriches
INFO $95 a month for weekly after-school classes; $180 for two sisters; 631-909-3855, littlemisssewitall.com
MORE PLACES TO SEW
(207 Grove Ave., Cedarhurst, 516-569-6733, ext. 205, fivetownsjcc.org) offers "Fashion Sewing & Knitting with the Fashion Class" from 6-6:45 p.m. Wednesdays beginning Oct. 17. It's $230 for 10 weeks (additional Fashion Design drawing class follows immediately, from 6:45- 7:30 p.m. for an additional $100). This class is for beginners and intermediate sewers in third through sixth grades who want to learn hand- and machine-sewing and knitting. Projects include a tote bag and a belt.
SEW TIME SEWING CENTERS at JO-ANN FABRIC (580 Old Country Rd., Westbury, 516-997-2702, sewtime.com) offers a variety of courses and prices, most between $30 and $100, plus supplies. Classes include Learn Your Machine, making pajamas, fashion design for teens and more. Check the Sew Time website for times and prices.
DONNA'S SEWING BEE (367 Lake Ave., St. James, 631-584-2238) offers a variety of courses and classes, at $15 per two-hour class plus supplies. "I start kids off at age 6," says owner Donna Montemurro. "I teach fun sewing, and giving kids a love of sewing." In current classes, kids are making Halloween costumes. Other projects include making quilted bags and learning how to read a pattern.