Donna Whitacre, lifelong seamstress and owner of Bradenton-based sewing school, The Sewing Room, believes that sewing is not only a lost art, but a practical craft that began to fall by the wayside in recent generations.
Over the past few years, however, the struggling economy, the popularity of fashion-based television shows like Project Runway and shifting societal views toward domestic arts like cooking and the textile arts, have prompted a resurgence in the craft.
“People are going back to doing things the way they remember their mothers and grandmothers doing them," Whitacre said. "There are more young moms wanting to learn how to sew clothes for their families again and people taking classes so that they can save money by learning how to do their own alterations.”
There are a variety of other reasons people attend her sewing classes. she said. Some of her students are stay-at-home parents looking to launch their own home business, while others are high school students and young women preparing to study fashion design in college.
“Sewing is just one of those useful skills to know in life — just like cooking,” Whitacre said. “Whether you sew every day as a way to make a living or just sew to contribute to your family budget and lifestyle, there are a number of useful ways to use this skill once you’ve learned it.”
Fortunately for those who are not yet nimble with a thimble, The Sewing Room provides training in every level of the craft, from introductory courses on sewing machines to advanced alterations — and everything in between. Although some of the more advanced group classes are for ages 18 and up, Whitacre says that the majority of classes she offers are appropriate for all ages.
Beginner’s classes cover the machine and the basics of sewing and patterning, while intermediate classes tackle buttons holes, zippers and hems. Advanced alterations classes offer training in professional grade tailoring techniques such as creating and re-hemming various hem types and altering and shaping garments by adding darts.
Since 2010, the Sewing Room has offered both private and group classes throughout Bradenton and Sarasota. Although Whitacre occasionally teaches group classes in local sewing shops and plans to establish an official location in 2013, she said that the majority of her clients enjoy the intimacy of the in-home lessons in which The Sewing Room specializes.
“What I offer is something that no one else is really offering in the area,” Whitacre said. “The majority of requests I get are actually for in-home classes because they’re so much more convenient. That way, my students don’t have to schlep around their supplies.”
In addition to classes in general sewing techniques and alteration practices, The Sewing Room offers a variety of special-interest classes such as baby and children’s clothes-making, bags and accessories, kitchen and tableware, home décor, pillows and curtains.
“What I teach really depends on my students,” Whitacre said. “I like to find out what they’re interested in learning and then gear my classes around that, so it tends to vary.”
When she isn’t teaching sewing classes, Whitacre works from her in-home studio to create products for her own line of boutique baby and toddler clothing and accessories, My Baby Duds and her handbag and accessory shop, Donna Lee Bags and Accessories.
“Teaching sewing is my passion; this is what I’m supposed to do,” Whitacre said.
“My greatest reward is watching my students as their confidence grows and their sewing skills improve over just a few months of taking sewing classes — from not knowing how to thread a machine to completing their sewing projects and learning how to do their own alterations. Knowing that I helped someone achieve even a small goal like learning how to sew is what brings me joy.”