MARTINEZ -- Dolores Martinez remembers the first thing she made in sewing class when she was a young student: a dress that looked good on paper but didn't translate well as a practical dress to wear.
It was a very important lesson Martinez learned way back when sewing classes were part of the school curriculum. Now, the Martinez resident is offering sewing classes through the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District to help make sewing classes accessible again to people of all ages.
"Parents would say, 'I've had a sewing machine but it's been sitting there in a corner.
"So I'll send my kid to class so she can teach me how to use it,'" said Martinez.
She will first teach students the basics, including how to set up a sewing machine, how to use the extra feet that accompanies it, and learning how to thread a needle. Students must bring their own machines so they can familiarize themselves with the machines they will actually use.
Tips on doing their own basic clothing repair will be taught.
"You will also learn hand stitching, because you need to know how to sew a button, hem pants, and repair rips," she said.
Some of the projects the students may take up include creating purses, and book and binder covers. And an important skill that Martinez will impart is how to determine how much fabric to use for a particular project. Students will also learn how to make a stitch guide so they can figure out which among the different kinds of stitches to use.
"I'll be teaching them skills that will stay with them for the rest of their lives," said Martinez, who's also a woodcarver and painter.
Martinez said that while she had an early start learning sewing in middle school, there was a years-long gap and she actually didn't start sewing again until she made her son's Halloween costumes.
"The reason why I started sewing again is because I realized, as I got older, my body shape didn't conform to the styles I bought at stores," said Martinez, who's also a substitute teacher for the Mt. Diablo School District. "Now, I'm making my own clothes that fit me better. I got tired of altering clothes I bought, which is harder than making something from scratch."
Kailani Dumalo, a sixth-grader at Pleasant Hill Middle School, started her sewing classes with Martinez earlier this year.
"I am excited to learn how to use my sewing machine more since I've been hand sewing a little already," said Kailani. "I hope to use this skill to make stuff for myself and to give as gifts. Of course, you can buy this stuff at the store, but it's more unique and personalized when I make it myself."
"This is a great opportunity to have her learn a skill set that she will use for the rest of her life," said Lisa Chow, Kailani's mother. "In the long run, I hope that she will be able to alter her own clothes to fit her body type since she is so petite. Also, 'up-cycling' clothes is very trendy right now."
Are sewing classes making a comeback?
Sheila Lopipero, who does sales and marketing for The Sewing Machine Shop in Walnut Creek said she believes that's the case.
"I think sewing is making a comeback," said Lopipero. "We see grandmothers teaching kids how to sew and young men are learning how to sew so they can make backpacks, gloves, tents. We have men coming into the shop asking, 'What machine will do this for me?'
"I know one guy making costumes for theater and another who works on leather car seats. Sewing's way outside the box; it's not traditional anymore. It's become more than just sewing two pieces of cloth together," said Lopipero. "The sewing machine has become a power tool."
Many more teens have been attending sewing classes, said Lopipero, who sewed her own clothes in high school. She took up sewing again four years ago and has been learning new techniques from notable sewing instructors at The Sewing Machine Shop.
"Now I mostly do art quilts and a little bit of everything," she said. "I don't like repetition. I like to relearn what I used to know and also learn what's new."
Lopipero said the shop offers regular drop-in "sewing rescue" sessions to give people a chance to work on projects with the guidance of a qualified sewing instructor.
"They can help you in whatever stage of the process you're in," she said. "We do rescues all day long, letting people know they have a place for support and help them with any concerns or frustrations that may make them put their sewing machines away -- we don't want that."
Sewing has indeed connected generations of people and families together, she said. "It's where relationships and creativity meet," she said.
The Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District offers sewing classes for teens. For more information, visit www.pleasanthillrec.com.