Sewing Heaven in North Bay, Ontario (August 2015)
By Linda Podietz
As many of you know, Kathryn Brenne has been writing sewing tutorials for EOS for several years now. She is a master sewist (and knitter) and a virtual unending fountain of sewing expertise! Over the years, due in large part to her writing work for Vogue Patterns Magazine, Threads and other publications, she has made the most exquisitely-crafted garments of all types. I had of course heard about her sewing school in North Bay, Ontario, and had always dreamed of going there — how wonderful it would be to pick her brain and ask ALL of my sewing questions in person!
This year I decided it was time to get myself up there and signed up for her 4-day open workshop that took place this past August (um… I’m just a wee bit late in getting this review posted!). For the whole summer I obsessed over what garments I would choose to work on, searching for the right patterns and figuring out what I could do on my own ahead of time so as not to waste a precious moment during the class.
I was just discovering Burda pattern downloads, and settled on making a winter coat (Burda 10/2014 #125), a leather jacket (Burda 02/2010 #115), a leather vest for Eric (Burda 12/2010 #123), and was also hoping to get to some tips for copying a favorite leather handbag as well. Needless to say, when I told Kathryn what I had planned for the class, she said I was “very ambitious” (translation: you are crazy!) and that it usually takes her a full week just to make a coat.
Undeterred by common sense, I began making my muslins, adjusting my patterns, and before I left for the workshop I had cut out my coat, my leather jacket, and Eric’s vest, and was ready to roll! I tossed everything, including the leather handbag that I wanted to copy, into my suitcase, and off I went.
Kathryn’s school, which is attached to her home in a beautiful wooded area of North Bay, was just minutes from my hotel. I arrived with suitcase full of projects in hand, and stepped into her two level studio, which can only be described as SEWING HEAVEN! It is equipped with everything you could possibly want in your sewing studio. Each student was given a Bernina sewing machine, a color-coded caddy with all necessary tools and notions, and access to numerous cutting tables and work surfaces perfectly designed for sewing work. After meeting the other participants and Kathryn’s trusted assistant, Malia, I showed Kathryn my winter coat, and got started.
First lesson was to thread trace all notches, markings, seam lines, etc. … something I had never taken the time to do, but it made all the difference, especially with my fabric which was quite textured and “fuzzy”.
What amazed me about Kathryn was how she was instantly able to jump from one student to another, know exactly what their next step needed to be, so that each person felt they had her complete attention. All this while working with Malia on her own assignments and new patterns for Vogue and for EOS, providing amazing food for us (which I totally didn’t expect!), and all with that laid back Canadian no-nonsense calmness and straight-forwardness. How she managed to serve home-baked goodies at every morning coffee break, a fresh and beautiful home-cooked lunch every day (Kathryn is a fabulous cook, and very sensitive to the dietary needs of the participants), complete with dessert, was like a magic trick. Voila!
I was surprised by the amount of hand-stitching required to make a beautifully-tailored jacket, so determined not to take up precious class time with those hours of hand-stitching, I would go back to my hotel each evening and do about three hours of hand work!
By the fourth day, I had the coat pretty much put together, and we figured that I could construct and install the lining at home. We finally could move on to my leather jacket!
On the last afternoon of the workshop Kathryn showed me everything I needed to know about constructing my leather jacket, and helped me to put together one of the pockets so that I could do the other at home. The Burda pattern I chose was for a more bohemian style (raw edges, lapped seams) but Kathryn suggested a more professional finish so I re-cut, reworked and lined the pockets for a more finished look.
Then she showed me how to do the seaming and top-stitching, and pretty much everything I needed to know to finish the jacket on my own, so I left in good shape, with tons of new information.
I did most of the work at home, and did run into a few issues that could have been avoided had Kathryn been there to guide me, but it all worked out, and I am quite happy with the result! I’ve worn this jacket a ton already.
Each day Kathryn would bring out some of her amazing garments from her “archive” for us to see up close, and I have to say that her skills are super human! Every stitch was perfect, every hand-sewn buttonhole flawless, and even on the sheerest silk garment, everything was absolutely perfect. It was quite inspirational.
It was also fun to see what Kathryn would wear each day— her distinctive style is so natural to her — it’s a lesson in personal style!
The only thing I regret is that I didn’t take more photos… I do hope to go back next August and will be sure to do a better job recording the experience.
Finally, I want to say that this review is not influenced by our working relationship. I paid full price for the workshop and it was worth every penny!