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Kay Cushman, owner of Princeton craft and retail store Amma’s, cuts material for a tutu at the store. Cushman is a fourth generation seamstress, but continues to find new tricks of the trade on the Internet. NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
The fall after her high school graduation, Jessica Durland of Sheridan (soon-to-be Jessica Smith of Ottawa), picked up a pair of knitting needles as part of a personal journey. She never had a chance to meet her “Grandma Sue” Durland, who passed away the day Jessica’s parents got married. “It was kind of tragic for them,” Durland said. Grandma Sue’s memory lives on, however, and one thing her son remembers is how his mother would crochet “all day long.” So in September 2011, Durland set out to learn the craft her grandmother had loved so much. “This is my way of getting to know her,” Durland said, “and getting to know what kind of woman she was.” After seeking out a mentor to teach her the “language” and tracking down some books to help her get started, Durland discovered a website full of patterns and projects. Now if she can’t find what she wants to make in the pages of her books, she does a search on Ravelry.com. In their quest for patterns to either knit or crochet, the website allows crafters to search by project, size and yarn type. The site also provides a section where users can log their supplies. Then when they find a pattern they want to try, they can check their stash to see if they have what they need. “Then you know if you need to go buy it without looking through your whole tub of yarn,” Durland said. Durland now has several projects in progress. Though she enjoys the craft her grandmother loved, she gets bored after working on the same thing for very long. “For me, it’s good to have a little bit of variety,” she said, “although it makes it difficult to get anything done.” For Tam Sesto of La Salle, it was her schedule that made it difficult to get things done. But she decided to make sewing a priority again and signed up for an online class through Illinois Valley Community College. Sesto said she sewed in high school, but that was longer ago for her than for Durland. “I didn’t even look at a sewing machine for 25 years,” she said, “and then one day I got the bug again.” Four years ago her husband surprised her with a top-of-the-line sewing machine, and since then, she can’t get enough of the hobby. When she saw the online sewing classes pop up on the IVCC class schedule last semester, Sesto told herself she didn’t have time. But this spring, she is making time. “I just decided: You’re just going to have to go for it, because you’re never going to have time if you don’t.” Sesto is currently taking Basic Sewing/Construction (Level 1) and Basic Pattern Drafting (Level 1). She also is registered for the Level 2 classes, which begin March 25. Though she wasn’t very far into the classes yet — the weekly online course began Feb. 11, Sesto already was pleased with her decision. Instructor Eric Stiles is a master tailor and designer with experience at Giorgio Armani and Polo-Ralph Lauren, and according to Sesto, he is also a good teacher. While some teachers might move the material along, telling students they will catch on eventually, Stiles tells students to take their time and make sure they understand before moving on. Sesto has taken other online classes through IVCC, so she was accustomed to the format, but she said this one was a little different. There was no message board or group chat, as she had seen in other online courses. Instead, this course simply provides access to Stiles’ instructional videos. Each week’s video demonstration is live for 10 days before it goes away, Sesto said, and her only complaint was that she wished she could access them longer. “He talks real clear,” she said. “It’s like you’re sitting right there watching him do it.” Sesto said she loves fashion and one of her goals is to be able to make her own skirts. “I’m a bigger girl,” she said, “and I thought if I could design some clothes that I would be comfortable to wear, then maybe other big girls would want to do the same thing.” If she succeeds, she said she would probably try to sell the clothes on Etsy. But her main goal for now is to make clothes for herself. She is especially excited about the Level 3 class. “I looked ahead to see what we can look forward to,” she said. The Level 3 course includes some “draping” — tailoring clothes to size using a body dummy. That puts Sesto right on track for accomplishing her goals. IVCC program manager Kim Koehler works in the continuing education center and said people get interested in sewing for various reasons. They have everyone from beginners starting out in the hobby to people who want to do alterations out of their home as a business. The college hasn’t been able to offer a “face-to-face” sewing class for a while, Koehler said, and the online class is so convenient for students. “You can do it in your own home,” Koehler said. “You don’t have to haul your sewing machine out and drag it to campus.” Koehler cites Project Runway as one factor that has sparked an increased interest in fashion. “There’s an interest there in what it takes to put a garment together,” she said. “It’s kind of a lost art. People don’t know how to hem their pants.” Sesto agreed that creating homemade items is back in style. “Sewing and other crafts are really making a comeback,” she said. “For a while there it seemed like nobody wanted to craft.” It doesn’t seem that way anymore, according to Kay Cushman, owner of Amma’s craft and retail store in Princeton. Cushman, a fourth generation seamstress, uses the Internet to search for projects and tricks of the trade. “There’s a lot of creative people out there, and fortunately they’re like other creative people — they’re willing to share things,” she said. Cushman doesn’t have a particular craft blog or website she returns to, she said, because she is always looking for something different. She does frequently turn to Bing Images to do a search of the Internet. “I wanted to find some Mexican items to make for Cinco de Mayo” she said, “so I typed in ‘Mexican paper flowers’ and I found several videos on how to do them.” Cushman doesn’t use Pinterest too much, because then her search is limited only to people who are using that site. Doing a global Internet search brings her many more options. “Just be willing to type in words that have something to do with what you’re looking for, and you’ll find more than enough,” she said. “You’ll find where to buy them, how to make them, where to get the supplies — I mean, it’s wonderful.” Cushman has found instructions for how to make everything from hair bows to birdhouses online. “Almost anything is available if you’re willing to spend the time and look for it,” she said. “The Internet is like one big encyclopedia plus a How-To manual.”
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