November 10, 2010

Sew Crazy

Christine Arlit says her goal is to expand her fabric collection to draw in as diverse a clientele as possible. With 1,000 bolts of fabric in stock today, Arlit says she expects to double her offerings in the coming months.
Union Leader Correspondent
Student Victoria Lonardohas at the sewing machine.
DERRY -- Gone are the days where every child graduates with a handle on at least the basics of sewing, cooking and other skills in the realm of “home economics.”

But at The Sewing Diva Quilt and Gift Shop in downtown Derry, owner Christine Arlit is hoping her bright fabrics and trendy project ideas will help bring young people into the fold. “Every shop has its own style and I’m more of a bright, cheery type of person,” said Arlit,
 who opened her shop at 16 Manning St. about a year ago. 

“There’s a stereotype that sewers are always older women, but we want to incorporate bigger bags and brighter colors to draw younger people, too,” Arlit said Tuesday. 

And when 11-year-old Victoria Lonardo of Derry walked into the shop about a month ago, it was a large pink quilt hung on the wall that caught her eye. 

“I thought it looked really fun and I just like the idea of making something myself,” Lonardo said Tuesday. 

So for the past three weeks, Lonardo has taken one-on-one sewing classes with Sewing Diva instructor JoAnne Turner. And she is well on her way to completing a large pink and gray quilt of her own. 

“We get our fair share of beginners here, and a lot of times I think it’s the mothers that are interested and they bring in their children,” Turner said. “But sometimes, like with Victoria, they are the ones interested in learning to sew, and she’s doing a fabulous job.” 

In fact, Lonardo says her mother doesn’t even know how to sew herself. “Now she wants me to teach her, too,” she said. 

And Lonardo said most of her classmates at Gilbert H. Hood Middle School don’t sew either. “I don’t hear people talk about sewing,” she said. “A lot of people that I know are more into watching TV, and I watch movies sometimes, but I like to do things rather than just watch.” 

Franny Hessler of Londonderry, who also visited The Sewing Diva Tuesday, said more kids might be interested in sewing if they just gave the hobby a chance. 

“I think if kids were exposed to it, they would like it, but they just don’t see it like they did in the past,” Hessler said Tuesday. “And it’s not that you have to always sew, but you should at least know how. People don’t even know how to make basic repairs anymore.” 

Beyond just basic life skills, sewing instructor Chris Poor of Derry said sewing projects give kids a way to succeed outside of academics. 

“I think you generally have a feeling of accomplishment when you finish a project outside of school,” Poor said Tuesday. “It’s a form of self-expression and you really feel satisfied with yourself.” 

But The Sewing Diva shop also offers classes and resources for more experienced sewers, like Poor’s lesson on making small tote bags Tuesday morning, “This store has a fabulous selection. It’s gorgeous, with lots of personality,” Poor said. 

“Christine and her staff really take a lot of input from their customer base and bring in what people want.” 

But when Arlit opened her doors almost a year ago, she said she had just 200 bolts of fabric and limited supplies. Since then, she has expanded to more than 1,000 bolts and plans to knock down walls to accommodate another 1,000 rolls in the coming months. 

“I was a bit nervous with the economy, but I was very passionate about it and knew I could make it,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be so successful so quickly, though.” 

This weekend marks the one year anniversary of The Sewing Diva Quilt and Gift Shop, and Arlit said the store will have special discounts, raffles and gifts for those who come out to celebrate with her staff on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, contact the store at 216-1647. 

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