Sewing apprenticeships pair students with mentors


Twin sisters are bringing their passions together to offer a mentorship program to high-schoolers this spring, in a discipline they hold dear to their hearts — sewing.

The Crocker sisters, Tesse and Hillery, run Elemental Stitches, a custom sewing studio on Bank Road near the intersection with Vashon Highway (across the street from the Department of Licensing).

The duo plan to teach apprentices basic dressmaking in a nine-week program, and will also pair up the students with a sewing mentor.

The twins are calling their mentorship program, which already has two Family Link students enrolled, Sister Stitches.

Tesse, 34, is the sewing force behind the studio. She was a freelance costume designer for Seattle theaters, including Seattle Repertory Theater and Intiman Theatre, before deciding to open her own studio on Vashon. She ran Elemental Stitches out of her house before opening her storefront studio in December 2007, just in time to participate in the Art Studio Tour. The sisters plan to open their doors to the public for May’s studio tour as well.

Hillery, although she does not sew, is the creative director of Elemental Stitches and in charge of its community outreach.

Hillery describes herself as someone who “moves energy” — she does massage and energy work, housecleaning and gardening.

But for fun, for her “heart work,” she gets involved with Island festivals and children’s activities. She has led the opening ceremonies at Islewilde and Earthfair, which involves performance art and ritual, she said.

“I always set up sewing at Islewilde, and the kids love it there,” Hillery said. “Sister Stitches is through conversations I had with longtime community members and their nostalgia for their girlhood where they learned sewing, and we noticed a generation gap where kids aren’t learning the art of sewing anymore,” she said.

The high schoolers will come to Elemental Stitches at times that are suitable for both the student and the sisters for “Dressmaking 101.”

And for every six hours of class time, the student will apprentice, or give back, three hours of time to the sewing studio.

The tasks the apprentices may perform will include basic construction on some of the whimsical fairies that Tesse specializes in and sells every summer at fairs, or basic construction of a corset or other clothing item.

Customers custom-order Tesse’s soft and decorative corsets, which she says are supportive and comfortable rather than being constricting. In fact, all of her clothing items are custom made, tailored to a specific body rather than constructed generically.

In a course syllabus the sisters prepared, they described their program as one designed to teach “young passionate sewers in the arts of fashion and clothing construction.”

In the course, the students will design and then sew a dress. They will have the assistance of their sewing teachers and a mentor from the community at large.

“We believe in intergenerational learning and strengthening the thread that connects all women, so every teen is matched with an elder mentor of the Vashon sewing community,” the course description reads.

The high schoolers will meet with their mentors each week and discuss their dress projects as they go.

The sisters said there were myriad reasons for students to learn the art of sewing.

Tesse said she had gained self-confidence concurrently with the talent of sewing.

“Learning that skill has made me who I am, as far as finding my path through design,” she said. “I’ve been supporting myself through sewing since I was 18 years old. There’s a lot of opportunity out there for stitching-based jobs in all its modalities.”

Hillery pointed out the environmental and ethical benefits to creating one’s own clothes. Most of the clothing Americans purchase from malls are made in third-world countries with slave labor, so to use one’s own labor, that’s “bringing our power back,” she said.

“Bring our power back into making our own clothes, using recycled fabrics, altering existing clothes so they fit us,” Hillery said.

She also pointed out that math, a subject that isn’t always a favorite, has a place in sewing.

“A lot of times we shy away from math and measurement in schools, and this is a way to bring that back to some more applicable use,” Hillery said.

Learn more about the studio

Elemental Stitches, “a sewing and creative space to gather for workshops, personal projects and fun,” is located at 9816 Bank Road. In addition to the apprenticeship program, the studio will hold a series of sewing classes in May and June, open to any beginning and intermediate sewers who will make items such as prayer flags, a wrap skirt or a cape. Drop by the studio for a schedule of the classes, or call 463-0759. The studio’s Web site is