Heather Clarke was drawn to visit one of Leesburg’s newest businesses because she wanted help in making her first quilt. Gretchen Young is an experienced quilter who wanted to develop her skills for making garments. Angela Helge was able to make a blouse from the French designer, Deer and Doe, and later brought her 7-year-old daughter there for a class, where she made a nesting bowl. Others say they come almost as much to socialize as to sew.
Their common destination was the Finch Sewing Studio, which had its formal opening last month in downtown Leesburg. Billed as a “place for modern sewists,” the studio is proving to be a magnet for women who want to learn sewing skills, work on projects in a social environment or simply shop for fabric, patterns, sewing tools and other supplies. The studio offers classes for people of all skill levels, summer camps for girls and resources for anyone who wants to go in and work on sewing projects.
Teaching sewing classes comes naturally for owner Nicole Morgenthau, 33, a former high school English teacher and school administrator. She offers a variety of sewing classes for adults — so far all of the participants have been women — and led weekly sewing camps this summer.
Morgenthau said that one of the studio’s most popular offerings has been “Friday Night Sewcials,” when as many as 10 women go to the studio to use the sewing machines, work on projects and get to know one another.
Young, 44, of Purcellville, said that she was a little nervous when went to her first “sewcial” but that Morgenthau put everybody at ease.
“She’s got such a cute shop, and she’s got supplies, and everybody’s so friendly,” Young said on a recent Friday night, raising her voice to be heard above the mix of conversations, upbeat pop music and humming sewing machines. “And the really cool thing is, everybody’s really so supportive of everybody else’s projects. So it was really awesome, and I couldn’t wait to come back.”
The Finch Studio offers “open sew” periods during its regular business hours, when people can work on their sewing projects, get advice and use the machines, for a fee.
Clarke, 38, of Round Hill, said that going to the sewing studio is “almost like a respite, where you can focus on sewing . . . and not have our children yanking on our shirttails.”
Morgenthau brought the idea of a sewing studio to Leesburg when she moved there with her husband and two young children from Portland, Ore., about a year ago. Sewing studios are a relatively new phenomenon that started on the West Coast, she said, and she worked at one while she was living there. She said that a resurgence in sewing began about 10 years ago, when fabric designers such as Amy Butler and Alexander Henry started producing “really interesting textiles.”
“Some small businesses started opening up and carrying modern fabrics,” she said. “A lot of stuff showed up online. Around the same time. . . people started blogging about what they were making and sharing tips on the patterns.” The social Web site Pinterest has also fueled interest in do-it-yourself projects, she said.
“I just really was super-lucky to be there at exactly the right time,” she said. “The shop where I worked opened a year before I got there. So when I got there, they were ready for new teachers, and I was ready to teach.”
She said she knew right away that Leesburg would be a good place to open a sewing studio because it has a lot of women close to her age with children.
“In order to make this work, you need both,” she said. “You need kids who are interested in learning, and you also need their moms, who are interested in learning or who are already doing something with it and want to have a more modern experience with sewing.”
Morgenthau said that she learned to sew from her mother and grandmother.
“I don’t know a generation of women in our family who didn’t sew,” she said, motioning toward an antique sewing machine that belonged to her great-grandmother. “We were always making things. I just never stopped.”
She started the business in her home in February, before moving it into a centuries-old building at Loudoun and Wirt streets. She said the historic downtown, with walkable sidewalks and picturesque storefronts, was perfect for her business.
“Sewing is an old art. It’s a historic practice,” she said. “And to be in a building that was built in 1790 doing something that people have been doing for longer than that was really appealing to me, because I think that sewing is not a lost art. It can be very modern and fun and approachable for people today.
“What’s really important to the business is that I’m building a community of people around this practice, around this skill set,” she said. “People come in, and we’re working on things with our hands, and we’re talking the whole time we’re doing it. Everybody just gets this little ‘high’ off of being around other people who are also doing what they love to do.”