The chatter in the room was telling:
“Oh, my god, Kelsey, this is so cute!” one girl exclaimed.
“Ow!” another said.
“Adorable!” a third girl announced.
“Oopsies,” a fourth girl said.
This was the play-by-play of young ladies, all either 9 or 11 years old, enjoying a summertime sewing class, a La Cañada Flintridge community staple known as “Sew Fun.”
Once upon a time, students learned to sew (and cook) when they took home economics classes in middle school. That is no longer the case, and Helen Brooks has been happy to fill the void.
For the past 18 summers, her family’s basement has seen a steady stream of children — including, yes, boys among the approximately 1,000 who’ve attended.
In classes of six at a time, kids have learned how to sew by making dresses and shorts, hair scrunchies and skirts, tote bags and pillowcases, holiday decorations and bulletin boards, doll clothes and quilts.
The class — for which Brooks charges $200 for five sessions that last 1½ hours — started when the moms of a few of Brooks’ daughters’ friends asked if she might offer a tutorial.
“All the moms were like, ‘I remember sewing, but it’s hard to teach my own kids,’” Brooks said. ‘Or, ‘I could never sew.’ Either way, ‘You take ’em.’”
So Brooks sent a flyer into the community and “it just exploded.” That very first summer, 45 students signed up.
Not much has changed since. This summer, Brooks’ cheery, yellow basement walls held three rows of tables, on which six sewing machines were set up. Pins, string and cotton fabric were available at the back of the room and a pair of ironing boards were stationed along the wall.
Brooks got a teaching assist during last week’s class from her 25-year-old daughter, TraciLyn, who has happy memories of all the creative Halloween costumes her mom sewed for her and her three sisters. Her favorite: Belle, from “Beauty and the Beast.”
Helen Brooks said she’s gotten feedback over the years suggesting there are added benefits to the class beyond the basics.
For one, she said, driving a sewing machine — pressing the pedal that controls how quickly the stitches are applied — helps later, when students begin driving a car. Those ironing boards along the wall are popular with moms, because without realizing it, kids come home having practiced a household duty.
Brooks said she even recently heard from the mother of one former student who got an A-plus on her stitching skills at medical school. Special-needs students have participated, all of them walking back up the stairs feeling great about something they’ve created, Brooks said.
And, yes, some of her former pupils have gone on to do fashion design for a living.
“It’s a good release,” Brooks said. “It’s good just to keep them busy and, also, school’s hard. Let’s face it. With this, you can express yourself. And these girls have taught me so much because they have an eye for stuff.”
Stuff such as, say, alternating just two colors while making a quilt rather than the traditional four. Or effectively jazzing up a plain tote bag by adding a pocket to the outside of it.
“That’s their eye. Some of them really have an eye,” Brooks said.
“Sometimes it’s hard,” said Julia Krider, 11, who was putting the finishing touches on an adorable, chevron-patterned sundress. “So I know I’m never going to be a dressmaker. But it’s fun and it’s calming and I like to make things.”
“It’s like having the freedom to make your own stuff,” said Jessica Mazin, who was making a second tote bag to give as a gift. “And that feels good.”
For information, visit sewfunbyhelen.com.