'Sassy" sewing lounge attracts fashion-conscious

Tamara Woods, of Baltimore, works on creating a frog fasterner during a class at the Sassy SEWer, that's part of a series of lessons titled "You Can Make It." (Photo by Brian Krista / February 22, 2012)

The sewing lounge Sassy SEWer in Parkville has eight sewing machines for customers, but when Tamara Woods goes, she takes her own.

It's not just about the machines, she said.

"It's about the dedicated time with other sewers. We all like to do this. We chat. It's fun," she said.

At home, she sews for other people. At Sassy, she works on raising her skill level and she sews things for herself, combining craftsmanship with fashion sense.

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"I love the technical part. But it's the creative part that takes over. You are propelled to finish. To me, it's really exciting. It's energy," Woods said.

Offering advice over the thrum of needles during a recent lounge session in the salon, a single snug room with fabric hung and spread out on almost every surface, was the owner of Sassy SEWer, Blondell Howard.

Howard, a Baltimore native, comes from a sewing family and picked up the skill herself at age 22. Sewing remained a part of her life, but she ended up working in a bank. A company merger left her without a job and she enrolled in the Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore, a nonprofit that assists in business startups.

She wrote a business plan and obtained a Small Business Administration loan. A acquaintance in real estate found the work space at the rear of the building at 9008 Harford Road, just south of the Beltway. She opened for business in 2007.

"It was tough the first year. I didn't have any customers. Nobody knew I was here," she said.

She kept afloat by teaching, but gradually customers found her and they referred other customers. Sassy SEWer took off.

A nationwide boom in interest in the needle trade at the same time didn't hurt.

Why this fascination with a craft many associate with granny?

Here's a clue. Substitute the word "fashionista" for "seamstress." Needle and thread got hip. It's no surprise that the original sewing lounge, Stitch Lounge, opened in San Francisco.

"They started popping up all over the place," said Dyanne Marte, fashion design program coordinator at Baltimore City Community College.

Howard and Marte both credit the popularity of fashion-related TV shows such as"Project Runway"with sparking interest.

But Marte thinks it's more than that. The overseas outsourcing of mass production garment-making left a stateside vacuum that sewing lounges moved in to fill.

"A lot of people don't want to wear generic clothes, but something that reflects their creativity. They are willing to pay more for something like that," she said.

Marte said the students she sees in her BCCC program may end up in fields as diverse as merchandising or photography, but all share a curiousity about clothing design.

"There's a lot of mystery about fashion," she said.

The trendiness of sewing lounges is reflected it its youth appeal. Howard said she runs four classes for youngsters with six kids per class.