At the end of Pacific Avenue sits a DIY fashionista’s gathering place
Surrounded by used sewing machines, heaps of scrap fabric, spools of thread and buttons, Elaina Ramer instructs a visitor on how to mend the hem of her shirt in the middle of The Fabrica: a hole-in-the-wall sewing and textile arts workshop that opened in March of last year. Ramer, Ann Altstatt and Stefanie Wolf are the founders of The Fabrica, where locals can take sewing classes for free (though donations are welcome), and bring in sewing projects to work on, like a visitor in the early days—a man who wanted to sew a yurt, a portable, canvas-covered, wood lattice-framed dwelling structure traditionally used by Mongolian nomads.
“It’s about the size of a small studio and definitely tall enough to stand up in,” says Ramer. “He was going to live in the yurt out in Corralitos and had yards and yards of heavy-weight canvas fabric, but he only had to sew straight lines. He came in for several weeks, twice a day every week, until he finished. Our space is limited, so he would sometimes stretch the canvas out into the courtyard to work there. He was very committed.”
This Do-It-Yourself nature of The Fabrica goes hand in hand with other non-profit stores next door. The Fabrica, the Bike Church, the Computer Kitchen, People Power, and Pedalers Express, are all located in the Santa Cruz Hub for Sustainable Living on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Spruce Street. The hub’s mission statement describes itself as “a resource center for DIY, human-scale technology and an advocate for livable, interconnected communities.” Projects within the hub support such messages as self-sufficiency and appropriate use of resources through their use of demonstrations, outreach, hands-on learning and educational opportunities.
On a visit to The Fabrica, Ramer is wearing a blouse in a slate grey color with cascading black lines and round smudges that are reminiscent of a Jackson Pollock painting. Ramer embodies the philosophy of The Fabrica in the way that she has made her own blouse. She twirls to show a black button at the back of her neck. “The fabric is cotton and had been a pair of parachute pants, which seemed to have been worn and washed a lot, so it's nice and soft,” she says. “I also made a matching pencil skirt.”
Visitors to The Fabrica can learn to make items similar to Ramer’s blouse by attending various classes that are all taught by volunteers. “Darn those Socks! With Damien,” invites visitors to “learn how to make a durable repair for knit items, like socks, using an easy needle-weaving technique.” “Introduction to Textiles with Patti,” asks the questions: “Have you wondered what the difference is between cotton and linen? Jacquard and sateen? Velvet and valour?” There is also “Sewing Machines 101 with the Fabrica Staff.” This “covers the basics of how of how to use a sewing machine: How it works, how to thread it, bobbins, tension, etc.”
Marie Wilkinson, who is certified by the Embroiderers Guild of America, leads the class, “Scrap Challenge,” where any projects ranging from pillows to clothes and beyond are made solely from scraps and other found materials available at The Fabrica. “When I retired, I didn’t want to just sit around with other old ladies and sew,” says Wilkinson. “I wanted to enjoy my craft with all types of people, regardless of their age and I am able to do that here.”
In addition to classes, The Fabrica also offers supervised open hours, complete with donated sewing machines and a wall full of recycled and scrap fabrics available for use. Open hours this summer are: Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Thursdays from 2 to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 4 to 7 p.m.
The rent for the small, non-commercial space is paid every month out of the pockets of the three women, though donations from visitors do cover some of the cost. “Being able to pay rent without always taking money out of our own pockets would be great,” says Ramer. But, because this is the current situation, each woman has not quit her day job.
“Having people come in here and work on stuff together was an important part of how we envisioned this workshop,” says Ramer. “We liked the idea of sitting around sharing ideas, drinking tea and just working on our stuff, without the exchange of money being important. We believe having to pay for it would discourage people from coming, and we want the shop to be used.”
Though the main goal of The Fabrica seems to be to provide a relaxing, yet productive, organization, there is also a great appreciation for recycling and restoration that those who created it hope to instill into visitors. “People really take pride in wearing a shirt that they made for themselves,” Ramer says. “Making stuff with other people or teaching someone to do something, you’re not just accomplishing whatever is created, you’re also forming a relationship with people. I think it makes our community stronger. The time I’ve spent in this building, I’ve made really good friends. It’s important to not rely on money and taking resources from the environment. We want to show people that their ideas for some projects are not so out of reach.”
For more information about The Fabrica, visit facebook.com/thefabrica or stop by 703 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz.
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