Sewing school teaches life lessons

Published 7:16 pm Thursday, August 22, 2013

Karla Arndt imparts life skills at Sew Can You Fashion Design School, 111 Pennsylvania Ave., although students are more likely to learn recycling than needle and thread in her world of serger sewing machines.

Sergers have been compared to microwaves.

These industrial machines sew, trim and finish seams in one step.

They can make decorative edges, trims and attach elastic, which is why her students leave smiling.

“I rarely use a hand needle,” she said. “I don’t even sew buttons on by a hand needle. It’s all by machine.”

Arndt grew up in Dowagiac, graduated from Union High School in 1979 and moved to Chicago at 18. While raising her family, she operated a sewing school for 15 years, then taught sewing from home for five more.

“When my kids grew up, I came back home because my whole family still lives here, and it’s much quieter,” Arndt told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889.

“I’ve been back about seven years,” she said, “and I’ve always wanted to open a school here. I just never did because nobody thought it would work. But when I found out there were four dance schools — and I know Encore closed — but if that many extracurricular activities can go on in Dowagiac, I personally think what I have to offer will work very well. I start children at 6” and teaches adults, too, including a 76-year-old student.

“It’s doing very well,” Arndt said, although “I opened at a bad time of the year. Summer’s not a good time for this. There are too many vacations. I’m looking forward to September, when everybody’s got their schedules organized and they can squeeze in a sewing class every week.”

“Why it’s such a good program,” she said, “is that I only do four students at a time. Because of that, there’s no competition. Everybody works at their own pace out of pattern books,” which cost $45 and last nine months to a year.

Children’s classes cost $55 monthly for 75 minutes of weekly instruction; adults, $75 monthly for two hours of weekly instruction. Older teens may sign up for two-hour lessons.

Sewing “helps with math, with following directions and self-esteem,” Arndt said. “That’s why I love this job. They go home smiling every day, even if they don’t finish their project. Last night I got Facebooked: ‘I’m wearing my pajama bottoms.’ It makes me feel so good that I taught them how to do something that they can do the rest of their lives.

“I love dance,” said Arndt, who played in alumni band last spring, “and I’m all for the arts, every kind of art that there is. But not very many grow up to be prima ballerinas. The ones who do, that’s great, but the ones who don’t got good exercise, but they go nowhere with it. With sewing, they can go all kinds of places.”

Another life lesson Arndt imparts is shopping for fabric.

“They have to go and purchase their own because that’s part of learning. If they don’t like it, they’re not going to wear it. I teach them how to make all of their own clothes,” she said, “and I teach them recycling. I am very into using bed sheets — I bought a whole set of comforters and matched pillowcases at a garage sale for five dollars and will make my granddaughter sun dresses out of them. This pair of pants — I love Goodwill on 50-percent off day — I bought for a quarter. They were for an adult. I just cut them up and made pants for a 6-year-old.

“I try to get them to envision what they can do with something that isn’t sitting out on a fashion store’s shelves and costs their parents $10 a yard. It’s not cheap anymore to sew like it used to be. Buttons, zippers, everything is expensive, so recycling is a big thing.”

Contact Sew Can You at (269) 788-4241.