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Stitching Together Craft, Family, and Community in Boyle Heights

#4644

In June 2018, Boyle Heights community members gathered for an introductory sewing series at The Shop.

On a Saturday morning in June, a multigenerational group of friends and family gathered around sewing machines and bolts of colorful fabrics at Center Theatre Group’s The Shop.

At one table stood a mother and daughter helping each other lay out fabrics to cut. Two sisters mingled around the room, translating English to Spanish and vice versa.

The Shop serves as the Boyle Heights headquarters of our costume and props departments and also as a hub for community programming. Since 2013, we’ve held free workshops and events—from backyard barbeques to puppet-making classes—for the local community.

In June 2018, we invited community members who have become regulars at our Shop events to participate in a special four-part series focused solely on fundamental sewing skills and techniques. The workshops involved the same group of seven participants throughout the month and was taught in both English and Spanish.

During the introductory session in the series, Center Theatre Group staff demonstrated to community members how to properly and safely cut fabrics from patterns and operate industrial sewing machines. Participants then practiced on the machines by working on decorative pillows. From there, participants crafted bib aprons with border finishes, tote bags, and finally, quilted table runners.

We wanted to provide community members with a buildable skill that they could continue to refine through multiple different projects, said Center Theatre Group Costume Shop Manager Brent M. Bruin, who helped design and teach the series. My hope is that they come out of this experience with the confidence to sit down on a sewing machine and do this at home.

Boyle Heights resident and artist Dula Camargo has been attending workshops at The Shop since the program’s inception and was especially excited to challenge her sewing skills. Camargo found all the projects in the series enjoyable to work on but considered the tote bag the most rewarding because it taught her how costumes and props in theatre are reinforced for durability onstage. I think we appreciate things more when we make them by hand, she said.

Another frequent workshop participant, Margarita Martinez, had spent some time sewing when she was younger and relished the opportunity to improve her skills as an adult. Martinez plans to take all that she has learned back home with her and craft projects for her loved ones. My son already gave me his order for burlap bags to make, she joked. I want to keep learning and practicing.

Those who had more advanced sewing experience served as teaching assistants. Yannel Capilla—a former fashion student—guided her younger sister through the projects and learned a thing or two about the art of teaching. I realized that when I’m helping someone else in sewing, I always have to be prepared for questions and clarifications, Capilla said. It’s exciting to be able to pass down all that I know about fashion to others.

Like the Capillas, whose parents also participated in the workshop, most of the community members were families—all eager to share a few Saturday mornings together collaborating on a common interest. As the sewing series came to an end, the group left with their custom-made creations as well as a richer understanding of their abilities as artists, educators, and creators.

This is theatre for your everyday life, said Community Liaison Estela Garcia, who helped with Spanish translations with her sister Adela. Through these workshops, we’re bridging the Boyle Heights community with theatre and also with Center Theatre Group. We all really do feel like family here.

Thanks to the Friars Charitable Foundation for supporting this program.

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