Stitch Lab Grand Opening Redux

A little bit of the grand opening, a little bit of the history

Due to the amazing turnout for both days, Leslie has extended the Stitch Lab 20% off fabric sale until Christmas Day! The donations and fabric sales raised a ton of money for Grrl Action, and more classes will be added to next year's schedule since so many are now full through February.

On Sunday, I didn't actually head for the pie first thing at Stitch Lab's Soiree and Indie Craftivity Scene. After all, there was a table of cookies and egg nog out front. Duly fortified with a chocolate-covered macaroon, I checked out Elena Eidelberg's 3-D koi tiles while waiting to actually get in the door.

Once inside, nearly a hundred different onesies and toddler shirts in a rainbow of colors by One Eared Cat lay folded on the large work table by the door, the table usually covered in cutting mats they use for classes.

Cheerful bananas and friendly owls and squids and snails grinned up at me, all hand-stitched appliques. The crush of people held me there long enough to notice the adult-sized silkscreened T-shirts with incredibly detailed images of sea life, a sea urchin so intricate in black outline it seemed for a moment there was a salt tang in the air. I had to keep moving; it's all part of the strategy at these art bazaars, right?

A rack of smart hats; tables and tables of handmade jewelry; Holga photos of spartan landscapes; airy, spindly wooden sculptures - yes, it was all wonderful, but where was the Stitch Lab proprietor? I found Leslie Bonnell manning the register at the same time I discovered the pie table. Well, well, well.

First, a little backstory. Bonnell left the high-pressure atmosphere of the Zach Theatre costume shop in 2000 to build her own studio, as well as perform at the Driskill three nights a week. As she began scheduling a few classes in the studio behind her home as part of fulfilling her dream of being a teacher, demand rose and her performing fell by the wayside. After she added another instructor to teach when she wasn't working, she found students still clamoring for more.

"With sewing, there are so many different ways to do things," Bonnell says, "and having other instructors in-house means our students get varied viewpoints, techniques and methods." When First Samples and Craft-o-Rama, indie fabric stores that offered sewing and crafting classes, closed recently, teachers began coming to Bonnell and offering their skills. Stitch Lab's roster of classes now includes sewing, from the basics to dressmaking, knitting and crochet, fabric printmaking, and jewelry, taught by several founding members of the Austin Craft Mafia, both the former owner and a teacher from Craft-o-Rama, and instructors from First Samples. Stitch Lab also co-sponsored an embroidery event at Design Within Reach last year ("Poking Holes in Perfection," Feb. 7, 2008). Clearly, they needed more room.

The Stitch Lab studio moved in November from a space behind owner Leslie Bonnell's home to a brightly remodeled 1920s Craftsman-style house on South First, just across from the School for the Deaf. Today, though, it looks completely different from the sterile photos in its Apartment Therapy profile, bustling with shoppers and bolts of fabric flying off the shelves.

These yards of cloth are the stuff of new creative projects in more ways than one; 10% of the sales go to Grrl Action, a Rude Mechanicals program for teenage girls to develop their strengths in all aspects of theatre, from acting to writing, costuming, and dance. (Previous Chronicle coverage of Grrl Action can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.) With that end in mind, not only does Stitch Lab as a whole support the community, but so does Bonnell herself by mentoring one of the girls. Stitch Lab also has plans to start a fund for girls interested in the textile arts/design to be able to take classes for free or at deep discounts.

At this point, I notice quite a few people lining up at the register and excuse myself to further investigate this pie table. Pie fixes everything, hmm? Why yes, yes it does. Armed with a savory pie and a flier for Kat McTee's spring textile printing classes (Today's two favorite facts about her? She co-edits Pop Culture Press as well, and her family's dog is named Georgia Hubley!), I went on my merry way, knowing I'd be back for a Sewing 101 class.

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Stitch Lab, Leslie Bonnell, Grrl Action, Austin Craft Mafia, First Samples, Craft-o-Rama

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