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PHOTOS: The Makehouse threads community, creativity at Victoria sewing studio

The fabric shop and sewing lesson business recently became employee-owned

Kathryn Camfield is focused on making sure the lines she’s threading don’t go wonky as they’re stitched through her sewing machine.

After escaping from an outside world that’s loud and non-stop, she realizes the tactile work has once again drawn her into a fabric-filled fog.

“I have gone too deep when it’s six hours later and you look up and it’s like, ‘Okay I need to eat because I’m feeling woozy.’”

Camfield is now general manager and one of the five member-owners who took over The Makehouse at the start of December.

The basics of sewing were eventually passed down to her as a child thanks to her prolific seamstress grandmother, but she cut ties with it for about 20 years before moving to Victoria and thought it might be fun to take some classes The Makehouse was offering.

As she got more involved with the decade-old studio, the former owner poached Camfield to come work there. She and the other employees then got a little worried after being told last spring that the business was going up for sale, so they decided to take it over themselves as a worker cooperative.

It’s been an awesome response from the community so far as the owner-employees help people navigate the many colour spools and stacks of endless patterns throughout the store. But it’s the other side of the business, sewing classes and workshops, where the owners find their connection to their eager members.

Camfield said the demand, from those aged six to 86 and of all genders, is so huge they could probably double the number of classes they offer, though that would take more teachers and space. The various workshops they offer were 95 per cent sold out last year as people look to learn to sew or bolster their stitching skills.

“Kids come back for session after session and adults too so we have a really nice community of people around the store,” Camfield said.

“There’s sort of a unity of purpose, everybody is sewing, someone might be making a quilt and someone else might be making a dress, but there’s appreciation, encouragement and trading of skills as well, so that’s what I think really binds people together and builds that community.”

Camfield thinks everyone gets something similar out of sewing even though they may be making all sorts of different garments or other pieces.

“I think it appeals to people’s desire for creativity, it’s a way to express themselves, maybe get out of their heads a little bit,” Camfield said. “It’s definitely an escape from stress and other world problems.”

Through their lessons, people get to use their hands and learn a new skill, but Camfield said it’s also fun for people to browse through all the colours, patterns and textures at the store until they find something that resonates with them.

“It’s sort of fun every step of the way because you’re combining what is the shape of this thing, what are the colours going to look like and you’re bringing those together,” she said. “At the end of it, they get to create something that’s either useful or brings them joy.”

After getting some co-op mentoring, funding and setting up their banking with Community Savings Credit Union just in time, the employees got the business on Dec. 1.

As they started to make the store their own, it admittedly felt a little wrong as it hadn’t sunk in that they had a stake in the store.

“Sometimes I forget like ‘Oh yeah this is actually our business now, we can make decisions for the store, it’s pretty exciting.”

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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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