A New Beginning

It has been a while, hasn’t it? Quite a lot has happened in my life since the last blog post. My readers are completely forgiven for thinking I have vanished off the face of the Earth.

An Update on Me

For one, I finished my classes in the Fashion Department at City College of San Francisco. I earned two certificates of completion, one in Garment Construction and the other in Patternmaking. I have earned most of the credits necessary to complete a third certificate, Advanced Garment Construction, lacking only a class in Couture Sewing Techniques to qualify.

The culmination of two and a half years of work.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

With two certificates in hand I had also completed exactly half the credits necessary for the Fashion degree proper. I decided I was at a good stopping point. The remaining classes were mainly design and business-oriented, and I simply didn’t feel I wanted to be a student forever.

And had I continued, I would have faced two headwinds. One of them I knew: that City College of San Francisco was facing budget shortfalls even before the coronavirus pandemic and cutting classes across the board. The cuts have hit the Fashion department, meaning some of the courses I would have wanted to take, especially the more advanced courses, are no longer offered. There’s no longer a Couture Techniques class and there likely never will be.

The second headwind is of course the coronavirus pandemic, which took everyone by surprise and has made in-person classes impossible for the time being. I had the opportunity to consult for City College instructors to help move their classes online. While I don’t think it’s impossible to teach fashion online, especially for the more lecture-oriented classes, I also don’t think it will be easy to do so. The lab-oriented classes will be especially challenging to offer over a videoconferencing connection. And so in retrospect I’m glad I’m didn’t commit myself down that path.

And so after completing City College last May, I worked on a design for a travel pant which I wore on a three-week trip to Italy in October 2019. I began to build a new business as a sewing instructor at Sips n Sews sewing studio in San Francisco. The studio provided a very flexible arrangement for us instructors. We worked essentially as independent contractors. We set our own schedules and developed our own course offerings, while the studio earned a share of the proceeds for the classes we taught. I enjoyed working with my students, as well as the opportunity to team up with other instructors to offer joint classes.

Then COVID-19 hit, and the studio, as a non-essential business, was forced to close. Tammy Gustin, the studio owner, looked at several avenues for pivoting the business but in the end was forced to close the studio for good. The studio’s two main sources of income – the sew-for-fun hobbyist and the “maker” entrepreneur who manufactures and sells sewn goods – have evaporated. The studio will not have a source of income for the foreseeable future.

And with the pandemic and the loss of the studio came the end of my nascent career as an in-person sewing instructor.

RIP Sips n Sews.

A Silver Lining

I am in a state of grief over the loss of the studio. It was so, so supportive of me and I made some really wonderful friends there. But there is a bit of a silver lining. I did some shopping at the studio’s liquidation sale. Spending a good chunk of my government stimulus check, I am now the proud owner of a Brother Exedra DB2-B737 single-needle lockstitch industrial sewing machine. Here’s a photo of it just deposited in my garage.

What next

Fates willing, there’s plenty for me to share with you on the blog, including some interesting projects I completed as classwork. And there’s some things I’ve put together for classes that would be fun to talk about as well. As well as sewing projects in progress and in the future.

But to start‚ getting this industrial machine cleaned, tweaked, adjusted, and ready to go has been an interesting learning experience. I hope to share a bit of it with you soon.

Especially in these times, take care.

23 thoughts on “A New Beginning

  1. Testosterone

    Mr. P.,

    The Internet has had its collective anxiety and despair eradicated – you have returned!

    Your specific addition to the universe and such, done with a measured diligence and exactitude, is tremendously appreciated. There is no substitute to accept in your absence.

    Congratulations on the educational achievements! Your having a “keepsake” in your garage is the springboard for a future we all hope to gets a glimpse of, one posting at a time.

    Now, if you were me, which you are sadly not, the creation of “A guy who sews in his garage” would be somewhere on the Internet. Of course, I’d affix rawhide fringe to a tool belt, and don a pair of boots – and my work attire would be complete. Now if you coop the idea, and we find you on YouTube “a-sewin’ and a-showin'”, then this “life stylist” would find great comfort in having helped you re-imagine you.

    With gratitude and fresh ideas,


    1. Michael Portuesi

      Just the toolbelt and boots? That’s certainly some work attire!

      Thank you for the well wishes, and for sticking with me and the blog.

  2. Sandra

    Congratulations on your certificates (Let me tell you they are way prettier Looking than my MA & Doctorate , which look like they were home done on a laser printer). Be proud of all you made and the skill you learned. I am impressed as hell. Sorry that City College has even more budget cuts. That is truly a shame. Well done and keep sewing on that Industrial beauty!

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Hey Sandra, thanks for the congratulations! The budget cuts at City College have been sad to watch. I consider myself fortunate I was able to reach my goals before the fashion program was impacted severely, but my heart goes out to the students mid-way through or entering the program at this time. It’s exceptionally difficult for them.

  3. Bill Parsons

    Well done on getting your certificates, this pandemic has affected everyone and it’s a shame how many small business are affected. No doubt though having the necessary sewing skills and things improving then it will bounce back. I only sew for myself and partner mainly and for me it’s a great hobby. Good luck in the future look forward to you blogs.

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Thank you for the encouragement. Even though I knew chances were slim for the studio to survive it was still heartrending to learn for certain of its closure. No idea what the future holds for me business wise, but I’m looking forward to completing some projects!

  4. John Yingling

    Well, good to have you back after a long hiatus. I really admire your drive, tenacity, and plain hard work in accomplishing everything you have done in the last few years. The virus has really put a dent in all our sewing/designing lives and activities, but as always, we will overcome this viral glitch in our lives. I’m sure, like the rest of us, you’re probably hunkering down and making lots of masks for friends and family. Hopefully, we will overcome the
    virus and get back to our normal lives. Congrats on the clothing design certificates, and let’s hear more about what you have to share about what you’ve been up to these last few (?) years.

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Thanks, John. I’ve always appreciated the constructive criticism and advice you’ve offered me via this blog over the years. I have lots of documentation on my recent past projects, but some of them are pretty big in scale so I have to figure out the best way to present them on the blog.

  5. Mark "Marco" Cane

    Hi Michael,
    It is nice to hear from you again. I’m afraid I’m in a similar boat as yourself. Besides my regular line of work, movies and television lighting, which came to a dead stop mid-March, and I don’t know when it will resume, I have been taking Saturday Fashion Department classes at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, for the last five semesters.
    I was back again with my sewing instructor, Professor Finna Drebskaya, for her third level class, when “La Plaga” interrupted. She reluctantly used the schools teleconferencing solution, “Zoom”, to finish up the semester, but it doesn’t work very well for a sewing class.
    I forget what exactly your blog helped, or inspired, me with, but I think it had something to do with the seersucker shirt. Either that I had done a seersucker summer dress, at one of Mood Fabric’s classes two years ago, or that I’m doing a sportshirt for myself this semester, through class, at LATTC.
    I recently exchanged emails with a gentleman at Juki, in Florida, and I may do their, one-week, first level tech class with them next month, if they actually put it on.
    Anyway, thanks for your initiative, with your blog, and your inspiration
    – Mark “Marco” Cane
    Los Angeles, Ca.

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Hey Mark, I understand exactly where you’re coming from. I’m glad that this blog could be an inspiration to you. I worked with one of the professors at City College to help her move a class online – in Fitting. She got a lesson plan together and moved the content online, and she can evaluate fitting issues over video conferencing, but as you probably know it’s difficult to do fitting adjustments on yourself. I’m thinking about ways I can offer teaching online. I have one firm plan and some ideas, we’ll see what shakes out.

  6. Mark "Marco" Cane

    Is there a printing store, close to you, with a plotter to spit out full sized patterns you generate with your patterning software?
    – Marco

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Oh, Mark, you’ve just touched on a topic for an upcoming article! The short answer is that I’ve looked into full-sized printouts locally and there was no place close to me that is cost effective. I still print to 11×17 pages and tape together. The 11×17 format is a little nicer than regular letter size because there’s fewer sheets to tape.

  7. Mark "Marco" Cane

    Which of our teachers did you help transition a fitting class to online with. I took a look at our S02 schedule, in both Fashion, an tailoring, and didin’t see anything that sounded like that class description. The closest thing I saw was a tailoring class Mr. Conte was doing.
    I had done the Saturday versions of Women’s Pattern Drafting I, and II, at Trade Tech. My first semester was taught bu Mary Lourdes Nichols-Cox, who is the head of the patterns department at Disneyland. One day we had a discussion of software pattern drafting, and why we learn to do it by hand, when it is so much more efficient to do it on computer. I offered, “Well I guess there are times when you don’t have that technology at hand, and you’ve got to break out your hipcurve, and pencil.” She answered, “No, we never do it manually”.
    I think she was actually exagerating, and I have read a lot of atelier houses, do, work that way. Also, as I’m sure *you* know, we quite often use our manual drafting experience, fixing patterns to our satisfaction, manually, and if your doing something minor, it would be quicker.
    Do you know which, “full bells and whistles” software suites are used professionally, in the design houses.
    Sorry if sucking your material from your blog on the subject.
    – Marco

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Hey Marco,

      Sorry for not being more clear – the instructor I was helping is associated with City College of San Francisco.

      In my classwork at City College, I did pattern drafting both with pencil and paper as well as with computer. I took a class in Gerber, which is kind of like the Photoshop of patternmaking, namely that it’s an industry standard and pretty much every service bureau and manufacturing house understands it and can work with it. In one of my classes I met a production person from Gap who had plenty of experience with OptiTex, which seems much more modern than Gerber in terms of its user interface – it feels much more like traditional design software than a CAD tool. But I don’t claim to be an expert on digital tools for the fashion professional.

      I have a more nuanced take on the issue of paper/pencil versus CAD software, in that there are things I like about both. I like the immense control you get with hand tools, I like the timesaving features and the precision you get working with a computer.

  8. Mark "Marco" Cane

    Do you know what brands/models/sizes, etc, would be required for a plotter for the kind of eork we do. I am sure the workshop you had been teaching at won’t be the only casualty of the pandemic, in the fashion world.
    I’m good friends with the owner of IDS. She makes a living buying out bankrupt ateliers, and clothing contractors. I might have even noticed s plotter in their shoeroom recently.

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Hi Marco, sorry for not seeing your note sooner. I’m sorry to say I don’t know enough about the specifics of plotters to make any recommendations. The one thing I would say with certainty is that if you buy an ink-jet model, find one with refillable tanks rather than ink cartridges. The operating cost of ink cartridges is REALLY high. My 11×17 printer/scanner/copier combo machine uses ink cartridges and the official cartridges from Epson are hugely expensive and make few prints before the machine declares them empty.

  9. Mainelydad

    I’m so glad you’ve resurfaced! You’ve certainly been on a journey, an inspirational one at that. I look forward to hearing about your course work, and watching you forge ahead.

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