Students keep what they sew

Three students learning how to quilt at Mayhall’s Sewing Center in Montrose unpack their sewing machines and ready themselves to begin the second of four stages.

They’ll spend the next three hours making the second piece of a sampler quilt. The quilt takes seven weeks to complete and features four patterns and 14 fabrics and colors.

Tonight, as each student in the class uses rotary cutters to cut 2 1/2-inch strips of fabric, one student notices that the fabric’s crease appears after the fold and she’s uncertain about it.

“Even if the fold is off, the quilt will be OK,” said Etienne Gervais, the class teacher. “It’s not the same with garments. If you have something that’s off by 5%, if you’ve ever had a T-shirt that’s twisted on the body or pant legs that do that, that’s that 5%. It starts to torque because it’s not cut correctly.”

Each beginning quilting class at Mayhall’s is limited to six students. This class attracted three — Carol McCraray, Annagreta Claesson and Kristi Massopust.

Claesson and McCraray said they each grew up with knitters in their family. Massopust’s mom sewed quilts. Two of them are returning to the classroom years after they first learned. Claesson said she is new to sewing altogether.

Gervais, a Montrose resident, is a skilled designer himself, who took up knitting at age 4 and sewing at 10. Born to a German mother and French father in Los Angeles, he spent much of his childhood between L.A. and several European cities, at one point learning French couture techniques from a family friend, he said.

He honed his skills at the Los Angeles Trade Tech School. When he’s not teaching, he’s designing custom suits, such as the brown one he toted for a 50-year-old attorney who, as a petit Size 2, has a difficult time finding form-fitting clothes outside of teenage girls’ departments.

He said he recently sold a black and cream cocktail dress made with 30 yards of silk.

Gervais also teaches a beginning sewing class for children to learn how to make pajama bottoms, a pillow case and a cosmetic bag.

“It’s not difficult,” he said. “It just takes time. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get.”

He credited the television reality show “Project Runway” to attracting more people into designing and sewing.

“That [show] has actually brought more people into sewing in the last 10 years than in the last 30,” he said.

During class, when Gervais spontaneously shares one of his projects — a quilt he’s making as a surprise gift — the three women who were dutifully cutting strips of fabric and asking questions, stop. His unfinished quilt is no sooner out of its bag than they are all huddled over the piece, marveling at the stitching and embroidery.

Moments later, when everyone has returned to their seats, Gervais approaches the table with a stack of reference books given to him by his former sewing teacher and offers them some reassurance.

“After you finish this class, you can pick up any of these quilts and make your own,” Gervais told the class. “You’ll have enough basic knowledge to be able to do what you want.”

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