Lili Nedved walks along a row of desks observing her students, who are hunched over their A-line skirt projects in silent concentration. The only sounds filtering through the airy space are the steady click of Nedved’s high-heeled shoes, the rhythmic hum of sewing machines, and the occasional snip of scissors. At the front of the room, Nedved’s business partner, Henry Sinha, shelves new bolts of castle- and kitchenware-emblazoned fabrics that arrived earlier in the day.
The peacefulness is occasionally punctuated by a question, an expression of concern, or an exclamation of victory (“Oh my God, it looks like a skirt!”).
A combination sewing workshop and retail spot, Spool of Thread Sewing Lounge (101–649 East 15th Avenue) is a place where both new and experienced sewers can come to work on projects, improve their skills, and exchange ideas. Nedved, who used to work in venture capital, and Sinha, an engineer, tossed around the business idea for two years before finding the right location. Separated from the hustle and bustle of Kingsway by a small strip of park, the space sits on a short block of East 15th Avenue alongside other creative endeavours like Collage Collage, RubyDog’s Art House, and the ArtWay. “It just feels like this quaint little hidden gem in the city that so many people are learning about,” says Nedved.
In addition to patterns and notions, Spool of Thread stocks a carefully curated collection of about 250 fabrics. Nedved is unyielding: if it’s not vintage, retro-inspired, or brightly coloured, you’re not likely to find it on the shelves.
The tidy workspace features a large cutting table where people can spread out their projects—a welcome alternative to a living-room floor. You can bring your own machine from home for an hourly fee of $5 or rent one of the lounge’s six computerized Janome-brand machines for $8 per hour. If you find yourself stuck on a bobbin or buttonhole, Nedved and Sinha are never far away.
Nedved’s sewing memories are intimately linked to her mother, who introduced her to the craft early on. She describes her first project, at age five or six, as “a sad little triangle-shaped bag” with a skinny ribbon strap. Now, 20 years later, Nedved is spreading the sewing bug, teaching others to make tote bags and pillowcases in Spool of Thread’s Sewing Machine 101 class.
Instead of multiweek courses, Spool of Thread’s í la carte classes (which range from $35 to $100, excluding material and supplies) focus on a single item and tend to start and finish in a single afternoon or evening. The goal is to teach students the skills they need to complete the project—whether that’s stitching a gusset or adding an invisible zipper—without overwhelming them. “We want them to walk out of here with a smile on their face, with something that they’ve completed that they can use,” Sinha explains. With the basic skills under their belts, students can start customizing their creations—a ruffle here, an appliqué there—and venture on to more challenging patterns.
So far this summer, Spool of Thread participants have come away with handmade garments like A-line skirts and vintage-inspired blouses, as well as home accessories like aprons, placemats, and throw pillows. Nedved and Sinha hope to add more classes in the coming months, including ones that will attract men, who have traditionally been excluded from the sewing world.
“I can sew at home, but it’s not nearly as fun,” explains Courtney Johnston, who is already on her third class at the lounge. “Plus, I don’t have Lili there to be like, ”˜Lili, what do I do?’ ”