As the COVID-19 pandemic halted our usual social interactions, many of us have passed the time by picking up new hobbies or reconnecting with old interests. For some, this led to a passion for home baking, with sourdough starter kits proving one of 2020’s hottest items. For others, it meant picking up a needle and thread and losing themselves in sewing patterns.
The Stitchery, a fun sewing and fabric destination in Port Moody, has filled this niche helping novice and experienced sewers alike to rediscover their passion on the sewing machine. Having undergone some significant changes earlier this year to safely navigate COVID-19 health directives, we caught up with founder Jill Schuler to learn more.
What’s the story behind The Stitchery?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for getting people to be creative. It’s been a dream of mine forever and circumstances allowed me to open The Stitchery in 2017. I came across this amazing space in Port Moody and I thought ‘now’s the time to make this dream a reality.’ We’ve gone from having a few shelves of fabric and a few classes, to offering multiple classes a week and expanding into a second retail unit.
What we’re all about is that we’re here to help people sew, to learn embroidery, and we achieve this through a number of resources we offer and a regular schedule of classes. We love it when people take an interest in sewing, come in, ask us questions and we’re able to help them.
Particularly now, when a lot of people are home and need something to do, what we offer is really finding a home with people. Being creative is generative, it’s stress relieving and it’s good for the soul.
How long has stitching and embroidery been a part of your life?
For most of my life at this stage. I started sewing as a teenager and I went to fashion school to learn how to do it properly. From there, I worked as a costume designer for about 12 years, mostly in theater and film. There weren’t any huge movies in there, I was more into the creative stuff, so I got to do circus costumes, opera – all sorts of fun things like that. If you aren’t familiar with those kinds of costumes, they’re pretty extravagant, I even got to make a giant pigeon costume once!
It’s stayed with me since those early days, and I’ve now been lucky enough to turn it into a business.
What kind of classes and resources do you offer?
We like to think we offer something for everyone! We offer classes that range from complete beginner to advanced dressmaking and quilting. We also try to cover the garment and home décor side of things, quilters and then a bit of hand crafting. We also offer sashiko stitching, cross stitching and felting if people are interested in learning more about them.
We understand this world might be completely new to some people. That’s why we offer Intro to Sewing and Intro to Quilting classes. We recognize people’s schedules tend to be all over the place, so we help people be completely flexible in how they approach these classes. They can pop in and out of them on a calendar basis that works for them and they won’t have missed anything. Ultimately, we just want people to expand their skills so we’ll make it as custom-built for each individual as we can.
What impact has COVID had on your business?
When COVID first hit back in March we shut down to the public, pivoted to online sales and started to offer pickup at the door. We decided our classes and helping people to sew is the very heart of our business. This sparked further conversations where we decided to move our retail store into a separate unit and double the size of our classroom. We moved all of our sewing machines into separate workstations to help with social distancing. We have about six or seven hundred square feet of useable space, and within that space we only have seven sewing machines. This ensures everyone can stay distant, stay safe, and have a clean individual workstation that’s sanitized for them before they come in.
This enabled us to open up classes again in July. It cost us a lot of money to make these changes, but in my view it’s worth it. People have been loving coming back to class, it’s helping them feel comfortable being here and it’s all in line with the guidelines we received from the government.
Strangely, the sewing industry has benefitted from the pandemic. People have returned to things like handcrafting, sewing and sourdough breadmaking this year. The industry as a whole is doing really well helping people to fill that need, and that has allowed us to finance this expansion while making it safe for people.
Why do you think it’s so important to support small business in your community?
Speaking for myself, I like to shop at local small businesses because it puts money back into my local community. When people do business with me, they put food on my table and I buy that food from local businesses.
It’s about the community too. We know our customers by name, we’ve developed friendships with them. When I go to my local coffee shop, that’s a small business. They know my name; they know my order. That matters to me. Those relationships matter, and the only way we can sustain them is to continue shopping locally.
What are some of your favourite local businesses?
I just love walking this neighbourhood every day, and there’s a whole list of businesses I stop by! I go to Black Sugar Coffee for my snacks. I go to Cocoaro Craft Chocolates when I need a bit of a treat. I go to Spatial Art Ceramics to get special Christmas gifts. We buy our flowers from Elderberry Floral. We’re lucky to have so many amazing small businesses in our community!
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We respectfully acknowledge our place of work is within the ancestral, traditional and unceded territories of the Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ/sel̓ílwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and that we serve the Peoples of the many Nations throughout British Columbia.