A sewing revival | New school provides outlet for dying art

By Mary Stevens Decker
Redmond Reporter

At Briar Rose Sewing School, a new business on Union Hill in Redmond, owner Barbara R. Mar is reviving the dying art of sewing and giving people of all ages a place to gather as they exercise their ingenuity.

Mar, a former piano teacher, grew up sewing, just as her mother and grandmother did. After her daughter, Rebecca, was born, Mar enjoyed making dresses and doll clothing for her and also formed a children’s custom clothing shop called RuBarb Creations along with her mother, Ruth.

If you’re a fan of the drama department at The Bear Creek School, you likely have admired some of Mar’s splendiferous costume creations. While Rebecca was a student there, Mar costumed more than 24 plays, including seven major Shakespeare productions. Working with fabric finds from Value Village or discarded prom gowns, she made intricate and historically accurate garments that would be the envy of professional theatre ensembles.

Lately, it has been hard to locate places that teach sewing. And what Mar does at Briar Rose is “different from what you’d find in fabric stores,” she said. “I’m offering long-term lessons. It’s a skill just like learning an instrument. You have to start out with the basics and build from there. People who take on too much get overwhelmed and give up.”

Her first projects for people who have never sewn before are very easy. Students use workbooks with step-by-step and level-by-level instructions. They check off each project completed and move on to the next book when they are finished with the first.

To foster creativity, students can choose whatever fabrics they like, and Mar encourages the recycling old jeans or vintage clothing.

“Quilts have made a comeback — also, wall hangings. It’s fun to do things with different colors and fabrics, and a great way to make gifts,” said Mar, who recently held the school’s first community outreach event — sewing cat blankets for the MEOW Cat Rescue shelter in Kirkland. The volunteer group, called Heart to Hands, plans to do a project each month that will benefit people in the community, from hospital patients to the homeless.

These are social opportunities like the old-time “sewing circles,” as well as a way to give back to the community, Mar said. “It gets people out of their homes ... and it’s important for young people to have a skill for the rest of their lives.”

The name of her business, Briar Rose, came from the main character in the fairy tale, “Sleeping Beauty.”

Mar and her husband, Rick, began building the sewing studio above their home’s detached garage in 2003. The following year, they were in a serious car accident that almost rendered Mar blind in one eye. Settlement money from the accident helped to finance the completion of the beautiful studio.

To learn more about classes and free events at Briar Rose Sewing School, open to children and adults, call (425) 868-6338. Mar’s daughter, Rebecca, is the News Clerk at the Mercer Island Reporter.

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