In Lealman, a new venture is breathing life back into the art of sewing. Enter Sew Pinellas, a dynamic sewing incubator that opened its doors at the end of 2023, aiming to empower individuals with the skills and resources to thrive in the world of textiles.
Founder and owner Jennifer Fairbanks was born and raised in Pinellas County, studied fashion design and has a background in intimate apparel. She began teaching sewing in California in the early 2000s and later opened her own design school before moving back to St. Petersburg to reconnect with family and refresh her career.
“It was a really good experience at first. I built an entire curriculum where we did sewing courses, illustration courses and pattern design courses. I was really enjoying doing that, but I wasn’t actually doing the teaching; I was training other people to teach, and I kind of lost that passion,” Fairbanks said. “So when we moved here, I was like, ‘Okay, I need to regroup.’”
Fairbanks began hosting introductory sewing classes in December. Her facility on Haines Road offers access to equipment, mentorship and training for anyone who wants to learn to sew.
“It’s been really satisfying watching the couple of classes that I’ve had here so far, just to see their faces light up, both adults and the kids. Honestly, the adults are lighting up even more than the kids are,” Fairbanks laughed. “They had never touched a machine, never even looked at a sewing machine before, and by the time they left, they were sewing straight lines.”
“What I really focus on in the first class is making sure that they are not afraid of the machine,” Fairbanks added. “As soon as they know it’s not their enemy and it’s not something that they have to, like, dominate, that the machine does all the work for them, they realize that all they have to do is drive it. It’s just like a car with the foot pedal, so, of course, the adults are a lot better at controlling the speed.”
Equipped with multiple sewing machines, cutting tables and an extensive array of fabrics and patterns, Sew Pinellas provides members with everything they need to turn their design dreams into reality. From basic sewing techniques to private lessons, the incubator offers a diverse range of classes tailored to all skill levels. In addition to its current workshops, Sew Pinellas will host an all-ages Spring and Summer Costume Program and upcoming cosplay camps. Fairbanks said, in her experience, it’s much easier to learn these lifelong skills in person.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of YouTube videos out there, but you can’t ask the YouTube video a question. A huge hole that I always felt was missing from all the educational books in sewing and fashion design is not only showing how to do it but explaining why. There is a reason, and if you don’t ask questions, you’re just flying blindly.”
Fairbanks stocked her space with an array of modern and vintage sewing machines, giving students a chance to try their hand at threading and stitching on different devices.
“That’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed with this [space], giving them the opportunities to work on it on the different machines. It’s not something I did before. They learn to sew on all of the machines and it really gives them the confidence to do it again,” Fairbanks said. “I’m kind of new here, and as I’ve grown as a teacher and an educator, I like I see what really works for people and what doesn’t.”
Fairbanks aims to use Sew Pinellas as an avenue to weave the art of sewing into the heart of the community and make it accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or experience.
“Things are not made the way they used to be made, so a lot of clothing starts falling apart, so being able to fix your own clothes is empowering. I just love making patterns, I love drafting and I want to teach everybody else how to do it because it’s a skill that’s not always taught in schools. Design schools are shutting down right and left. I want to have a legacy so that it’s not just me and all the knowledge doesn’t die with this generation.”
Fairbanks hopes Sew Pinellas will become a creative hub, nurturing local talent and bringing people together to foster a sense of belonging, build community empowerment and stitch together a new generation of sewing enthusiasts, starting in Lealman.