“Local seamstress teams up with GRCC to offer affordable industrial sewing classes in effort to meet industry demand”

By Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood | The Grand Rapids Press on January 25, 2015 at 6:04 AM, updated January 26, 2015 at 1:20 PM The industrial sewing machine before her is whirring and in roughly a minute Marisbel Ramos zips around the edge of the fabric, completing the piece that will soon be fitted over the arm of a chair and shipped out the door of Irwin Seating Company.

Judging from her speed and comfort operating the powerful sewing machine in front of her, one might assume the 47-year-old Wyoming resident has been sewing all her life. But, no, she never sewed at home.

“I learned here,” Ramos said, smiling about the on-the-job training she received at the Walker-based manufacturing plant.

And 15 years later, she is one of the go-to sewers on the seat line and her manager, Ross Slager, would probably clone Ramos and his other most skilled sewers if he could because he can’t seem to hire people with sewing skills fast enough.

“We need that skill set,” Slager said.

To keep up with the influx of orders for theater seats and to prep for the roll out of a new recliner line, Irwin Seating has been hiring people through a temp agency and training them to sew on the factory floor, a model that isn’t ideal because it takes most employees a while to learn the ropes.

Enter Camille Metzger. A sewing powerhouse and owner of Blue Marble Threads, Metzger is on a mission to educate the next generation of industrial sewers.

After fielding more requests for industrial sewing work than she could possibly handle herself, Metzger started shopping around the idea of adding an industrial sewing program to West Michigan colleges. A local art school was interested, but an administrative change stalled the plan.

GRCCclassmembers_750

A short time later, Metzger connected with Grand Rapids Community College’s Workforce Training program through a contact at Steepletown Neighborhood Services. GRCC administrators were responding to a need identified by local economic development agencies and employers requesting an industrial sewing training program and they needed a sewing instructor.

Fueled by a $30,000 grant from JP Morgan, GRCC was able to launch a pilot program and allocate funding to purchase industrial machines. Metzger, a GRCC grad, teaches the five-week, 120-hour course at her Grand Rapids studio at Steepletown. Classes are ongoing and cost students only $35. The first couple course were day-long classes held three days per week. Administrators are considering offering a part-time evening course, too.

“If you had told me even two years ago that we would be working on industrial sewing, I would have laughed at you,” said Julie Parks, director of GRCC Workforce Training and the Tassell M-TEC facility. “So I need a better crystal ball.”

Parks said GRCC is working to fill an immediate need for 40 trained sewers and administrators plan to use funds from a $4.1 million grant from the Michigan Coalition for Advanced Manufacturing to keep the sewing program going.

We’re pretty proud that we can get up and going really quickly,” Parks said. “We were ahead of the game because we had Camille.

The second class filled up quickly and more are being planned. “We’re really focused on bringing in under-employed and unemployed people,” Metzger said.

As more Michigan companies are looking to keep jobs local or bring them back home, they’re having difficulty finding employees with industrial sewing skills.

“You have an aging workforce,” Metzger said. “We’re going to lose 35 percent of this workforce because they are going to retire in the next five years.”

At Irwin Seating, employees sew and upholster, often completing several steps to compete a chair arm, back or seat before sewing the next piece. This breaks up the monotony of the job and follows the lean manufacturing model.

Metzger says she is excited to be in a position to teach people the sewing skills they need to land full-time jobs that pay ranging from $10 to $22 dollars per hour.

“I’m excited to see where this is going to go in the next five years,” she said. “I really feel like I’m at the ground level of something that is going to be amazing.”

Charlotte Linderman, 62, of Comstock Park, was a home sewer before she joined the industrial sewing ranks roughly 30 years ago. “I have supported myself with sewing since 1985,” she said, noting that she has worked at several local companies and has been sewing for Irwin Seating for the last decade. “They’re very good at keeping jobs here,” Linderman said.“With their new line, they need sewers and not everyone knows how to to that anymore.” Linderman’s best advice for those looking to land an industrial sewing job. “Just listen to your teacher,” she said.

To find out more about GRCC’s industrial sewing program, call 616-234-3800 or visit their website. Check out Metzger’s work at bluemarblethreads.com.  See an article about the program shared in The Collegiate.

Testimonials

Camille has been working with the Refugee Employment Services to train sewers for her own business, Blue Marble Threads. We’ve been so impressed with her capability and desire to work cross-culturally to train Bethany’s refugee clients. We absolutely think she is the woman for the job in terms of extended training.
Jessica Anderson, Bethany Employment Specialist
“I was looking for a teacher over this last summer and I happened to come across a local seamstress. I thought I would give it a shot. This was one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences I have had in a long time. Through my time spent with Camille I advanced quickly from beginner sewer to advanced sewer. I was taught many great lessons with fabric manipulations and some pretty extreme underpinnings. All in all this was a wonderful experience and if I could do it again I would. I would highly recommend the classes offered here to anyone interested in simple sewing or any higher level sewing as well.”
Jacob Whitman,WMU Fashion Studies Student
Dear L.C.: “Thank you so much for this letter. Average Josephine has learned much from it. Although women often scoff at the additional price of altering clothing, it really is the best way too get the best fit.
Average Josephine is a firm believer that it’s better to have fewer clothing items that all fit well than to have a lot of poorly fitting garments.” See the entire article below.
Average Josephine

“Tailoring is the best way to ensure a good fit”

By Bay City Times staff on December 05, 2012 at 1:25 PM, updated December 05, 2012 at 1:47 PM

Dear Average Josephine:

I enjoy your column in The Grand Rapids Press. Lately, there has been a lot of discussion about sizing. As a professional seamstress serving Kent County, I would like to share some insight into this topic. Alterations seem to be the industry standard for readymade clothing, from hems to taking in here, pulling up there and a little tuck in the center. A bulk of my business is alterations and custom design work. From size 0 to 48, my clients have a hard time finding clothing that works for them as individuals. Ready-made clothing rarely flatters our uniquely curvaceous bodies. Perfect fit is achieved by using a professional seamstress.

In the 1970s, all of the sewing pattern companies created industry sizing standards for patterns. From McCalls to Vogue, all patterns were created to be the same size. The change was made in order to avoid the guesswork in sewing. Using a pattern draping technique, patterns can be altered before the fabric is cut. Custom clothing is made to fit our bodies as they are. The bonus is there is no number on the tag. Just a beautiful outfit for a beautiful woman. It’s interesting to note that in many cultures, there is no sizing. Women enter a tailor’s shop, picks out their materials and have the clothes created for them. My dad brought back a great example of this from India. It is a partially made Indian woman’s suit. The long tunic is sewn across the shoulder and arm with the sides left open. All one needs to do is create the neckline, have the sides fitted and hem. My client from Chad, Africa, shared a fascinating story of the tailors there. She drew a picture of what she wanted, they “sized” her up without taking measurements and she picked up her outfit in two days. I found the outfit to be of high-quality workmanship. As they use sewing machines, the seam allowance was left in so there was “room to grow.” So, we American ladies have an abundance of options from which to choose. Sometimes, we get lucky and it fits right off the rack. In those situations when we love the outfit but not the fit, a professional seamstress is an invaluable partner in helping create our most flattering wardrobe. After all, clothes that fit never go out of style. Have a beautiful day! — Lady Camille —————————- Find Average Josephine on Facebook at facebook.com/AverageJosephineNews. Email her at averagejosephine@gmail.com.