Stitches, snacks at Sew Savvy

There are cafés where you can surf the Internet, and cafés where you can read books. But Carrie White isn’t aware of any where you can hem a skirt or sew a pillowcase — except for hers.

There are cafés where you can surf the Internet, and cafés where you can read books. But Carrie White isn’t aware of any where you can hem a skirt or sew a pillowcase — except for hers.

White operates Sew Savvy Café at No. 103, 4916 Ross St. There, visitors will find a coffee bar with a variety of snacks, but also sewing machines, an ironing board, and a cutting and measuring table.

Open since April, Sew Savvy Café offers private and group sewing classes.

Sewing machines are also available for rent by the hour or day, with White or another skilled seamstress available to provide support as needed.

The café also sells fabrics, with a focus on natural and organic materials like merino wool, hemp and bamboo. White said she hopes to develop the largest selection of exotic fibres in the province.

The food offerings at the café are also different, she pointed out.

“What makes it a little unique is I offer a large quantity of gluten-free.”

The origins of Sew Savvy Café date back nearly two years, when White started dropping into the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter with a sewing machine. She thought she could help residents there learn a new skill and build their self-esteem.

“It went amazing. There were women and children of all ages.”

Before long, she was visiting the shelter weekly with three sewing machines. And the idea of a sewing-themed café came to her.

White was able to develop the concept when she entered the 2012 RED Challenge, an entrepreneurial competition organized by Red Deer College, Red Deer Regional Economic Development, the City of Red Deer, Alberta Innovations, and Community Futures Central Alberta. She was named a finalist.

After operating in nearby space belonging to the Women’s Emergency Shelter, White decided to set up Sew Savvy Café at its current location — which was previously occupied by One Island Caribbean & African Restaurant.

In addition to continuing her relationship with the shelter, she has made arrangements to work with other social agencies. White wants her café to provide important socialization opportunities, as well as skills training.

Members of the public are an important part of her clientele, she said, especially young mothers. Sew Savvy Café even has a children’s play area.

“No sewing experience required,” she said of her students. “You don’t have to know how to sew to make something.”

White, who also does alterations and custom work, hopes to tap into the vast sewing knowledge of local seniors.

“There are lots of seniors and there are lots of young mothers who are out there on their own. We sincerely need to benefit from each other’s experiences.”

She pointed out that many young people have no training in what was once a right of passage for every girl. And she thinks that’s unfortunate.

“They’re losing the concept of where things come from, which is what I also want to bring back to the people who come in here.”

Sewing since she was 16, White moved to Red Deer from her native Oklahoma six years ago to be with her now-husband.

“I come from a family of seamstresses,” she said. “My great-grandmother survived the depression with her sewing skills, along with her midwife skills.”

Sew Savvy Café is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Monday’s by appointment.

Additional information can be found on its website at www.sewsavvycafe.ca and on Facebook.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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