HANSON — If you ever tried, and possibly failed, to learn sewing from a mass-produced pattern — or if you just always wanted to learn to sew — Hanson native Karen Senechal wants to teach you a better way.
Her free three-month course uses the techniques of draping muslin on a dress form to create a customized pattern, sewing and some design at the First Congregational Church of Hanson, 639 High St., beginning in mid-April. Classes will take the summer off before concluding in the fall.
Fans of TV’s “Project Runway” will recall that it, and other fashion design-themed reality contest television shows, have shown contestants draping fabric on a dress form as a first step in creating their final vision.
“I have [students] use a dress form because that’s the way I did it designing,” said Senechal. “It’s the easiest way to see how you want things done.”
All machines, dress forms, muslin and other equipment will be provided. The church is providing workspace in the fellowship hall’s lower level for the class and storage for Senechal’s equipment.
Classes will meet for two hours once a week, with the day to be determined based on the best timing for those who sign up. But Senechal said it will be important for those taking the class not to miss one, or it will be hard to catch them up on what the rest of the class has achieved.
There is room in the class for about 10 students. For more information or to register, call 978-360-2986, and leave a message about the day and time — morning or afternoons —that works best for you, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It’s the church that I go to, and I want to open it up to the community,” she said.
Once her students learn the technique, and are sticking pins in a dress form, they can do it on each other and literally make a personal pattern on paper, she explained.
“You really have to know in your own mind how to approach it,” she said of making patterns and clothing. “I use the female form because you have to put in the most darts because of the bust and everything. If you can do that, you can do kids, men’s, anybody’s.”
As a little girl in Hanson Senechal, the daughter of veterinarian Dr. Robert Nutter, became fascinated with sewing while creating outfits for her dolls and later learned to sew with 4-H leader Esther “Tessie” Smith.
“She taught everything, from starting to tailoring,” Senechal said. “I learned everything from her.”
Senechal graduated from Endicott College with a degree in fashion design and merchandising, going to work for bridal house Priscilla’s of Boston before joining The Limited, the company that also owns Victoria’s Secret — in stores as well as the catalog —and Lane Bryant as well as Appleseed’s catalog.
“I never sewed for a living, but my sewing knowledge helped me unbelievably in designing,” Senechal said.
She has taught draping, pattern design and seweing at the California Design College and the Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School in Easton. Senechal had also taught sewing in a both a home-school co-op and a women’s center for homeless or abused women in Albuquerque, N.M., when she and her husband lived there for four years.
In the shelter classes in New Mexico, she stressed the importance never throwing out useable clothing, which can be transformed into something else. At Southeastern Vo-Tech, she drove home the need to learn how to do hems well.
“You can make money just hemming skirts and pants for people,” she said, noting that a sewing machine, too, is a machine that can pay for itself.
By the book
Senechal has translated her years of sewing technique into the textbook she created for the class, which uses simple step-by-step instructions and illustrations to explain the lessons.
“I’ve done this for years, so I just wrote it,” she said. “It just kept coming and coming and I tried everything on the form as I went.”
The book also discusses tools needed for sewing and how dress forms are used. While she is not out to sell her book, she is willing to provide it to students to keep in exchange for a donation to the church.
Once a pattern is created by draping muslin and transferring the pattern to paper, students will sew the dress in muslin and see how well it fits back on the dress form.
“There’s no mistake you can make that I haven’t already made in my career,” Senechal said. “That’s how you learn. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying new things.”