Sew Fantastic

Shag Beauty Bar in downtown Gilroy went from hair salon to Project Runway last Sunday as 27 sewing students modeled their handmade outfits to a packed house.

It was the first Proud To Be Me sewing school fashion show for girls 6-13 to strut their stuff. The smiles on the girls’ faces as they strolled down the catwalk illustrated the idea behind the school—to take pride in yourself and your accomplishments.

JoAnne Kerr started Proud To Be Me, at the Nimble Thimble on Monterey Street in September.  A month earlier Kerr, known to her students as Gigi, had expressed her desire to open a sewing school to Nimble Thimble owner, Linda Williams. Her only problem was she had no idea how to create a curriculum for the class.

Coincidentally, the next day a customer who taught sewing classes in Atascadero came into Williams’ store, and she put her in touch with Kerr.

It was through this introduction that Kerr learned about a website, Kids Can Sew, which provided her with the tools and training and tools to set up a sewing school. It even included a curriculum.

“I for sure believe that God had his hand in it, absolutely, because everything was perfect, the timing was perfect,” Kerr said.

With just a single posting on Kerr’s Facebook page offering sewing classes to anyone of almost any age, along with flyers at Shag Beauty Bar, the classes filled to maximum capacity, four students per class.

“It wasn’t three days later that I had filled two classes,” Kerr said.

The popularity of the classes proved to Kerr that there was a need in the community to provide this skill to children of all ages.

“I kept getting more and more calls, and I kept adding more and more classes,” Kerr said.

Many of the mothers who enrolled their children in the classes told her that their daughters have always wanted to sew, and then they confessed that they themselves do not know how, said Kerr.

She is more than happy to teach them, too.

Proud To Be Me currently offers two one-hour sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 5:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and three, two-hour sessions on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I have a waiting list. I probably have at least 10 on the waiting list,” Kerr said.

The feedback Kerr receives from her students is a constant motivation for her.

“I get comments like ‘I just love Sundays because it’s my sewing day,’ or ‘Can’t I stay just a little bit longer?’”

It’s those sentiments that inspired Kerr to organize the fashion show. She wanted to provide her students with a showcase for their creations.

“I thought, they need to show this, they need to show their accomplishments, so, I thought, fashion show,” Kerr said.

Help from her friends, family, students’ parents and the community, provided a venue for the show, a stage, decorations, music, even a master of ceremonies—Mark Turner, CEO of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce. It all came together to ensure the event’s success.

“It takes all of us together to do it, you can’t pull anything like this off by yourself,” Kerr said.

With a catch in her throat, and tears in her eyes, Kerr kicked off the show by expressing the love and pride she feels for each of her girls.

Then it was Turner’s turn, as he introduced each of the models and described their outfits. His wit and humor offset the nervous buzz filtering through the room filled with parents, grandparents, other family members and friends.

“I’m a friend of Jo Ann’s, she called and asked me if I would be the emcee, and I’m always happy to have a microphone and an opportunity to speak,” Turner said.

“She’s teaching young entrepreneurs. You never know, some of these kids could launch their own business someday, based on what they’re learning today.”

Katie Pacheco, mother of student Camryn Pacheco, was amazed by the amount of work and imagination that went into the show’s presentation.

“I was blown away. The decorations and the little catwalk was just done so beautifully and I know the girls were so excited,” Pacheco said.

“It was amazing. All the girls were just so excited to have their moment, and show off what they’ve done. It was awesome.”

For student, Lani Luberto, 12, it’s how the event made her feel that will leave a lasting memory.

“It was a really good experience. I felt proud of myself, because I thought I did a good job.”

Pat Fortino, grandmother of student, Emma Rose Fortin, 8, had never met Kerr until the day of the show, but she felt like she already knew her.

“I think she’s fantastic because of the things my granddaughter would come home with. She really encourages them, I love her,” Fortino said.

“I love these girls,” Kerr said. “They started out being my students, and now, honestly, they’re my friends.”

Watching her students make progress is the most rewarding aspect of teaching for Kerr. Her students come to her with little knowledge about sewing, and a few months later, each student has created outfits and accessories that they are proud to wear.

“It was absolutely worth it, and I will do it again, and again,” Kerr said of the show.

And she means it. Kerr’s future plans include opening her own store, continuing to offer sewing classes, launching an alterations service, hiring additional teachers (some who speak Spanish), and providing a place in the store where the girls can sell what they make.

“I want a place for them,” Kerr said.

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