The Make Den
The Make Den Sewing Studio recently relocated from within 69 Vintage Collective to a new location at 1244 Bloor Street West, providing a bright and crafty addition to Bloordale's streetscape. With its robin's egg blue walls and ruffled party dress in the window, I couldn't resist popping in one dark winter evening to learn more about what this sewing and design school has to offer.
Founded in 2010, The Make Den offers sewing and design classes, workshops, and camps for all levels: from absolute beginners (like yours truly), to intermediate students looking to sharpen their skills, to aspiring designers applying to competitive fashion programs at institutions like Ryerson University, Parsons in New York City, and Central Saint Martins in London.
The Make Den's owner, Irene Stickney, has a passion for teaching students of all levels that is infectious and heartfelt. For those pursuing sewing as a hobby--about 75% of her students--The Make Den provides an outlet to explore their creative side, which is often not fulfilled in their day jobs. Irene loves helping these students create new things, have fun, and acquire a life-long skill.
For the 25% of her students pursuing a career in fashion design, Irene aims to offer top-notch instruction on technical skills and a supportive community. "Toronto has amazing designers and they need more resources. I want to be able to support designers. I want to be able to say I've made a difference for designers." The Make Den provides these students with classes, camps, studio space, endless encouragement, and even photo shoots (by Irene) to build their portfolio. Talking about her advanced students and their creations, Irene beams with pride. "Don't forget me when you're famous!" she jokes with them.
Well, I'm definitely not part of the aspiring designer crowd, so I opt to try an introductory class. The studio itself is bright, uncluttered, and full of DIY touches that inspire. I can't help but think (quite ambitiously), "I could totally make that!" when I see a coat-rack made of salvaged barn wood, or chalkboard signs hung with twine. The Make Den strikes the fine balance between professional studio and personal whimsy.
The instructors are "the best in their field," says Irene, but also very friendly and patient as they start from ground zero, teaching us about fabric, thread, and equipment. Within minutes, I feel comfortable enough to ask silly beginner questions (including, I kid you not, "how much is a yard of fabric?"), and within a half hour students and the instructor are chatting about local brunch joints. With the small class size, the instruction is tailored to the students' abilities and interests (pun fully intended). Later in the evening, the more experienced students arrive to work on their impressive custom-designed garments. The whole experience feels like being invited to a crafty, welcoming, and yes, all-female party--although Irene points out that more men have been taking classes.
Now, the details. The Make Den offers a range of introductory, intermediate and advanced classes, including classes for specific types of garments, quilting, and screenprinting. Classes are generally 2 hours per week for 4 weeks ($160+HST), or 2-3 hours per week for 8 weeks ($250 or $310+HST), and run at a variety of times on weekdays and weekends. The Make Den also offers workshops for special projects and techniques like hat making, and summer camps for adults, juniors, and aspiring designers. Free open studio time is available for current and former students, as well as hourly studio rental, custom sewing, and private lessons and parties.
What's in the future for The Make Den? While offering new workshops and camps (a Valentine's day workshop on making boxer shorts, anyone?), it will continue to be actively involved with PACTFashion, offering positive opportunities to Toronto's at-risk youth. Looking at the big picture, The Make Den will keep trying to do its part to build Toronto's international fashion and design reputation. Irene admits, "that's a bit of a lofty goal--I know we've only been around for three years--but that's what makes me happy."
Photos by Brian Chambers