There is a creative spirit in all of us. But it gets very quiet and lazy if all we do is work at a job that doesn’t require us to be creative, only productive.
For many years, I have been doing little craftwork on my sewing machine: book covers and bags. Earlier last year, I started learning how to make clothes and took a few classes. My job doesn’t allow me many vacation days and all my time off last year was spent on visiting family. So, when I got an email from VAWAA team about a weekend apprenticeship with a local denim artist, I was thrilled and knew that was an opportunity I would not want to miss.
"...it allowed me to see my direction, define my next step, and imagine my future projects."
The artist I wanted to learn from was Robert. “A bespoke maker of denim jeans, jackets and shirts; master of jean repairs and alterations; and a Vintage Levi 501 collector and seller,” announced his VAWAA page and I was hooked. Who wouldn’t want to learn from such a master and, by myself, I was too shy to just walk into someone’s workshop and ask them to teach me.
Jenny, from VAWAA team helped me to organize everything and prepare for my apprenticeship. She and the artist worked with me to change the workshop days to accommodate my job schedule so that I didn’t have to take any days off. And so it was three days over two weekends. I could not wait to start.
When on my first day I stepped into Robert’s store and the studio space in the back, I felt awe. There was so much interesting and important history concentrated in that small space, not only in Robert’s stories about his work, the brands and people he worked with, the history of denim, but also the sewing machines that he used. Many of them were a few-decades old, which in our times makes any technology or machinery museum worthy. Because it was an “open for business” day for Robert, I got to see the day-to-day side of his work as well.
The fun part was to see him repair a pair of torn jeans. Like a ballet dancer, knowing very well his every next step, Robert fixed the jeans literally in less then ten minutes. It’s difficult to express why I am so excited about that particular moment. For one thing, I really enjoyed watching someone who was so good at what he did. But the best part is that I’ve learned several things by watching this simple task: a few sewing techniques and repair tricks. I also got inspired to apply one particular stitch that I saw to a completely different project I was working on at home later that week.
"Believe me, if you can remember yourself playing in the toy store where your excitement gets stronger with every new toy, that was how I felt."
Having fun is a great way to learn. We rarely notice how much we absorb until afterwards when we are doing the work without the watchful eye of our teachers and remembering their words, the movements of their hands, or the way they worked with the tools and materials.
But not only watching, doing it myself is what I was there for and Robert did not disappoint me. I got to work on every machine. Believe me, if you can remember yourself playing in the toy store where your excitement gets stronger with every new toy, that was how I felt. Imagine, you just press a lever and the machine makes a buttonhole for you or you push a pedal and a rivet is now decorating your jean pocket. One was so monstrously fast; it was hard for me to control it. It refused to let me work at my comfortably slow pace of a scared beginner. It stitched like a speeding Mustang. But I am proud to say that at the end of my apprenticeship I tamed it!
For two long days, Robert and I were working on a pair of jeans for me. My teacher allowed me to be slow and didn’t say once that he had to stick to the original hours planned (we did stay longer, and I felt grateful and encouraged feeling that it was not only me interested in learning; my teacher was also interested in teaching me). I did every step myself. Some of the things, like cutting the fabric, for example, Robert just explained to me and let me do it; others we did together, he would work on one leg, showing to me how it was done, and I would repeat and practice on the second leg. Robert patiently watched while I did my exercises, even when he saw me messing up a few things, like breaking a needle on one of the machines. It is really great to learn in such environment, when you are not punished for making mistakes, but definitely praised for your tiny successes.
I had an amazing time working with Robert, who, in addition to being a skillful craftsman, is truly an artist because of his imaginative and virtuoso approach to his work. Being in his orbit, learning, getting inspired and caring this three-day experience out into the world with me was really one of the best things I’ve done. I believe that this VAWAA weekend was instrumental for me because, in addition to learning new skills and totally enjoying myself, it allowed me to see my direction, define my next step, and imagine my future projects. In my desire to continue learning sewing, I now have a permanent weekend apprenticeship with a seamstress and I continue designing and sewing new things in my spare time.
Would I do VAWAA again? Absolutely!
To spend 5 days learning the art of denim with Robert, visit his artist page.
Written by Jenny Begun
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