Two WNY entrepreneurs working to bring sewing to a new generation

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Two WNY entrepreneurs are bringing the art of sewing to the next generation. 

Mary Grabenstatter is the founder of Needle Sharp, a first-of-its kind sewing subscription box, based out of her residence. 

Grabenstatter learned how to sew only four years ago, but found a passion for it. 

“I fell in love with it,” Grabenstatter said. “I spent all my time looking at online patterns and sewing in my kitchen,” she said. “At the same time, I was getting [meal subscription kit] Blue Apron- and I realized nothing existed in the sewing world for a kit like that.” 

Needle Sharp sends subscribers monthly boxes with everything they need to create a piece- patterns, fabric, thread, even zippers and buttons. The boxes are themed every month and feature a different article of clothing. 

“I came up with the tagline, ‘Beautiful clothes, delivered to your door, assembly required’,” Grabenstatter said. 

The boxes range in skill level and contents, from simple to expert. 

“When you’re first starting out, you can make a lot of errors by choosing a fabric that’s too slinky for a shirt or too stiff for a dress,” Grabenstatter said. “We want to get rid of that by giving you the correct fabric that matches your pattern.” 

The business has grown quickly since it started in 2017-  Grabenstatter said she sent out 16 boxes last May and 84 boxes this May. She now ships to the United States, Canada and the UK.

“You can build a handmade wardrobe of things you made yourself,” Grabenstatter said. 

Sewing is appealing to the millennial generation, many of whom are seeking different ways to unplug, Grabenstatter said. 

“What I’ve found is people of my generation are trying to step away from technology, sit down and work with their hands- to take some time for mindfulness,” she said. 

Arlene Kaye, a veteran of the fashion industry, started her business, Fashion Lab NY last November. Fashion Lab is a skill-based learning studio which caters to ages seven to adult. 

“Sewing is not only a skill, but I’ve seen kids and adults transform here, gaining more confidence- it’s a great social activity, it’s great to sew with other people,” Kaye said. 

Fashion Lab offers workshops, classes, and camps to teach sewing skills and projects ranging from fun to fashionable. 

“My hope is that having a studio like this will help kids who have an interest in sewing or want to find another path of creativity, that they can come come here and learn how to sew and continue to develop their skills,” Kaye said. 

Kaye has taught at Buffalo State College as a fashion instructor. 

“Because of the interest in “Project Runway” and the idea of bringing back sewing clothing, I really wanted to train the next generation on how to learn how to sew- it’s always a good skill to have,” Kaye said. 

Both Grabenstatter and Kaye agree that there are benefits to sewing beyond being able to hem your own pants. 

Grabenstatter said that she is able to make clothing that fits her better than anything she could find in a store. 

“I can make something that fits me and fits my style, and I feel much better about my body because of it,” she said. 

Learning how to sew involves a lot of math, which can be a good teaching tool, Kaye said. 

“It’s an applied math, and it’s great to be able to show and teach the kids how to use math in a way that’s creative,” she said. 

Fashion Lab NY will be offering a class using one of Needle Sharp’s sewing kits Saturday from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The class is ages 16 and up, and you can sign up here. 

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