By the time her students leave Tissu Sewing Studio, Nina Winter says, they've usually done more than just learn to stitch, hem or even create an entire garment.
“Our students really gain a lot of confidence in themselves," she said. "It's a long creative process that our students go through. It's not just popping in and sewing.”
Winter opened Tissu — which means fabric in French and is pronounced "tis soo" — four years ago. It sits up a flight of steps on the north end of Clifton Square, filled with fashion-themed artwork, natural light, new and vintage sewing machines, work tables, mannequins, fabric, thread and everything else that goes into clothing.
A native of Vietnam whose family came to Kansas in 1977, Winter taught herself to sew, then graduated from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. She has her own sustainable clothing line, called Haiku. Winter said running a sewing school is something she's wanted to do for a decade.
“Kansas isn't really known as a fashion capital. I wanted to inspire younger kids and let them know it doesn't matter where you are in the world.”
The studio caters to adults as well. Winter gives private, semi-private and group lessons, most lasting two to three hours, although she offers some 30-minute lessons. For adults, topics range from the basics of sewing to pattern making to classes on making specific items such as velvet pencil skirts, Victorian blouses and crossbody bags. For teens, there are classes on creating sequined purses, fashion sweatshirts and more. She's holding a two-week fashion camp during the winter school break. Sewing lessons built around birthday parties, baby showers, team-building exercises and other events are popular. "Moms might want to do baby clothes. Teens like fashion design."
Winter says she encourages her students to come up with their own designs, although standard patterns are available. "I encourage unusual designs. It's okay to be weird and different. I really stress that I want them to unique. A lot of kids just go with it and design like a top hat for no reason."
The first step is sketching out the project. Then Winter helps the student bring the picture on the page to reality. "I always tell everyone to kind of work backwards, break it down to small parts and hopefully you come out with a really nice garment."
Winter is writing a children's book based on experiences at the studio that she hopes to illustrate with drawings by local artists and release next spring.
“It'll be fictional, loosely based on our students. I've come to realize, when you're in the process, you kind of talk and reveal a lot about yourself. We've had so many stories and life experiences that I wanted to capture in a book.”
Most of all, Winter wants the studio to be a place where students find themselves totally engrossed in a creative process.
“I would say the best compliment I ever had was when a teenager was like 'I didn't have to use my phone once.' I thought that was amusing and it made me happy.”