Anyone who knows even a little bit about navigating the Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia area – popularly referred to as the DMV – is familiar with Georgia Avenue, a major corridor that carries thousands in and out of the city every day.
Just across the DC line, in Silver Spring, Maryland, is Think Outside the Store, a unique source for wearable art.
The founder of this eclectic blend of antique sewing machines, fabric and one of a kind hand made accessories is Sarah Gingold, a delightful woman in her mid 20s who decided to step outside of the box and spread her wings while embracing her dream of blending her passions for the ecology and one of a kind, artistic clothing and accessories.
Sarah, who was born and raised in the DC area, learned to sew at an early age. By the time she was in high school, she was making most of her clothes. She studied politics and government at the University of Maryland in College Park.
After graduation, Sarah worked for one of the many non profit organizations in the area where she learned the importance of protecting and nurturing the environment and its significance in all our lives. It was this experience that ultimately convinced her to put theory into practice.
In September 2011, she established Think Outside the Store, a space for people to buy, sell and create the clothes they truly want to wear not “the clothes the stores want us to buy”.
Sarah not only creates whimsical wearable art for sale to customers, she also teaches sewing classes and creates one of-a-kind pieces for clients who like the idea of sporting wearable art but not inclined to learn to make their own clothes.
On the day I visited, she was busily re-styling a denim skirt into a bag. As it lay in pieces on her work table, she explained how the skirt front and back were the body of the bag.
I watched her painstakingly arrange colorful fabric swatches and then attach them one by one by hand, using brightly colored embroidery floss to give each appliqué added dimension.
She explained that the waistband, which lay on the table awaiting its turn, would be used to form the shoulder strap.
While the concept of ‘wearable art’ is not at all new, Sarah’s approach is truly a breath of fresh air. In keeping with her commitment to protect the environment, Sarah uses treadle sewing machines almost exclusively.
I was a bit surprised to learn that she also uses treadle and crank sewing machines to teach the people who register for her beginning and intermediate sewing classes.
After all, in this day of computerized sewing machines, it isn’t difficult to be taken aback to learn that people are not only looking for and using treadle sewing machines, but are also eager to learn how to sew on non-electric sewing machines as well.
Think Outside the Store consists of two rooms located in the basement of a small office building on Thayer Avenue. Upon entering, there are two sewing machine tables – one treadle machine and one electric Singer.
There are also several display racks. One with items for sale made by two of Sara’s collaborators, Jamillah Abdullah and Amina Ahmad; and one with fabric to be used for creating Sara’s creations, used by students or sold.
The third display rack is filled with fabric swatches and scraps large enough to work with. These scraps were acquired from a source for local clothing artists to donate and purchase fabric at reduced prices.
The main work room has a large work table where Sara uses a laptop computer, holds meetings and brings her creations to life.
Her work room also houses one crank operated sewing machine – a Hudson, according to Sarah, a Singer clone with a brand name created by its Japanese manufacturer to make the machine more acceptable and palatable in the American market.
We were disappointed to find that an internet search of the Hudson sewing machine and its history yielded no additional information.
There are also two treadle sewing machines in the main work room – one Singer Red Eye and one vintage White sewing machine from the 1940s or 1950s that was actually converted from electric power into a treadle machine.
This was truly a first for me. I have seen quite a few treadle machines that had been converted to electric power, but never the reverse.
Sarah explained that in addition to honoring her commitment to being environmentally responsible, she prefers treadle machines because she can “feel each stitch”, which we concede is not always possible with electric powered sewing machines.
She added that since all treadle machines are straight stitch only, converting the White gives her access to zigzag stitches making it possible to make buttonholes and use other zigzag options not available on the other treadle machines in her inventory.
Sarah is quick to point out that none of her machines are for sale. They are strictly for her use in creating the clothing and accessories she offers for sale and for use by her students during the sewing classes taught at Think Outside the Store.
Before long, I gave in to my passion for all things sewing and asked if I could experiment with the converted White ZigZag sewing machine. I found it to be a very interesting experience.
The workroom also doubles as a classroom, where Sara not only teaches her own sewing classes, but leases space in Think Outside Store for classes by other people who work in the local wearable arts community.
These classes include:
- Teen and Adult Classes
- Introduction to Sewing
- Make Your own Pattern
- Pick a Project
- Children’s Classes – for children from six to 12 years of age; must be accompanied by a parent
- Introduction to Sewing
- Pick a Project
- Miscellaneous Classes
- Open Studio – every Thursday; bring your own sewing project; call in advance to reserve your spot.
- Jewelry with Jamillah – enjoy learning how to make jewelry with fabric; basic jewelry design; beading; wire wrapping and much, much more.
- Eco Friendly Personal Products
- Hand Puppets Workshop
- Yarn Swap – for the knitting and crocheting enthusiast who is looking to exchange yarn with others who have lots more yarn than they need and want to share.
- Host Your Own Event – If you have an idea for a wearable event or workshop and need a space, just give Sarah a call at 301.502.5451 or send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. and she’ll be happy to help you put it all together at Think Outside the Store.
- Offsite Workshops are also available. Just contact Sarah to make arrangements for a wearable art event or class at the location of your own choosing.
Rates for classes and workshops start at $10. Individual tuition rates for each class are listed on the Think Outside the Store website.
I spent more than three hours visiting with Sarah and am seriously going back to Think Outside the Store simply because I was so impressed by her passion and commitment to helping people find their own voice in the clothes they wear.
It was truly refreshing to meet someone with such a genuine love for the art of sewing and a pleasant surprise to learn that there are still plenty of people who appreciate the beauty of the stitchwork available only on a vintage sewing machine.
This is not to say that quality stitches are not available on newer sewing machine models, but it seems as though they cannot replicate the personality that stitches on vintage sewing machines seem to have.
Perhaps it’s because, as Sarah said, the sewer can actually “feel every stitch”. Whatever the reason, everything that comes out of Think Outside the Store has a personality all its own.
Even though I learned to use my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine when I was younger and enjoyed it immensely, I don’t I would ever want to go back to making my clothes on a treadle sewing machine.
Kudos, however, to anyone who has the commitment and stamina to incorporate a good leg workout with creating a wardrobe and accessories.
No doubt, some doctors might even recommend the concept for people who spend long hours at the sewing machine and don’t get the exercise they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
When you think about the health advantages of sewing on a treadle machine coupled with the ecological benefits of using less electricity, you have got to admit that Sarah has a great idea – and apparently one that is catching on.
Entities like Think Outside the Store are gradually beginning to pop up across the country. According to Sarah, the idea started in Portland, Oregon, and is slowly growing in popularity.
Of course, this is a niche market that will never catch on with certain segments of the population, but one that definitely fulfills a need for people who are looking for a source for clothing and accessories that reflect their individuality while also making a statement on behalf of a greener, cleaner environment.
Think Outside the Store is located in Silver Spring, Maryland at 816 Thayer Avenue. The telephone number 301.502.5451.
Visit Sarah online for up-to-date information on classes, workshops, special events or to sign up for e-mail newsletters and notifications of upcoming opportunities at Think Outside the Store.