Building a Sewing Community and Meetup Togetherfest

Hi, as some of you may know, I’m the organizer of the Bay Area Sewists Meetup group. Since 2014, I’ve planned and organized monthly meetups for people who enjoy sewing. Along the way, I’ve met many wonderful people who are part of a vibrant sewing community in the Bay Area.

I’ve also developed relationships with local businesses that offer our members discounts on sewing studio memberships (Hello Stitch in Berkeley and Sips N Sews in San Francisco), discounts at their fabric stores (Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics on our Berkeley meetups days and Britex Fabrics when we meet there) or discounts on classes and merchandise (The Sewing Room in Alameda). They have also donated raffle prizes to our annual Frocktails in February event.

Bay Area Sewists - a sewing community - at Hello Stitch and Sips N Sews

Bay Area Sewists members range in expertise from beginning sewists to expert costumers and sewing instructors, such as Beth Galvin who blogs at SunnyGal Studios and teaches at Hello Stitch and Jennifer Serr who teaches apparel sewing to kids and adults at The Sewing Room. We’ve had meetups for fabric and pattern swaps, sewing workshops, fitting meetups, frocktails and indigo dyeing.

At our events, I’ve held raffles with various prizes, including Japanese sewing books from Tuttle Publishing and sewing patterns solicited from various indie designers, such as 100 Acts of Sewing, By Hand London, Blueprints for Sewing, Bonjour Teaspoon, Cashmerette, Christine Haynes, Green Bee Patterns, Kate & Rose, Sew Liberated, Sewaholic, and Thread Theory.

Bay Area Sewists members have also offered sewing books, sewing magazines, new sewing patterns, and thread catchers to give away. They have also been a great resource for ideas for future meetups. People in the sewing community are generous and genuinely helpful.

Bay Area Sewists - a sewing community - Meetups in 2018

Bay Area Sewists started in 2012 by Meg of Made by Meg. She stepped down at the end of 2013 and I volunteered to be the next organizer. You can read my 2014 blog post about the first Bay Area Sewists meetup I organized – a pattern swap. (You can see our past meetups here.)

Bay Area Sewists - a sewing community - Meetup at Sips N Sews

I love meeting people who sew. And we do have a couple of male members. In the above photo, see if you can spot Michael, who blogs at Line of Selvage (in the back row under the “NS” of Notions).

If you are ever in the Bay Area and would like to attend one of our sewing meetups, please let me know. Most of our meetups are free to attend. I like to think of the sewing community as a global community.

Since February 2014, I’ve organized more than 40 meetups. Apparently, Meetup noticed that we consistently meet and people show up. In March 2018 I got an email from Meetup inviting me to attend the first annual Meetup Togetherfest in New York! Here’s part of that email:

Meetup Togetherfest

I was so very surprised and deeply honored to get the invitation. The email also said: “There are over 230,000 Meetup Organizers around the world, but this year we only have space for 150.” 

Wow. Who knew there were so many organizers?!

I have family on the East Coast in New Jersey, so I immediately replied YES, and planned to spend a week on the East Coast, two of those days in NYC with Meetup organizers.

Meetup paid for a two-night stay in New York – Thursday and Friday, April 19 and 20 – we just had to make our way to the Big Apple. Here’s Meetup’s brief Medium blog post about Togetherfest. It was wonderful to meet organizers from around the world. I met people from Berlin, Brisbane, Delhi, Dublin, London, Melbourne, Sydney, Toronto and from all over the United States – Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, etc.

When I explained to people that I was the organizer for the Bay Area Sewists, I realized that people weren’t familiar with the word “sewist.” So I usually added, “people who like to sew.” Then people seemed to think that we got together with our sewing machines at every meetup. I explained that we didn’t sew at every meetup but the events usually focused on some aspect of sewing apparel (fabric, patterns, sewing techniques).

Meetup Togetherfest

On our first day, we got a tour of Meetup Headquarters, with Meetup folks telling us about what they did in their various departments. They had photographers documenting the event so we didn’t have to.

Tour of Meetup headquarters

They also asked us to take post-its and write one positive thing about our Meetup experience as organizers and one pain point. Here I am writing about my problem with members not being able to rejoin the group after their membership expires.

Chuleenan at post-it wall

We also spent part of the afternoon in small groups, with each group trying to solve a riddle – fun but really cold. My group was outdoors most of the time, going to various locations, where we were to find an actor playing a role and ask him or her questions. It was in the 40s, chilly and windy. Here we are downtown in the financial district. I’m wearing my teal Sapporo Coat but I was still cold. I didn’t bring enough layers.

Meetup Togetherfest - small group photo

When we got back to Meetup HQ, we had dozens of New York pizzas waiting for us. I gorged on the pizza. Here are just a few of the pizza pies they served us. Yum!

New York Pizza

What was the point of this two-day event? Well, according to the booklet in our swag bag, Scott Heiferman, the co-founder and CEO of Meetup, he had the idea of holding a “global gathering of great Meetup organizers for a long time.” He wanted to give us the opportunity to share our stories and to “be inspired by others’ Meetup stories.”

I was certainly inspired by other Meetup organizers. I met organizers of groups focused on hiking, writing, photography walks, programming, dads in the city, real estate, you name it. I didn’t meet any other sewing Meetup organizers so I guess I was it. 😉

Some Meetup organizers meet weekly or even more than once a week! I was pretty amazed that some groups met so often but those were often large groups (thousands of members) with multiple organizers so they took turns organizing various events. I met the organizer for Fierce Friends of Phoenix, an LGBTQ group, that has become a nonprofit organization.

I admit I was felt a little insecure comparing the size of Bay Area Sewists (less than 150 members) to groups boasting 8,000+ members. I wondered if the size of a group affected the algorithm. (Yes, Meetup uses an algorithm that picks which meetups to feature in your local area.) Luckily, I was able to buttonhole Meetup’s Chief Operating Officer and ask her if that was a factor. She said, no, what’s more important is that you meet regularly and that people show up. And, in fact, some of the smaller groups are more successful than the very large groups.

I met people who organize multiple groups, like DeRM from the Bronx (pictured below), who runs a Taco Night Meetup in NY and co-organizes three other meetups – MMA in NYC, Foolinary Culinary and the New York City Organizers group.

Derm, organizer of 4 Meetup groups

Throughout the event, in between sessions about Meetup features and hearing from the Meetup and WeWork CEOs (WeWork acquired Meetup last fall), we got to hear from individual organizers about their Meetups. Some had moving stories to tell about how their group had an impact on people’s lives, how they gave back to their local communities or their group grew from one chapter to many chapters throughout the country.

The second day we spent at Industria, an event space in the West Village. It had a large open space and smaller rooms for breakout sessions about everything from using the apps and Meetup Pro to hosting at WeWork and making the website work. We had to pick two sessions we wanted to attend. I learned that Meetup Pro starts at $30/month and seems aimed more at people whose Meetup group is a business for them. At the website session, I also got a chance to tell the Chief Operating Officer about the problems people rejoining the Bay Area Sewists group after Meetup’s redesign. Apparently, the redesign was focused on the member user experience, not the organizer’s user experience. They are working on making it a better experience for organizers.

One of the last sessions involved all the organizers in the room and Priya Parker (seated in the center chair below), who led a thoughtful discussion about the process of gathering, what happens at the beginning middle and end of a meetup.

Priya Parker talking about the process of gathering

Here’s Priya signing copies of her book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (Amazon affiliate link). Meetup got copies for all the attendees. Thank you, Meetup!

Priya Parker

I’m still processing the experience and figuring out what I’d like to incorporate into the Bay Area Sewists Meetups. Our group is small because I charge annual dues, which means that after the three-month trial period, you either have to pay the dues ($15/year) or Meetup automatically removes you from the group. This means that only people who are genuinely interested in attending a meetup remain in the group. I like our small size – small but mighty.

Thank you Meetup for a great experience and thank you Bay Area Sewists members for coming to the meetups, building a sewing community, sharing ideas and inspiring me to keep organizing!

Bay Area Sewists Meetup No. 3!

Bay Area Sewists - April Meetup

On April 19 Bay Area Sewists met at Lacis‘s classroom space in Berkeley for Meetup No. 3 this year! Not everyone who came is in the photo because I forgot to take the photo while everyone was still there.

Our topic was  Show & Tell, WIPs, Tour Lacis & Pattern Giveaway! I thought it would be a nice to talk about embellishing clothes because we were meeting at Lacis, where you can buy lace, ribbons, embroidery thread, and other notions.

We had a lot of fun seeing what everyone made. I took some photos – unfortunately, I didn’t capture everything because I was so busy looking at what folks made – but you can see a few of the things below.

Erin's purse - Bay Area Sewists - csews.com

Lindsay (@lindsaymarsh) (left) of Baking Making and Crafting is looking at an embellished and embroidered purse made by Erin (sitting next to Lindsay).  Veronica (right) is looking at a Christmas tree skirt made by Lynda (not pictured).

Erin's embellished purse - Bay Area Sewists meetup - csews.com

Pretty amazing details on Erin’s purse, eh? Erin’s philosophy is that if it doesn’t look right, just add more! She also brought a pirate jacket, which had all kinds of things going on – braid, ribbons, a tassel.

Beth of SunnyGal Studio - Vogue dress

Beth of SunnyGal Studio talked about the Vogue dress (8904) she is wearing and a black jacket (on table) that she embellished with fringe. You can read her post about this fun striped knit dress here. She said the dress was easy to make – you attach the panels to another piece of fabric. To her left is Lisa (@jlellis) who brought her Grainline Moss skirt, which she recently finished. She really liked the pattern and said it was easy to make. Lisa did a nice job on the top stitching. Oh, and I should mention that she’s wearing a knit dress she made from the Red Velvet Dress pattern by Cake Patterns.

Beth's Vogue jacket

The black jacket is from Vogue pattern 7975. The pattern didn’t look very exciting but the addition of fringe gave it a very nice touch. Beth added fringe to the edged and to the pockets. She used the jacket fabric to make the fringe.

fringe sample by Beth of SunnyGal Studio - csews.com

Here’s my out-of-focus photo of the jacket and the sample fringe, which Beth brought to the meeting. You sew the fringe fabric to a piece of silk organza. All of her fringe was along a straight edge but if you are going to put fringe along a curve, check out this post on bias fringe on the blog Communing with Fabric.

Renfrew cardigan - Bay Area Sewists meetup - csews.com

Here’s Lisa showing off the cardigan she made using Sewaholic’s Renfrew pattern. If you’re not familiar with it, the Renfrew is for a knit top with three different necklines to choose from, it’s not a cardigan pattern. So this is Lisa’s clever pattern hack. I have this pattern so I’ll definitely try making a cardigan once I get some tops done!

Allison  - Bay Area Sewists meetup

Allison (@allisoncole85) of i like candy talks about the things she made from the fabric she got at our fabric swap in March, including the top she’s wearing and a couple of the things in front of her. The embroidered and beaded fabric in front of her is a skirt that Veronica made. She’s often sitting around waiting for her kids at a practice or events so she spends her time doing some hand sewing like embroidery and beading. Her embroidery was very detailed and precise.

Pattern drawing - Bay Area Sewists

At the end of our discussion we held a drawing for Bluegingerdoll’s latest pattern, the Winifred Dress – and Lynda won the pattern! This indie pattern company, which launched just two years ago, is based in Australia. Lynda was excited to win because the pattern is drafted for larger busts. You can buy the pattern in paper or as a PDF download.

There are plenty of tutorials on the Winifred sewalong posts that were created for this pattern. The talented Heather (@knitnbee) of Handmade by Heather B, wrote up the various adjustments you can make, including one on full and small bust adjustments. I am in the middle of making my Winifred Dress and used the small bust adjustment instructions. [Full disclosure: Abby send me a copy of the pattern for me to try out.] Thank you Abby, Bluegingerdoll’s designer, for donating the pattern for our meetup!

After the pattern drawing some members continued to chat and others went on a tour of the smocking exhibit currently on display at Lacis and to check out the store. The smocking exhibit will be on display until October 4. There are docent tours on Saturdays – and if you go on a tour you can see the actual pink smocked dress Anne Hathaway wore in Les Miserables. It’s in a special room, separate from the rest of the exhibit. Only a few people at a time are allowed in to see the special items there. You can see a photo of it on this Jane Austen blog post Smocking: A Stitch in Time. But you can see it in person at Lacis! All I can say is that Anne Hathaway is very slender – such narrow shoulders!

Our next meetup will be a pattern swap and a discussion of indie patterns on Saturday, May 17, 10:45 am. If you’re in the area, I hope you can join us! I hope to finally meet Melizza (@Pincushiontreat) of Pincushion Treats. Our May pattern drawing will be for Lolita Patterns latest release. Thank you Amity for donating your pattern!

On another note, our June 7 meetup at Lacis will be on fitting. If you have any suggestions about how we should use our time, please let me know. We’ll have the space for four hours. Some folks will be bringing their sewing machines. I figure we could have an area where people can get accurate measurements, maybe an FBA/SBA area, or something like that.

People will bring their muslins, etc. and we’ll all muddle along. If Loran of Loran’s World comes (if she’s not too jet lagged after her trip to Australia!), she can really help folks. She’s had plenty of fitting experience. My experience is limited to SBAs, wide shoulder adjustments, and a little waist tweaking.

I’m excited about this meetup because I’ll finally get to meet Angela (@bonnechanceblog) of Bonne Chance! She just moved up to the Bay Area from Los Angeles. She had wanted to come to our meetup this month but had to go apartment hunting instead.

Anyway, feel free to offer any tips about holding a fitting session! Thanks for visiting!
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