Article By Sounthern Lady on Topstitch Studio

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SOUTHERN SPOTLIGHT

Common Threads

An Atlanta entrepreneur fosters a tight-knit community of apparel makers through guided workshops and an eclectic studio turned online hub that caters to novices and mavens alike.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ADDISON HILL

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Ashley Shaw | photography Courtesy of Topstitch Studio & Lounge

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hile living in London, Leigh Metcalf swooned over the city’s bevy of boutique fabric shops. Each one exuded personal charm with snappy textiles and abundant sewing notions that tantalized the Georgia native’s creative spirit. Affable owners welcomed patrons of all experience levels to hone their garment-making skills, including amateurs like Leigh. “When I learned to sew clothes, it felt like magic,” she says. Her newfound infatuation with custom fashion inspired her to open Topstitch Studio & Lounge, celebrating the traditional art of stitchery with modern flair.

As people spend more time at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Leigh is transitioning her brick-and-mortar studio into an online shop and cyber meeting place that upholds the business’s mantra: “Inspire, Gather, Sew.” Members of the Topstitch Makers web community enjoy exclusive access to live classes, video tutorials, printable patterns, and lively discussion boards for fellow stitchers across the country. When Leigh and her husband, Andrew, moved back to Atlanta to raise their two daughters close to family, the sewing enthusiast longed for the supplies and camaraderie she enjoyed during her time in England.


SOUTHERN SPOTLIGHT

She had never considered opening her own sewing studio, or any small company, but she reflected on the plethora of research she’d compiled while writing her book, London Stitch and Knit: A Craft Lover’s Guide to London’s Fabric, Knitting and Haberdashery Shops (Black Dog Publishing, 2015). “All of these places, to me, were inspiring,” Leigh says. With no business experience beyond an online course, she heeded Andrew’s assurances and figured it out as she went. “We were very busy and popular right from the beginning,” says Leigh, who had a shop at Atlanta’s Ponce City Market until shifting her focus exclusively to online offerings this year. Instead of traveling to trade shows to buy fabrics and other merchandise, Leigh partners with specialty textile makers, small vendors, and artists she finds through social media and Etsy. “I try to buy unique, interesting things that other fabric shops might not have,” she says. One such artist created a collection of one-of-a-kind,

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hand-painted pin cushions solely for Topstitch customers. Talented instructors bring their own perspectives to the table and cater to all sewers regardless of proficiency. They offer garmentsewing classes with projects that range from a beginner-level pullover shirt to more complex pieces like blue jeans and zippered dresses with pockets. “Generally, people work their way up à la carte-style as we point out what classes are best for them next,” says Leigh, describing their lineup of virtual workshops as stepping-stones to stitchwork refinement. Many people craft clothing because it allows them to find a perfect fit; yet for Leigh, it’s the endless possibilities for personal expression that make sewing apparel gratifying. “It’s just fun and unique to pick out the fabric and then pick out the pattern, and you know that nobody else has it,” she says. “There’s a confidence that comes with knowing that you made it all your own.” Though forced to pause in-person classes for now, Leigh has embraced the circumstances of Covid-19 as an

opportunity to expand beyond their original walls and home state. “It never occurred to us that we could teach people in other cities before this happened. Now we can reach people all over,” says Leigh, who hosts notable sewing industry professionals for cyber Q&A sessions and holds interactive events via video conference from a small professional studio she hopes to use for limited in-person classes in the future. The Topstitch team encourages people from various generations and backgrounds to learn from one another and mingle as a community. Sewers swap memories of their mothers and grandmothers doing needlework as they revive the art of making things by hand, carrying on a timeless tradition in contemporary ways. “These things are classically Southern, going back to the basics,” says Leigh. “A lot of times people feel stumped or intimidated by the sewing machine, so when they leave [our website], I hope they feel empowered and excited and confident to take charge of their sewing journey.” For information, visit topstitchatl.com.


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