The first thing Amalia Petherbridge noticed about the unmarked building was the artistry in the black-and-white mosaic tile on the front step. Despite its age, the square, marble pattern was nearly pristine.
Petherbridge was looking for a space to open a sewing workshop studio. After coming across the space in the Bella Vista neighborhood, Petherbridge said she thought that the building must have been significant.
“I felt like it had some history behind it with the craftsmanship of the step,” Petherbridge said.
With some thorough research, Petherbridge was able to find out that the space was once a family-run butcher shop for most of the twentieth century. Ancestry.com revealed an immigration card for a Salvatore Guarrera, she said.
From there, Petherbridge was able to get in contact with Marianne, the daughter of Vito Guarrera, the last butcher. She informed Petherbridge that her great aunt, Serena Guarrera, who lived above the shop was a dressmaker and attended Moore College.
To honor the Guarrera family, she named the studio Butcher’s Sew Shop and began offering workshops last year to teach traditional methods of sewing.
“I wanted to create a space where people could get back into the art of both garment making and also learning how to make patterns from scratch,” Petherbridge said.
When Petherbridge received a Pfaff Hobby sewing machine for her high school graduation, she became “completely obsessed” with it.
Petherbridge said sewing runs in her family. Her aunt used to own a children’s clothing line and her step-mother was a quilter. Petherbridge used to make dresses for her plush koala bear when she was a child.
After taking courses on patternmaking and garment construction at Moore College of Art and Design, she was intrigued by the idea of creating clothes.
“It’s not magic to make your own clothes, but it’s so empowering to be able to do that,” Petherbridge said.
Butcher’s Sew Shop is celebrating its one year anniversary this month, and offers intensive, construction based courses of Sewing 101 to 401.
“It’s been well-received and really cool to see that there is a genuine interest in taking more control over what you are wearing,” Petherbridge said.
Andrea Brown is one of the teachers at Butcher’s Sew Shop, offering instruction in the Sewing 101 and 201 courses.
“We want to pass on our passion of making our own clothes because there are so many quilting shops, but not many places where you can make your own clothes for fun,” Brown said.
The workshops tend to bring mostly women, but now there are enough interested men to offer menswear classes, Petherbridge said.
Petherbridge says the classes also bring in a lot of lawyers, doctors and teachers.
“They see this as a way to be creative and get some stress relief from their jobs,” Petherbridge said.
When Elanor Mangin, a lawyer, moved to South Philadelphia from California, she was seeking a quilting group to meet people in the city.
Mangin was working on a shirt with capped sleeves for her first 201 class. She said creating garments was a lot different than what she was used to with making quilts.
“This is the first time I’ve ever had to cut something out of a pattern that involves curves; I’m used to my strict lines,” Mangin said.
The shop also offers patternmaking classes for those interested in learning to create items from scratch, and students receive studio time to use the space for their own projects as well.
During the year, the shop holds after-school programs during the week and on Saturdays. The program is eight weeks long and for ages five to 14. They also offer full-week camps during the summer.
With the after-school program. there is a different theme each week and at the end of the program, the kids get to have “scrappy hour,” when they work with leftover scraps from the adult classes, according to Petherbridge.
“They are such quick learners; it’s amazing to see that after just a couple of days of being in here they know how to thread the machine,” Petherbridge said.
The shop also offers private, one-day classes that are curated as birthday or bachelorette parties.
Brown was fascinated by the movement towards DIY sewing in recent years and began creating her own pillows and curtains for her apartment. She now makes almost all of her own clothes and does freelance work from her home.
Brown got her start by teaching the sewing with knits course last July, but realized her and Petherbridge shared many of the same values with sewing.
In her sewing 201 class, the students got to choose from either creating a kimono top, a dress with a drawstring waist or a woven shirt with cap sleeves.
Brown said her teaching method is “leading [students]” from start to finish.
“I’m there to give them directions so they aren’t just looking at this pattern construction wondering what to do,” Brown said.
Petherbridge said this community has been welcoming towards her shop.
“A lot of people we have come in grew up here and their fathers were tailors or their mothers were seamstresses,” Petherbridge said. “You can see when people start sewing, it brings back memories of their mom at the kitchen table sewing.”
The shop has introduced a new summer series that includes a swimwear workshop in which students are learning to work with a broad range of materials. The studio will add courses where there is interest in the future, according to Petherbridge.
“I think it’s just really nice, even though we do a lot of different things, being a butcher is a trade and a craft, it is something you do with your hands,” Petherbridge said. “I feel really good that this space kind of honors that.”