Tailor wants youths to fashion a career Sewing: Master craftsman teaches sewing to students at elementary school to combat the lure of the streets.

March 03, 1997|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Nine-year-old LaMont Mantilla, whose idea of fun is dunking a basketball, recently used his hand-eye coordination in another fun pursuit: operating a sewing machine.

"I was scared at first -- I thought it was going to zigzag all over," he said. "But I did OK. It was fun."

Such words buoy the spirits of master tailor Gregory Hardy, who launched the project in January to give children at his son Travis' West Baltimore school an early introduction to a career path and an alternative to the illicit lures of the street.

"There's been such devastation in our community due to drugs. I just thought it was time to get the kids focused on some creative things," Hardy said.

The program offers basic sewing instruction to fourth- and fifth-graders -- 24 girls and eight boys -- at Alexander Hamilton Elementary School in the 800 block of Poplar Grove St. in the Franklintown/Rosedale area.

Every Tuesday, between 10: 30 a.m. and 1: 30 p.m., the students attend one of four classes on a voluntary basis for a 45-minute session. Class time is carved from free time and a portion of regular instruction time.

They are making simple outfits to wear in a school fashion show in June, mostly pants or skirts and vests.

No outside funds pay for the program. Eight grandmothers of students at the school help with measurements, cutting fabric and ensuring the safe operation of the sewing machines.

Hardy donates his time and most of the supplies, including two of the four sewing machines.

"We'd love to receive donations of sewing machines, fabric and thread," Hardy said.

Hardy first proposed the class last fall at a PTA meeting.

"Immediately, we all said 'Yes, we can do it, and we'll volunteer,' " said Maxine Delvison, a longtime PTA member who helps her fifth-grade granddaughter and other sewing class students.

One day last month, the students bubbled with enthusiasm over their turns at the sewing machines.

They practiced using colorful squares to get the feel of the machines and to learn how to sew in a straight line. Even after the task was complete, several students giggled over the experience.

VTC "I was going crooked at first, but now I can sew straight," said Kliff Mayo.

"I love it," said Jerome Jefferson. "I want to learn more about it so I can make my clothes. Then my mother won't have to spend so much money."

Two make formal wear

Most of the outfits they're constructing have a minimum of frills, no zippers, buttonholes or fancy collars. However, two students are making formal wear, a velvet evening gown and a tuxedo.

Nationally, sewing classes are making something of a comeback in the home economics classes of the '90s -- now called consumer and family science classes, said Marilyn Swierk, a spokesman for the Alexandria, Va.-based American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

The association counts many home economics teachers among

its members.

However, it still is fairly unusual to have such classes taught in elementary schools. Advocates say it reinforces math and reading skills and encourages creativity.

"There's a lot of analytical thinking that goes on" in sewing, said Swierk.

A key concern for Hardy is that students get the pleasure of creating something and realize they don't have to turn to drug dealing even if they're unemployed for a time.

"Tailoring is a service that will always be in demand. Even if you don't do it full time, it's a way to help keep the bills paid," said Hardy.

Personal experience

Hardy knows that from experience. After graduating with an associate degree in fashion design from Baltimore City Community College in 1979, few full-time tailoring jobs were available.

So Hardy worked for years at other pursuits, including jobs in city government and four years as a machine operator in a steel mill, American Seamless Tubing, which closed in June 1985 because of foreign competition.

No matter where he was working, Hardy never gave up his night sewing job: "I always sewed for a handful of customers just to help keep my bills paid, especially when my income wasn't steady."

Now, he works four days a week in the tailoring shop of the Nordstrom department store in Towson. He also maintains a steady clientele from his business based at his Ellicott Drive home, two blocks from his son's school.

"He's a good tailor who can perform just about any alteration skill that's required," said Wayne Clarke, Nordstrom tailor shop manager.

Industrial sewing

Hardy laments that his alma mater, Carver Vocational-Technical High School, in recent years dropped such courses as dressmaking and tailoring in favor of industrial sewing, which prepares students for factory jobs, but not the finer points of tailoring.

Alexander Hamilton Principal Earlene Cole lauds Hardy's efforts: "It's fantastic to see them actually making garments they can wear. It helps them express themselves creatively."

Probably the strongest endorsement came from the grandmothers who volunteer in the program and see it as a hobby that could produce income.

"You need to know some type of trade no matter how much education you get," said Virginia Blue. "It gives you something to fall back on."

Said Delvison: "It shows them they don't have to just sit up and look at videos. They can create something."

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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