Rachel Low has worked in publicity for some of the world’s best fashion designers — namely Prada and Ralph Lauren. And in her second career, she just may be teaching the next generation of great designers how to sew. In 2011, she opened Pins & Needles, a fabric boutique, crafts store, and sewing school on the Upper East Side of NYC for kids and adults.
What prompted you to open the shop?
I opened Pins & Needles because there truly was no place for people like myself who loved to sew and craft in my neighborhood — a place where I could find modern and unique fabric and sewing supplies. I also wanted to share my enthusiasm, appreciation, and passion for sewing, crafting, and do-it-yourself with others. I just loved the idea of having a boutique and studio that made you want to get creative the minute you walked in the door!
When did you learn to sew?
My mother and my grandmother taught me to sew when I was growing up in northern New Jersey. My grandmother was a lady who had the means to buy herself clothes, but was insistent on making them all on her own; this always amazed me. My mother dabbled in all different kinds of crafts. As a little girl I spent a lot of time with my mother knitting and doing needlepoint, and I wanted to be a fashion designer. I recently found an old sketchbook that had some drawings for a handbag collection I was going to create — all inspired by a purse my grandmother had given me. I started machine-sewing when my mother gave me one of her old Baby Lock Sewing Machines and taught me some basics, but most of what I know is self-taught.
What’s your inspiration for stocking the store, and what balance do you aim to strike?
Pins & Needles is about clean and modern sewing and crafting, but with touches of whimsy, fashion, and fun, so I stock my store with contemporary, young, fresh, and colorful fabric, quality sewing notions, embroidery supplies, patterns, and books. I try to find things that are unique and different. There are so many talented fabric designers and brands to choose from, which makes the buying so much fun! Some of our favorites include Liberty of London, Alexander Henry, Michael Miller, the amazing modern Japanese fabrics, and much more.
You offer sewing classes for kids and adults. How did those come about?
My original vision for the space was a retail boutique with a sprinkling of classes, but over the past three years, the classes have really taken off! Before I opened the store, I was teaching some friends’ kids in their homes just for fun. When the shop opened, these clients started to come to Pins & Needles to take their lessons and we started putting small groups together, and that was the impetus of the kids/tween community that continues to be one of the strongest parts of my business. The most popular adult class is Sewing Machine Basics, a two-hour workshop that teaches the basics of using the machine, and it tends attract the total novice to someone who is pulling out their sewing machine for the first time in 20 years. The best part with the adult students is watching them go from being nervous and intimidated to that “aha!” moment when they’ve finished a project and realize, “This is not hard and now I’m so excited to make more!”
What do people say when they come in? Are there things you hear again and again?
I get a lot of nostalgia. I hear things like, “This place reminds me of when my grandma sewed me a …” or “I used to make all my own clothes,” or “I remember the apron I made in middle-school home ec. I got a D in that class!” I hear, “This space makes me want to learn how to sew,” and “Pins & Needles rocks!” — from the kids, obviously.
Check out Low’s instructions for a simple cloth tote bag here.
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