Atlantic Sewing Guild History

Submitted by Brenda Boudreau

The Atlantic Sewing Guild was born in the winter of 1996 under the guidance and vision of founding member Julie Culshaw.
Julie moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1986. When she arrived in Halifax she soon discovered there was a market for custom formal wear and started her own dressmaking business. Her client base grew and she continued sewing custom orders until 1990 when she decided to follow down another sewing path.

Being a Mom of 3 daughters and living in a cold climate she began to retail her own line of children’s fleece coats, jackets, scarves and mitts.
The next 4 years she sold her fleece clothing at local markets in Halifax. Her customers often asked where she bought her polar fleece and it was then that she decided to start her own fabric mail order business called Timmel Fabrics and continued with this business for many years.

As if she wasn’t busy enough, during this time she was also teaching sewing classes at a local fabric store and nighttime sewing classes for the Adult Education Dept of the Halifax school board.

It was these classes that brought her in touch with many people in our local sewing community. She was a wonderful teacher and many of her students, including myself, became members of the Atlantic Sewing Guild because of our time spent with her in the classroom and catching her infectious love of sewing.

In the late fall of 1995 she was approached by Ginny Mueller and others sewers about the idea of starting an informal sewing group to meet and talk about their mutual love of sewing. Thus, in the winter of 1996, a small group of machine sewers with Julie at the helm met in the library of Oxford School in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Some of those first attendees included Ginny Mueller, Monica Brown, Anita McDonald, Mary Baxter, Marilyn Thompson, Beverley Chapman Bursey, Sherri McKillop, Lucy Digout, Gina Cann and Helen Clayton.

At the second meeting, they invited Diane Mitchell from the Mayflower Quilters Guild to share with them her knowledge and advice about forming a Guild and Diane was very helpful. It was later discovered that there were many ‘quilting guilds’ in existence during this time but, ‘’as far as we know’’ in 1996 there were no formal guilds for machine sewists in Canada. A first for us!

The name ‘The Atlantic Sewing Guild, Halifax Chapter’ was chosen and a logo was drawn up along with an informal Executive including a President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer.

The original constitution drawn up in 1996 stated the following:

  • The purpose of the guild is to provide a forum for machine sewers to meet and exchange ideas.
  • To encourage sewing endeavours and provide support wherever possible.
  • To promote sewing skills in the community.

This small group continued to meet in the Oxford School library during the winter months of 1996.

I attended my first meeting during this time. I will never forget walking into the room and immediately feeling at home with friendly strangers who loved to sew as much as I did.

That evening Sheri McKillop was the guest speaker. Sheri was well known in the sewing community as a professional dress maker, sewing instructor, pattern drafter and eventually owner of Unique Patterns. She became involved with the Atlantic Sewing Guild volunteering on the Executive and published an ‘’Ask Sheri’’ column in our Sew Crazy newsletter.

By the fall of 1996, the Guild had 21 registered members but our meeting attendance was 30-35 and we needed more room.
We changed our location to St Agnes School which gave us the opportunity to offer sewing classes to the members as well as the regular meetings. We later moved the locations of the meetings to the halls of Edgewood United Church, St Theresa’s Church, St Agnes Church and eventually to our current (pre-Covid) meeting place at Trinity Anglican Church.

In September 1997 our membership had grown to 60 members. It was important to Julie to invite local people from own sewing community to share with us their extensive knowledge of sewing. Many of our invited speakers became members of the Guild… Diana Haydon, Chris Saccary, Faye Gunter, Barb Emodi and many more over the years. On the alternate months when we did not have a guest speaker we would have members ‘’show and tell’’, sewing demos, favourite notions displays, etc.

That year (1997) the Atlantic Sewing Guild decided to organize a sewing conference for the following spring. Organizing any conference requires a great deal of work but Julie had a vision to expand our sewing world by bringing to to our city an array of international sewing experts.

She invited sewing expert Sandra Betzina to come to Halifax to offer lectures and teach classes for a weekend conference in May 1998.
If you are a sewer you will recognize the name Sandra Betzina. She did not disappoint us. She was a warm and wonderful teacher who during that time had her own TV show and was the author of a growing list of sewing books. All of us who attended were in “sewing heaven” all weekend. The conference was a huge success and good exposure for the Atlantic Sewing Guild which resulted in growing our membership to 100+ members.

After the success of the first conference in 1998 it was decided to host another one in 2000. Mary Baxter and other guild members assisted Julie with the work that was necessary to bring another conference to Halifax. In 1999 Julie invited Pati Palmer to join us for ‘Ready Set Sew’ 2000 and she agreed to come in May 2000. Pati Palmer was well respected in the sewing world. She started the Palmer/Pletsch International School of Sewing in Oregon and was well known for her vast knowledge of fitting patterns which she published in her first, of many books, “Fit for Real People”.

Other sewing experts who spoke at this conference were Ron Collins, Beverly Johnson, Marsha Jorgensen, Barb Emodi and Sheri McKillop.
This 2000 conference was the last one that the Guild hosted but it is important to note that two more conferences were organized by Julie with the help of Mary Baxter and their team.

The “Ready Set Sew” conferences in 2002 and 2004 enabled many of the Guild members and the general public to take classes from international sewing experts in Halifax. International experts like: Susan Khalje Linda MacPhee, Ron Collins, Kathy Ruddy, Jan Bones, Kathryn Brenne, Kathleen Cheetham, Linda Turner Griepentrog, Beverly Johnson, Annette Janca, Trevor Conquergood, June Asano, Judy Barlap, Carola Russel, Dianne Tatara, Rosemary Makhan, Denise McKenna and some of our local sewing teachers also took part in these conferences.

From 1996 to 2001 we continued to invite local guest speakers and enjoyed the show and tells from the members. We did community outreach projects, had annual member fabric sales and fashion shows.

Anita McDonald put together a cookbook with recipes from the members, it was a successful fundraiser for the Guild and many of us still use this cookbook.

Also during these years we started a newsletter called ‘Sew Crazy’, the Newsletter of the Atlantic Sewing Guild’. All of the members were encouraged to contribute with pattern tips, class reviews, fabric information, favourite notions, funny sewing stories and a whole array of articles that are still relevant today.

Over all the years keeping the members entertained and informed is a labour of love for the people who volunteer their time. It is these people that keep our Guild strong and vibrant. They work behind the scenes to make each meeting fun and informative for all the members to enjoy. I wish I could name each and every one of you who have volunteered over the past 25 years to make the Atlantic Sewing Guild the success it has become. Thank you all for your work.

The Atlantic Sewing Guild started in 1996 with Julie’s vision and 25+ years later it is still going strong!

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