Death in the Sewing Family

Posted by Susan Liane, The Smuggler's Daughter on 6/10/2015 to Commentary
Death in the Family - Closure of The Sewing Workshop 
in San Francisco 

In the first half of 2015 the sewing world has seen a couple of deaths in the family. The Sewing Workshop - the sewing school in San Francisco’s Richmond District is one of them. To so many of us sewistas in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond, The Sewing Workshop was a place of inspiration, education, fun and friendship. 

Karine Langen, the most recent owner, graciously announced: “After thirty-five years of serving the San Francisco arts community, The Sewing Workshop has closed our classroom on Balboa Street. The 2016 Asilomar Retreat will be held, as will other special events, but the on-site classroom and shop is no more. Thank you everyone for the marvelous experience it has been to provide the services of TSW for the twenty years I have been doing so and for the recognition The Sewing Workshop has had for 35 years. It has been an unforgettable and rewarding experience.” 

Like many of you, I attended classes when Marcy Tilton owned The Sewing Workshop, now over 20 years ago. You did not want to miss the open houses that she held about 3-4 times per year. They were alive with creativity and sharing. I once heard my brother tell someone “Susan is off at some sewing jamboree” and jamboree was an apt word for it. A festive gathering of sewistas indeed. 

The Sewing Workshop was a gathering place in general for sewistas and fiber artists of all sorts. Of course - Sandra Betzina who is still going strong in San Francisco, Fred Bloebum, may she rest in peace, Shermaine Fouche (whatever happened to her?), Kenneth King who was truly propelled by Marcy and The Sewing Workshop, Jean Cacicedo - an incredible artist with work in a number of museums. 

Does that sound a bit intimidating? Never - When Marcy owned The Sewing Workshop, it was simply filled with love, generosity and the creative spirit. I’m sad to see it go, but grateful that, in a small way, I once got to be part of it. I don’t know if I ever said it, but thank you Marcy, for that special place and those good times in that unassuming little space on Balboa Street, across from the laundromat and the Russian Deli. Once in a while I still find it valuable to remind myself not to let the scarce street parking stop me, to just persist a bit more, that creative place may not seem fancy or impressive at first, but I can still find it and once inside, the experience can be incredible. 

Passing of Koos van den Akker in February 

I believe that death is not a topic to be avoided or disdained. On the contrary, it is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate life. And what a life Koos van den Akker lived. Though he came from modest origins in Holland, he became a sensational success with his wonderfully original designs and of course, his sweaters for Bill Cosby. 

Koos van den Akker came to New York with less than $200, and sewed dresses on his hotel-room bed and hawked them on the sidewalk at Columbus Circle before he opened his Upper West Side boutique. This was a man who truly wanted to create beautiful clothing, no matter what the circumstances. 

He has been hailed as “the master of couture collage,” adding, “A rich panoply of color and pattern painstakingly pieced together. Those of us who have sewn any of the Koos Couture patterns from Vogue know this painstaking process all too well. 

Mr. van den Akker considered himself a craftsman. He was most content working behind a sewing machine, which was where he had remained, at his studio in the garment district, until he fell and was taken to Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital three weeks before he died. Sewing, right up until the end, just as he wished. Perhaps that is the most than any of us can hope for.  

Safe passage Mr. van den Akker. Your designs are thoroughly admired and enjoyed by sewistas all over the world and we thank you.
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The Conversation So Far
Anna Date 6/10/2015
Great homage to both, thank you Susan.... Anna
Karen Date 6/11/2015
Thank you for sharing your experience at the Sewing Workshop. We'll all miss Koos and his wonderful designs. So glad that I bought his patterns because soon they'll be collector items
Marcy Tilton Date 7/15/2015
This is a lovely homage to the Sewing Workshop, you capture the feeling of back in the day in that special place. Koos was a one of a kind in his work and as a person, I always wanted to meet him. Thanks for putting this into words in such a sensitive way!
Rosalie Cooke Date 7/16/2015
I had to laugh at how you combined two favorites of mine, Kenneth King and Candace Kling, both of whom taught and inspired at the Sewing Workshop. I loved going there and in fact drove all the way up Balboa today focussed on how it has changed. But that little shop will forever be in our hearts and memories. It provided pure inspiration plus introduced us to quality in all aspects of sewing garments and more. Special times those years, combined with Sandra Sakata's place, Obiko, we really had heady times in San Francisco! Oh and I didn't mean to ignore Koos Van den Aker. I devoured that article in Threads magazine that first introduced us to his techniques. Still plan to follow his ideas and make those coats and jackets--he was one of a kind!
Cheryl Date 7/31/2015
Reading this made me sad, but also brought back some wonderful memories. Several of us went with Gail Greg-Hazen (whatever happened to her) to a presentation or class I don't remember now who it was but Fred Bloebum sounds right. Then we went over to Satin Moon & ate some place in the Haight. Thank you to all that made this a treasure to remember.
PJ Date 9/5/2016
How sad. I live in the Richmond District and have fond memories of the Sewing Workshop going back to the 1980's. So many sewing celebrities and wonderful luxury-class fabric sales. Despite the high prices of its classes, it was the only place that taught fine garment sewing, aided by beautiful Bernina machines supplied by the late Alf Bunzel, former owner of fabulous Mr. B Sewing Center on Geary. The end of an era. There is no one left in SF to support fine garment sewing. Stone Mountain and Daughter in Berkeley is very good, but it's too far to travel and Berkeley isn't safe after dark.
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