By KATE SINGLETON
Published: August 9, 2010
FLORENCE — When Sara Checcucci opened her atelier in Galluzzo, a southern district of Florence bordering the Chianti hillsides, she was astonished by the number of young people who would stop to gaze at her through the window as she worked. Later some of them came in and asked her to teach them her skills. So she arranged a series of evening courses, and was even more surprised when her pupils included young men.
Ms. Checcucci is a tailor who hand-sews 90 percent of the garments she makes. “Cut is everything,” she said, leaning over the cutting out table in her atelier, her scissors poised above a length of cloth mapped with chalk guidelines. “It means knowing how to design the paper model from which the cloth will be cut, and this implies the ability to measure a person not only as regards size, but also stance. The jacket I make for a straight-backed man will not be the same as the one for a person of the same size with sloping shoulders. Only once the cut is perfect can the needle work begin.”
Brought up just outside Florence, Ms. Checcucci knew at an early age that her future would revolve around scissors, needles and thread. She opted for a high school with a specialization in fashion, though this involved five years of rising before dawn and changing buses twice to get there. Next came a degree course at the Polimoda fashion institute in Florence, where she found she was one of the few students eager to focus on the sartorial arts rather than fashion; cut and needlework rather than look.
“I then found a job where I was responsible for a whole collection of clothes every season,” she recalled. “It was hard work, interesting and gratifying. After three years I had saved enough to take time out. I wanted to go back to technique.”
After much searching, Ms. Checcucci found an elderly tailor who agreed to take her on as an unpaid disciple. “He taught me everything I know about detail, and it’s the details that make the difference,” she said “When he retired I felt confident enough to go it alone. In 2008 I found the right space in Galluzzo and opened the Sartoria Corti Montecchi named after my mother and grandmother. That’s when I discovered there are young people anxious to learn the art of fine tailoring.
“The boys are fewer in number, but especially motivated,” she went on. “It’s as though a generation brought up on mass produced garments is suddenly beginning to realize that there’s more to dressing than passively buying clothes off the peg.”
Ms. Checcucci makes clothes to order for men and women from the best Italian fabrics, and re-models existing attire. Three fittings are generally required for a man’s jacket, which takes about a month to make and costs €950, about $1,300, plus the price of the fabric. A woman’s sleeveless dress costs €150 plus fabric and requires one fitting and two weeks for delivery.
One of Ms. Checcucci’s hallmarks is to enhance the individuality of the garment with a little unorthodox detail: the addition to women’s wear of a feature typical of men’s tailoring, for instance, such as a particular stitch or a style of pocket. Attention to such minutiae, along with the principles of hand sewing and creating paper models, is what she hopes to impart to her students in a new series of evening courses she will be running at her atelier from mid-September. Designed for groups of five, the classes consist of five two-hour lessons costing a total of €250.
While it may be too early to call the growing demand for sewing lessons a widespread trend, there are certainly signs of a revival of interest in various forms of needlework in Italy. A telling case is to be found in Milan.
Barbara Zucchi Frua earned a degree in pedagogy before joining the family firm of Zucchi, manufacturers of household linens, located just north of the city. Throughout her 18 years with the company as head of human resources, she sought to expand the workshop experience, where employees, especially those involved in design, were encouraged to look at products from new perspectives, to expand their own horizons.
In the wider world, however, Ms. Zucchi Frua became increasingly aware that people were losing their contact with textiles because they had given up the small skills that provide know-how. She had a spacious ground-floor room in the fashionable canal area of Milan and decided to make something out of it. “What I had in mind was a nexus for exchange to do with fabrics, colors, yarns and sewing,” she said, surrounded by bolts of fabric and a battery of sewing machines in her luminous new workshop.
L’Hub opened in 2009, first with the idea of selling individual, hand-made textile products that people could learn to make on the spot. But the focus was not quite what Ms. Zucchi Frua wanted. “Too much of a shop,” she said, “and too expensive.” What she needed to sell was know-how at reasonable prices.
“When I was reworking the project, a woman came in, looked around and introduced herself. This was Rosanna Pagliarini, who had plenty of hands-on experience with clothes manufacturing and shared many of my ideas about the loss of simple skills. Rosanna came on board as artistic director. She is extraordinarily inventive, making wonderful garments from unusual cloths and producing kits to show others how it’s done.”
With Ms. Pagliarini’s input, L’Hub was soon ready to offer a basic six-hour sewing course using electric machines and a series of kits for making clothes, for €100 a participant. There are also four-hour courses for dyeing, printing and knitting at €50. The center now runs an average of four courses a week for groups with a minimum of five members.
“We’re not a do-it-yourself outfit, though,” Ms. Zucchi Frua hastened to add. “There’s too much ugly D.I.Y. stuff around. What we’re bringing together is a certain look, which the kits express, and the opportunity to learn and experiment. We encourage creativity, which often involves giving new life to old fabrics. We also have a huge collection of engraved wooden blocks used for printing, so we’re an important resource for design students. Another project I hope to get off the ground concerns helping disadvantaged women by giving them skills they can use to support themselves.”
Inquiries have started coming in from other cities — from Trieste to Florence to Palermo. So while Ms. Pagliarini draws up designs for turning linen tablecloths into dresses, Ms. Zucchi Frua is busy working out a format for a L’Hub franchise