BELFAST—The retro hobbies of knitting and sewing came roaring back during the pandemic for many people new to the craft, but Julz Larrabee, a sewist in Stockton Springs, has steadily stitching along all of the years, regardless of what’s going on outside her doors.
Her small shop, Julz Makes LLC, recently moved into the former “Maker Space” of Belfast Fiberarts’s expanded retail showroom. Her sewing studio is fittingly the previous site of the Belfast Repair Café, which offers monthly periodic free mending of fabric items, along with electrical and other small repairs. Belfast Fiberarts has recently expanded with 900-square feet of space for Studio Artists and a Maker Space across the hall. Now it is Larrabee’s studio, where she has her sewing machines set up, her grid lined mat, and racks of color-coded spools on the walls.
Larrabee’s interest in this once prolific—now-rare trade —extends back to her childhood. “I learned to crochet and hand-sew first and my mom is very crafty, so I learned many techniques from her,” she said.
As a young adult, Larrabee bought her first sewing machine and began making things for the fun of it. That led to her getting a job managing the Viking Sewing Gallery in Bangor for four years teaching classes on sewing. It took a few stints in the corporate world and other jobs, before she decided to set out on her own and open a shop in 2020.
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It’s not just favorite items of clothing that people come to Larrabee to fix.
“Jeans were the big thing for a long time when I first started,” she said. “When word got around with my small business, people came to me to hem or alter items. I’m currently in the middle of a big slipcover project. Those and I got an order for custom drapes, as well.”
When the pandemic first hit in March, 2020, Larrabee put her skills to good work making fashionable and safe custom masks for people at affordable prices.
“There’s so much satisfaction with making something for yourself,” she said.
When Larrabee, a Gen Xer, grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a trend that revived making one’s own clothes from sewing patterns.
“In the past, for many people, they just didn’t have the financial ability to go out and buy clothes that they wanted; so that’s why they were making their own clothes and it’s definitely come back around as a trend, especially people who are interested in living with more sustainable choices,” she said. “I think that the movement to get away from fast fashion [which are lower-priced mass-produced garments that often get thrown into landfills] has been a big influence.”
Belfast is the perfect home for Larrabee’s new shop.
“The creative spirit here is everywhere here; you meet so many Makers who settle in this town,” she said.
For all of the custom projects she works on, surprisingly it’s the task of mending clothing that gives her the most gratification.
“A young man from Oregon came to me who was only going to be in Maine for a couple of weeks,” she said. “He had this long leather coat that was probably more than 100 years old and the pockets were gone and one sleeve was falling apart and he wanted to know if there was any way I could put it all back together. I’d never done that before, but I was able to do it and when he came back to pick up his coat and saw how well it could be fixed, he was so excited. That’s the kind of thing that I love: when mending something means so much to someone and gives them more time to use the thing they love.”
As a Studio Member of Belfast Fiberarts, her own creations will eventually find a home in the store.
“I’m mostly doing mending and alterations, so any custom items I make to sell, I’ll partner with them to sell in the showroom,” she said.
For more information, find Julz at julzmakes.com as well as her Etsy shop, JulzMakes
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org