Designers sew and tell at East Falls boutique

There’s something about The Red House, a boutique and sewing studio on Midvale Avenue, that brings out the Denise Huxtable in me. Once inside, I find myself with the irrepressible urge to sew stuff, but much like Denise, the second oldest daughter in the fictional Cosby Show clan, I’m not very talented with a needle and thread. Her attempt to copy a designer shirt for her brother Theo ended in an absolute fashion disaster, and I’ve experienced similar hem hijinks and seam snafus.

I am not about to admit this to Dahlia Wigfall or Cyan “Blu” Jeffries, the teaching artists who call The Red House their home. Known simply as Blu and Dahlia, they’ve combined efforts, and more recently companies, in order to provide inexpensive sewing classes to local residents.

For Dahlia, the interest in fashion runs deep. In 2003, she started Breakfree Design Group with her mother, artist Andrea Coffey. Breakfree is a non-profit dedicated to teaching youth to design, manufacture and sell their own clothing and accessories with an eye toward fostering fashion entrepreneurship. In addition to directing programs for the non-profit, Dahlia also began designing and producing her own clothing out of The Red House.

One house, many hats

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“The Red House has a lot of functions,” Dahlia explains. Initially it served as a headquarters for Breakfree Design Group and a place to showcase student work. Today, it continues to house the non-profit, but it’s also become a space that wears a number of different hats—part resale store, part sewing workshop and part fashion boutique.

Blu first stepped into this versatile space as an intern. A designer in her own right, she started her own company Exodus Designs in 2005 and as part of her business plan “had wanted to do an after-school fashion program.” Her interests overlapped with Dahlia’s and over the course of her internship, the two became friends. Eventually they decided to join forces and they merged companies earlier this year.

The obvious name

“When we merged we had a little bit of trouble coming up with a name,” Dahlia says. Both women had grown attached to their individual labels. “I think we went through a couple of different names and then we had a friend over one evening and he was like, ‘well, why aren’t you just BluDahlia?’ It’s so obvious!”

BluDahlia is the fashion brand that represents both designers. The clothing and accessories for sale in the boutique section of The Red House all bear this label. BluDahlia’s style can be characterized as funky, ethnic chic, with many of the clothes created from reconstructed garments. The line also showcases collage, embellishment and appliqué techniques, most of which are on display in one of their signature pieces, a denim bolero jacket made of repurposed jeans.

Clothing is manufactured on the premises by local talent from the community. The sewing classes offered by The Red House are a means of finding and cultivating that talent.

Classes for all levels

“We have three different classes that we offer. The first class is a basic beginner sewer class, and a lot of the students that come in for the beginner class, they don’t know how to even use the machine, or what to even do when they sit at a machine,” Dahlia says. The beginner class covers fundamentals like threading a sewing machine and general machine use. During the class students make their own cell phone pouch which, it turns out, is a task that’s great for rehearsing the basics of sewing.

For those who already know the basics, Blu and Dahlia offer classes on pattern use and pattern making. Classes are small and open to all ages. There’s a maximum of five students per class, so there’s plenty of individualized attention and no room for ill-sewing Denise Huxtable-types to hide.

The Red House may not be as well known as, say, the house of Versace, but with affordable sewing classes designed to groom budding fashionistas of all ages, its gaining ground one stitch at a time.

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