As a contributing blogger for the Lone Star Smockers, I have decided to feature some of the SAGA teachers in my posts. This month’s featured teacher is Kathy Dykstra from Charlotte, N.C. I have never met Kathy in person but met her online about 5 years or so ago. We both sewed and smocked for the same type of dolls made in Germany by Annette Himstedt. We belonged to the same doll forum and ebay group. Even though we were both making and selling pretty dresses for the same dolls, Kathy was always helpful and encouraging to all her competitors on the forums. She shared ideas that worked and didn’t work. I greatly admired her for being willing to share what she had learned to help the rest of us succeed.
I asked Kathy how old she was when she began to sew and who taught her. This was her response: I learned to sew when I was 12 years old through 4-H. I went for classes for 3 hours every Sat. morning for an entire summer and then continued with some private lessons so that I could make myself a fake leather coat with satin lining. It turned out great. I had a wonderful teacher that not only taught excellent techniques, but was so encouraging. I sewed constantly from that point on and enjoyed wearing my own creations. I took lingerie making classes in high school and had fun with that for a while as well. In college, I took one pattern drafting class and aspired to do some designing, but that ended up being put on the back burner as life happened.
Kathy was asked if she remembers wearing smocked garments as a child: I did wear smocking as a child – my aunt smocked many dresses for me when I was little. I have pictures of me wearing them. It was the “pick up the dots” kind of smocking. After the birth of our second child, she came for a visit and wanted to smock something for our 2 girls, so I looked up the local heirloom shop, took her there and she got her supplies and made beautiful bishop dresses for our girls. After that, I just had to learn to smock, so I took a class at the shop and was hooked. I joined SAGA right away and we had such an active and talented group with over 60 members. There was always lots of “show and tell” to inspire us. The programs were always excellent and we brought in some of the best teachers to do seminars. I learned so much those early years. I took classes/seminars through the guild for many years and from many talented and well known designers/teachers.
I asked Kathy if she smocked for her children: I smocked for all of our children because I not only loved the look of it, but found that I could make quality play dresses for much cheaper than I could buy them – just a couple yards of Imperial broadcloth – and they lasted longer. Of course, the Sunday dresses were special and more elaborate. I not only smocked for our children, but after a few years, I started doing many of the custom orders for the local heirloom shop and taught classes for them as well.
A question I asked was when she first had a pattern or design published: My first smocking design was published by Ellen McCarn in the early 90’s. I did do several original picture smocking designs back then, but with 4 children and sewing and teaching for the local shop, I didn’t have the time to pursue publication at that point.
I started doing custom designed clothing for client’s children back in the mid 2000’s. I did everything from crazy boutique styled clothing to exquisite Christening gowns and portrait dresses. I had so many wonderful clients and it was a great way to continue to do what I loved after our children had outgrown smocking. It was such fun( as well as challenging) to have a variety of styles to enjoy. My favorite is still smocking and heirloom, though I do enjoy the fun, boutique styled clothing as well as long as it’s not too “way out” there.
Another question I asked Kathy was when she began to formally teach others how to do smocking and heirloom sewing: I began formally teaching at local shops in the mid-80’s and have taught for numerous shops as they have come and gone over the years. Currently, we do not have an heirloom shop in the area, so I teach private groups from time to time. I also had the privilege to teach at the Martha Pullen school in 2013. I love to teach and do it as often as I have the opportunity at this point. Teaching keeps me motivated to both learn and try new things as well as to continue designing new outfits. Of course, it does help that I have 3 precious granddaughters that wear my creations! There’s just not enough hours in the day to make everything that I would like to for them.
I asked Kathy if there was a favorite class or creation that she really enjoyed teaching when she had the choice: I don’t know that I have a favorite class to teach – I enjoy them all. I really enjoy sharing techniques with women and watching them get excited about learning something new. I love teaching the construction end of the garments, particularly heirloom techniques. It is so rewarding when the students figure out that it isn’t nearly as difficult as it looks like it must be! Helping them get the confidence that they need to tackle these new techniques and create their own heirlooms is my goal in every class.
Lastly, I asked Kathy if any of her family were interested in doing what she does: I taught all 3 of our girls to sew when they were younger. Our oldest daughter has done some sewing as an adult, but she has’t been interested in much heirloom sewing/smocking at this point. Perhaps one day the little girls will want to learn.
Kathy, I do hope one of your granddaughters gets the “sewing bug” and continues to carry on what you have taught! I am very appreciative for your time and willingness to help the Lone Star Smockers with our blog. Below are pictures that Kathy sent me. She is an approved SAGA teacher and you can reach her by this email address: kathy-dykstra [at] carolina [dot] rr [dot] com.