Sarah Woodyard

February 4, 2022

Photo by Fred Blystone.

Sarah Woodyard’s textile work holds a reverence for history. Through her work, she emphasizes the importance of learning where we’ve been so that we might better understand our present and future. Her close study of historical garments is a way to learn history – about the people who made each piece, and the moment in which each was created – revealing the stories held within the fibers and stitches.

It’s no wonder that Sarah’s initials are S. E. W. In fact, this sewing artist took her first steps as a baby, reaching for trim in a notions shop. Sarah grew up in a house filled with fabric, books, and clothing due to her mother’s interest in vintage items. With these as her surroundings, her interest in cloth, fashion, and history took a lasting hold. She dabbled in cross stitch and quilting as a child, learning from her grandmothers and great aunts who all hand quilted. She recalls these moments of hand stitching as the times she felt most calm – a joyful activity that brought her closer to herself. In high school and college, she built a strong foundation of machine sewing skills working with industrial machines in costume shops.

Sarah returned to hand stitching because it is quiet, soothing, and portable. She has an impressive eye for detail and especially loves finishing techniques:  rolled hems, seams, and neat gathers. Techniques that are often more efficient when done by hand. She finds joy and amazement in the beauty and creativity that can be achieved with just needle and thread. Sarah has worked to hone her hand stitching skills over many years, dedicated to expanding her knowledge. Her stitches are methodical and intentional, each one chosen to suit its purpose. The resulting work is delicate, strong, and visually stunning.

Her interests in history and clothing have spurred her educational pursuits as well, particularly a seven-year apprenticeship at the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop in Colonial Williamsburg, where she learned to make eighteenth-century clothing and accessories by hand. Sarah also holds an M.A. in Material Culture from the University of Alberta. In the collaborative shop environment, she was able to study garments and learn from the sewers around her as they worked to recreate historical styles. Sarah prefers to study extant garments to learn their construction and purpose. When able to hold the cloth in her hands, she can feel and see the innovative and creative choices made by the original maker. If no such garment remains for a particular style, she looks to textual and art historical references. The prints and paintings she views allow her to contextualize a garment and help her piece together the elements that become the final product. Learning the stitches and techniques has been a way to aid her understanding of each cloth object within a broader historical context – the stitches and styles providing insight into histories of labor and the aesthetic conventions of a time period. Through her apprenticeship she was able to repeatedly practice, growing her skills and knowledge with each year. After eleven years working in Colonial Williamsburg, she left in 2018. Her company Sewn Company was born in the spring of 2019.

For Sarah, the preservation of these skills and through them our connection to history is what drives her teaching work. She aims to share the knowledge she has spent so many years pursuing, with the hope that it inspires and excites others. Sarah believes in helping her students create a solid foundation of technique through practice – to empower each person to cultivate skills of their own, for application in both historical and modern garments. And of course, to find the simple joy of self in needle and thread.

In addition to Hand Sewn Historical Chemise, Sarah will also be offering Hand Sewn Historical Bloomers (pictured left), an Embroidered Cutwork Edging class to embellish the bloomers (pictured center), and a Hand Sewn Historical Seams class (April 16, 2022). Stay tuned for more information on these offerings or to pre-register email us at [email protected].

Learn with Sarah Woodyard

Photo by Fred Blystone.

Sarah Woodyard is inspired by the labor of historical dressmakers. She spent seven years apprenticing at the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop in Colonial Williamsburg to learn eighteenth-century mantua-making (dressmaking) and millinery (accessories). After completing her apprenticeship she became a Journeywoman mantua-maker and milliner. Sarah holds her M.A. in Material Culture from the University of Alberta. After ten years of sewing and interpreting at the Margaret Hunter Shop it was time to take this knowledge into the twenty-first century. She opened Sewn Company in 2019. Sewn Company arises from a legacy of hand-stitchers past and present. Through Sewn she teaches historical hand-sewing to historical sewists and modern makers. She is currently taking commissions for hand-sewn items both historical and modern. She is passionate about preserving the skills and stories of hand sewing, through research, design and education.