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Paris Welcomes the Return of the Sweatshop

Couture Cafe - Paris
The worktop in the Couture Café

Teaching the Art of the Sewing Recycle
So farewell then Cybercafé and hello Singercafé, at least that’s what they're saying in the capital's 10th arrondissement after France’s Vogue magazine, no less, praised the initiative of two Paris residents for bringing back the sweatshop. Except ... its not a sweatshop, despite what its url says, it’s a very 21st century approach to home economics. Home economics? That's what young girls at primary school in some parts of the world last century would have called “domestic science” - cooking, sewing and keeping home. Not apparently part of the agenda of the thoroughly modern woman, hence the sweatshop success.

The two naturalised Parisiennes, Sissi Holleis, 38, an Austrian designer with her own label, and Martena Duss, 28, a makeup artist from Switzerland, say the idea is to offer café visitors sewing machines that can be rented by the hour, instead of computers.
Ten Singer sewing machines in fact, state-of-the art equipment supplied by the Singer company along with one sophisticated machine capable of elaborate embroidering, an eclectic supply of vintage dressmaking patterns, thread and other material including sewing kits, all decoratively displayed as the cafe owners' contribution to beating the crisis and still be turned out in fashionable restyled clothes. "We don't throw anything away where we come from, " says Sissi Holleis speaking for both their home countries, "so we figured it was a good idea to show others how to reshape their wardrobes from clothes lurking in the depths, or that no longer fit or just look a little last season.”

Sew as You Go
Cybercafes are of course by now very de mode and these days, in the bigger cities, as common as pastis, so why not something different, something like a couture café.

Sissi Holleis and Martena Duss
Owners Sissi Holleis and Martena Duss

Sew as you go as it were and if you don’t know-how, Sissi and Martena offer couture courses with a cafe coin that serves delicious Paris pastries and frothy coffee.

Indeed it goes further than that and offers couture demonstrations using some of Paris’ more funky creatifs who in turn invite other designers along.

Patchwork English

In addition and every Wednesday evening (1900-2100) the café, has a patch-up-your-English patchwork sewing circle at which participants can hone two skills .As they toil over their patchwork , their mentors guide them in English conversation and pronunciation patch-working to brush-up your English as it were. This multi-tasking sewing circle is run by two English seamstresses Jenny and Louise, who say they opted for patchwork because "it's a great craft to work on in a group. Traditionally it's an activity where people get to know each other and chat as they work, "stitch 'n bitch" if you will”  is their own description of their unorthodox approach to classes in patchwork and English. Over the summer the café ran a special learn French in the morning and knitting in the afternoon course as a complement to the patch up your English classes

Additionally Sweat Shop arranges workshops for children and adults, beginners or advanced, under the watchful eye of fashion professionals. Sweat Shop even arranges workshops for birthdays or other rites de passage in the lives of a young women.

Among upcoming courses at the café are Saturday 16 October, an exclusive WORKSHOP between 15h - 19h about Lace work on fabric under tutored by Sandrine, a Sonia Rykiel styliste

The owners themselves write about their café in this way: “Sweat Shop is a cafe couture, a new creative concept situated near the hotspot St Martin canal in Paris. Imagine 10 work stations equipped with 10 Singer sewing machines and one central communal table. Join one of the five courses offered every week and perfect your knitting and sewing skills or meet one of our guest designers for an haute couture  encounter." 

Sewing Terminals at Couture Café

Stiching up a Thirst
"Not unlike a cyber cafe, you come whenever you please, rent a state of the art sewing machine by the hour and start sewing. Welcome to our world of creativity and discovery, of DIY ethics, a piping hot cup of tea and funky furniture. Enjoy organic delicacies courtesy of our New York neighbours at Bob's Juice Bar. Bored with buying, wearing, throwing away? Fix that seam, make a dress out of those trousers or even design and create a brand new shape. Sweat Shop is where your dreams and projects come alive, here for those wanting to learn, create, transform, practice or recycle..."

What's on Offer?
10 Singer sewing machines for rent by the hour, make-your-own dress kits by courtesy of the Belgian designer Carolin Lerch of Pelican Avenue, knitting supplies from Bergère de France, and language classes.

Machine rentals start at €6, coffee and pastry (from Bob’s) at €5
13 rue Lucien Sampaix, Paris, 33-09-52-85-47-41, www.sweatshopparis.com.

Sweat Shop French to order.

Story: Ken Pottinger

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