© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Kansas City is a great place to live if you're into sewing and knitting. Here’s how to get started

A sculpture made of a 10 foot needle and thread with a large red button, in a small urban park with trees and picnic tables.
Libby Hanssen
KCUR 89.3
To honor the workers and companies that made up Kansas City's Garment District, Dave Stephens' sculpture The Needle is displayed in Garment District Place, a small urban park at 8th Street and Broadway.

Kansas City used to be a hub for garment-making, and whether you're a knitting novice or crochet curious, there's no better time to make, mend and get into the textile arts. Check out this guide to fabric stores, craft recycling resources, classes and clubs in the area.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure! newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

In the age of fast fashion that produces millions of pounds of textile waste every year, many Kansas Citians are slowing down and embracing some classic practices: to make and to mend.

About a century ago, Kansas City had one of the largest garment districts in the country, according to the Historic Garment District Museum, a branch of the Kansas City Museum. (The museum at 801 Broadway Boulevard is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through May or by appointment.)

Kansas City’s Garment District is designated as the area between 6th and 11th Streets from Washington to Wyandotte. Companies like Nelly Don not only supplied ready-made clothing for people around the country, but also provided jobs for women in an era when there were few good-paying options.

Sewing is not just practical — although it sure is nice to stitch up a tear or sew on a button. It’s also a way to pass on traditions and make new ones, connect with previous generations and build friendships, and create a more sustainable and beautiful future.

Fortunately, even if you opted out of Home Economics in high school (are sewing courses even offered in school anymore?), there are plenty of opportunities to gain skill and confidence with the fine art of needlecraft.

This week, we’ve got your stitchery questions all sewed up.

Becoming a sewist

Sewing teachers demonstrate how to use sewing equipment.
Bobby Burch
Instructors demonstrate how to use equipment at The Sewing Labs.

Kansas City has plenty of places to go if you are interested in hand- or machine-sewing — as a hobby or even a potential career.

The Sewing Labs, located in the Don Bosco Community Center in Columbus Park, is a women-led, nonprofit organization that focuses on workforce development and community building. They offer a variety of classes and job training opportunities, as well as machine rental.

Rightfully Sewn provides public classes and seamstress training with the intent to revive Kansas City’s historic garment manufacturing culture. Classes range from beginning courses making scrunchies to multi-part sessions on professional development for fashion designers.

The Sewing Studio at the North Kansas City Public Library offers classes for beginners and advanced makers throughout the month through their Common Threads program. That includes a knitting and crocheting circle on the last Thursday of the month.

The MakerSpace at Johnson County Library has a reservable sewing machine and serger (up to four hours a week), provides tutorials for using the machines, and has on-site staff to help troubleshoot.

You can also get involved in the American Sewing Guild, which has a chapter right here in Kansas City. They hold regular meetups in Overland Park, Independence, the Northland and other neighborhoods.

Mending and upcycling

Rolls of scrap fabrics are organized by color in square black shelving.
Scraps KC
An array of remnant fabrics at Scraps KC, a nonprofit craft recycling center.

Patches, buttons, darns and hems: how to make clothes last longer and look better. While ripped jeans may be all the rage right now, trends tend to unravel with time. Being able to fix, tailor and repurpose clothing is an empowering step in becoming sustainably fashionable.

Scraps KC, a nonprofit craft recycling center located on Roanoke Road in Midtown, has all sorts of donated craft supplies, including tons of remnant fabrics, ribbons and threads.

They also offer classes, like Visible Mending (which sells out quickly), and once-a-month site tours, to help share their mission of creative reuse. The organization is included in the first episode of “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” filmed in Kansas City.

Opened in 2010, Fabric Recycles in Overland Park is another great resource where you can donate or sell leftover crafting and sewing supplies and buy materials donated by others.

Sourcing thrift stores is a classic reuse/recycle method for reducing waste. Local designer Jared Mitchel Armstrong of Yvonne and Mitchel uses secondhand clothing to create new garments.

Designer Hadley Clark makes one-of-a-kind patchwork garments from fine materials, but also started a sewing school in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. She shared her journey from designer to teacher with KCUR in 2017.

Using scrap fabric also provides a low-pressure way to share the joy of creating with children, sewing doll clothes, toys, and their own inventions, while experimenting with sewing techniques.

Sew inspired

Close up image of a patchwork quilt which includes two hands holding a twisted American flag.
Libby Hanssen
KCUR 89.3
Detail from NedRa Bonds' quilt "The Sentiment Am the Same," on display at the Kansas City Public Library's Gulder Gallery through May 20.

Beyond the practicality of mending and the allure of bespoke high fashion, the fiber arts can be beautiful and meaningful, from intricate embroidery to collaborative community projects.

Quilting used to be a necessary, thrifty skill for homemaking women. Often, the intricate, handmade quilts they made were passed down as family heirlooms. Today, the art form is gaining new admirers. The Kansas City Quilt Museum is set to open in Fall 2024 in Kansas City, Kansas.

Can’t wait that long to get your stitch fix? About 70 miles northeast of KC is Hamilton, Missouri, AKA “Quilt Town, USA,” home of the Missouri Star Quilt Company and the Missouri Quilt Museum. In 2015, KCUR’s Frank Morris reported on how quilting revitalized the town.

One of the region’s best-known fiber artists is NedRa Bonds, an artist, educator and advocate born in the Quindaro neighborhood, who uses quilting to share history and promote social justice.

Her work has been shown locally at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Spencer Museum, American Jazz Museum and Charlotte Street Foundation, among others, garnered national and international attention, and is part of public and private collections, including the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Art Collection. KCUR’s C.J. Janovy reported on Bonds’ life, work and philosophy in 2017.

Currently, selections of Bonds’ work are on display in the Guldner Gallery at the Kansas City Public Library Central Library through May 20. The exhibit “This Is Who We Are” also includes work by Bonds’ granddaughter Ashlynn Bonds, continuing the generational thread of these traditions.

Weaving is another popular fiber art. Visit the National Silk Art Museum in Weston, Missouri, to see a collection of these intricate pieces. Check out the Weavers Guild of Kansas City, which hosts monthly meetings and field trips, as well as a library and mentoring opportunities.

In 2021, KCUR’s Julie Denesha spoke with artist Debbie Barrett-Jones about the healing benefits of weaving. Barrett-Jones is a fiber major alum of the Kansas City Arts Institute. Nick Cave and Whitney Manning (whose work recently debuted on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars) are also alumni. See the work of the emerging artists at KCAI’s End of Semester Exhibition and Sale May 5-8.

The world of needlecraft

A trio of needlepoint projects in various stages of completion, with a variety of threads and a cup of cocoa.
Bryn Beatson
Needlecraft projects offer outlets for personal expression, skill building and finding community

There are many entry points for those interested in needlecraft, from acquiring basic skills to desiring exquisite handicrafts. Needlepoint, cross stitch, knitting, crochet, embroidery, weaving and more offer outlets for personal expression, skill building and finding community.

Organizations, and even individuals, can schedule meet-ups where like-minded crafters gather to share tips and make progress on projects.

Recently, the World War I Museum hosted a “Mrs. Wilson’s Knitting Circle” for beginners and experts alike to learn more about the tradition during the Great War.

Local businesses often host groups and classes, too. Yarn Social, in the West Plaza neighborhood, has classes, one-on-one sessions and weekly social hours. They also host “Mistake Mondays,” intended for people who know how to knit or crochet, but need specific help fixing a mistake or understanding a stitch or pattern. These are held on the first and third Monday of the month from 3-6 p.m., first come, first served.

Waldo’s KC Needlepoint, along with having an extensive inventory of threads and canvases, provides a stitch vault on the website, with diagrams of different stitch styles, as well as other helpful information.

The Studio, in Overland Park, offers classes as well as a weekly meet-up on Tuesday mornings, “Coffee, Sit, and Stitch.”

The Kansas City Fiber Guild hosts weekly meetings and shares information about resources all over the Greater Kansas City region, from Independence to Leavenworth. The Sunflower Knitters Guild in Kansas has two monthly meetings and various other knit-centric events.

There’s also the Caring Hands Knitting Group, a free 50+ community group in Roeland Park, Kansas, which knits and crochets hats for charity and provides lessons for beginners. Currently, the group meets in Roeland Park’s City Hall on Tuesdays from 1-3 p.m., May 2 to August 29.

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen is a freelance writer in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. Learn more at Proust Eats a Sandwich.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.