Community Profile

Serge-A-Lot: A Sewing Shop Stitching Together the Neighborhood

Ekevara Kitpowsong/Ingleside-Excelsior Light

Original community journalism takes money, time and hard work. You can now support the Light on Patreon. Visit www.patreon.com/ielight to sign up.

By Ekevera Kitpowsong

It was not a typical Friday morning at Serge-A-Lot. The Ocean Avenue sewing store was packed with international representatives from the sewing machine industry.

Baby Lock President Susumu Hirokata, Suzuki Machinery President Shigeyuki Suzuki and team of engineers, educators and salespeople along with Bob Bartolozzi, a Baby Lock-Tacony Corporation territory sales representative, visited store owner Sherri Stratton as part of a two-day, 10-store tour.

“Yesterday we arrived and this is the first store we will visit in this area,” Hirokata said, adding that the store seemed to have grown with merchandise since his 2014 visit. The 700-square-foot space is the smallest Baby Lock dealer in the country but large for a Japanese store.

The size works for Stratton, who opened the store five years ago this September.

“I decided to start my own business in 2012, contacted Bartolozzi who got the territory and found that Baby Lock did need in fact a dealer in San Francisco,” Stratton said. “I overcame the fear of paying high rent.”

A salesperson for three different dealers in the past, Statton knows all of the machines. She also does machine repairs with her husband Brad.

She offers classes in beginning quilting, surge, bailout, zipper insertion and bag making are offering for group classes or one-on-one private lessons in the store. Stratton started sewing at nine years old.

“I was in New York in a snowstorm and I was bored and my father put me on my mom’s sewing machine and that’s where it started,” Stratton said. “I made a stocking for my dog.”

She learned how to sew clothes and made her first dress when she started to attend Fashion Design courses at Cañada College in Redwood City.

In 2012, Stratton received a microloan from the lender Working Solutions to open Serge-A-Lot, which is the nickname for the family sewing room at home.

“It was $20,000 loan. And you’re required to come up with a $4,000 down payment,” Stratton said. “So I had to sell my own sewing machine and our RV for startup money I actually came up with $7,000 instead of four. We ended up paying it back in two years because we refinanced the home.”

Classes

Her student and clients are from all over the Bay Area, some traveling from Sacramento, San Jose and as far as Santa Cruz to attend her classes.

“They’re usually adults but I will teach kids and we have taught kid sewing,” Stratton said. “We’d like them to be about 10 for kids sewing unless they’re going to be private. But leaving them alone to sew by themselves they should be about 10 years old. I taught six or seven years old but you really need to be with them hands on, the oldest was probably 94.”

One of Stratton’s students Patti Toomey came in for one-on-one private lesson to learn how to make T-Shirts.

A resident of Ingleside neighborhood for 32 years, Toomey lives about a half a mile from the shop. She has been going to Serge-A-Lot since it was opened at first as a client and then became a student and a friend of Stratton.

Toomey thinks that it is good that Ingleside has a store like Serge-A-Lot.

“It is good for the neighborhood but there are not a lot of places where you can bring your vacuum or your sewing machine for repair and trust what you’re getting and here you can,” Toomey said.

One of Stratton’s customers was a designer on Project Runway.

“My own customer Jenni Riccetti was Season 15 Project Runway. I taught her to thread [her Baby Lock] the old fashioned way and when she was on Project Runway the thread broke on the industrial sergers and she was the only one that knew how to thread it because I trained her properly,” Stratton said.

Community

Stratton also uses her extensive knowledge about sewing to give back to the community and help other women.

Sheriff’s Department Rehabilitation Services Coordinator Aida Mc-Cray who works at the Women’s Resource Center and runs the “Sewing Our Lives Together” program said that Serge-A-Lot collaborates very deeply with the program.

“San Francisco Sheriff’s Department Women’s Resource Center where we get women from shelters, from programs and we even get probation officers and people who are working to come together to create a sewing circle. Every Wednesday night from 4 to 7 and in that it couldn’t happen if I didn’t have her collaboration that’s the truth,” McCray said while she stopped by at the store on Friday.

McCray said Stratton came to help set up the program and from there she is McCray’s constant consultant.

“It’s community and helping people to get skills, helping people to get clean who are drug addicted, people who get an idea who are in the shelter to get their mind off of what they have to go through therefore for they go back to the shelter that they can make them a bag. You know she’s giving me ideas for what they should do next. You know she’s a baseline of the Women’s Resource Sewing Center of San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. It is Serge-A-Lot,” McCray said.

Original community journalism takes money, time and hard work. You can now support the Light on Patreon. Visit www.patreon.com/ielight to sign up.

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