New Portsmouth business stitches the past to the present

Stitchery offers needle arts classes for ages 5 and up ·

PORTSMOUTH — Traci Vaspol learned to knit from her grandmother — not her mom — when she was 7 or 8.

“It skipped a generation,” said Ms. Vaspol, co-owner of Stitchery, a new business at 14 Potomac Ave. that offers needle arts classes.

That’s typical for most students who have come through Stitchery’s doors since it opened Feb. 25, she said. 

“We have a lot of beginners whose grandmothers knitted or sewed, and they really would like to do that themselves but they have nobody who can pass those skills down to them,” she said.

That’s where Stitchery comes in. Ms. Vaspol and co-owner Karen Katin said there’s been renewed interest in fiber arts in recent years due to the internet.

“Through online communities, craft itself has had a real resurgence because people are finding the support and resources they need,” said Ms. Vaspol.

Ms. Katin agreed. “When people started publishing free tutorials and videos, directions with step-by-step photographs, it became so much more accessible to so many people,” she said.

While one can learn some of these skills through online videos, they said it’s no substitute for human interaction.

“It’s so much different learning in person, and also when you get the groups together there’s a sense of community,” said Ms. Katin.

“That’s such a big part of the craft field. It’s about being with other people,” added Ms. Vaspol.

Not a retail store

Stitchery offers classes for all ages but is not a retail store, mainly because it’s nearly impossible to compete with online businesses, the women said.

“There isn’t another one like this, that’s solely just an education studio, I don’t think in Rhode Island,” said Ms. Vaspol, who’s originally from the United Kingdom where she attended art school, but has lived here for 23 years. She also works at Rhode Island School of Design.

Ms. Katin started using a sewing machine when she was only 8.  “My great-grandmother was a seamstress at one of the department stores in Baltimore before ready-to-wear clothing was a thing, so I think it’s in my blood,” she said.

She started off as a research scientist and then taught high school biology before becoming an at-home mom. “That’s when I started making things for them,” said Ms. Katin, who also teaches after-school needlepoint programs on the island as well as at local libraries.

Although it would have been easier for them to find a space outside of Portsmouth for their new venture, both women said it was important to keep the business within their own community.

Although there’s been a resurgence in the craft movement and needle arts specifically, there are fewer and fewer people around to teach those skills, the women said. 

“Most schools have dropped home ec. People of my generation — in their 30s and 40s — their mothers were more likely working and it’s not being passed on,” said Ms. Katin.

Variety of classes

But the interest is strong, they say, if the turnout to their classes is any indication. 

Children as young as 5 are taught hand sewing in hour-long classes, while the older kids — about 8 and up — and adults use the sewing machines in 90-minute sessions. Prices range from $20 to $32 per class, depending on the student’s age and length of the classes, which are primarily held Thursday through Saturday. All materials are included.

“We aim to have something that they’re going to leave with every session,” said Ms. Vaspol, noting that the youngest children have created things such as a Tooth Fairy pillow, while the older kids have made bags or full-size pillows.

“I like to have the kids tell me what they’d like to make. Then they become more invested,” said Ms. Katin.

Adult classes are also project-based and include weekend workshops such as Stitchery’s “Wardrobe Series.”

“That’s where you come in at 10 o’clock and by the time you leave at 4 you’re walking out with a piece of clothing” such as a dress or a bag or a pillow, said Ms. Vaspol. “People then realize that, ‘Yeah, I can actually make my own stuff.’”

One woman, Ms Katin recalled, went out and bought her own sewing machine after just her second class. “I think we are, in a lot of cases, teaching confidence,” she said.

Ms. Vaspol nodded her head. 

“We’re demystifying things,” she said. “There’s no magic secret on how to do these things; you just have to have somebody show you how to do it. Everybody is perfectly capable of learning these skills, because they’re hand skills. We’re not asking you to formulate some kind of nuclear fusion. You’re using traditional skills that go back hundreds of years.”

Stitchery also offers birthday parties and has scheduled out specialty workshops featuring visiting artists. And, if you’re a little shy, private lessons are also available.“

“Some people are a little leery trying things for the first time in public; they want to try it one on one,” noted Ms. Vaspol.

Stitchery is located at 14 Potomac Road, Portsmouth. For more information, e-mail or visit