In 2009, a UF law graduate began her rise to Internet stardom when she started uploading knitting and quilting tutorial videos to YouTube. Eight years and 381,000 subscribers later, what was once a creative outlet is now Vanessa Vargas Wilson’s take on the American dream.
From 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Wilson will host the grand opening of The Sewing Coop, a sewing and quilting studio on the 700 block of Northwest 23rd Avenue in Gainesville.
Wilson studied anthropology as an undergraduate at UF and began knitting and quilting as a hobby during law school. Years later, when she became pregnant with her first child, Wilson posted photos to her personal Facebook account of a diaper bag she had made.
“People began asking me to make these diaper bags for them, and suddenly I had all these orders to fill,” Wilson said. “Then I realized that I didn’t like making the same product over and over. I liked designing and creating and then moving on to the next project.”
Wilson’s husband suggested that she teach classes at Santa Fe through their Community Education program. She taught beginner sewing and quilting, and taught classes to make small projects, like pillowcases. Wilson’s dress making classes were especially popular, and she was requested to teach these for weeks in a row.
“The thing is, I was having a boy and I didn’t want to make all these dresses,” Wilson said. “And again, I got bored of the repetition, so my husband suggested filming me teaching and putting the videos on YouTube where they’d be archived there forever.”
Since her first upload in 2009, Wilson has taught seminars, hosted weekend retreats and participated in a weeklong quilting cruise on the Caribbean. Her husband retired three years ago and now handles all of her business inquiries, customer service exchanges, inventory management and event planning.
The Sewing Coop is inspired by the lifestyle Wilson and her husband always dreamed of having; they live on a chicken farm in Alachua and homeschool their two children, doing all business from their home.
Now that she has decided to stay in one place for a while (the Wilson family rented a house for a month in March in the rainforest of Costa Rica, to give an idea) she will teach more intimate courses at the studio, scheduling sessions that fit her schedule.
“We had a soft opening in May, and I only taught a few classes here and there, just as a trial run. After the official opening, one day a week I will have an ‘office hours day’ where people can come in and see samples of upcoming classes, ask questions and even buy some of the products that I make and manufacture or that we use in classes,” Wilson said. “Apart from that, there are no set hours. The business is open when classes are scheduled.”
The course schedule for October and November will be released before Sunday’s grand opening, but fans and followers can expect classes for creating leggings, workout wear, T-shirts, quilts, crochet projects, after -school kids projects and introductory intensives for beginners.
Wilson’s introductory courses are for people who have never sewn on a sewing machine before. She teaches project-oriented classes because, while she wants people to learn technique, she also wants them to walk away having made something.
“I’ve seen that when people hear or think about sewing they refuse to pay to be taught because they think it’s something that’s supposed to be just passed down in the family. How I teach at The Sewing Coop is different than how your mom or cousin or grandma would teach you,” Wilson said. “There’s no other place where you can walk away with the kind of knowledge, experience, enthusiasm and finished project that I teach with.”
When Frances Vasquez, a 21-year-old criminology student at UF, realized the YouTuber she had been following for years was opening a business in Gainesville, she was ecstatic.
“When I came across Vanessa’s videos three years ago and started sewing, I found it to be so therapeutic,” Vasquez said. “I’ve sewn a ton of things for my little brother, who’s now five. He still uses the pillow I made for him when he was an infant.”