Ann Arborite Anne Reinstein
by Shelley Daily
On a rainy Saturday morning, Anne Reinstein's students arrive at the back door of her home on a quiet cul-de-sac on Ann Arbor's east side. In her cozy sunroom, four sewing machines await their users. Reinstein, fifty-eight, greets each student warmly, calling them "sweetie" and "dear." Dark-haired, with large, expressive eyes, Reinstein grew up on Detroit's east side, the fifth of eight children in the Italian Catholic Casazza family. Relaxed and talkative, she seems like everyone's favorite neighbor lady.
Emma Chang, age thirteen, has been coming to Reinstein's All Sewn Up! sewing school since she was invited to a birthday party here five years ago. Today she's finishing up a fashionable backpack based on a complicated pattern and several months in the making. "Yes! Yes!" Chang says, smiling and jumping up and down as she holds up the finished product. Her mother, Louise Chang, says even though her daughter squeezes the sewing class into a very busy schedule, it's a must. "She needs to see her Anne!"
Reinstein turned to teaching in 2005 after running a home-based sewing and tailoring business. (In addition to her own school, she teaches at WCC.) She runs as many as eight All Sewn Up! classes a week during the school year, and half-day camps during summers and school breaks. (Classes are $50 a month for four one-hour meetings, camps $170 for five three-hour sessions.)
Until the last century, most people sewed because homemade was cheaper than store bought. But that changed when cheap manufactured clothing flooded the market. Some of Reinstein's students just want to master the basics, like hemming or sewing on buttons. Others, like Emma Chang, love creating something uniquely their own. Although most students are female, "we've had lots of boys," Reinstein says. "They've made jammies, pants, ties, stuffed animals. A lot of them are interested in the mechanics of the machine."
This morning, Courtney Thompson, thirty-two, is finishing a second throw pillow in a red floral design. She says
she couldn't imagine spending $100 and up for designer pillows, and having grown up with a mom who sewed, she figured she could learn to do it herself. Thompson says when she posted a picture of her first creation on Facebook, her friends were impressed--and surprised at her sudden passion for the domestic arts.
Reinstein says the TV show "Project Runway" rekindled interest in sewing, especially among kids, who "started to see themselves as creative in a way they may not have before." Ann Arbor's sewing goddess had her own brush with fame when MTV's "Made" featured her sewing school in a 2006 episode--"eight hours of filming for forty-two seconds on the air," she says. The clip featured a Huron High student who was attending Reinstein's classes to learn how to sew outfits for a school fashion show competition.
As the machines whir, Reinstein moves from station to station. Nine-year-old Arianelle Tiles, who dreams of being a fashion designer, is sewing a colorful fleece teddy bear. Her father, Rafael, waits at Reinstein's kitchen table. Since last fall they've been making the weekly drive from Bloomfield Hills. "It's all about the teacher," says Rafael. "Anne's teaching style is so relaxed. She's not concerned about making mistakes. She teaches that you learn from your mistakes." Arianelle made her father a hooded robe when they couldn't find what he wanted in the stores. "There is such value in making custom articles," he says.
"Making something with your hands is esteem-building," Reinstein adds. "It means more than a trophy."
Reinstein herself was hooked at her first sewing class when she was thirteen. "I knew right away I was good at it," she says. She made her own dresses for school dances and culottes to wear to a high school basketball game. She took clothing and textiles courses at Michigan State while getting her degree in community services, and then spent a year working as a governess in Italy. When she returned to the States, she worked in various personnel and job-training programs, first in East Lansing and then in Ann Arbor. She moved here at age twenty-five, she says, because she "wanted to find a grad student to marry!"
She did find a U-M grad student--but at a Chicago wedding, where Mark Reinstein was a friend of the groom. "I noticed his wonderful mustache first," she smiles. "We kept sneaking glances at each other, and then at the reception he made his move." The only problem was that Mark was Jewish, and neither her parents nor his approved of the match. She says that after some "time to let it sink in," they all came around. "Acceptance grew to affection and I became [Mark's parents'] daughter."
Anne and Mark--he's CEO of the Mental Health Association in Michigan--decided to raise their children Jewish and are members of Ann Arbor's Temple Beth Emeth. Their daughter, Beth, age twenty, attends Roosevelt University in Chicago while son Joel, twenty-five, is a Michigan State graduate who works for the Ann Arbor District Library.
As Saturday's class nears its end, Courtney Thompson is stuffing her throw pillow. Now that this project is almost done, she's thinking about making a chair cushion. "I'll definitely be back in the fall," she says. Thompson already has dropped the hint to her mom that what she'd love for her next birthday is a sewing machine.
This article has been edited since it appeared in the July 2012 Ann Arbor Observer. The number of sessions in Reinstein's classes and camps have been corrected.
[Originally published in July, 2012.]