When my grandmother died, I inherited one of her coats: a stunning, 1940s-era formal wraparound made of floral upholstery material. We call it Grandma’s Couch Coat, and I love love it, but after twenty-five years the satin pockets have basically disintegrated. They’re not even pockets anymore, just satiny slits into which I drop and lose things.

Fortunately, the Ann Arbor District Library’s Sewing Lab is free and open to the public. All ranges of experience are welcome, and you can even check out and take home one of their sewing machines.

Today, we’re learning the zigzag stitch. The large room is fully decked out with working tables, storage shelves, sewing machines, fabric, and about thirty people, three of whom are very helpful staffers. Two are roaming about, and one is holding a demonstration at the front teaching table, with seven women intently watching as she shows us how to make a stitch that zigs and zags across the fabric.

A teen girl in matching oversized red hoodie and glasses asks a question about the fabric. “Think about whether or not you’ll need a vertical stretch,” the instructor says. I have no idea what any of this means, but I do notice that the teacher is wearing a bright yellow shirt that looks like the yellow lace placemats I have at home. I realize she probably made all of her clothes but catch myself before invading her personal space to examine them.

Next, we’re led to the workstations, where we sit at our own sewing machines to practice the stitches and work on our projects. The teachers walk us through the basics of threading the machines and stitching. They offer me concrete tips on sewing up the holes in my pockets. They make it sound pretty easy.

Some folks are already working independently on projects, skipping the demonstrations. The woman to my left is making a lovely rose-colored shirt out of crepe material that reminds me of the little flippy skirts ice skaters wear. The girl in the red hoodie is making a pillow for her American Girl doll but pauses to help me when I need it.

An older, tiny woman wearing the most delicious chocolate-colored clothes has been consulting with a teacher for some time about her project. She suddenly raises her hands in the air, shouting, “Problem solved!” She marches to the other side of the room, waving her fist in the air. “Hand-sewing it is!”

I’m pretty darn good at the zigzag stitch as well as the “back up and go over it again so it stays there” maneuver. I’m proud of myself, but the job doesn’t actually make my pockets functional. They’re now just small slits with no holes. I’m going to have to entirely rebuild them–a task that will be so much easier now that I know how to use a sewing machine. Methinks that would make my grandma happy, too.

Sewing Lab is offered on March 9 and March 23 in the AADL downtown Secret Lab, 7-8:30 p.m.