Her passion for sewing started in childhood, but it took Mona Wuertz more than 50 years to start turning her passion into a livelihood. The Sewing and Production Specialist program at Dunwoody College is making it possible.

“I put on my first zipper in the first grade. I watched my mom — she didn’t teach me to sew, I just watched and taught myself. I always loved the whole process of putting something together,” Wuertz said.

Wuertz’s day jobs included legal assistant, administrative assistant and entry-level accountant. “They were all things I’m very good at and did enjoy,” she said. Still, she continued to sew at home, finding it the ideal way to de-stress.

When she got laid off in 2002 from a job she loved, she said, “I was devastated. I’m female, well over 40. I feel like I have a lot to offer yet. I’ve raised four kids. I want my shot.”

After working a series of temp jobs, she saw a newspaper article on the Dunwoody Industrial Sewing and Production Specialist program. The very first class was beginning the following night. “I thought, ‘I have to get into this,’” she said. She not only got in; she got a scholarship and was among the first 16 graduates of the program. Now she is at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) studying pattern making during the day. She works as a lab assistant in the Dunwoody sewing lab in the evening.

Her personal goal when she graduates is to get into product development. “Let’s say someone wants to make a tote bag. They need a pattern for it, they need to decide on a fabric, they need to find someone to sew it, whether domestic or in Thailand or Vietnam. A product development company can help you with all those steps along the way from design to end product shipping,” she said. Inspired by her instructors in the program, she can also imagine teaching someday.

Wuertz also has a larger goal in mind: “We need to bring industry back to the U.S. We used to be the big producer. That’s what made this country strong.”

What does the program cover?

It’s hands-on experience in industrial sewing. We did sewing on sergers, straight needle, leather machines, binding machines, threading, knowing how to troubleshoot. We work with leather, canvas, cotton, woolens, knits. There is a math class — how much yardage are you going to need?

How is industrial sewing different from home sewing?

The machines are different. They are heavy duty, made to be used eight hours a day. The main difference between personal and industrial sewing is the production deadline. You have to produce so many T-shirts an hour or so many leather bags a day. You have to enjoy and be able to function in that type of a timed environment. We had a lot of discussions about quality. Just sewing something isn’t the goal. Sewing a quality product is the goal. I learned so much.

Is there a demand for industrial sewing skills?

The Makers Coalition has supported the Dunwoody College program because they need a base of people to hire from. They’ve got people who have been with them 30 or 40 years who are retiring. They can’t find people willing or able to fill those positions to keep going and stay viable. □