Grasston, Minn., resident Renee Bontjes is doing nicer things for sewing than Octavia Spencer’s character in the upcoming horror movie “Ma.”
“Note to all party revelers: Don’t pass out if you see a sewing kit,” Spencer tweeted about her new movie, opening May 31, in which the inestimable Oscar winner takes her talents on a ride to Crazytown. A trailer shows a college kid’s lips being sewn closed.
“Oh, my gosh. I am more creative than that!” laughed Bontjes.
In February, the solo entrepreneur started Sewing and Fitting Mentor in Forest Lake. “I opened it because I needed someone to fit me. When you start sewing for yourself, you can do so much alteration with your patterns. But once you get it on your body, if you move, you change what’s happening. You can’t see how it’s hanging in the back. You need another person.”
A married mother of two sons who have two sons, Bontjes has more than 30 years of professional dressmaking experience, including a stint as a bridal studio owner. She can sew anything — including attire for swing dancing and motorcycle riding, her other passions. You might have seen Bontjes at the Renaissance Festival, which she visits wearing a “court dress” she made.
When we met last year while shopping at S.R. Harris, she told me she was starting a website (instagram.com/sewing_and_fitting_mentor) because she feels sewing is returning to popularity. She collects and repairs sewing machines. She finds Kenmores reliable; 10 of them are at the mentor studio along with eight of the many sergers she acquired. Bontjes is determined to talk me into acquiring a serger, although I have no more room!
Q: How long have you been sewing?
A: Since I was 7 or 8 years old. When I was in high school, I slalom skied. My mother bought me a kit, and I made my own ski jacket and pants.
Q: How could you tell that sewing has become a thing again?
A: Part of it’s “Project Runway.” Everybody is interested in that and being able to express yourself through clothing. One of the other things is that people are getting dissatisfied with having fashion dictated to them ... The other problem is we can’t find the colors in our season in the fashion that’s out so [sewing is] another way. If you are one size on top and another size on bottom, you get to customize it instead of wearing clothes that don’t fit.
Q: Do you watch “Project Runway”?
A: I’m so busy with what I like to do I don’t catch a lot of TV. The part I do like is watching them go from concept to the creation. But the sewing part and the runway part don’t really interest me that much.
Q: Do you actually read sewing pattern instructions?
A: Yes. I actually teach how to read the directions and the information you get. If you read through them first, you kind of get what they are saying.
Q: I think pattern directions read as if they were written by monkeys. They don’t make sense.
A: Well, they do, but there are times, I agree, [that] they do things in a [strange] order. There is information in [them] that can prevent certain issues down the line [laughter] if you just peruse them a little. I agree the more advanced you get, the less you follow them.
Q: Hasn’t the quality of clothing declined?
A: Significantly. People are actually pretty shocked to find out that making your own clothes isn’t necessarily cheaper, but the fabrics and doing it yourself give you a better quality of clothing that lasts longer. So it’s actually as much of an investment as if you were to buy a designer thing, but it’s your own time.
Q: Have you noticed that nothing matches anymore?
A: This is true ... I think there’s a loss of elegance about dressing. It breaks my heart. If I wear a dress in the summertime, people ask me where I’m going, someplace special. No; I like dresses.
Q: Do you find something Zen about sewing?
A: I come to the studio here and work and close the door and lose track of time. When I used to design gowns, my children were small, I’d stay up all night. I was in my own room, had talk radio or jazz on, and just all was well with the world.
Q: I would enjoy sewing advice from Tim Gunn and Dana Buchman. From whom would you like it?
A: I met Bill Blass. If she was still alive, Coco Chanel. And Gloria Vanderbilt.