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Instead of a stitch in time, try 1,500

One in an occasional series

At Fabricology Associates, they are doing all kinds of things with fabrics _ except selling them.

What they are selling is "how to."

It all started with owner Barbara Osterman's romance with a serger. To the uninitiated, a serger is like a sewing machine on steroids. It has two needles and operates with four or five spools of thread. It sews 1,500 stitches a minute, as compared with about 1,000 stitches a minute on a regular sewing machine. Whereas a regular machine has a gathering attachment, a serger can gather material and sew it onto a piece of fabric at the same time.

Mrs. Osterman was led into her serger expertise when she worked for Cloth World for eight years.

"I did all kinds of classes there, and people were always asking me about sergers. I became the local expert on sergers."

"I noticed when we had fabric displayed, if we had a model garment, the fabric would disappear," she says. "People wanted to see what they could do with it."

But a problem developed. Mrs. Osterman became allergic to formaldehyde, a substance with which new fabric is treated. She had to leave her job.

But Mrs. Osterman could not give up her sewing or her serger. In 1992 she opened her own shop at 5111 66th St. N, in the rear of the Ayers-Sierra Insurance Building. She lined up classes with other teachers who work on contract, two full time and several others part time. They conduct classes on a variety of creative sewing crafts.

"Teaching is my forte," she says. "I just love to teach."

Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday. Class times vary.

Students are instructed to wash fabrics before they make anything, so the formaldehyde odor is not a problem here. Mrs. Osterman does not stock fabric but will obtain fabric for customers. Or they can bring their own. She also sells Pfaff sergers and machines and Jaguar sergers, and has a lending library of books on sewing.

"We don't have room for more than six in a class, so they get lots of individual attention," she says. The shop also is home to American Sewing Guild meetings on the second Wednesday of each month.

The Serger Club meets there from 6 to 8 p.m. each Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. each Saturday. There are classes to teach you how to make junk jeans vests from your old jeans, "no pick-pocket" totes for mall shoppers, applique techniques, and a new class starting on Christmas treetop ornaments.

Classes cost about $20 plus supplies, and you stay until you finish your item, which can take anywhere from one to four classes.

Samples of the work are hung all over the walls of the little shop-room: jackets, vests, quilts, wall hangings.

One of the most interesting techniques taught is called slashing. Three layers of fabric are sewn on a backing or a ready-made garment, and channel quilted _ that is, stitched in a straight line instead of the usual square box quilting. Then a slash is made down the middle of each channel, cut with scissors, to the base garment. The ruffled layers of fabric give the effect of chenille.

Blooming is a similar technique. Three layers of fabric are quilted in half-inch squares onto a garment. Then each square is cut with an "X," making a ruffled patchwork.

Most of Mrs. Osterman's classes involve the serger. "The serger is endless," she says. "You can embellish anything with it. It finishes fabric, so things don't look home sewn."

The "finishing" is a variety of decorative stitchery edgings the serger produces. Some give a ruffled effect to a hem; others have the appearance of ribbon woven into a pattern.

Joan Fraas took a Fabricology class on making a "surprise pillow," which is actually a quilt that has a large pocket in it. The whole quilt folds up into a pillow in that pocket.

"It was my first sewing adventure," Mrs. Fraas says. "I enjoyed it immensely." She is now trying to learn to cross stitch, and gets help on that, too, from Mrs. Osterman.

Mary Jane Brown is in the middle of making a dazzling sampler of a jacket with various techniques _ patchwork, slashing, blooming, Seminole quilting.

"Barbara is wonderful," Mrs. Brown says. "And she has such good teachers."

Mrs. Brown was a college home economics major who "got sidetracked into my husband's tax business." Now retired, she's back into sewing.

"It's lots of fun and the serger is the reason I'm so in love with Barbara," Mrs. Brown says. "Every time I could not figure out what was going on, she would get me out of my difficulty. I've made a lot of garments."

"It's amazing, the talent that's out there," Mrs. Osterman says.

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