By Libby Herz for COLlive.com
Of all the constants in the life of a frum Jewish woman, the perpetual reliance upon an expert seamstress ranks pretty high on the list. Whether it’s lowering a hem, fixing a torn seam, or touching up a neckline, we all need quick access to an expert tailor.
Chana Berger, originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, recognized this need when she moved from Florida to Crown Heights in 2014. Ever since, she has enhanced the wardrobes of hundreds of women and girls in Crown Heights. Recently, she combined her design skills and teaching skills to create Needle and Stitch Sewing Boutique.
Berger is more than just a seamstress; she is an equal parts designer, teacher, and motivator. She designs and creates her own unique creations and also adjusts and remodels clothing for her clients. But what is even more unique about Berger is the weekly sewing and clothing design classes she holds for girls in the neighborhood.
Under Berger’s guidance, girls as young as ten and eleven years old have learned to thread a machine, follow patterns, and create their own skirts, dresses, and more. The students are enthusiastic about the classes, and their passion for sewing takes them far. “They are asking their mothers for sewing machines,” Berger says. “It makes me so happy.”
Berger began drawing sketches of gowns at the tender age of six. “My grandfather used to import fabrics, and I would collect the swatches,” she says.
Her grandmother supported her by collecting designs and sending them her way. At the age of sixteen, Berger attended school and learned how to design and alter clothing professionally.
Empowering women to alter and fix their own clothing is paramount to Berger. “I have a lot of clients who come to me to fix a hole in a sock,” she says “They didn’t have the chance to learn when they were younger.”
Berger helps women become self-reliant by educating them to take care of small sewing tasks on their own. “You don’t have to spend $5 every time you need to fix a hole,” she says. She compares sewing skills to cooking know-how. “Learning sewing skills is going to save a lot of money long-term.”
To support the sewing adventures of her young students and all those adept at threading a needle – and it’s not only women; clients inform Berger that their fathers sew up holes and hems at home – Berger sells a slew of sewing supplies. This fills a need because many Crown Heights residents currently travel to Boro Park to find basic sewing notions.
Altering clothing to make them both tznius and stylish is a deep passion for Berger. Because she involves her imagination and creativity in everything she does, and she insists on doing more than just tack on a few snaps. “Once a girl came to me with a wrap dress,” Berger recalls. “I completely changed it so that it was extremely comfortable to wear, and still looked like a wrap dress. But we completely revamped the design so it was tznius and more beautiful than before. My client loved it.”
Berger describes her designs as whimsical and feminine. “I want to offer something different to the ladies in Crown Heights,” she says. “My approach is delicate.”
Another one of Berger’s contributions to the community is converting bras into nursing bras. “I know a lot of ladies in Crown Heights need to go to Boro Park for this,” she says. Crown Heights mothers can sigh in relief as this basic need can be filled by a walk up Kingston Avenue rather than a long drive and the headache of finding parking outside of the community.
“We all deserve to have beautiful things and different styles,” says Berger. “I honestly feel like sewing is so important.”
For now, Berger is happy to be able to make a living by doing what she loves. “I’m thrilled to offer this to girls and women in the community. And it’s fun!”