Amalia Petherbridge (Mali, pronounced “Molly”) is the founder and tireless proprietor of the Butcher’s Sew Shop in the Bella Vista neighborhood of South Philadelphia. While she has been sewing nearly as long as she has been walking, it was not until after college graduation, a stint working in the non-profit sector and taking some sewing classes for fun that she decided to go back to school and study sewing full time.
Mali was not sure what direction her career would take after she completed her course work in design and pattern making. But she discovered that she loved teaching when she started giving her friends sewing lessons sewing in her home. “I loved seeing things click for other people,” she recalled, “and I still love seeing adults learning those skills for the first time. It’s really empowering for them. Even something as simple as being able to hem your own pants. It’s a life skill and it’s a great creative outlet, too.”
So she decided to open a business and teach sewing. This is hardly surprising; many of the women from Mali’s childhood combined creativity and entrepreneurship in their careers. An Aunt had a line of children’s clothing. Mali’s mother built pipe organs in a home studio. Mali’s step mother was a seamstress and quilt maker.
Mali located her shop in Bella Vista because she knew and loved the neighborhood. “I think it has a great vibe and when I saw the for rent sign in the window I just instinctively felt that it would be a good place.” And that turned out to be true. “The neighbors are so supportive; it feels like a little community and we do have a lot of students who are from the neighborhood, although we get most of our students from Internet traffic.”
When Mali signed the lease, she did not know the space 8th and Catharine Streets had been a butcher shop. The shop had been a bodega after the butcher shop closed, and looked completely different when Mali first saw it.
Mali tackled the renovations herself with the help of many friends. She found gleaming white tiles behind the peeling dry wall. The drop ceiling hid an old fashioned punched tin ceiling. As the renovations progressed, she uncovered more relics and artifacts.
Transforming the shop was an intensely personal process for her; she felt a deep connection to the space. At some point in the process she learned the store had been a butcher shop. But one day, purely by serendipity, she found out that one family had operated the butcher shop for eighty years. That’s when she started to research the history of the shop and the family behind it. “Because here I am opening my first business,” she explained,” and I’m just trying to make it through the first month and to think that family kept a business alive here for generations!”
She located the family and asked them if they would allow her to name her business Butcher’s Sew Shop in their honor. “Butchers work with their hands, too. It’s a craft and I felt that energy in the space and loved the idea of being able to honor that.” The family was delighted and sent her copies of old pictures and other information about the butcher shop which you can see on the web site here.
“Our core adult student is a young professional who wants some kind of creative release outside of work. Some of the people who come in have some kind of vision. They want to learn how to make something for themselves or to mend their clothes or we have young mothers who want to sew for their kids. But a lot of people just come in to try it and they end up taking more and more classes.”
“Half of our business is a sister program where we teach kids. They are so creative and they soak up things like sponges! We have kids who have been here for a few years and they can sit down at the machine and do pretty much anything at this point. We start at age 5 and go to 14. And we have the five year olds on the machines too.”
The Butcher’s Sew Shop is stocked with heavy duty Singer Sewing machines and plenty of sewing tools and equipment. Students also have access to two sergers. They are also welcome to bring in their own machines; Mali and her staff will help them learn how to operate them.
In June, the Butcher’s Sew Shop is opening a second location at 1912 South Street which it will share with Loop Yarn who will offer knitting classes in the rear. Programs are planned to start in July or August. Mali is excited about this expansion which will give her more room for children’s classes.
For the full schedule of classes and activities at the Butcher’s Sew Shop, go to the web site here. For information on the exciting summer, afternoon and weekend programs for kids offered through Sew Philly, click here.
BUTCHER’S SEW SHOP 800 S. 8th St PHILADELPHIA, PA 19147