Thursday, January 10, 2008

QUESTIONS FOR CRAFTERS: karyn valino & the workroom

I'm very excited to announce a long-awaited & highly requested TCA feature: Questions for Crafters.

A brand new weekly (or so) addition to TCA written by Lucie Davies (, Questions for Crafters is where we give the interesting crafters, shop owners, galleries and co-operatives of our city the third degree, so to speak.

In each profile published, we'll be finding what out exactly what kinds of crafting goodness are getting our interviewees inspired, wired and tired.

We're starting out with the lovely Karyn Valino, proprietress of the recently opened and (already) widely celebrated Queen West space: The Workroom.

Questions for Crafters: Karyn Valino

Karyn & her cabinet of wonders

The seamstress and brains behind The Workroom, the city’s first sew and craft the hour space, Ms Valino revealed her inspiration, her goals and the truth behind a wardrobe full of skirts over tea with TCA last week.

So what’s your background?

Well, I have always been a maker. I took the media arts program at Ryerson University, so I was doing photography, making books, always really hands on stuff. After I graduated I moved to New York and worked for a colour trend forecasting company. At night I started taking sewing classes. The first two were skirt-making classes, and I just fell in love with making clothes, it was just totally revolutionary for me. Just to be able to pick fabric and style and have something that fitted me properly. I had always secretly wanted to be a fashion designer but I just didn’t pursue it because I couldn’t draw, so I bought a machine and I just started making skirts, skirt after skirt after skirt. My closet is full. I have a ridiculous collection, probably forty-ish.

I love The Workroom’s store front, it makes the space feel very accessible. Do you find people are always popping in just to find out what it is?

That’s the nice thing about having a shop front - the curious people who just stick their heads in. Originally, I had considered having a studio space in a building. I was at a point where I had been looking for eight months, so I started looking at other options. I looked everywhere - Kensington, I looked further East, closer to Bathurst, Dundas and College. I felt more of an affinity with the West I suppose, and I also knew this was going to be my new home.

Have you been surprised with the popularity of your evening sewing classes?

Yes! When I first opened, the classes certainly weren’t at the forefront of my thinking, but as soon as I opened, people were repeatedly asking “When are the classes starting?” I ended up with a huge waiting list of people who wanted information, so I had to create a calendar much sooner than I’d anticipated!

I suppose people really like having the structure of a class, the guidance and the social aspect. What do you find is the most common motivation for starting a class?

The beginner class has by far been the most popular since people are often starting from scratch. The reasons vary, but I find a lot of people tell me they had a Home Economics class that didn’t go so well or some other bad experience. Others think it would be cool to make something but they don’t know where to start. Then, there are a lot of people who already have machines they received as gifts or hand-me-downs, which are still sitting in the box at home.

What’s the demographic of your classes?

Of course, the majority have been young women, but there has been a handful of guys, ranging in the young thirties to some older men in their forties and fifties. I have one man who has taken a couple of courses already. He took the beginner class and the tie-making class and he’s been back to buy more fabric. Actually his dad came in and bought him a gift certificate for Christmas.

Would you say The Workroom has got a mandate or ethos?

I want people to make stuff! Also, I want there to be a place where you can be around other people. In my ideal scenario, there’s always someone working on something here, people checking out the library, getting ideas, interacting. I think that is the one thing that’s lacking, a lot of people are crafty on their own and online, but there’s this distance. I wanted to have a space that felt comfortable, where you could just hang out on the couch, check out magazines and books and make yourself a cup of tea. Also, I wanted to bring in things you just couldn’t find in Toronto. That was one of the things which was hard for me after I moved back to Toronto; in New York everything was available. You could just think of something wacky and you’d be able to find it, find a shop dedicated to it, even take a class in it. In response, I carry fabric that you just can’t pick up anywhere in Toronto, or Canada even.

Did you base the business on a model – a place you were particularly inspired by?

I think there are probably a few places that I have drawn ideas from. There’s a tiny little boutique fabric store in New York called Purl Soho, where everything is perfect and gorgeous. Also, the sewing school I went to and later taught at in New York. And I read about these sewing lounges in the States and Berlin, where people could just drop in and rent a machine. I picked all the things that I liked from those places and bunched them all up into one business idea.

Do you have plans to bring in new people to the business in the future?

I have a couple of women who are teaching the quilting and wrap dress classes, but my goal for this coming year is to bring in other people to take workshops in hat-making or moccasin making or interesting things which I don’t know how to do. And, I want to get in tons more great fabrics in, soy and eco fabrics too.

So what should we be looking forward to at The Workroom?

The Valentines Trunk Show, where we are having at least fifteen local vendors, who will each only be allowed a suitcase full of goods. That’s another thing I am excited about - hosting things and a fuller roster of classes. There’s a gorgeous garden out the back too, which will become another venue once the weather gets nice!

the workroom s n b
A stitch'n'bitch at the workroom

See more pics of The Workroom in action on flickr.
Check out Jan/Feb workshops at The Workroom here.


Blogger angelune@TCA said...


8:24 a.m.  
Anonymous iheartthatdance said...

Great interview! Just one question.... when is the March schedule available? LOL Can't make the February serger class so I'm dying to know when the next one's going to be. Sorry Ms. Valino no rest for the wicked :D

8:49 a.m.  
Blogger sweetie pie press said...

what a great article! karyn and the workroom are both so inspiring.

11:09 a.m.  
Blogger Johanna Masko said...

Hey! I'm the "quilting woman" in the article!! I'm so excited for my classes at the workroom, not to mention the steady stream of fabulous fabrics; Karyn has a great eye for cool prints. I've got lots to share with you all, so come on out! Let's quilt!

2:25 p.m.  
Anonymous Gabriela said...

Best luck Karyn!


3:59 p.m.  
Anonymous karyn @ theworkroom said...

there are lots of amazing things in store at the workroom this year... and it's all for you - crafty friends!

iheartthatdance - i'm starting to work on the next calendar and will have that ready by the end of the month. hope to see you!

i'll be a student in ALL of johanna's quilting classes and i can't wait to make some gorgeous quilts with all these yummy fabrics...

5:00 p.m.  
Anonymous iheartthatdance said...

Yay! I'll just keep checking the website incessantly until then...and Johanna, don't be tempting me with words about fabulous fabrics, my New Year's resolutions are all about destashing!

Seriously, I'm very much looking forward to checking out the space -- hope to see you soon!

12:01 a.m.  

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