Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tribute to James Livingston, a Fabulous Teacher

I've hesitated to write something about this, because I did not know James well. But I took a dressmaking class with him last year at Sew Fast Sew Easy and he taught me more than anyone else about sewing technique. So when I received word last week that he'd passed away, I was struck by the sad news and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. As a little tribute, I thought I'd post my memories and thanks to this funny, smart, creative, wonderful man here.

  • In our class devoted to zippers, James asked me to get out a needle so he could demonstrate hand-basting in a zip. My couture skills were lacking, to say the least, and all I'd brought with me was a huge, dull embroidery needle. When I went to hand it to him, he howled with laughter: "I said get out a needle, not a NAIL!" James could say this in a way that had everyone cracking up. Anytime I'm tempted to cut corners on hand-basting now, I think of that moment.
  • I made a perfectly-fitted sheath dress under James's instruction. I spent $25 a yard on this amazing ruby-red double wool crepe. When I said in class I couldn't believe I'd spent that much on fabric, he looked at me, incredulous: "Do you think you could buy a fabulous dress like that for $50? I don't think so!" He definitely knew the value of good materials.
  • After I'd inserted my zipper, I had the faintest of bumps at the base. I tried on the dress and showed it to James. After taking a look at my backside, he said, "If anyone is looking at that tiny bump while you're wearing THAT dress, there's something wrong with them!"
  • He was generous with his knowledge. He gave us lists of books to check out, and introduced me to the work of Adele Margolis.
  • He was a life-long sewist. He told us that his mother wouldn't buy him the trendy clothes he wanted as a kid, and told him to sew them himself! And so he did, and the rest is history. He had a sense of style all his own.
Taking his class was definitely a life-changing experience. Because our group had bonded so much, they set up a second level course for us. I had just lost my job and couldn't afford to take it anymore. I so regret that now!

My thoughts go out to his partner and the rest of his family. You will be missed, James!

Did any of you take a class with James? I'd love it if you shared any memories here!


  1. I hadn't heard of him till this post - but now I want to know more. He sounds like he was a phenomenal sewist and lovely person and, through the many lives he's touched, his legacy will continue.

  2. I took four classes with him, and he was hands down the best sewing instructor EVER. And hilarious. I loved his classes.

    Every time I put in an invisible zipper or understitch a facing I can remember him showing us how to do it correctly. Oh man, and sleeves... I'm all about the flat insertion of sleeves, but he took 30 minutes one Saturday to show me why some sleeves need to be set in the round and how to do it correctly.

    I could easily divide the clothes I sew into pre-James classes (they're made OK) and post-James classes (wow, I got really picky about construction after all those classes (; ). He was such a sweet, fantastic, awesome teacher.

  3. Thanks Gertie... it's always inspiring to be reminded that we are lucky enough to share this earth with walking legends.

  4. I took my first sewing class with James and that's why I'm still sewing. He was an amazing and inspiring person.

    I was sorry to read of his passing.


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  6. Repost: I had a spelling error :) I am a fellow teacher at Sew Fast Sew Easy. James changed my life. He taught me more than what I had learned in all 4 yrs. of my undergrad. Thank you SO much for writing this and I think that your blog is wonderful. And I am so happy that found and love Sew Fast Sew Easy just as much as I do.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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