- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

Among a variety of quilts, spools of colorful threads and sparkling sequins stood the “Scissors Man” surrounded by a crowd, primarily women.

He is Brint Fanizza, a popular figure at the annual Original Sewing and Quilt Expo, held in Chantilly over the weekend.

The event attracts many vendors and attendees interested in quilting and the industry surrounding it.

Mr. Fanizza is a frequent sight at Original Sewing and Quilt Expos across the country. He is the president and director of Famore Cutlery, which, according to its Web site, creates “quality tools for creative minds.” His business manufactures scissors and tweezers for sewing, quilting, embroidery and crafts. For a small fee last weekend, he would sharpen scissors that patrons dropped while they explored the expo.

Mr. Fanizza says his company has been “so loyal” to the expo because the expo has been so loyal to him.

“Their focus is on education,” he said, “and without education, there is no industry.”

Gini Baldi, marketing manager for MS. Productions Inc. said the expo offers a variety of classes “both project-oriented and technique-oriented.”

The expo “is all about education. You may not come away with a finished product, but you will come away with the ability to make things yourself,” she said.

The expo in Chantilly is the largest event staged on by MS. Productions, which also puts on events in Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland and Minneapolis, among others.

This year, 130 vendors attended the Chantilly expo, and many of them travel to other cities with the show, Ms. Baldi said. “Most of these people - this is their livelihood. They do a show circuit,” she explained. “A very small percentage [of vendors] are local.”

One local vendor is Sew Special Studio of Woodbridge, Va., which partnered this year with Lee National Denim Day to raise money for breast cancer research.

Terri Johnson is the owner of Sew Special Studio, which specializes in selling sewing and embroidery machines and quilting fabric and also offers quilting classes. Ms. Johnson said she started sewing in home economics class in junior high school.

“When I got into high school,” she said, “I took every sewing class that I could.”

Ms. Johnson is a breast cancer survivor of 26 years. She was diagnosed when she was 27 years old and pregnant with her second child.

“It’s been near and dear to my heart,” she said of raising funds to fight the disease. “There are thousands of women here, and you’d be amazed at how many people have had it and been touched by it.”

Visitors to Ms. Johnson’s area were able to make donations to help fund research. A number of items with a pink theme were available, including tote bags and pink camouflage hats.

For donors, Lee Jeans donated denim patch pockets that could be embroidered with the name of a loved one. Denim Day was Friday, though many donations were made in advance, Ms. Johnson said.

“My goal is $5,000, and we’re hoping to surpass that,” Ms. Johnson said. “People have been very generous already.”

Despite the economic downturn, Ms. Baldi said the Original Sewing and Quilt Expo was still doing well.

“Class registrations are perhaps down a bit because everyone is on a tight budget,” she said. “But they’re still buying the supplies to do what they already know how to do, so the vendors are doing fine. We’re not about to give up on this creative niche.”

The expo showcased everything from galleries of prizewinning quilts to a collection of dress knockoffs by Jim Suzio, who re-creates celebrity dresses for display. Besides taking classes, expo-goers could visit equipment vendors and groups such as the American Sewing Guild. Raffles were held daily, with sewing machines and expo classes among the prizes.

Booths at the expo stocked everything from fabric to beads and ergonomic sewing chairs. Some booths offered “make it, take it” projects, which enabled participants to take completed projects home with them.

Many of the vendors demonstrated the impact technology has had on sewing, quilting and embroidery. At the Momo-Dini Embroidery Art booth, Dini Yan sold compact discs that can be inserted into an embroidery machine to automatically create pre-designed patterns.

“So many of us don’t have the time to do hand quilting anymore, and this has become very acceptable,” Ms. Baldi said. She was standing in front of the Hillbrook Quilting booth, where Gammill long-arm quilting machines with computer automation, designed to make uniform stitches for quilts, sell for nearly $32,000.

• Meredith Hulley is a freelance writer, photographer and University of Maryland student.

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