Handmade: Detroit designer wants to open sewing school

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Longtime Detroit fashion designer JoMaWoo is a woman on a mission, and although she's become internationally known for her showstopping garments and accessories worn by men, women and children, the self-taught seamstress wants more — a sewing school.

Loton Turner, left, and Chris Ballinger wear jackets made of mudcloth (a hand-woven cotton textile made in West Africa).

"I want to give back what God has blessed me with," she says. "I want to make it where either you can work for me, yourself or any (sewing) company. When I'm through with a person, I want them to be able to work any sewing machine, and when they leave me, I want them to be able to start their own business or work any place that has a sewing industry. I pray to God that I'm able to create 'Little JoMaWoo's.' "

She already has a name (JoMaWoo Alterations and Designs) in mind, and plans are in the making for the school's program. "A 16-week course for my alterations would be offered, and a course for my children with arts and crafts. I want to teach knitting and crocheting, also," says JoMaWoo, who's been designing and sewing garments since 1985. "Me designing is not where I wanted to be. I really want to teach. Designing, I thought, would get me into teaching. I didn't know how to go about it, but I thought showing my clothes would fascinate somebody to say, 'I believe in you.' "

Having had a vision for opening a sewing school for a number of years, JoMaWoo has been busy collecting and buying sewing machines, cutting boards, ironing boards, and other sewing equipment. She's currently in the process of putting together a business plan, admitting she could use a bit of help, but says "my biggest thing is having a location for my babies (students)."

In the meantime, JoMaWoo continues to design and create unique, statement-making garments — the kind that say, "Clear the runway!" and "Ordinary just wouldn't do!" Her wearable art is almost exclusively made with mudcloth (a hand-woven cotton textile made in West Africa), which she uses to create silhouettes rarely, if ever, seen fashioned out of the dense fabric, including halter tops. "Whatever you see in a European cut, I do in mudcloth and add my flair to it," she says. "I use mudcloth that's a lighter weight for summer."

Ada Jones, left, and Velonda Thompson wear JoMaWoo’s statement-making garments.

JoMaWoo, makes each of her garments from start to finish, without any assistance. She takes special care in reinforcing the mudcloth, which comes as woven strips pieced-together for yardage. "When you buy my product, I guarantee it's not coming apart. You're going to have a well-made garment," she remarks. "I want the people who buy my clothes to appreciate my clothes. It's personal with me." And although mudcloth is her fabric of choice, she says, "I've just added a few different fabric pieces to show people I venture out, and to show a variety."

JoMaWoo's items are available at and through her website ( In the past, they've been sold at Offin River's Boutique in Detroit, where she plans to have more in the near future.

Always in style, her head-turning fashions have been seen on runways here in Michigan, as well as Atlanta and Ohio, and, she says, some are even worn in Europe by a well-known American jazz musician. Prices range from $30 for a simple crown (hat) to $2,500 for a faux fur lined swing coat, her biggest-selling item to date. "They love my coats!" she says.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or For more craft news and giveaways, visit her blog at

Contact Jomawoo at (313) 310-1565 or