Handmade: ‘I want to teach the world to sew!’

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

‘I want to teach the world to sew!” are the words of Highland resident Janet Pray, an accomplished garment maker and pattern designer who, for the past 10 years, has been the owner and major force behind Islander Sewing Systems. She’s also proprietor and president of the American Sewing Expo, which attracts thousands of sewing enthusiasts to Novi each year.

The late Margaret Islander, a Detroit native who spent most of her adult life in California, was the originator of the Islander Sewing Systems, which she developed and taught in-person before offering it in the early ’80s on videos. “When she got to California, she took a job at a training center in a college where women were being trained to work in a garment factory,” recalls Pray, Islander’s niece. “She was shocked and amazed at how easy and much faster it was sewing without pins or basting. It ended up that the techniques that were being taught made the finished product look better.”

Pray, who learn to sew from her grandmother at age 11, developed a line of garments about 30 years ago with the Islander Sewing Systems. She hired a number of home sewers. “During the years I was conducting my sewing production business, I would often accompany Margaret when she was invited to teach at trade shows and special events,” said Pray. “Her style of teaching was enthusiastic and engaging, and I always try to carry on that tradition. When Margaret retired, she asked me to continue her mission to teach home sewers that sewing can be more fun, faster and better than they know.

“While I was traveling with Margaret, we came across an event in Toronto. It was a consumers show, and I was so thrilled and amazed at the show that I came home and did research on how I could start such an event here. The first was done three years later. That was 25 years ago.”

The event, called American Stitches, was held at the Novi Expo Center. The three-day sewing extravaganza attracted 10,000 attendees. “It was amazing! We backed up I-96!,” enthused Pray. Several years later, the show was renamed the American Sewing Expo, and in 2005 it was moved to Novi’s newly built Suburban Collection Showplace. Attendance reached more than 15,000, but eventually dropped back to 10,000.

Pray said, “It’s not the consumer interest that declined. When we started the show, you couldn’t find sewing classes, so when we opened our door, there were people lined up all around the building. (Then) continuing education schools started adding classes, and then there’s the online classes. The consumer isn’t as starved.”

Pray teaches online classes on, one of which ranks in the top four of all Craftsy sewing classes; and she also accepts invitations to teach around the country and in Canada. However, you won’t find her teaching at the expo because she’s always busy running the show, but there will be certified Islander Sewing Systems instructors conducting classes. She said, “I certify and teach them the whole system so they get a license to teach others.”

However, she noted, “Margaret’s original videos are still popular products sold on our website (, along with the book I wrote outlining her most popular video and live class – ‘Industrial Shortcuts!’ Pray has also developed her own “line of sewing patterns with pattern guides that include industry techniques.” She commented, “My latest pattern, titled ‘Express,’ includes an express method for construction order.”

Products and courses for Islander Sewing Systems (now available in book form, on DVD and as online classes) will be available at the American Sewing Expo, Sept. 23-25, at Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River, in Novi.

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or

Contact Islander Sewing Systems at, or the American Sewing Expo at Email: or Call: (248) 889-3111.

When: Sept. 23-25 (All-day pre-show classes: Sept. 21-22)

Where: Suburban Collection Showplace, 46100 Grand River, Novi.

Regular show hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Fri., Sat., and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.

Admission: $12 advance at, $14 at-the-door, and free for children 15 and younger with a paying adult.