Sew on and sew forth

Cortez shop owner finds her niche and passes along her expertise


Sam Green/Cortez Journal Kathy Young receives instructions from Sharleen Odell at a class at Sew By So.

Those who can't do, teach.

That's not the case with Sharleen Odell. Not only can she do, but she can teach, which she does with a friendly passion.

Odell possesses a talent for sewing. She was taught by her mother at the age of 7 on an early Singer machine with a foot treadle. Her long journey through sewing was met by advanced machines and an array of possibilities.

Now, armed with some of the best equipment, Odell is passing on her skills for a practical art that isn't as commonplace as it used to be. Her recent endeavor, Sew By So, is located at 117 N. Pinon Street. Within her small shop, Odell offers quilting, embroidery and sewing classes for anyone interested in learning or advancing their knowledge and skills. She also sells items she has created - quilting pieces and accessories for sewing machines and projects.

"I'm here for the community to help people who want it," Odell said. "I am just offering my knowledge to whoever will appreciate it."

And her knowledge is broad. With over 40 years of experience, Odell has evolved with the practice of sewing. Her machine is her friend and she has had several over the years. They just keep getting better over time.

In the front of her store is a long arm machine used for quilting. The machine is quite intimidating to the novice, appearing more like a torture device than a sewing machine. But Odell explains the process with ease and simplicity. The range of the long arm's capabilities are endless. Free-hand stitching or stitching boards with patterns, can create any size quilt up to king size. Another perk of the long arm is the computer monitor attached to the top containing hundreds of patterns. A quilter can choose one, set up their material and guide the machine without having to measure stitches. In fact, they don't have to pay much attention at all until it comes time to move the blanket forward.

Even with the extent of her knowledge, Odell is still uneasy with the long arm.

"It's been three years since I operated a long arm, so I will be playing with it more before I start offering classes for it," she explained.

Odell is laid back and open minded. She may need some alone time with the long arm, but she invites any curious person to come hang out with her in the shop. She encourages sewing enthusiasts to get to know their machine. If they want to bring it to her, she is more than willing to show them the details.

She is up for learning more about her craft and continues to gather tips from her students, some of who travel from Farmington, Aztec and Towaoc to participate in her day-long courses.

After living in Farmington working as an insurance agent for 25 years, Odell, at the urging of her husband retired in 2005. A year later she was back to work giving sewing and quilting classes to Farmington residents at the Bernina Sewing Center. Her short-lived retirement was not in vain, because Odell was given the opportunity to pursue her hobby. So when she left Bernina in 2012 to move to Cortez with her husband, loyal students followed.

"It makes me feel good that they travel so far to spend their day with me," Odell said appreciatively. "It tells me they have a lot of confidence in me."

As a San Juan County fair participant, Odell has more ribbons than a May Pole. She's also been on the other side as a judge, and taught within the San Juan 4-H family. She is hoping to break into Montezuma County by becoming the 4-H leader for the girls' sewing division.

"I think sewing is a necessity and should be appreciated by all generations," Odell said. "It's good to have those skills in case someone is not able to go to the store and buy something ready made."

Odell can alter clothing, custom make items or offer suggestions on how to do it yourself. Her main goal is to extend her teaching skills by offering more classes throughout the week. Currently, she has one class every few weeks, but as interest spreads she will add on. One thing she is persistent about, is flexibility.

"I am here all the time, so when I get a group of ladies who want to participate in a class I say 'OK when!' At the moment I can work with their schedules," Odell said.

She also added that private lessons are negotiable for a higher price. Her group classes are $10 each, and the individual must bring their own material and machine.

Sew By So is open Monday through Friday, but if Odell is asked to come in on a Saturday, it's not a problem. If someone would like an evening lesson, why not? Odell is pushing to provide exceptional customer service because this is her passion. It isn't work, it's fun.

As the year goes on and weather becomes more pleasant, Odell plans on having classes every week. All types of sewing machines are welcome. Odell said the truth lies in the manual. Just like a textbook, you can't come to class without it.

"I work on a Bernina machine but all I need is a manual," she proclaimed. "They all operate the same, and if there is a difference, the manual will help me help them."

Her next class will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Because of her store size, Odell can only take eight people at a time.

Interested parties can contact Odell at 570-5057 for any questions on her classes and her abilities.


Sam Green/Cortez Journal Carol House, Pauline Price and Shirley Olbert confer on a sewing project during a class at Sew By So.