How Backstitch, a new sewing and alterations shop ...

How Backstitch, a new sewing and alterations shop in Highland Park, is built to serve community

Kristine Ferguson in her new Highland Park sewing and alterations shop, Backstitch

You can see why sewers are fans of backstitches, one of the most durable stitches used for joining seams with “strength and elasticity.” Count Kristine Ferguson among them — she was planning for a strong future when she chose Backstitch as the name for her new sewing and alterations shop in Highland Park. 

Ferguson quietly opened Backstitch on Woodward Avenue on Dec. 14, just a couple weeks after she called to inquire about the empty retail space on a whim. The landlords urged her to see the space the same day, and she quickly signed a lease, raised a little money, built out the interior and opened her doors three months earlier than she initially planned. 

“I was kind of on the fence about it, you know, ‘would people really be interested in the space in Highland Park, and would people even bother to walk in,’” Ferguson told Detour. “It’s been like a roller coaster. It was just really by the seat of my pants. It was a big jump.”

Exterior of Backstitch alterations shop in Highland Park
Courtesy Kristine Ferguson

Backstitch is now Ferguson’s homebase for her former at-home alterations and mending business, and she also sells her own handmade clothing under the line Knife x Knife. While the opening came together in the blink of an eye, Ferguson had been brewing on bringing the idea to her city for awhile. 

“It was really just seeing something that wasn’t readily available in my community,” she said. “I mean, it’s not bad to drive to New Center or Ferndale to have your clothes tailored, but I know everybody in my area doesn’t really have that opportunity.”

The opening was “really bootstrapped” she said — she dipped into some savings, borrowed $1,000 from a family member and raised $700 on GoFundMe. She and her husband did the work to fix up the space, using leftover paint from their basement. She looked into getting a small business loan, but said her credit score and the large amounts required to borrow made that unworkable.  

So she’s starting small, but in the long term plans to add more to the space. She will hold regular workshops — the first is a Valentine’s Day-themed lace bra and crotchless panty sewing class on Feb. 8 — and offers private sewing lessons. Eventually, she’d like to hire staff to help with alterations and the retail side, and sell notions for sewers. There’s no place to buy general sewing supplies in Detroit or Highland Park, she said.   

Kristine Ferguson's two young sons play in her empty shop before it opened.
Ferguson’s two sons enjoy the Backstitch space before opening. “They’ve helped with opening a business because I’m more responsible and more apt to plan things,” she said. “They’re good motivation to just take chances.”

She also wants to add an office, dedicated workshop space and community resource hub, where people can drop in to browse her sewing books, learn, sit and sew. 

“I’m just one of those people that feels like everybody should learn to sew on a button,” she said. “I wanted [the shop] to be more than retail. And I like that alterations allow me to service people and talk to them on a more personal basis than just trying to sell them something.”

Ferguson, who has lived in Highland Park since she was a kid, got her start making clothes when she was 10. Her mother caught her trying to glue clothes together for her Barbies, and immediately started teaching her to use a sewing machine. Her design work is grounded in sustainability and trying to reduce waste, using eco-friendly materials like recycled plastic bottles and organic cotton. 

Mending and alterations at Backstitch start at $3 for a button. Hemming pants is $15, replacing a zipper starts at $25 and Ferguson is also available for custom work. Want to finally get that dress fitted or learn to do it yourself? Find Backstitch on Facebook, call the shop at (313) 437-2251 or drop in Tuesdays through Fridays, noon to 6 p.m., 12521 Woodward Ave, Highland Park. 

Kate Abbey-Lambertz is the co-founder and editorial director for Detour Media. She leads editorial strategy for the signature Detour Detroit newsletter, The Blend and special projects, while shaping Detour’s membership program, audience development initiatives and design. Kate was previously a national reporter at HuffPost, where she covered equitable cities and urban issues. She launched HuffPost’s Detroit vertical, serving as reporter and editor, and has reported on Detroit for a decade. Follow her on Twitter: @kabbeyl