Dara Dubois, instructor at Meissner Sewing and Vacuum Centers, has been teaching in the Sacramento and Roseville stores since retiring from working for the State of California in December 2015.
If you push the gas pedal on a car, the wheels will be thrust into motion, and the car will move. If you step on the foot pedal of a sewing machine, the needle will jump up and down and stitches will begin to form.
If you concentrate on the sound of a car engine, you might hear a hum, rumble or even a rev. If you listen to the motor of a sewing machine, you just might hear the same sweet sounds.
“The sound of the motor on the sewing machine versus the sound of an engine revving, they’re kind of similar.”
These are the words of Dara Dubois, instructor at Meissner Sewing and Vacuum Centers.
“They’re both mechanical,” she said, attributing this similarity as the reason why she is drawn to the car industry and the sewing industry.
Her history in both trades began when she was growing up. Born in Cruthersville, Missouri, Dubois and her family moved to California when she was about five years old.
In spite of her father’s hope that Dara would “look like a girl and act like a girl,” she wanted to work on cars, she said. Her favorite uncle was a mechanic, she had a 1967 Mustang that needed work, and she was a self-proclaimed tomboy.
“The rest was history,” Dubois said.
After graduating from Foothill High School, Dubois’ goal was to get married, have children and work on cars, she said. And with a background in automotive technology, she went on to work in the automotive industry, including jobs performing investigative work in auto shops, running an alternative fuel fleet, working for the State of California, and becoming an automotive teacher at American River College, where she has been an instructor for almost 25 years.
Similarly to her interest in cars, Dubois’ sewing background also began at a young age. She participated in the Home Economics course in school, and she can still remember every detail of her first assignment, especially the zipper.
“It was a mint green dress. I know it had a collar,” Dubois said. “It was just a very short shift (with) a tie in the back. But I ripped the zipper out 22 times until it was threadbare in the back.”
Her mother, who was a professional seamstress, was “mortified,” Dubois recalls, because she believed that the class should begin with a simpler project, such as an apron.
The fact that her mother had worked as a seamstress contributed to her interest in sewing, but it wasn't the sole reason, Dubois said. While she doesn’t believe that she was nearly as talented as her mother, she enjoyed being able to make things for herself that no one else had, she said. Plus, with five siblings, sewing clothes for herself was the only way to ensure that she got exactly what she wanted.
“In order to have something that I wanted, I had to learn to sew,” Dubois said. “But I think that part of it was that I could have different things that nobody else had.”
After being a long-time customer of Meissner Sewing and Vacuum Centers, Dubois would join the team and become an instructor at the store.
"My main thing is we’re here to have fun and be helpful," Dubois says of her approach to teaching at Meissner Sewing.
One week after retiring from the State of California, Dubois began teaching for the company. In fact, she was hired on the exact same day as she began her retirement. This was a little over a year ago.
“An hour after I left the Department of Education, I walked in here to pick up my Anita Goodesign designs, and I walked out with a job,” she said. “I interviewed in my Minnie Mouse hoodie.”
Dubois currently teaches in the Sacramento and Roseville stores, and her lineup features hands-on classes, like Sew Fun and Easy! for beginners, as well as classes for new machine owners (My New Machine Basics 1 and Beyond 2).
In each of her courses, Dubois ultimate goal is that her students leave with a tangible, finished project.
Dubois teaches in order to help and give to others, and she works to pass the message on to her students that she is available to provide help whenever it's needed.
“I’m here to help,” she said. “I think they all know that they can come to me at any time, whether it’s a car problem that we’ve had in the parking lot or a sewing problem, that I’m here for them.”
Dubois uses her personal sewing experiences to help deliver this message and to help her students prepare for the inevitable problems that will arise throughout the creative process.
“I have a lot of examples of what I did or didn’t do,” Dubois said. “So I like to share my tips and tricks so that when (problems) happen, (my students) go ‘oh yeah, we know how to do that’.”
Her giving approach to teaching translates into her personal creative process, which begins simply when she sees something she likes.
“My creative process is if I see it and I like it, I want to do it,” she said.
With a “plug and play” attitude, Dubois cites her specialty as making quick gifts for other people, she said.
“I love to embroider, but it has to have a purpose,” she said. “In-the-hoop gifts are awesome because then I can make something and give it away.”
While working on retirement and continuing to make gifts, Dubois hopes to learn more about the mechanical side of sewing machines and to offer additional machine-specific classes to the current catalog.
For the time being, however, Dubois wants her students to keep sewing and have fun doing it.
“We have fun in my classes and we laugh a lot,” Dubois said. “And if they’re not having fun then they’re in the wrong class.”