"I know too much stuff not to pass it on to people who would love to learn it," says Eric W. Stiles, a 66-year-old master bespoke tailor who's always had a penchant for education. After working in tailoring for more than 50 years—many of those dedicated to teaching—Stiles decided to make his knowledge freely available on his YouTube channel.
"I put out usually two videos a week—all of them from intermediate to advanced work," he says. Themes range from "Create the perfect jean pant pattern" to "Draping a skirt" to "Create a shirt pattern from an old shirt." Stiles says beginners should take his classes, either online or in his Oak Park studio, EWS Sewing Academy, which he opened two years ago. In his courses, Stiles teaches the basics of sewing and pattern drafting, and students learn to create their own patterns from scratch by using formulas I myself tried to master more than a decade ago. Yes, I used to be Mr. Stiles's student back when his school was in Evergreen Park. I did master the formulas, and I also learned how to sew some kind of pocket. But what I'll always remember from those classes was the fun banter provided by Mr. Stiles. He conducts his lessons in an orderly way, going from student to student to support them with their tasks, but at the same time he drops the most entertaining stories at the slightest hint of a subject. When I last saw him, to take photos for this article, he was reminiscing about how hot one of his first classrooms used to be. His take on the subject was that by controlling his mind he wouldn't allow himself to sweat. And then he moved on. He's always moving on, in class and in life too.
Stiles seemed predestined to work in fashion—and not just because of his name. His interest in the field started when he was 11 after seeing a tailor making alterations at his uncle's cleaners. At the time, despite being so young, Stiles found a way of watching a sewing class at a local high school. After learning more of the trade, he started making alterations himself. His big break came in 1975, when he got hired by a company called Brittany, Ltd., "an Italian tailor," Stiles says. "And I ended up progressing from there and becoming the head tailor later for Polo/Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani and then Brioni." At Brioni—a luxury menswear boutique—Stiles was responsible for the alterations that were sent to him from all over the country. When working 50- to 60-hour weeks became too strenuous, Stiles turned back to a passion of his: teaching. He started teaching in 1989 at Kennedy-King College, and from there took jobs at 12 additional colleges. Later on he expanded his clientele by offering courses online, which ended up at 60 colleges in the U.S. and two in Canada. But, as Stiles puts it, it was "a heck of a lot of administrative work," and he decided to move on.
Now an empty nester (he has five grown children and eight grandchildren), he turned one of his bedrooms into a YouTube studio: "I've been pumping those videos out very well," he says. "I get to edit everything here, put it together, put it online, and have fun." He does value his time a lot more, and therefore won't overcommit. He also teaches two classes a week in his Oak Park studio (socially distanced with seven students per group max). And that seems to be more than enough.
Stiles picked Oak Park as a new location for his studio because he'd enjoyed a school he'd opened there in the early 90s, but closed it "for a particular reason." That reason? The building had no AC and everyone was melting in there—even though he personally refused to sweat. v