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WorkshopPGH: A do-it- yourself school taught by local makers right in the heart of Pittsburgh

By Bailey Penrod

After recently founding a do-it-yourself craft enterprise called WorkshopSF in 2016, Kelly Malone found herself randomly visiting Pittsburgh.

Heather Carson couldn’t wait to get to WorkshopPGH to continue building her own decorations and furniture for her house.

Jenn Newara sews the inside seam of her halfway finished tote while taking a swig of her PBR and chatting with others in the class.

These are just a few of the examples of Pittsburgh folks that venture over to Penn Avenue in Bloomfield, not for the restaurants and bars, but to get in their creative space at WorkshopPGH.

“I’m just so committed, I just feel this neighborhood is so amazing,” says Malone.

Photo by Bailey Penrod

The classes in the Penn Avenue shop range from sewing and embroidery to building tables and benches. The days that classes are offered vary weekly, but a class is offered almost everyday of the week. Prices vary anywhere between $25 and $300, depending on the class.

THE BEGINNING

Malone randomly visited Pittsburgh back in 2016 for New Years Eve and attended a party. That night, she fell in love with both her now-husband and Penn Avenue.

Once Malone was settled into her new home, it was only a few more weeks until she signed the lease for her new space on Penn Avenue where she would launch WorkshopPGH.

“I fell in love with the spirit and energy on Penn Avenue. It has such a unique community offering entrepreneurs, an LGBTQ community, punk rock, everything,” says Malone.

WorkshopPGH’s motto “Drink Stuff Make Beer” came from the way Malone was raised and her parents’ behaviors in the ’70s. Malone recalls living with her parents and every night when they would get home from work, they would each crack open a beer and her mom would head into their sewing room and her father would head into their garage. She says there is something about when you take your pants off and you put on your comfy or creative pants, calm down and let work go.

While the motto itself says “drink beer,” Malone explains that you don’t necessarily have to drink. It’s the idea that is associated with cracking open a beer and relaxing. Whatever it is that helps you separate your life from your work life, WorkshopPGH encourages it.

Marissa Hartman attended her first class in October. She described her experience similar to what Malone’s mission is.

“I don’t feel like I’m sitting in a class like school made me feel, it’s more like you’re just hanging out with some friends and making art at home,” says Hartman.

THE REGULARS

Malone considers Carson to be a regular at the shop, seeing as Carson has already taken at least six classes at WorkshopPGH. Carson says that one of the many reasons that she keeps coming back to the classes are because of Malone and her husband, Dan. She says that those two have created a perfect and amazing work space for people in the community. She says that WorkshopPGH spotlights local artists in the shop and embraces the community and their passion and knowledge play a huge roll in its success.

Aside from that, Carson explains that she loves the overall atmosphere of the classes. She explains that you don’t need to have any prior experience going into these classes and that the teachers don’t talk to you like they’re better than you.

“The vibes here are incredible and I am really into the fact that they embrace the neighborhood,” says Carson.

Carson talks about her experience with her woodworking class and the bench that she was able to make. With no prior experience other than watching her dad when she was younger, she went into her woodworking class and fell in love with the process.

She explains that the overall process has been made simple for those taking the class. By taking these classes, the instructors are able to simplify some things that you may have to do on your own.

“They had everything laying out already when I got there which is nice because it leaves little room for error,” says Carson.

Carson also stresses the fact that the instructors are very well trained, with all of them being local artists themselves. For her first woodworking class, her instructor made sure that everyone was fully aware of the machine’s functions and how to properly use them before they used them on their own. Aside from the bench she made, Carson has also made scarves, totes, prints and potted plants from the classes she has taken.

Carson isn’t the only person who has attended several different types of classes. Amy Rustic is also another “regular” who can’t get enough of this place.

Rustic had taken so many classes at WorkshopPGH, ranging from shibori to woodworking to watercolor, that she found herself volunteering with them in the workshop’s store this past First Friday.

“I think it’s an awesome experience, and I want more people to know about it,” says Rustic.

Display table showing visitors what they can make.

In between chatting with visitors and ringing people out, Rustic explains that she also had experienced her first woodworking class at WorkshopPGH.

“Woodworking was my first class I took here and yeah it was a little intimidating going into it. But once I got there, I was completely fine. It was something that was completely out of my realm but being able to leave with my shelf was really satisfying,” says Rustic.

Rustic says that WorkshopPGH is a really interesting concept because a lot of people want to be creative and be able to make things, but often they don’t have the experience to make these things at home.

Rustic said she first found out about WorkshopPGH through First Friday’s. She remembers standing across the street and just wandering over to the shop to see what was going on.

“I remember thinking ‘what is this?’ I have to be involved,” Rustic said.

NEW EXPERIENCES

Newara decided to stray away from her usual activity of hitting up the bars after work and tried a new activity which was unfamiliar to her: sewing.

As many people are when they try something new, Newara a bit nervous. She felt out of place, not knowing any familiar faces around her. But quickly after being greeted with smiling faces and cheers all around, she found herself relaxing and chatting up everyone in the room.

“It’s a relaxing and inviting environment for anyone to try something for the first time,” says Newara.

As Newara finishes sewing the last pieces of her tote together, Jordan Skrekla puts her bag to the test to see if what she made is actually practical. Skrekla smiles and lets out a sigh of relief and excitement.

“I can honestly say that I don’t think that I’ve ever made something that had a useful purpose before and this is just a really eye opening experience,” says Skrekla.

Group shot of the finished totes. Courtesy of @workshoppgh via Instagram.


Like Newara, Gage Martin also finds WorkshopPGH to be a creative safe place. From lending a helping hand with art and light installations to taking screen printing and woodworking classes, Martin has been involved with WorkshopPGH since almost the beginning.

Martin has found a way to make his screen printing classes he took at WorkshopPGH become the most beneficial to his career. He started doing the screen prints for the t-shirts at both the Pittsburgh location and the San Francisco location.

Martin describes a company retreat that WorkshopSF held and remembers the class featuring all of his own, personal designs.

From his skills created within the walls of these classes, his work has been recognized from bigger companies and the higher ups of Lyft and Uber.

“A lot of companies will try to push their ideas over your creativity, and here it’s not like that,” says Martin.

While Martin has seen successful results, he still helps out at WorkshopPGH often. He spent his First Friday morning setting up a light installation down in the basement the shop.

The basement at the shop was dripping in orange, spooky lights set up by Martin, which was where Daniel Garcia was hanging out with some of his friends from out of town. They planned on stopping into the shop to check it out briefly, but ended up spending several hours in the lounge downstairs.

Others like Garcia found themselves impressed to the point of signing up for future classes. Christian Willey, who just moved to Pittsburgh from Arizona, found himself at WorkshopPGH at a First Friday in November.

As Willey pours the wax in his new soon-to-be candle, he talks about how he had to move to Pittsburgh for a new job and that it can be hard to meet friends outside of work when you just move somewhere. He’s hoping to meet some new faces and unwind from work by taking some upcoming classes.

Candles being made at the First Friday event. Photo by Bailey Penrod.

“First Fridays are always a nice time, but we have been so impressed with this place,” says Garcia.

Mentioned previously, there is a wide variety of classes offered at WorkshopPGH, all of which are taught by local artists. WorkshopPGH and the people who make this possible are important to Malone. Most of these artists are also working some other part time jobs where they get paid $12 an hour. Supporting creatives is a part of their mission, which is why they pay the instructors $25 an hour.  Malone says that the volunteers really make this whole thing possible, because they really don’t take in any profit.

“They’re [the artists] working a full time job that they want to quit, and we just hope to help them make that possible,” explains Malone.

Aside from participating in First Friday’s, WorkshopPGH hosts and attends many other events in Pittsburgh. One of their weekly classes is their All Bodies Yoga, which takes place Sunday mornings from 9:30 am until 10:30 am and is taught by Emily Anderson. Anderson is a 200 hour training-in-progress teacher in Pittsburgh who is committed to a welcoming practice intended for all bodies, genders and abilities. The classes are free, but a $5 to $10 donation is encouraged.

They have different events popping up regularly, things such as art exhibits, craft shows, etc. All of these different events can be found on their website: www.workshoppgh.com.

They also offer up their space for private events, team building, holiday parties and DIY events and have been doing so for almost 20 years. They have hosted parties for companies such as Google, Pinterest and Youtube in the past.

This story was originally published on Offbeat ‘Burgh, a magazine product of Point Park University’s School of Communication.

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