Sewing+Fabric

Sonya Philip is a fiber artist who likes to nestle down in the space between art and craft. You can find more of her work here. Sonya lives in San Francisco, with her husband and three children.

In spite of the relatively uneasy relationship I’ve had with sewing in my past, I started the project, 100 Acts of Sewing, with the goal of making one hundred dresses. Even though there always seemed to be too many rules dictating the “right” way of doing things, I never stopped sewing. I lugged my mother’s old Singer Fashion Mate with me through many moves; Halloween costumes were made, as well as baby blankets, and quilts with corners that didn’t meet. But I wrote off sewing clothes when I had to cut my then 3-year-old daughter out of a dress that I was able to get on over her head, but not back off again. Time passed, I discovered knitting and my textile-creating urges were satisfied for many years. However, there are only so many sweaters, scarves, and other wooly things one person needs, even in foggy San Francisco.

Something about being older and somewhat broader in the hips made me crave simplicity in my wardrobe. I didn’t want to put a lot of energy into getting dressed each morning. I wanted a uniform. I discovered lagenlook or layered look, along with the clothing of Krista Larson, Flax, Cynthia Ashby, and others. It wasn’t in my budget to spend several hundred dollars on a single item and I spent many hours watching eBay auctions. I scourged thrift stores and found some lovely items, but also bought a lot of things that would never be worn. I started refashioning long linen jumpers by chopping off the bottom, ripping out the side seams, and inserting the extra fabric to create shorter, A-line dresses. Then I took a pattern making class at A Verb for Keeping Warm with Cal Patch. I’m not sure if it had to to do with my being older and more patient, or an improved understanding of garment construction due to sweater knitting, or that Cal was such an amazing teacher, or if it was the desire to use all the beautiful fabrics at Verb. It was probably all of the above. But I made a dress. And then another. In one week I made four dresses. With this eager excitement, 100 Acts of Sewing was born.

What was conceived as a personal challenge, has developed into a larger exploration of making versus manufacturing. These days we buy more clothes and wear them for less time. Clothing companies, chasing higher volume and cheaper production costs, have largely moved manufacturing into sweatshops, maquiladoras, or overseas. Because of this, we don’t often think about the real costs of cheap labor and lax environmental control. When we know how to sew our own clothes, we can become more discerning consumers and put more consideration into what we purchase. Sewing clothes is an investment of time over convenience. It provides a welcome way to slow down. Compared to other crafts, like knitting, sewing on a machine is less social. There’s more concentration required so you don’t sew through a finger. But sewing on my mother’s machine or hearing stories from women whose grandmothers made favorite pieces of clothing are reminders of a rich legacy of wisdom and expertise. Learning how to sew is a way to reconnect with this tradition.

Sewing is also a way of reclaiming personal style. By making your own clothes you can make things that fit and flatter your body type instead of fighting against it. Although, many of my dresses are made with patterns I drafted, I also sew with commercial sewing patterns. Even using someone else’s designs offers choices, from the color or fabric type to print. Sewing clothes enables a way to truly express individuality. I am personally drawn to a flared silhouette and most of the dresses I make reflect this. They tend to be on the shorter side, cut to the knee, and usually worn layered over pants. I mainly incorporate comfortable and easy to wear natural fibers like cotton and linen into most of what I sew. As much as I am captivated by the beautiful prints of new fabrics, I also try to use vintage yardage when possible. Readers might notice how pockets are often an important feature in my dresses. They provide practicality and often act as a focal point to showcase some great fabric. The best part, is you only need small amount to make a big impact.

One aspect of 100 Acts of Sewing is encouraging others to sew for the first time or to give it another try. I put this into practice by teaching workshops on how to make dresses from my designs. These are very minimal in their construction, some having no more than four pattern pieces. It’s true that sewing can be unforgiving. Even the most deft hand can make wonky seams and there’s no way to un-cut cloth. But like many things, skill in sewing comes from practice as well as care. By making a garment simple yet very wearable, sewing becomes truly accessible. A person can then build upon the foundation of each successful project. I know the more dresses I’ve made, the more I’ve found myself following those rules I once resisted.

Many of the dresses in the project were made for me and I wear them on a regular basis. I also made dresses for friends, as well as several that act as size models for workshops. None of them are for sale, as the plan is to display all of them in an end-of-project exhibit. I am currently almost two thirds of the way towards my goal and on track to finish in December. In the coming year, I plan on developing a sewing pattern to sell based on the workshop dress. I will also continue to exhibit and teach, locally here in the San Francisco Bay Area, around the United Sates, and hopefully farther afield. Through this project, my aim is to inspire people to use their sewing machines, as well as value the skills it takes to create the garments they wear.

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About the reviewer: Megan is wife to a tolerant and encouraging husband and mother to four children ranging in age from 18 years down to 5 years. She spends her days keeping company with her 5 year old daughter and her evenings cheering on the sidelines as her older sons deal with homework, sport and other teenage issues. In her quieter moments, she likes to knit, embroider, sew and cook. She’d like to have the time and talent to crochet and quilt….maybe one day.  She can be found at Notebook from home blog.

Home Sewn Home: 20 Projects to Make for the Retro Home. by Sally Walton [publisher: Guild of Master Craftsman Publications (May 1, 2012)]

The front cover of ‘Home Sewn Home’ by Sally Walton hooked me in straight away with the words “Projects to make for the retro home”. I love the idea of wearing my frilly apron in the kitchen whilst clutching my pot-holders, all handmade, of course. To complement the retro theme in this book there is a heavy emphasis on thrift shop fabrics and trimmings and all the photos showcase the author’s obviously extensive array of fabrics ready for upcycling.

The book is written in an easy to read format with twenty projects in total to complete. Most of the projects are simple and have perhaps been presented in other craft books. However, in Sally Walton’s latest offering these projects are given a distinctly vintage feel due to the 60s and 70s fabrics used. Projects include home necessities such as an ironing board cover, a doorstop, shower cap and of course, that all important pot-holder.

For each project there are step by step photographs that would really help the novice sewer. In fact, this book is designed mainly for someone just tentatively dipping their toe into the world of sewing. All terms are well explained. Hemming, bias binding and the application of various trims are all very clearly laid out with accompanying photos at the back of the book. This book assumes that the reader has little prior sewing knowledge and as such the projects are designed to be quick, straight-forward and very usable once completed. It would be the perfect book for the fledgling sewist to use as a resource and to try out skills, therefore gaining confidence with both machine and hand sewing. The clear layout and wording of this book along with the numerous photographic explanations make Home Sewn Home a great place to start a crafting journey and the retro fabric provides excellent eye candy along the way.

Stitch At Home: Over 20 Handmade Fabric and Embroidery Projects. by Mandy Shaw. [Publisher: David & Charles (April 27, 2012)]

Pictures of embroidered houses are guaranteed to get me reaching for my needle and embroidery hoop. This book concentrates on the home and house as a theme and although there is some embroidery included there is an emphasis on appliqué.

This is the second book in a series by Mandy Shaw (The first one ‘Stitch with love’).  There are around 20 projects outlined, some practical, some more decorative. There are instructions for a sewing case, a dog bed, a tablecloth and a tea cosy. The project I am most keen to tackle is a gorgeous quilt with 12 blocks to appliqué and embroider. Fusible webbing appliqué is used for this project and for most of the projects in the book. The method is well outlined and machine blanket stitching is also explained. There are tips and ideas throughout which makes this rather large quilt appear quite achievable.

Being an embroiderer at heart I was also taken with the first project in the book, an embroidered house sampler. All the stitches included in the sampler are well explained in the first part of the book and included are instructions for left handed sewers as well – very inclusive! The Cutwork cushions are also striking and although they look great using solid colours I was keen to try the same idea using a floral cut-out on a solid background. I used an old thrifted piece of blanketing and some Liberty fabric from my stash [see pic above]. It was a quick but effective project and I would definitely try the other cutwork patterns outlined in the book.

The instructions for all projects are clear and easy to understand and wouldn’t be daunting for a beginner. There are small projects (a pincushion and bunting) to make and build confidence before moving on to larger and more complicated items (beach bag and quilt). The fabrics used are muted and traditional but it is easy to imagine the same projects completed with a more vibrant palette.

The house and home image is a lovely one for many crafters and “Stitched at Home’ is full of such images, a great book to get ideas and to trigger some creativity.

 

[Thanks to publishers and distributors and authors for sending me books to review, whipup does not get paid to post reviews but I am an amazon affiliate] (Australians can purchase craft books online through can do books or booktopia or else browse booko for the best prices.)

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Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Jen, and her blog partner, Autie, are stay-at-home moms living in Southern California, who love to create all things handmade. They joined forces little over a year ago to document and share their creations on their blog: iCandy handmade

Hi, WhipUp readers! I am so excited to be here today. Kathreen has created such an interesting series! My name is Jen, and I am one of the creators behind the blog iCandy handmade. At the beginning of last year, I asked my friend Autie if she wanted to start a “craft” blog with me. I had wanted to start a sewing blog for a long time, and couldn’t seem to get going on it. (I’m such a procrastinator!) Autie already had a little craft blog of her own that she would occasionally post a project on, but I thought that if we joined forces, it would be a huge motivator for me to actually WORK on all the projects floating around in my head. Having a partner would keep us accountable, and help make the workload manageable. She loved the idea and our baby blog was born!

Not to be dramatic, but in that moment, my life changed very much for the better.

About a year before all this happened, I started reading sewing and craft blogs. At that time, I didn’t really sew all that much, just VERY occasionally. (I had a spurt when my daughter was born, making bedding and a diaper bag, but that was about it). The blogs My Momma Made It, which turned into Made By Lex (She isn’t blogging anymore, sad!) and Grosgrain Fabulous were daily must-reads! (among others…). I would read these and feel so inspired. I would think to myself, I could make things like that! And so I started thinking about sewing. All the time. But I still didn’t do anything about it. Finally, when we started iCandy, my thoughts and ideas began to transform into something tangible. Since then, Autie and I have gotten into a blogging groove, and make sure to each have one new project completed each week.  

Now how has this changed my life? Well, quite a bit.

In the prior ten years, I had struggled at times to feel fulfilled with my life. I usually felt “fine” or “ok,” but I really didn’t have anything I felt passionate about. I worked at several different jobs, but never really found a career that I loved. I graduated from college with a BA in English, but didn’t find a fabulous career using that degree. I liked to do a lot of things in my spare time but none that brought me the feeling that I was seeking. Looking back, it seems so simple: it was creativity in my life that I was lacking. All you fellow creative people/artists can probably relate to the feeling of incompleteness when you aren’t able to create.

With each creation made, photo taken and posted on our new blog, this feeling of incompleteness began to dissipate. I don’t know when exactly I noticed the change within myself. Sometimes the deadlines are hard to meet, and being the procrastinator that I am, sometimes the nights are long, but every moment spent creating is worth it. The feeling when I finish something that began as just an idea is the greatest – it brings such a sense of accomplishment. And when my daughter loves what I make her (which isn’t always…) or when I receive sweet comments of encouragement from readers… WOW.

I can now say that I have found that something that I am passionate about. It isn’t just sewing, it is the design process from start to finish. It is my art. It makes me happy. It is doing what I love. It adds sparkle to my life. And, incidentally, it adds quite a lot to our wardrobes, too!

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I’m very excited to be a guest here at Whip Up and have the opportunity to introduce a new online sewing and quilting community – Threadbias.com. We recently launched and are inviting everyone to come join in.

Before I jump into what Threadbias is all about, I’d like to introduce us — the Founders of Threadbias. There are three of us: Alex, Rebecca, and me, Amanda. Alex and Rebecca are married, and Alex is my older brother. We all have a background that’s pretty full of sewing and craftiness.

Alex and I grew up together, of course, and our mom was always sewing, especially when we were younger. She made everything from clothes to Cabbage Patch Dolls. As we got older she started quilting, and she became really involved in the local quilting community. She taught me how to sew clothing, make quilts, and do handwork like embroidery and cross stitch. I still remember doing samplers and hand-piecing my first doll quilt (which I still have, but never finished). I always tended toward the DIY side, even when it wasn’t “cool”. I remember wearing a terrible sweatshirt around age 12 that I had stitched a collection of pewter buttons to, as well as some colorfully embroidered jeans all through high school.

Rebecca also grew up with a mom who sewed, and got her start with cross-stitch. She still remembers going to pick out those little cross-stitch kits that came with everything you needed – aida cloth, floss, needle and plastic frame to make gifts for family and friends. Rebecca’s mom also made her clothes when she was young, and taught her crochet and other hand work. In Junior High Rebecca took a sewing and stitchery class that broadened her interests in sewing and she began to make little patchwork ornaments and try her hand at clothing construction. Being a teenager however, whenever there was a difficult step — zippers, buttonholes, etc, the project would get shoved to the side and she’d be off searching for a new pattern and fabric for her next project.

Alex didn’t get into sewing like I did, though he did make a football shaped pillow in middle school that is still around today. However, sewing and fabric (or waiting in the parking lot of the fabric store for our mom to come out) were always a part of his life. When he and Rebecca got married, she continued her sewing and also learned to quilt from my mother. They now have a 3 year old son and lots of nieces and nephews. Rebecca loves making handmade gifts, especially for the little ones. She also makes really beautiful quilts and enjoys sewing clothes for her son. One of her favorite things is handwork and for her sister’s wedding last year hand-embroidered an amazing sash and matching shoes (inspired by Aimee Ray’s designs in Doodle Stitching).

I am also married (my husband, Jeremy, is a photographer) and have three little girls — ages 6, 5, and 3. I love sewing for them, of course. I’m in the process of making a quilt for each of their beds, and they often get mama-made dresses and skirts and nightgowns. Before we had our girls, I had stopped sewing for several years — I think I made a curtain now and then, but no big projects. Once I became a stay-at-home mom I began to realize how much I could make myself, and how much more fun and special that could be.

Although we live far apart, Rebecca and I spent a lot of time talking, sharing our projects, and sending each other pictures. We had both started to read a lot of sewing blogs and were always passing ideas and tutorials back and forth. Alex, who is a web developer, was around for all of this and it sparked an idea for him. His original idea, in late 2010, was to create a web-based design tool for quilters — a program anyone could access online and use to create quilts and blocks and determine measurements and fabric requirements. He quickly realized that an online community was both complementary to his idea and needed — he looked around and couldn’t find anything like it — no central place for sewists and quilters to gather and share ideas. He proposed his idea to Rebecca and I and we loved it. We knew that we would want to hang out at a place like that, and we figured others would too. Threadbias was founded in January 2011 and Alex developed the website over the course of that year, working with Rebecca and I to determine what would be needed and wanted in an online sewing community. He’s now back at work on his original vision of the quilt and pattern design tool, and expects to release a beta version on Threadbias within a couple of months.

While developing Threadbias, the three of us brainstormed all the features we thought would be fun. We knew a Studio space would be good; a place where you could organize your projects and keep track of fabrics and patterns. We also wanted a lot of fabrics to “stash” and currently have over 40,000 in our database, and are working with manufacturers to add more. I use mine not only to keep track of fabrics I have, but fabrics I want to have as well. It’s sort of a wish list for me and helps me remember when I’m shopping online or even at a local shop.

To help build the community, we knew we needed forums and groups for people to gather and talk. It’s been amazing to see conversations happening, and to watch new groups form. What we want more than anything is for people to feel like they can come to Threadbias and have their own space, have it really be their place. I like to imagine the community growing – but at the same time, everyone being able to find their own little corner. The Internet is huge – endless, really, and it can sometimes feel like you’re writing to no one, or sharing with so many that it’s hard to find people to truly connect with. Our hope is that anyone who joins Threadbias feels like they have a group to share with and people to connect with.

Thank you so much, Kathreen, for hosting us here today. We appreciate the opportunity to get the word out and share our site with your readers! I hope that everyone has fun exploring!

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Parson Gray is the brand of David Butler – artist and lead singer of the band Black Owls. With a decidedly “folk modern” approach, David uses richly muted palettes and organic, geometric prints with hand-drawn sophistication anchored in modernist simplicity reminiscent of mid-century studio design. His brand offerings range from textiles, to fashion, home and personal accessories.

Thanks for swinging by Whipup and letting me indulge for a bit. I’m going to ramble about my design inspiration and process for just a little while, and if you get bored, well, that’s my fault. Some of you may know me as the husband of the awesome designer Amy Butler, and some of you (fewer of you) might know that I also have a band called Black Owls. I lead a very full and very kinetic & crazy life, just the way I like it! I’m glad you’re here.

Start by saying that I always have ideas and inspiration pinned up on my boards. I know pretty much what the collection of prints is going to be when designing fabric. My inspiration boards contain strange elements and shapes in nature, rock music, folk art, mid-century design, motion, fashion, all things that I find exciting and soothing at the same time. I use these inspirations more for tone and story rather than real reference for the art. It never really seems to work that way. I like to have an over-abundance of reference, and drawings/paintings, and edit down from where I started. There are many parallels to creating music. I like to write a large volume of songs and then pare down to get to an album. The difference is with rock music, I co-create with my partner Ed who writes the music. We have sketches, we finalize them (demos), then we turn them into final art (masters). It just takes a heck of a lot longer to do the music than it does to do the fabrics!

For Curious Nature there were a few prints that went all the way through coloring and then bit the dust after I put together the entire collection. (Just like our new album) They seemed a perfect fit when I started, but didn’t flow well with everything else once it all came together as a color story. I pull together my drawings and prints in black and white and scan them in. Then I make my repeats and clean up the art as I need to. I intentionally keep the hand-drawn character, flaws and all, because it is inherent to the character of the art. I then make my step and repeats on the computer and build my color palette. Then it’s all just experimentation. Dropping in colors, printing them out, laying them on the floor and editing. Like I said, not everything makes the cut. The whole process for me takes a little less than a week to complete.

My next range is already designed and in production. It’s called Seven Wonders. 24 prints that will work alongside Curious Nature. I wanted to expand upon the palette that I’ve built with the first line, and create a world of prints and colors that go together – So folks can refresh their investment in Curious Nature with an addendum set of colors and prints. I love the idea of expanding upon something already built. I’m currently working on a series of other products and ideas (while helping Amy with her business and photography, website, etc..). A Black Owls double album comes out soon too. I need a nap.

Thanks for checking in! – Dave

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