I was recently interviewed by Elaine Luther who runs the blog All Things Metal Clay. I thought her questions were helpful in defining how I think about things so I've copied the full interview below.
How did you get here?
I started sewing in the summer of 2010. I was planning to leave my job at the end of the summer in order to stay at home with my kids for a year, and I wanted something to learn for myself during that time. I took five private lessons with a local sewing teacher and made a simple pair of pants for my daughter and half of a dress for myself.
I picked sewing mostly because it was practical. I have two daughters, and I assumed that they would want clothes as they grew older (probably nicer clothes than we could afford) and I like to dress well myself. Since we would be losing a significant amount of income when I left my job, it seemed like a good idea to pick up a hobby that could save money. And I also already had a machine that I had inherited from my husband’s grandmother.
But I did hesitate before taking the lessons. I like to be good at things – I’ve got some drive and competitiveness in that regard. And I’ve got a bit of a perfectionist streak. I didn’t want to do a hobby that I could only hope to be mediocre at. Around this time my book club read My Life in France by Julia Childs, and I discovered that she didn’t learn to cook until she was 39 years old (as in could barely boil an egg before that point). I was 40 at the time and I figured if she could learn to cook at 39 and make a career out of it, I could learn to sew and at the very least become competent at it.
And then I fell in love. I love the act of sewing. I love the concentration in requires (the kind of concentration that allows you to lose yourself for a while), I love how much there is to learn. I love taking something flat and giving it shape. I love the problem-solving nature of it - you run into roadblocks and have to figure out how to get around them with the tools you have or the tools you can learn. I love fabric. I love the beauty of fabric and how different fabrics behave different ways, and that their nature can be manipulated. I love being able to make clothes that fit me perfectly and are exactly what I want. I love being able to do that for others, especially those who have experienced frustration when it comes to buying well-fitting clothes that they also like. It’s such a relief for many people to have their clothes fit their body, rather than trying to make their body fit the clothes they want.
Since those initial lessons I have largely learned on my own. I read books and blogs about sewing, I take online classes, I study garments, and I ask for help from the people I meet in the sewing world who know more than I do. I love that I can keep developing new skills and that 10 years from now I’ll still have much to learn.
I think part of what makes me different in this field is how I got here – I didn’t learn tailoring as a trade and I’m not a 20-year-old fashion student. I got here out of passion and drive. I can also easily identify with my clients – I’m near their age, I dress well but I dress for my lifestyle, I know what it’s like to work in a professional setting because I did that for 18 years before I changed direction. And I’m really good at listening. And in the listening, figuring out what my clients actually want and need vs. what they say they want and need.
My current goals are to continue to develop my couture skills, learn to sew trousers for other people, and inspire a love of garment sewing in others. I love how couture techniques give accuracy and durability to garment construction – if you want something to fit perfectly and last forever, go couture! And when it comes to trousers, so many people have a hard, hard time finding pants that fit, and I’m excited that I’ll be able to help with that in the future! I started teaching sewing about a year ago (in my former life, I taught and trained teachers) and I love being able to help people experience the joy that comes from sewing one’s own clothes.
What is that you like about custom work?
I’ve made custom work one of the central aspects of my business because it’s one of two things (the other is teaching) I most enjoy doing. I know some artisans hate custom work, and I get why they do. But I like working with clients, getting to know them well enough to design with their tastes, bodies, and lifestyles in mind. I like that puzzle. And I like that everything I make is for a particular person, instead of for a bunch of people I haven’t met and won’t ever know.
I also appreciate (as do my clients) that bespoke clothing is, for the most part, ethically made. I am paid a fair wage to do quality work with quality fabric. My clients are thoughtful about what they have me make in order that the piece works well with their existing clothes and will last beyond today’s trends. I hope to find more and more sources for ethically produced fabric in the years to come.
Do you enjoy teaching?
Teaching is the other axis of my business. I spent 13 years working for a private reading, where I taught classes and eventually hired, trained, and supervised teachers in the program. I believe that good teaching not only teaches a skill or subject, but also leads people to get out of their comfort zone and go beyond what they think they can do. I believe that learning to sew not only teaches someone a valuable skill, but also develops qualities like patience, determination, a willingness to embrace mistakes, the ability to take risks, and an internal measure for doing things well.
Why do you think dressing well matters?
I didn’t always think it did. When I was younger (teens) I prided myself on not caring about fashion, not knowing how to dress. This pride really came out insecurity – it was easier to reject a sense of style than to figure mine out.
As I got older, I wanted to dress well but I didn’t really know how to do it. I wore mostly black or dark colors, because that seemed safest – I didn’t want to mess with trying to figure out what went with what. And I copied a woman at work who had a similar body type – she looked good, so I thought if I dressed like her, I would look good, too. And that mostly worked, except it wasn’t really me.
I don’t think I really figured out how to dress until my late 30’s. My company moved West and I stayed on as a remote worker. This meant that I no longer had to dress for an office. I also didn’t want to wear lounge clothes all day because that just zapped my energy and made me feel less confident. So I finally had to figure it out.
I think dressing well matters because it helps form your opinion of yourself and the opinion that others have of you. It is also fun, a form of play. My young daughters love to dress up and try out different versions of themselves, and so do I. And I just feel more confident and happy when my clothes reflect who I am and who I strive to be. In my experience, people want to learn to dress well but they don’t know where to start in terms of style, color, and comfort. One of the nice things about dressing well is that you don’t need a lot of clothes to do it – you just need the right clothes.