Friday, December 18, 2009

Sew Liberated Book Review and Interview with Meg McElwee

Friday, December 18, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Meg McElwee about her new book, Sew Liberated: 20 Stylish Projects for the Modern Sewist. This was super exciting for me because I love the book. There are so many projects that I want to make from it. And any book that has a cookie recipe by page 20 has my vote anyway.

One of the first things you’ll notice about the projects in this book is Meg’s attention to detail. Another is that those details are just a little extra ordinary. Look at the lace-up back on the Teacup Corset Apron. Not only does it make the fit easy to adjust but it adds a little sassiness to your kitchen style.

In the introduction Meg mentions wanting to use up all those little scraps of precious fabric left from previous projects. I’m sure many of you can relate to that. Or having bits and pieces from baby’s first outfit, a favorite blankie, a single napkin you found at the thrift store with the most amazing print ever.

All of the projects in the book make use of appliqué techniques to incorporate those old treasures into new treasures. But if you’ve been intimidated by applique in the past (Grandmas’ prefect quilts, anyone?), don’t be! Meg shows an easy rough edge technique and makes turned appliqué look easy. Plus many of the projects would look just as darling in a simple print fabric.

The book includes a tool and equipment guide, 20 projects with full size patterns in an envelope, an appliqué primer, a glossary, and a section on useful stitches and techniques. It also has a pattern guide and pattern layout diagrams. The projects include everything from home décor to garments to various bags for toting things (cameras, laptops, veggies, babies, only sort of kidding on that last one), to amazing projects to make for kids any of which would make great last minute gifts. In fact, how cute is this Little Chef Apron and Hat maybe packaged with a rolling pin and your favorite cookie recipe?

While my current holiday schedule didn’t allow me to make a full-blown project right now, I couldn’t resist the appliqué/stitchery pattern from the Petite Artist smock. So I used it on, of all things, a canvas roofing apron from the hardware store. Whether I'll keep it for myself or it will make it to my favorite "little artist" remains to be seen.

I know you’ve been waiting for me to hush and let the real star speak so here are my 10 questions with Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated book and blog.

In the credits for the book you mention that your husband encouraged you to sell patterns to support your fabric addiction. Did the book develop then as an extension of the patterns? Or is it an entirely separate beast altogether?

The patterns came first, then the book – there probably wouldn't have been a book without the patterns! My pattern business is what brought my work to the attention of fellow crafters, and through one of my blogging friends who was also writing a book, I was introduced to my literary agent. I then went to work putting together a book proposal and my agent shopped it around – Interweave Press picked up my proposal for the first book as well as a second, due out in 2010.

How on earth did you manage to write a book while pregnant?

Oh boy. Let's just say that it isn't easy cutting fabric or basting a quilt when you are eight months pregnant! One tip that I find useful even now is to do all of my cutting and basting work on the floor while wearing volleyball knee pads. Seriously – this is so much more comfortable than going bare-kneed!

All in all, the book represents something quite special to me – my passage from young adult to mother. What a pleasure it was to bring into the world both a child and a book in one year! It was difficult at times, but ultimately worth it, much like birth itself!

In fact, how do you manage everything you do – sewing, embroidery, appliqué, designing patterns, knitting, felting, green crafting, teaching, photography, baking - all with a little one at your feet?

Hmm … I only “do it all” by doing some of those things sometimes and letting the others fall by the wayside! Also, my little one is happy to be in a sling while I'm cooking, and happily plays while I knit. My days as a classroom teacher are over, but things are definitely busy around here. I try to keep things very simple – also, I do my best not to waste any time. I turn the computer off when I'm not working, I don't spend much time surfing the web, and we don't have a TV, so all of that leisure time goes into spending quality time with my son or getting work done.

Reading your blog I get the feeling that you have a love for the earth, a desire to lead a mindful life. Do you feel like this is reflected in your other interests?

I grew up on twenty acres of pine trees in northern California, so yes, Nature is very integral to my own identity and being outside is a priority for me. I really feel at home in the wilderness. Perhaps this love isn't so very apparent in my sewing design work, although it is what feeds my soul - I go outside and spend quiet moments in nature to refuel and to clear my mind. I'm much more productive creatively when I do this.

Was this something that was taught to you growing up or that you developed on your own? How will you instill this same love in your own child(ren)?

I believe that spending uninterrupted, unstructured time in Nature is what gives a child a love of the outdoors and also an appreciation for the quiet beauty of the natural world. My parents certainly encouraged this by giving me free range of the forest. I had the freedom to explore without parental constraints – I just knew that I needed to return to the house when I heard my dad's loud whistle! I feel like that's what is missing for today's children who have so many extracurricular activities, enrichment programs, and scheduled play dates. How will they come to be familiar with, and love, the beauty of their own backyards and the power of their own imaginations if they are never given the opportunity to just “be” with themselves in Nature?

Do you have a favorite green craft or holiday project, either your own or that you’ve seen recently?

I've been really impressed with projects that I've seen that make use of old books and pages from books. The look is so elegant. Above my bedroom window, I've hung a garland of birds and circles made from pages of an old black and white book in Spanish. The cut figures are glued together and a lightweight wire is sandwiched between the figures. One day, I'd love to make a mobile like this one (by Etsy seller Royal Buffet) for the room as well.

Speaking of recycling and using up, do you use vintage fabrics in your projects?

I do! I love scrounging around at my local thrift store for old sheets in particular, although anything made out of natural fibers with a funky floral is likely to come home with me. I do stay away from synthetics, as I don't like the feel of them in my hands as I sew.

Is it alright to mix new and vintage fabrics in the same project?

Absolutely. I often mix vintage fabrics right alongside my new stuff. Since the vintage pieces I pick up are often floral and a bit “loud”, I tend to pair them with a more subdued linen or other smaller print fabric. For example, the Teacup Corset Apron in my book is a mixture of vintage blue floral cotton, linen striped fabric, and a new cotton Japanese print. Vintage fabrics work particularly well with applique projects because vintage cuts are often small, and applique is a great way to highlight a fabric that gets passed by in other projects requiring more yardage.

Any favorite sewing, crafting, teaching, home websites you’d like to share?

I'll share with you some of my favorite sewing blogs:

Gertie's Blog for Better Sewing
Checkout Girl
Sew, Mama, Sew:
Children's Fashion Workshop

Thank you so much, Meg, for your beautiful and thoughtful answers. Congratulations on a wonderful book.


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