Our Sewist Spotlight shines this month on Tessa (@sewspoke), who in addition to being one of our pattern testers is an architect and gifted maker from Boulder, Colorado. Tessa has incredible style and always manages to delight us with her unique take on our patterns, and we wanted to connect with her about her approach to sewing. Full disclosure: we conducted our interview before the stay at home orders began in North America, and we asked her to let us know how things were going after the fact. She told us she and her family are doing okay, and while she is normally a busy working mom, her workload has slowed down enough to give her lots of time with her girls as well as lots of sewing.
What do you do for a living?
I work as an Architect, managing the design and construction of renovations, additions and new homes. I spend a lot of my time each day deciding how something should look and how something should be built. And I’m finding that I approach my sewing projects similarly.
I love the many parallels that exist between architecture and sewing. I think it’s amazing that we can take an idea from our brain and turn it into something physical that we can touch and experience with our bodies, whether it’s architecture or clothing. With architecture, that process takes months, even years, but with sewing, it takes mere minutes. That’s what makes sewing so magical.
How long have you been sewing?
I learned how to sew as a child but only fell in love with sewing about 5 to 6 years ago. Sewing has filled a hole for me creatively in a way practicing architecture could not. Not all architecture projects I design are built, but with sewing, the possibilities feel endless and easier for experimentation.
How much time do you spend on your sewing practice a week (including planning, researching, sewing etc)?
On average I spend 5 to 10 hours a week sewing. I rarely have more than an hour at a time to sew, so I try to give myself 1 to 2 weeks to start and finish a project that way I’m not stressing out over finishing a garment. Every 30 minute chunk of time adds up! My husband and I try to support each other equally in our work and with childcare, so we both have time for the other things we love doing.
What is your home sewing set-up like?
I’ve taken over a corner of our home’s office space, but my sewing tends to spread beyond the boundaries of this small area. On the other side of this room is a large table overrun with my daughter’s Legos. This room is definitely a shared creative space! It also has a closet where I store extra supplies, fabric, patterns and my ironing board. I feel lucky to have a dedicated space where I can leave things a mess so I can jump on a project when I have a free moment.
Did you have a gateway person or experience that brought you to sewing?
My mother is a creative powerhouse, formerly a floral designer, and is the person who has influenced me the most creatively and with sewing. She grew up in a big family and started sewing her own clothes as a teenager, because at the time it was cheaper to sew your own clothing than to buy. She continued to sew, and I grew up watching her sew for herself, and for me & my sister. She loves digging into a challenging project, and I am the same. Whenever I’m home, I raid her closet and her large collection of vintage sewing patterns. She recently unearthed a velvet pinstripe blazer from the back of her closet that she made in the 1970s. Much to my benefit, she rarely gets rid of anything, and she has great taste!
When I was 17 my mother bought a new sewing machine for herself, and before she had a chance to open it, I took it upon myself to read through the entire manual, wind the bobbin, thread the machine and start sewing (unbeknownst to her). I can’t imagine the look on her face when she found out that I got to use her new sewing machine before she did! She surprised me with my own sewing machine after I graduated from college.
What was the first thing you remember wanting to sew?
I dabbled in hand sewing as a child, making tiny pillows and clothes for my dolls and animal figurines, but it wasn’t until high school when I first sewed a garment for myself. I made a dark gray dropped-waist dress that I paired with knee high black boots for a high school dance. It was fully lined, and I thought it was fabulous! I sewed off and on through my 20s but after I had my first daughter in my early 30s, I started sewing more seriously again. I needed a creative hobby to offset the demands of being a working mom. I got back into garment sewing by making clothes for my daughters and then I started to sew for myself. I had no idea it would turn into an obsession.
How would you define your style?
I love structured, fitted silhouettes with clean modern lines. Just like in architecture, the ultimate goal for me is to create something both beautiful and functional. I do love a good ruffle or something with visual interest, but for the most part I don’t like a lot of fuss.
What is your favourite thing you’ve made?
My favorite garment is hands-down my cropped Clare Coat. I needed a coat that felt more professional than a puffer jacket yet more casual than a long wool coat. I had the idea ruminating for over a year, and finally this winter I decided to make it happen. I already had the fabric, but took my time figuring out how long I wanted it to be, where the pockets should be located, and sourcing the hardware and lining. The whole process took me almost a month, but it was well worth it.
What is your favourite Closet Case Pattern?
I love the Kalle Shirt because it’s such a workhorse of a pattern with seemingly endless options for customization. I’ve made 3 very different styles, and they each fill a different gap in my wardrobe.
How does sewing affect your relationship to shopping and RTW?
Sewing my own wardrobe has opened my eyes to the amount of time and resources required to make a single garment. My closet isn’t 100% handmade and I don’t anticipate it ever being that way, but now when I do shop I try to buy things from companies with ethical production where workers are getting a fair wage. I am encouraged by the increasing amount of transparency by many companies in the fashion industry, and I hope that trend continues.
What was the best lesson or skill that took your sewing to the next level?
Making muslins has been a game-changer for me. I used to be anti-muslin because of the amount of extra time involved, but with some projects they can’t be avoided. It’s been a great way for me to practice the mechanics of putting a particular garment together without ruining my final garment.
What pattern release would you not be able to resist?
A maxi length shirt dress! Please?!
What are your sewing goals? What would you like to learn how to do to push your practice forward?
I’d like to learn more about the process of drafting a pattern. I think some of the skills I use every day as an Architect – drafting a 3-dimensional object into 2-dimensions would be transferable to learning this art, but doing this for the human body is all very obscure to me. Hopefully, one day!
What’s the next thing you want to make?
I’m starting to accumulate a small collection of vintage patterns that I’d love to dig into. For spring, I have a vintage button-up blouse pattern I’d like to tackle. I’d also love to try my hand at making a trench coat, but that might have to wait until fall.
What makers or sewists in our community do you find inspiring?
Every time I open Instagram I’m overwhelmed with inspiration by all the wonderful makers in our community! My recent favorites are Irina_makes, Sakijane, Sewitcurly and Gyasti. I also love following Hadley Clark who sews exclusively with fabric scraps. Her clothing is aspirational!
Where else do you turn when you need inspiration?
My friend Rebekah of Found_Shop has the best eye for sourcing and styling vintage goods. I also love scrolling through Pinterest to keep up with RTW and runway trends.
Thank you Tessa!!