November 13, 2011

Slow Sewing

An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2010 Edition of Mia Magazine.  
Two of my favorite things in life are food and making things. I love to talk, read, learn about food, and talk read and learn about any sort of craft or handiwork. Growing up in McAlester, Oklahoma, I was always fidgeting with my hands, making dolls, playhouses, and taking classes in painting, sewing and embroidery. I’ve made a career out of making things.
It was because of these two interests that I found myself recently writing a book about sewing, and coincidentally reading the book Gluten-Free Girl by Shauna James Ahern, which is  all about how she discovered a whole new way of eating and a bounty of incredible food when she was diagnosed with celiac disease. In Gluten Free Girl, Ahern discovers that by needing to learn new ways to prepare food for herself, it opened her up to a foodie paradise that was all around her, all she had to do was look for it.
Reading this book while I was writing about sewing was a revelation to me. I’ve read books and articles for years on slow food, slowing down, simplifying your life, etc. but when it came to sewing and teaching sewing it seemed like the world was too busy to bother. There are tons of books about how to sew faster (or better yet no sewing at all). Sewing? Who needs it! And if you must sew then by all means do it as quick as possible and be done with it so you can move on to something that is actually enjoyable and much more worthy of your valuable time. It made me think of when I had just moved to Madison, WI (where I now live) from Los Angeles. I had spent the last nine years building a career on making clothes for people that were one of a kind, often time consuming artifacts. I relished that job because I really, really enjoy the process of sewing. I mined the tailors and seamstresses that I worked with for all the old-world sewing techniques I could get out of them.
So when I moved to Madison, I had gotten a job designing costumes for a play at Madison Repertory Theatre. I walked into the costume shop one day and one of the young women who was working there as a stitcher was sitting at the cutting table knitting. She was taking a break from sewing and had pulled out a personal project. I looked more closely at what she was doing. She was working several little wooden knitting needles on this very fine yarn.
“What are you making?” I said.
“Gloves,” she said.
I loved her immediately. I had found my tribe.
Now I had made gloves before and knew how meticulous the process was. There was something about finding someone else who would take a break from sewing 1940’s costumes to knit GLOVES. That said this person loved what she was doing as much as I did. I had found a kindred spirit.
I remember when I’d just moved to Los Angeles and I was working as a stitcher on my first movie. There were several of us costumers waiting for our next project and one of the assistants brought us a towel to have some Velcro sewn on. It was to make a wrap for an actor. I took the towel and proceeded to change the color of the thread on my machine to match the towel. A friend I was working with said “Oh, don’t change the thread; no one is ever going to see that.”
I flushed with embarrassment and said “Oh, well I’m just doing it for me; I just want it to look nice.”  The friend took a beat and said “You’ll get over that.”
We laughed.
 I really liked sewing all those clothes. I’m told I was known for taking extra effort to make things look great. Some jobs I didn’t get because of it. But a lot of jobs I got or kept because of it. My friend who said I’d get over it is still my friend. She went back to school a couple of years after we worked together and has become a very successful writer and editor. She found her tribe. It’s funny, I write a little now, but mostly I sew, and from what I hear she sews a little but mostly has written, and we are both raising daughters who will one day write and sew as well.
When I was in middle school, & high school it wasn’t exactly cool to sew. My best friend Debbie Green & I had a saying “She cooks, she cleans, she makes all her own clothes, and all the GIRLS like her…”
I’m not sure where we got this idea that sewing was dowdy or dorky, but it made me not too interested in sewing around that time. I had learned to sew at an early age and had made a blouse in the 5th grade at the McAlester Girls Club, and had made an A+ on the required pillow in 6th grade Home-Ec, but I shunned Home-Ec for Shop class and Art in the 8th grade.
Even after I’d established myself as a patternmaker/fitter and was working on the sitcom Will & Grace, I bristled at the term “Seamstress”. When the show won the Emmy for Best comedy, the whole crew got certificates for their contribution to the win. I never displayed mine because when I opened it, my name was there and underneath it was the title “Seamstress”. (There wasn’t and still isn’t a job title of Seamstress in the Costumer’s Union.)  
There must have been something culturally that gave me the attitude that sewing wasn’t a valuable skill. Mary Tyler Moore was a single girl in the big city and she didn’t waste her fabulous time sewing or doing crafts. Somehow when I was growing up, between Marlo Thomas and Bea Arthur and Christy McNichol, I got the idea that sewing was not cool.
What is it about that word that makes so many of us bristle? I have seen so many derivations of the word seamstress lately. Seamster, Stitcher, Sewist, Tailor, Maker. When I saw the movie Titanic I remember the character that is Kate Winslett’s mother begs her to go through with marrying this guy because if she doesn’t then what would become of her?
“Would you have me work as a seamstress?”
Yikes. That would be a fate worse than death. By all means, don’t ever work as a…
(cue the organ music)…SEAMSTRESS.
This is why I’m such a huge fan of the documentary filmmaker Faythe Levine and her film Handmade Nation. Her film shows a group of people who are embracing their love for making things and celebrating the act of careful craftsmanship. Fine Craft as anti-mass manufactured junk. Hallelujah! I saw the film with a friend who may have thought me a little wacko because I cheered audibly through many of the interviews. Again: my tribe.
The reason I’m thinking so much about this is that as I’m writing this book about sewing and particularly, how to sew things, I catch myself thinking “No one is going to want to baste in a zipper here. Maybe I should just tell them to use a glue stick or tape.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve basted many a zipper using glue stick or tape. I use press on interfacing in making beautiful tailored menswear jackets. But you know what?  I love using thread and basting, or pad stitching hair canvas into a tailored jacket. There is something magical about knowing you’re doing something like it’s been done for hundreds of years, like you’re part of a thread running through some sort of garment making history.
I enjoy that. It makes me happy.
It’s about the difference between mass produced Go-Gurt and artisanal local yogurt. It’s why I’m writing this article in its original form by hand, in my friend Mary’s coffee shop, eating that yogurt with blackberries, drinking my locally roasted coffee out of a mug that somebody made who lives nearby too. It’s just better, more enjoyable, more sustainable.
So I say a big heck yes to making things and to taking the time to do it.
I think I’m going to get that Emmy certificate framed.

October 21, 2011

American Sewing Guild Webinar Tuesday the 25th

 I'm going to be one of the guests for a webinar with the American Sewing Guild on Tuesday talking about my book and sewing experiences throughout my career in Film & Television.
Sign up here

September 13, 2011

New Fabric Source!!

   My latest project has been designing a dustcover for a corporate client.  I used a new source for outerwear fabric, Seattle Fabrics.  They have an easy to maneuver website, and made ordering their swatches very simple and painless.  I received the swatches in short order and showed them to the client. He chose a beautiful 3ply outer wear fabric and I ordered it and made samples from a couple of choices.  It made up nicely, and I've sent the pattern & samples on to the manufacturer for production.  I'm definitely holding on to the sample packs, from Seattle Fabrics, though.  They were a pleasure to work with and I'm sure I'll be ordering from them again in the future.

July 12, 2011

home making

We are in the process of selling our house, and moving to another slightly roomier house in another community nearby. As part of the purging and getting everything staged I've come to really love taking care of all this stuff that I used to dread and rush through and did I mention dread?
It feels great to have everything in it's place. It feels great to have so much space, and having everything finished. There's a lot of love here.
I used to really poo poo the whole idea of being a "homemaker."
Today I was talking to some women about the Sewing Machine Project, (more about that later) and I was talking about how sewing can be so empowering to women, or anyone I guess who wants to be close to home to be available for kids, to be the anchor or touchstone. There's a book called "Women's Work" about how traditionally these sorts of jobs were women's work because you could do textile related work and still tend the fire and watch the children. Lots to think about.
I am so grateful.
The new place will have a room just off the kitchen on the main floor with two windows and that will be my workroom.
I'm not sure what I'll be making.
Some clothes, some patterns, another book maybe.
I'm pretty good at that.
A home.
I'm getting better at that too.

April 25, 2011

Show & Tell

Spring break was a couple of weeks ago for us here in Wisconsin and yoga daddy & I took the girls back to LA for a visit with friends, to check out the old neighborhood, and a couple of days at Disneyland.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was to visit with our friends Curtis and Nancy and John & Latha. We were the only ones who had kids when we left 8 years ago and now they all have kids too. It was great to see them & catch up.

I teased Curtis and Nancy about their "Emmy Nook" a little shelf at the end of a hallway where they had their twin Emmys from their time as producers on The Amazing Race, and I gave Nancy a copy of my book.

Last week I got an e-mail from her with photos of a little renaissance fair costume she'd made for her daughter Charlotte:

"I was so inspired by your book! I used one of Charlotte's old dresses to pattern off of, to make her a costume for the Ren Faire .... Don't look too closely, it's the first time I've pulled out the sewing machine in years and the stitches are pretty sloppy. But I had fun doing something without a pattern, who knows, might try it again. Your book makes me want to sew again!"

Ha! When I saw these photos I thought surely she'd had a costumer make this! It's so perfectly to scale!

I just had to share these, because they turned out so great!

April 21, 2011

Spring Cleaning

I've moved my shop back home from the Big Sky Drive location. It's a long story, but the short version is I've found a teaching home at the Electric Needle in Madison now and didn't really need the space for teaching, so I've moved the custom made sewing portion back into my downstairs where I made all the clothes for the book. Now to get it all back in shape.

I've put it off and put it off, until now I've got to do some cleaning and moving in today so I can move forward with some projects that are due soon. So I got up this morning and lit a candle and some incense down there to put me in a more receptive mood, and I'm going to hook up my JAMBOX and play some of this Adele that I just got on itunes after hearing Hailey nail this song on American Idol last night. (Ok, Casey is my favorite, but dang, she really blew me away with this one)

I'm debating before and after pictures, we'll see how it turns out.

How do you motivate yourself and make an environment that makes you want to create?

Go ahead, inspire me!

April 11, 2011


Did I mention that I went to Denver last year to tape an episode of this cool new sewing show from Ellen March at Sew News Magazine? It's called SEW IT ALL and it will feature Ellen with a different guest each episode making some great project. Check out all the videos on their website. Some of the other guests from this first season include Carmen Webber and Suede, both from Project Runway, Kathy Cano-Murillo AKA the Crafty Chica, EllynAnne Geisel the Apron Lady, and Debbie Mumm, just to name a few. Check with your local PBS station to see if it's scheduled to air in your area, I've seen in listed in New Hampshire and Iowa so far.
My episode is called "Knockout Knock-offs" and in it I go through the process of tracing a skirt from start to finish, so if you are curious about the rub off technique from the book Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit, then check it out.
I'm looking at the photos and it seems I'm rockin' my Velma from Scooby Doo look I had going on last fall. The blond fairies have gotten hold of me again since then and I'm looking little more sunny these days.
Anyway I'm interested to see the episode when it comes out, it's all sort of a blur now, but I know I had a great time with Ellen and everyone from the show that day, and I think it's going to be a really fun series to watch.

March 29, 2011

Sewing Machine Project

I spent a couple of hours with my friend Margaret Jankowski from the Sewing Machine Project, and several volunteers from a group of retired Kraft employees. We spent some time "sewing in" a big bunch of recently donated machines. That includes opening, testing the stitches and condition of the machines and making sure they are nice and clean for the new owners. Over the past 6 years that the Sewing Machine Project has been collecting machines, Margaret and volunteers have sent machines to Sri Lanka, Mexico, Kosovo, the Gulf Coast after Katrina, and a batch was sent to Haiti last year following the earthquake. It's a powerful thing to handle and care for these machines, not even knowing where they will end up, but so grateful for the opportunity to be of service in some tiny way to people who have lost everything. There are some incredible gems among these machines. I just had to take pictures of some of the vintage machines that were so cool. I don't know what it is about these that is so magical to me, but I hope I never lose this fascination.
Margaret told us about a woman from New York who'd heard about the project, and had taken her machine in an paid for it to be serviced, packed it up, shipped it to her in Madison, and included a check for $25.00 to cover the cost of shipping the machine were it needed to go.
This woman understood the true value of that machine. For many of the recipients, it represents an ability to earn a livelihood that has been washed away or crushed by flood, earthquake, or war.
I wonder where these will end up?

Alabama Cheerleader

So, if I could just have the job of telling the world how great Natalie Chanin and all things Alabama Chanin are, I would. But short of uprooting my very rooted in Wisconsin husband and kids and moving to Florence Alabama to be her personal assistant (how cool would that be?) I choose to share my love for these books and this idea of making these beautiful handmade things in the USA with my local Madison chapter of the American Sewing Guild.
We will be making a journal cover and viewing her film Stitch at the Electric Needle in Madison on April 30th. You can join us by registering through the Electric Needle.
The class will include a copy of the Alabama Stitch Book, all journal supplies, and an afternoon of stenciling and hand sewing with a bunch of great ladies who also love to sew. I might just make some food from the book and bring that too. So if you are in Madison and would like to join us, please do.

January 21, 2011

Nancy's Corner

I just shot a little segment for the Sewing with Nancy Show! I went downtown to Vilas Hall where I was for part of the year last year working in the UW costume shop. The segment was about how you can use your sewing skills for working on costumes, and they called me to talk about some of my experience sewing for the Theatre. It was a lot of fun and it went well, (I guess!)
I'm told it will air in September so I'll let you know when it gets closer to the time.
Otherwise, I'm working on a business plan, and doing lots of yoga which has really helped my carpel tunnel syndrome. You can follow how that's going here.
More on the Sewing with Nancy show later when I get the photos...

January 10, 2011

Winter Classes at The Electric Needle

For Adults:
Alterations: a 3 session series. Instructor: Steffani Lincecum
This series of classes will start with altering pants, which you will bring to the first session. You will need your sewing machine in working order, and will receive a class supply list after you register.
This series is offered Tuesdays – January 11th, 18th and 25th from 6 – 8 pm
This series is $60

Sewing Machine Basics Instructor: Steffani Lincecum
This two hour class is designed for adults with a sewing machine who don’t recall what their machine can do, or who are new to sewing. You will work with your machine and make a journal cover and some accessories for sewing. You will receive a class supply list after you register.
We are offering this class twice: Thursday January 20th or Tuesday February 15th from 6 – 8 pm
This class is $40

Couture Finishes Instructor: Steffani Lincecum
Learn about handling sheer fabrics, hemming chiffon, and French seams in this 1.5 hour specialty techniques class.
This class is offered Tuesday February 1st from 6 – 7:30.
Course fee is $25 and you will receive a supplies list after registering.

Jean Hem Lab Instructor: Steffani Lincecum
Find out the secrets to making your jeans look like they came off the rack perfectly for you! You bring your machine and jeans that need hemming and we will provide you with the special tools and know-how to hem all your jeans perfectly.
The Jean Hem Lab is offered Thursday February 10th from 6 – 8 pm.
Course fee is $45 and includes the hemming kit. You will receive your supplies list after registering.

UFO Lab Instructor: Steffani Lincecum
Commit to finishing those Un-Finished Objects we all would like to just see completed. Have you hit a stumbling block? Or, are you just not making the time to work on the project? Here’s your chance to get expert advice and take the time to focus on your UFO!
This class is offered Thursday February 24th from 6 – 8 PM
Course fee is $20 and you will decide which project to focus on.

Shirt Dress Day! Instructor: Steffani Lincecum
Using the Amy Butler Liverpool Shirt Pattern you will make a shirt dress. Enjoy expert assistance, especially if you have not braved clothing patterns before! This 6 hour class will allow an hour for lunch break.
This class will be on March 12th from 10 – 4
Course fee is $45 – you will need to purchase the pattern and sufficient materials and notions to complete your dress. Your supply list will be provided after registering.

Please feel free to forward this to your friends!

Also, please let us know if there are classes that you are looking for and don't see here!

Please call


608-831-3770 or e mail us at to register today!

If you are interested in these courses, or other courses, please e mail us and let us know what days and times work best for you, or what classes you would like to see offered.