Growing up in The Bahamas, sewing was always present in my home. My mother made our everyday clothes, home décor accents, play costumes, and our school uniforms. Sewing was as utilitarian as cooking and cleaning. I appreciated the skill involved, but I failed to see it as a creative outlet. When my sister wanted a satin prom dress, my mom made it. I needed a clown costume for a dramatic performance, and she whipped it up. In my mind, it was an act as everyday as making a meal.
I learned to sew along the way, and I sewed some simple things in college and graduate school. I certainly did not consider myself a sewist or maker. It wasn’t until years later, when I unexpectedly became stay-at-home mother to a premature baby girl, that I began to sew again. As an introvert, I used my computer to discover the online sewing community, and I found a wealth of creative inspiration. Those that I discovered catapulted my mindset from functional sewing to creative expression.
Sewing is a very personal experience for me. I admire the work of so many creative people. When asked to choose 5 individuals to highlight as inspirations, I chose those whose influence has spurred me act or think in a new way and not simply to look at in admiration. These people have lit a spark for me to make, to improve my corner of the world, to make as advocacy, to make with a plan and purpose, to make better constructed pieces, and to make with a true appreciation of the diversity of cultures.
Make To Improve My Corner of The World: “Little Miss”
I began sewing for my daughter after seeing adorable (but high priced) clothes for infants in local boutiques. I would admire a garment, flip a price tag, cringe, and say, “Oh no, I can make that better, and for less.” My creative sewing journey began with my making clothes for her. Along the way she participated with pattern and fabric choices, and she provided enthusiastic encouragement for coordinated outfits. Our Mama and Me outfits had me say, “Thanks! I made them” so frequently that it was only natural it should be the name of my blog and business.
On the playground one day, she was teased for wearing her naturally curly hair loose and free flowing. Someone she thought was a friend, called her big hair “weird” because it wasn’t straight like theirs. I was hurt, angry and saddened for her, and I wanted to remind her of her awesomeness. I wanted to remind her that people don’t define us; rather, we know who we are. As a result of that experience, I was inspired to design fabric,
and recently, my first quilt to celebrate the beauty of our natural hair.
She loves them all and encourages me to keep it going and to do more. Every day she and my big haired son celebrate their uniqueness. They are fierce advocates for those around them to do the same. She knows there are problems in this world, and she knows we can “make” it better.
To Make as Advocacy Entropy Always Wins
Hillary is my longest known online friend. I “met” Hillary over a love of bag-making, repurposing materials, and the joys of jersey hand-sewing. Her career as an ER doctor is inspiring on its own. She is also an incredible quilt artist and remarkable newbie garment sewist. When a company we both loved broke our hearts over an issue of race, I chose to stop supporting them. I couldn’t see myself slaving for months on hand-sewing garments using books, patterns or stencils by a company who unceremoniously trivialized my very skin. When I pulled my support from the company, others did as well well. We spoke up and out, and eventually the company made the necessary change.
It was in this time, I came to know Hillary as a maker advocate. She envisioned a message quilt that included the family skin tones of all its collaborators from all corners of the globe.
I am inspired by how Hillary can go from social outrage to creative output beautifully. I admire how she can process societal problems, political injustices, and tragedy around us and channel them into meaningful art. I am often overwrought emotionally, tempering rage, overthinking situations, and weighing offences in a heap on the floor. Hillary is an “along-sider,” and she gets down there with you; she is not in a heap, but rather in a starting position preparing to act. I admire her ability to shift from “WTH?” to “What now?”, apparently seamlessly.
Her quilt titled “Caged” gave me goosebumps. Without explanation, I could see the statement on the current immigration crisis laid out in fabric.
Her day job in the ER shows her both the beneficial uses of narcotic drugs and the ramifications of its abuse.
I am inspired by the overt and subtle storytelling in her quilts. She does it in a way that visually holds the passion of story.
To Make With a Plan and Purpose: AC Makes
In most areas of my life, I like to have things planned and organized while factoring in multiple contingencies. In my sewing life, I am spontaneous and whimsical. I move when the inspiration hits. I make what strikes my fancy without much thought to how it fits my lifestyle. I have not been bothered by this because I enjoy the process and the need to expend my creative energy. I have joked though, that my hangers get more use of my clothes than I do. Following AC Makes on Instagram has inspired me to get a tighter rein on my sewing plans and to make with a plan and purpose. I love how she plans her collections.
She draws sketches,
pulls coordinating fabrics and patterns that all work together.
She follows through on her plans and has a cohesive wearable wardrobe that is consistent with her lifestyle. Her clothes are well constructed with added personal touches. When I thought about wardrobe planning, I felt I would be stifled creatively and would lose the adrenaline rush of inspiration. Watching Amanda’s creations go from the planning stage to perfected garments and bags has helped me have a shift of mind.
She has inspired me to be more deliberate and practical with what I make. Her planning has helped me think responsibly about how I use my precious patterns, fabrics, and sewing time.
To Make Better Constructed Bags and Garments: Cheryl of Paradiso Designs
I first met this independent pattern designer with hustle at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. The dresses, skirts, and bags in her eclectic booth caused my heart to leap. We stuck up a conversation, which led to friendship, and I learned about her patterns. I am a self-proclaimed bag lady. They are a great way to add pop to an ordinary outfit, to use a small cut of a treasured fabric, and to have a satisfying make without contending with fit issues.
I have been quick to buy and make the newest on-trend bag pattern. I have a closet full of good looking bags with too stiff stabilizer, bags with straps that don’t stay on my shoulder, and bags that are scaled to big or too small to be practical. Cheryl’s patterns are inspired. They are not just written; rather, they are engineered with practical use in mind. The stabilizer choices, pocket construction techniques, and Pleather sewing techniques all combine to make for awesome wearable bags.
Her strip cutting techniques, wide elastic casings, and overlapping side splits in skirts are brilliant. Her patterns are different from commercial patterns and have a slight learning curve with her techniques, but I enjoy everything I have made with them.
From her patterns, I am inspired to think about how and why garments are made the way they are. I have learned much from her patterns and live classes. I have applied those techniques to improve the construction and longevity of other patterns I have sewn.
To Make with Appreciation of the Culture of Others: Sandra Johnson Designs
I can be so impatient in non creative aspects of life. That being said, I surprise myself with how much I enjoy slow-stitching and fabric dyeing. Every time Sandra posts her work with these media, I am tempted to cancel all my plans, prepare sandwiches for dinner, and make everything I see. Among her many talents, she is a master of Japanese sashiko stitching. When she adds her stitches to the simplest pair of jeans,
or basic top,she elevates it to art. She stitches with care and honors the art form with the use of proper materials and correct techniques. Whether she applies the designs as an accent or a complete garment, I am always inspired.
I want to drop everything, slow down, and stitch. The same can be said of her work with shibori indigo dyeing. She folds, manipulates, and binds her fabrics with anticipated results in mind.
She works the fabric in and out of the dye pot repeatedly for hours to achieve gradients of blues in the fabric.
Her slow work on the fabric always produces enviable results. She is, additionally, inspiring because she shares her passion with others in the classes that she teaches.
Thanks for for allowing me to share these inspiring people with you. I am grateful for their influence in my creative journey and the way they have changed both how and what I make. I appreciate the varied impact each has had on me. I hope they can see that impact in my work. In seeing my work, I hope that they will smile.
I enjoyed reading your post Bianca. Your sources of inspiration are inspiring to me, in themselves, and so are you. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks so much I enjoyed writing this.
The message quilts especially strike me as awesome, and I love that you make textiles celebrating natural hair.
Oh Bianca, I really miss seeing your fabulous makes using that company, but principles are more important. Totally amazed by how quickly you could do all that careful hand stitching too! Thanks for your interesting and thought-provoking post.
Thank you! I still enjoy hand-sewing. I took Hillary’s advice and began designing and selling stencils for those who wanted to keep up with the craft, but could no longer support that company. There are a few in my Etsy store and there are more to come.
Bianca, thank you so much for writing this post for the Sewcialists! I’ve been following you ever since you were inspiration for someone else in last years theme month, and I love what you make, be it fashion, political, or both! Thank you for this thoughtful and inspiring post! <3
Thanks so much for the invitation. I enjoyed writing it and highlighting just a few of those who inspire me.
I am so sorry your daughter was bullied about her hair, yes she was bullied.
When my son was maybe 4 years old he was called a Puerto Rican because he was wearing a shirt my girlfriend bought him in Puerto Rico.
My son is white, very white, blue eyes, blonde hair but he was old enough to understand he was being bullied. He didn’t know where Puerto Rico was…. but he knew that the older kids were being mean. I hope that makes sense, he is 40 years old and does not tolerate racism.
Thanks for your support. Yes, it makes sense. Some things are hard to define, but recognizable on sight.
Thank you for obviously putting so much of yourself/time into crafting this post both visually and textually 🙂 It was deeply moving and inspiring – thinking of sewing as advocacy is a completely new direction for sewing that hadn’t crossed my motivation landscape and I love it!!
THANK YOU! I am so glad it was received with the spirit I intended. I am glad to turn your mind to sewing as advocacy
What a fantastic, thoughtful post. I initially wasn’t super-excited about the August theme because I assumed it would be a parade of people wanting to emulate the unrealistic Instagram lifestyles of a few superstar sewing bloggers, but this really went in a different direction & has given me a fresh appreciation for what we can learn from one another within this community. & your kiddo’s hair is absolutely gorgeous! (My daughter was also premature–born at 32 weeks. Preemie mom fist bump!)
(Fist Bump!) Thanks so much for appreciating the direction I took. I too tire of those kinds of posts. I see the value if they are truly inspiring for the author. At times however, it feels like sitting at “the cool kids table” by basking in the reflected glory of a sewlebrity. I wanted to show genuine appreciation to people who have impacted me in tangible ways.
I really appreciate the political direction you took. My blog was mostly political/feminist before I started sewing, & I’ve struggled to work those issues (which are still enormously important to me & affect my life everyday!) into my writing now that it’s mostly a sewing blog. So your post was also inspiring to me, as a writer & a person who cares about social justice, to think in new ways about the way the sewing community can inform & shape us politically.
Thank you for sharing these! I hadn’t heard of some of these makers before.
So much food for thought, and so inspiring. I absolutely love all the work you’ve done celebrating African American hair, and I admire that you took the time to engage in reasoned, respectful dialogue with a company over the issue of racial bias in language (although it is disappointing to hear their response). So many of us don’t take the time, or engage in a way that doesn’t invite a thoughtful reaction.
Yay! So glad I could introduce you to these fabulous people. After the initial pain of dealing with the bullying, making the designs has become so fun!
I went into it giving the benefit of the doubt. I really wanted it to work out. I wanted the owner to say, “I made a mistake, this hasn’t occurred to us, thanks for telling us.” I wanted to continue my love affair with the brand. When the response was so disappointing, I lost faith in people for a little while. Fortunately, many people helped restore it,
My African American daughter (now 28) was teased as a teen for having short natural hair. I was so angry. Then Jayne Brown on QVC cut hers and talked about short hair getting negative comments and being brave to wear it short! Jayne was inspired by her sister’s short hair.
I too love to sew just to create, and had hangers that enjoyed my makes more than me! ;o) Once I found my “real” style I have been able to stop this. Creating items I’d never wear was killing my inspiration to make my clothes.
LOVE all your inspiration and will be checking out more of your blog!
Thank You! Wonderful post! And adorable daughter :o)
Thank you so much for your support. I am sorry your daughter was teased and found inspiration from Jayne. My adorable daughter says “thank you”.
Thank you for this post. I am not a creative person but appreciate other people’s creations. I am a white woman living in a community where the majority of neighbours is of Maori, Pacific Island or Asian descent, with a few African refugees as well. No African-Americans however. I read the thread on ‘nude’ you refer to and realised how much my thinking about race, women’s position in society, and sexual orientation has changed since my early retirement and leaving a mainly white work place, and socialising within my suburb thus getting to know a diverse community. language reflects how we think, but can also shape what we think. I used to scoff at PC use of language but now see how wrong I was, how often. Nude is indeed not a colour!
Thank you! I am so glad you read the thread and that it was thought provoking to you. We can get stuck in our way of thinking refusing to change when it is uncomfortable. I appreciate your reflections, honesty about mistakes and willingness to share.
What a wonderful post. Your reviews were fabulous and just right!
A wonderful blog post Bianca! BTW, my Mom (now deceased) was Bianca, my oldest daughter is Bianca and I have a niece as well named Bianca! So I have followed your blog since the afro puff design…I loved it! Thank you for introducing your readers to other artists/sewists who find strength, peace and love in working with their hands/textiles; inspiration to you can be inspiration for us all!
I am so sorry your daughter was made fun of, but your response to it was magnificent!
Oh Bianca this was just a lovely post to read. Thank you for sharing. It was fun hearing the origins of your blog name.
Your response to your child’s hurt is heroic. Your fabric designs are whimsical, yet powerful and strong and positive.
Loved reading about the bloggers that inspire you too.