I’ve been sewing and crafting some way or another all my life, but when I really bit the bullet on financially investing in my sewing & equipment in 2011, I recall following Carolyn on Diary of a Sewing Fanatic even then. She’s iconic; no one can do a border print like Carolyn can do a border print. She’s intersectional in her sewing but also so down-to-earth-approachable. She’s got some real sewing wisdom we can all learn from, but she’s not gonna hold your hand. You can come to her side of the street, or don’t. And that is one of the things I love most about Carolyn: she’s been authentic since before it was a buzzword.
As always, I start off each interview with fluffy rainbows and unicorns, and then I tend to hit pretty heavy.
TW: Racism, violence, LOTS of politics (how does racism even hide behind “politics”??), and lots of swearing. 2020 is almost here—you should know me by now. I swear. 2020 for Sewcialists will be harder-hitting with fluff sprinkled in, so let’s kick it off, shall we?
Becky (B): First, let’s go over some get-to-know-you basics. Are you living in New York now? Where are you based out of?
Caroline (C): I work in New York City; I live in New Jersey. I’m in the ’burbs.
B: OK, I wasn’t sure. You seem to go to events all over, which is great to watch online, but for our readers, how does that look for you?
C: For me to go to a sewing event, like an event in Baltimore or Atlanta or something like that, I don’t drive; I take the train. So for a sewing event, if I can get there on public transportation, I’m going to go.
B: And you’ve mentioned online you don’t like to fly….
C: No, it’s not my favorite, but I will fly. Like I AM going to London and Paris next year. I’m going to stay with my friend, Ruth. She’s @dibsandthemachine on Instagram. We’ve known each other for years on social media, but we met IRL in May, and we just had the best time. She came in May to my house, and she took some stuff from The Stash, and she said if I ever want to go to London, that she’d take me around. So I decided I really do want to go to London, and so I asked her to let me get some days together, check hotels, and to see if she’d be around, BUT she said, “No. You come to London and stay at MY house.” Well, so that settled it. I’m definitely going to London now.
B: That just opens up the budget entirely!
C: I’m ready to shop to my heart’s content now!
B: You can just ship it back from there.
C: Oh, no. I’m buying an extra suitcase IN London, and I’m packing all my goodies in my new suitcase and putting it on that plane right next to me. I’m not going to be parted from my goodies! We are also going to Paris for two days: one day to fabric shop, and one day to sightsee. I’m excited. So yes, I’m getting on a plane!
B: That all sounds like it will be worth it. A good way to treat yourself.
C: (laughs) This is so totally off of what we were talking about.
B: We view it as all the same topic. You do so much. You’re on social media, you blog, you go to “sewcial” events, you take lots of classes and report online on it all; to us, it’s all part of our community. It’s what makes us “Sewcialists.” This segues perfectly into what I want to ask you next. Walk me through the differences between your blogging, Instagram, IRL sewing, and how they complement each other. What do you like best?
C: Let’s start with blogging, because of everything I do, I like blogging the the best. I like blogging the best because I get to say what I want to say and when I want to say it. I get to show what I’m making, and I get to tell you why I’m making it. I also like that I have a big enough blog audience that if I decide that I just want to type like a question of the day like “Do you sharpen your scissors?,” there are people that talk back to me. Gone are the days when you had a hundred comments on a blog post, so to get people talking back to you on the blog is really a big thing now.
I have a love-hate relationship with Bloglovin’ and blog readers. Most people read their blogs off blog readers now because it’s on their mobile device and it’s easy to access for them. When they leave a comment, I don’t see that comment for two to three weeks sometimes.
B: Oh really? That’s interesting. I don’t use blog readers because they often cause extra barriers to commenting; between that extra unnecessary barrier of entry or when the author forces a click-through, it’s really turned me off of blog reading in general.
C: I didn’t even know that! I only know about the comments because I check it every now and then, but it takes my friends, like Gaylen, to tell me I have comments. But I like blogging first because of the interaction.
The second place I’m probably most visible is Instagram. You can leave good comments, you can write more than a few characters with your photos, but I pretty much hate stories, though, because I hate everyone just talking to their phone. I don’t understand. Sometimes I think that makes me old (laughs).
I like meetups and things like Sew Camp and like the Baltimore Destash because then you get to actually meet some of the people who are leaving comments or following you. It also gives you a chance to make better relationships than just online, but then, in some cases, it makes people realize that the person they’ve dreamed up in their head is not who I actually am! (laughs)
B: Oh, I know what you mean! Text doesn’t have cadence, so people put their own cadence into what they read, their own ideas, their own personality and sometimes it doesn’t mesh in real life.
C: Yes! Their own ideas and make me their friend in their head, and then they meet me. I’m kind of loud and I curse a lot! I mean, I’m a lot more unfiltered in person than I am in a blog post. I’ll read a blog post three or four times before I post it. Sometimes I’ll write something and I let it sit for a day or two before I post it. So you see, who you’ve made me to be in your head might not be who I am actually am, and I found that some people are disappointed when they meet me. I’m not the friend they thought I was! Real-life meetings are really important for getting to know others. While I know I’ve disappointed some, I’ve met even more that are now really great friends.
B: Your sewing cave is legendary in the sewing blog-verse. What do you watch on your TV in your sewing room?
C: Right now I’m addicted to Chicago PD, but I also watched CSI or I watch Law & Order: SVU.
B: How are you able to do so and do you listen to podcasts or music?
C: I just need the TV going in the background and because I’ve seen all of them a whole bunch of times, I don’t need to watch. I found that at one point I was running old Grey’s Anatomy or old Scandal, but I ended up stopping and watching the episodes, so it has to be something I’ve already seen a bunch.
I often sew late. Often I start sewing about 9 PM until 2 or 3 in the morning, when it’s quiet and peaceful. At that time, there’s Internet, there’s nobody calling me, and there’s just quiet, then I play music. I like Marvin Gaye, Eric Benét, Luther Vandross or some Teddy Pendergrass. I found Teddy Pendergrass on Apple Music the other day, and he was like blasting for two weeks in the sewing cave. I’m definitely showing my age!
B: Well, I think that’s a good thing! We have Pati Palmer here in Portland, and I’ve been lucky enough to see her speak a few times. It’s amazing to watch her command a room, regardless of age. I feel like within our hobby here, our sewing world, we respect what you say because you have so much more experience. I think it’s important to hear you.
C: Well, I don’t know about listening to others’ expertise. I don’t necessarily know if that’s true online.
B: You don’t think so?
C: Maybe there’s a certain population that respects sewists with experience, or an elder source, but I don’t actually believe that’s true online.
We’ve become a “show me” community. You have to have a YouTube video, or you have a sparkly Instagram (IG) channel. If you have a blog, it has to have big, bright pictures with pretty and clean backgrounds. My personal opinion is that I believe we’re veering towards the shiny and the new. We have become very visual people and more experienced people compete with the shiny and new. I think we’re losing some of the experienced sewists because they’re just dropping out. I think we’re losing some of the experience to the visual and the flashy.
I realize I’m in the “baby boomer” generation, but I’ve been an unusual baby boomer because I have an active social media presence. Most baby boomers my age, they might have a Facebook page, but they have it so they can keep in contact with their kids. If they have an IG account, they usually don’t use it much other than to scroll through and see other people’s pictures. The way the pictures and YouTube videos and blogs are set up now, that’s intimidating! It’s so different from the way it was when we first started blogging.
B: Speaking of how it used to be, I’ve been following you a very long time. And, while you’re right, I follow blogs a lot less frequently now, and I do have one request.
Could you bring back your February 14th, 2014 post My Top Ten Sewing Blogs? It’s such a fun trip down Memory Lane, and going through the comments. Some of those blogs are no longer around; some were just starting out then and are huge now. It would be great to see what you’d put on the list now and to see the comments. Some of those small blogs and indie designers that were listed have even disappeared at this point.
C: That’s a good idea! I like that. What has happened to some of those smaller designers?
B: Well, I’ve talked to a few. I feel like the general public thinks there’s a lot of money in indie patterns, but there’s not. They’re not making a ton of money. Most indie designers are doing it for the love of the community, and if they need to make a paycheck large enough to help with their family, they can’t keep doing it. There’s just not that much. No one is getting rich here.
C: Well, you know why people think they are?
B: The shiny pictures on Instagram?
C: Right! I do know they’re not all making that much money. I was at a SewExpo, and I asked the lady from Vogue if the indie patterns were cutting into their business, and she actually laughed before she said, “No, absolutely not.”
B: Well, that’s good to know she was honest about it; some of their financial statements have been creatively worded to allow conjecture. I’ve seen firsthand some of the financial numbers out there on the indie side; no one’s getting rich, yet a lot of people are still insisting it’s happening.
C: I want to say, “Don’t be fooled by the hype.” Most people who sew aren’t on the Internet, they don’t have an IG account, or they don’t have a blog. They head off to JOANN or Walmart or Hobby Lobby. They pick up a pattern, pick up some fabric, and make what they need.
We (those of us online) are maybe 10% of the sewing population. When you see an account with tens of thousands of followers, it’s easy to think that is a lot, but if you put that within the scope of all sewists, we are an insignificant percentage.
B: Right! You work in market analysis and know all about big data. What those tens of thousands of followers translate to in dollars and “market mindshare” is minimal in the big picture.
C: Exactly. And people will see those thousands of followers and swear they’re getting rich, but they’re not. I know they’re not. Sometimes people come to me, and they’ll say, “You have a lot of followers and you are vocal about plus-sized patterns; you should do a plus-sized pattern.” All I can think about is WHY? I like healthcare, and I wrote about this in a blog post. I like getting a paycheck every two weeks. I like the benefits that come along with having a job, and I would throw all of that away to hope someone would buy a hundred patterns from me? No.
B: Oh, yeah. And there are so many hidden costs. I know a designer that had entire lines graded for plus sized. You have to pay for grading up front. She paid for it. It all came back wrong. The grader didn’t know as much as they said they did, so that pattern maker had to scrap it all and start over. She got in a plus-sized dress form, and is starting from zero again on the plus-sized block, but she’s already out the money. No one sees all of that. (Note: We are intentionally staying ambiguous on some of these as details aren’t necessary, but the general information is important.)
C: Well, and you’ll see (that designer) get a pass from the plus-sized community because she’s doing what she’s supposed to…and she’s working. She’s got the good sense not to open her mouth.
Some people wonder why the conversations are so much louder and vocal with some indie pattern makers versus others. It’s because they sit still, put their head down, do what they have to do, and then they launch it like they’re supposed to, and when they can. Instead, some do a lot of talk, then do a splashy launch with all these little sizes, still talking about how it’s coming!!! Plus sizes are coming, and it’s so much money!!
And paper patterns. You have to have paper patterns.
B: Tired of sticking together all those pieces of paper?
C: Don’t get me started on that!
B: (laughs) Bring it! Get on your soapbox!
C: I think this (PDF patterns) is a scam! Either you tape it together using your own paper, your own ink, and your own time after paying someone fifteen dollars or you pay an additional seven dollars to send it to PDF Plotting to get it back on those big pieces of paper. So, in essence, you spent more than twenty-five dollars for a very simple design. There are very few indie designers out there that are making complex designs or giving options out on a pattern. I go down to JOANN, which I hate with a passion, or I go to Hobby Lobby (I know people hate Hobby Lobby too), but I pay a $1.99 and get five designs in a pattern. Yeah, that’s a scam. People are being scammed. There’s a whole audience out there that is never going to tape shit together. AND they’re not gonna go online and try it. I’ve tried going on the PDF Plotting site just so that I wouldn’t sound like just an asshole, just complaining all the time, and it’s not intuitive.
B: I have a print-design background, and I found it difficult. I can’t imagine someone completely new to it all trying to figure out that site.
C: Yes! People are just going to keep buying Big 4.
The other thing that gets me about this is when people say, “Indie patterns are just so much better drafted. They don’t have so much ease.”
People. The reason there is ease in them is because twenty-five million people buy a pattern. It has to be made so that it fits a wide range of people. If you know you don’t like ease, remove it. Believe me, Mimi G’s patterns do not come out the envelope looking like they look on her! She has spent years learning how to perfect the fit for her body, and all I’m saying is other people should learn the way to fit patterns to their bodies too.
B: This is just proving my point of why it’s so important I think to listen to our elders and those with more experience. I didn’t know, until I talked to Pati Palmer and Marta Alto, that in the Big 4’s the bust measurement is HIGH BUST measurement, not bust apex. I was making 2 sizes too big for years, as is just about everyone else I come across. Cutting out two sizes too big in the first place will definitely cause too much ease! Not only are you adding extra circumference to your bust, you’re adding it to your back as well! This is the same when people advise to “grade between sizes” for an increase in bust. Do an FBA. Your back doesn’t have a larger bust cup! All these things you learn from those with more experience, instead of just getting your education from other beginners on Instagram.
C: Mm-hmm! I spend a lot of time sitting on my hands and not saying anything because at the beginning I used to be very vocal about all of this, and people hated me for it! New sewists on social media like to learn from beginners like them, and they don’t like to be told to stop listening to bad advice. There are a lot of people out there leading people down the garden path with really nice YouTube videos with bad information.
B: Yeah. I refer so many people to Grace aka @wzrdreams when I see “scooping out the crotch” spreading like wildfire again. Don’t do it! But if you don’t want to listen to me, listen to Grace. But some people have to learn by making their own mistakes.
C: Yes! And her (Grace’s) videos on walking the seams to be sure they match and on sleeve caps. See, these are things I learned when I first learned to sew, but people don’t want to learn from us. They don’t want to hear us say it. Our pictures aren’t great. Well, we’re not concentrating on our photos, we’re concentrating on the skill.
B: I know you get tired of it, but I think you’re this fountain of knowledge. Who do YOU go to? What books and/or teachers are your favorites?
C: My favorite class, I don’t even have to think about it: Cynthia Guffey! Before YouTube and Google and all of these things, we had to travel to shows to meet some celebrities and to take classes. I went to Cynthia Guffey’s classes at the SewExpos. Oh. My. God. Life changing. When people ask how I pipe so much, I like piping because of Cynthia Guffey. In my formative years, in the 80s and 90s, all the sewing magazines were big. One of the sewing machine companies had an advertisement with Cynthia Guffey, and she would talk about how she’d make beautiful clothes because she’d pipe the collars, the cuffs, and those kinds of details. I learned that detail sewing because of Cynthia Guffey. All the big names like Pati Palmer, Sandra Betzina, Nancy Zieman, and Rhonda Chaney would be in magazines and at Expos, and we’d take classes from them.
People always ask how I can look at a pattern and see potential in them when others haven’t seen it. I like Make It Your Own and that’s from Rhonda Chaney. When people ask how I can look outside the box, it’s this book.
B: Oh, I see it. Great! I’ll order it right now. (Yes, I really did order the book while I was on a video call with Carolyn, LOL. It’s a great book. Not too technical-pattern drafting-jargony if that’s not your thing. It’s very user-friendly. A bit dated, sure, but you can easily see past that and get the gist of it all. Everything in fashion is cyclical anyway.)
Going into my next question. You said that you started off being more vocal, I think I started following you around 2012, so maybe I was too late to the party. I honestly never thought you were super opinionated or vocal in regards to issues, but I did notice a change when we got the Orange Menace in office (my irreverent term for the 45th President of the United States.) That is where I see you being more vocal politically and taking a more activist position in the sewing community. 2017 started pretty early with you calling out Simplicity’s pattern cover tying together with the Hidden Figures movie but with white models.
C: I’ve been vocal about plus-sized patterns for a long time. I started with a Big 4 about plus-sized patterns. It drove me crazy that Butterick, McCall, and Vogue could not grade up to a size 24. A 24!!! I’m not even asking for a 28 or 30 which is what Simplicity was doing at the time. I’ve been vocal for a long time. The lady that runs Pattern Review (PR) hates me. I started way before; let me look it up. On Thursday June 15, 2006, I wrote a post called An Open Letter because they had a folder in Pattern Review called Calling a Spade a Spade, and people lost their shit. This was back when I used to call those forums the “wild wild west” because they weren’t moderated.
B: They’re still pretty wild.
C: Yes, they are. “Calling a spade a spade” is derogatory to black people, and I was offended by ninety percent of the content written in that folder. Instead of writing about it on PR, I wrote it on MY blog, because on my blog I can moderate, and I can hold the conversation. But, the point is, I have always had a big mouth, and I did comment about politics before 45 showed up. When Hillary and Bill were running against Barack Obama, and Bill Clinton went to South Carolina and started using code words, I wrote about it on my blog. Do you know that the people who had Ravelry at one point had to have the police sitting outside their house (in reference to Ravelry’s No Trump Policy)?
B: They did not! I saw their No Trump Policy, and we (Sewcialists editors) discussed it, of course. We take the Sewcialists/Socialists play on words pretty seriously to be honest, but I’m a crap knitter, so had no idea!
C: Yes, they did! They were threatened, and the police had to be called. The police had to sit outside their house. You have to be really careful these days coming at Trump supporters because they’ve been emboldened. This was suppressed for the prior 8 years; they no longer have to suppress themselves.
B: In the Pacific Northwest of the USA where I’m at, which a lot of it was built on white supremacy, we had a huge skinhead problem in the late 80s/early 90s, and I remember young men dying and going to prison. Now we’ve got this next set generation coming out; while the West Coast can be very liberal as far as a lot of things go, I’ve had no illusions about the bigots in the closet. That said, I’m still white and still have blind spots where I can be ignorant. One thing I’d like to ask specifically about having this asshole in the office (President Trump of USA) is that now all of these wolves in sheep’s clothing are showing their true colors. We can see them now, and they can’t hide now. Once they out themselves as being bigots, there’s no going back. Is that at all a silver lining?
C: No. Now it’s even more dangerous if you’re a person of color or if you’re LGBTQIA+. If you’re anything other than white, life in America has become as dangerous for you now as it was in the 50s and 60s. I believe that 45 has made it difficult to be a person of color, to be queer, to be trans, to be Hispanic, to be anything other than white male Christian or female Christian. If you’re anything outside that scope, you are fucked in America right now.
We were beforehand, like females and, in particular, people of color, but we said we weren’t; we said we weren’t because you couldn’t see it like you can see it now. You ALL can see it now. I always knew when someone was being prejudiced to me or when someone had institutionalized prejudice and didn’t realize that they did by the way they treated me. If you are “other,” you always knew. I wasn’t in fear of my life in the last decade. Now?? Everyone is.
(At this point, Carolyn’s voice is starting to crack. I add this note because like we state above, there’s no cadence in text. Often in these interviews, I tell you when we’re being cheeky or laughing, but to end 2019, I want you to know how important this interview is for us all. I want you to know this line of dialog was HARD. I want you to know my asking this of Carolyn, and Carolyn answering was painful for her. Everyday tensions and violent occurrences are wearing on our fellow humans. Elections are still not being taken seriously. We saw the UK votes this year, and US presidential elections are in 2020. We must have our eyes open. While this isn’t at all BIPOC’s work to do, Carolyn gave us her time. Please respect it.)
B: I’m sorry. I want to get this out there because it’s important those of us with white privilege to see what it really is like. For some reason, many still just won’t believe it.
C: I’m 60 years old. When I was growing up, I went to my grandparents’ house one summer. My grandfather was six-foot-five; he was this beautiful tall black man with green eyes. They lived in South Carolina, and we were just walking down the street one day. I remember some people called him “boy” and when we looked, we saw a group of white women. My grandfather stepped off of the sidewalk, lifted me up and onto his shoulders, and we walked clear around them.
We are right back there. We constantly have conversations with my grandson. He’s only ten years old, and he’s the sweetest, nicest boy. BUT he’s big like his father and my grandfather. He’s gonna be six-foot-five or six-foot-six. He’s big and burly already. We went to the playground a few months ago, and he was trying to help two little white children, smaller than him, on the swings. The parents ran over and grabbed their kids and walked away. I live in New Jersey!
We are right back where we were.
I’m sorry, I’m crying. This scares the the hell out of me because we are allowing a small segment of the country to drive the rest of us, and we’re allowing it to happen. We don’t vote because we want to stick our heads in the sand. We want to believe it’s better.
I’m sorry. This has nothing to do with sewing.
B: It has everything to do with it. Politics are intertwined with everything. You are part of sewing, and you face this, therefore it IS part of sewing. It has everything to do with this site and our mission for this site. We don’t believe it should be separated because it is NOT separated. Separating it allows people to keep their heads in the sand. The people who want their sewing to only be their happy place can fuck off.
C: People think just because it doesn’t affect them, that it doesn’t happen. It does. It is real. Life has swung back exactly the way it was; the only difference is camera phones. The fact that some of the shackles have been loosened so people can still talk, and we have come to a place where it’s no longer acceptable, so if the camera phone catches you cursing out a black person or a queer person or a trans person, you can lose your job for it. You can be shamed for it. That is the only difference, because there was no shame when I was a child.
B: Right…and now we have a whole segment who’s not sorry they did it, they’re just sorry they got caught.
C: RIGHT!!! Right! We have now emboldened some people. You’re right in that, like, the sheets are coming off, but there’s been a cost. The cost is going to continue to affect our country so much.
I end my Sewcialists interviews indefinitely on this note and with Carolyn. I love doing our interviews, but they are incredibly labor intensive, and I will be taking a break to work on other things, and hopefully open up interviews to more volunteer editors. Carolyn is the ultimate interview to go out on. We are an international community, where there are no “others.” We cannot allow “others.” Politics, environment, economics: We are one. One human race. We have to ride this out together. Help us make 2020 better for Carolyn, for Carolyn’s grandson, and for all of us on this giant rock hurtling through space. ~Becky Jo
Carolyn, thank you from the bottom of my heart for being honest and raw. I admire you so much (and knowing that you are loud and swear means you definitely ARE the friend I imagine in my head)! You’ve filled me with renewed commitment to making sure that Sewcialists is a way to understand each others life experiences, not just talk about sewing. I”m also sending you huge hugs for the fears you have to live with, and the daily discrimination that i’ve never lived with. Much love, my friend.
I had to google why “calling a spade a spade” is racist, and I’ll leave this link here incase other people were wondering too. https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/09/19/224183763/is-it-racist-to-call-a-spade-a-spade
yeah – or a simpler Americanism translation: Spade is code for the N word. I have a grievance with NPR as it’s for and by upper-class white people (86% of their listenership), and while the “longer form” history of “spade” is great and all, the intended use of the word “spade” by a “good ol’ boy or his little lady” (aka white people) is code for the N-word.
I think the part that gutted me about this part of the conversation is why was there an argument? If someone tells you “this is racists” or “this is offensive,” acknowledge and learn. If you’re truly ignorant, than say so. It’s ok to not know everything. I don’t know everything. It’s not ok to pretend you do, let alone at the cost of another human.
Thanks Becky for breaking it down. I’m with you on NPR because they also come off as intellectual snobs which is off-putting to many people.
I did not know that either! I thought it had something to do with playing cards. Lesson learned. I’ve followed Carolyn’s blog since I started 2010 or so) and I always learn so much from her. This is a great interview, and powerful, even if it’s hard in some places. Thank you, Carolyn and Becky Jo.
Thank you so much for this interview / talk on sewing and politics. It deeply touched me.
This interview went over 2.5 hours long – my longest to date. It transcribed to over 20 Word doc pages. While editing down to a readable post is not an exact science, please know, Carolyn is a delightful person and read most of this as laughing our butts off. It’s hard to get real personality from text without putting your own speaking cadence into it. I know, I do it too. This dialog was two people who love our sewing community solving the world’s problems over a cup of coffee. There’s a lot taken out of the conversation for readability, and all of that editing comes down to me, so if clarification is needed or if you’re not sure you jive with Carolyn, it’s all on me, not on her. <3
This is a wonderful interview of a woman whose work I admire. Caroline has been a slurce of inspiration to me. We are the same age so our memory experiences are very similar.
I know there are people who get angry and wonder why we can’t “just sew and all get along”. As long as people of color like Caroline and her family live in fear and have a whole set of rules and warnings to live by to stay safe, we need to talk about racism, acknowledge its existence and evil, and fight it. This means all of us leaving our comfort zone and calling out bigotry where we see it.
I wanted to comment on the Bloglovin part that Becky Jo mentioned. I require a click through because mining sites steal whole posts off of RSS readers like Bloglovin. I don’t want my content used elsewhere for clicks. So by only posting a preview, these sites cannot steal your blogposts. Just an FYI!
Now…She IS the undisputed queen of border prints! 😀
I have say, we roomed at sew camp and I was down in the sewing room at 5 a.m. and I flamed out at 10 pm while Carolyn was going strong! LOL!!!
I am so right there with you, as you know, on the “shiny” aspect. I started sewing in 2013 and of course, happened upon the “popular” crowd quickly. But thankfully, I was able to see who had talent and skill and my sewing is better because of it.
I have also pulled WAYYY back on trying to logic with people who only want to talk about OMGSOMUCHEASE in the Big4. There is a very good reason that they’ve been around and that the *MAJORITY* of sewers use their patterns.
Because maybe people don’t know but, Butterick 1863. McCall’s 1870. Vogue 1914. Simplicity 1922. Seriously people!!! A person who learned to sew in 2014 with no pattern drafting or grading experience ain’t putting 100+ year-old companies out of business.
Lastly, America is racist. It has never not been racist. WE know what it is. WE were not shocked by the events that began to unfold after 2016. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told, “yeah…this isn’t “new”…America isn’t “becoming” this way…”. THIS *IS* America. This. Is. America.
I can’t tell you how many sewers, who I am certain feel they are very progressive, want to “keep politics out of sewing”. Well how awesome for you, that you get to forget about this niggling little thing called racism. You get to set it aside until you feel up to discussing it. What a luxury!
Fantastic interview on so many fronts. I’ve long been a fan of your work, Carolyn, and it always warms my heart to see your happy face in such beautiful garments—has anyone ever looked that happy in ready-to-wear? I’m 62 and I agree so wholeheartedly with everything, I think, you say about PDFs, the Big 4, learning from older sewers, all that. In terms of the political content on your blog, I say, “keep it coming!” As a Canadian, there’s nothing I can do about “the Orange Menace” and his ilk but sit, watch, and worry, and I wish you all the best there for all our sakes. (Although, we Canadians can use the object lesson that we are far from perfect and there is much work to do here, too!). Finally, I hope you have a fabulous time in London and Paris!
Thank you Carolyn. Anger and laughter are two sides of the same coin, the keys to survival.
“ If you’re anything outside that scope [of being white and christian], you are fucked in America right now.”
The twin accelerants if white supremacy and capitalism are the willingly consumed fuel that drives every single aspect of life in the United States (and Great Britain and Australia and…) In my family and within my circle of friends, the systemic injustice and personal fragility resulting from this radioactive bullshit system of oppression are in constant – and I mean never ceasing – topics of conversation. This interview was an absolute beacon of hope that I’m not alone in the vast sea of white ladies who assume I’m one of them and recoil when I say something that upsets their sensibilities.
but, you know what? I didn’t become a textile merchant to make people feel good about their ignorance. I entered this community to use the privilege of business ownership to 1.) create a space where all people can feel comfortable (you won’t find any fabric with Caucasian cherubs or police cars here.) 2.) to support emerging POC designers and 3.) to operate establish a small business that operates outside the trappings of capitalism. (In my first year, I tried to figure out a way to offer reparations pricing but I’m now not sure that’s the answer. I mean, as a nation, we must compensate African American people. That’s where my energy is better spent.)
Being so vocal with my understanding of the world world I live in alienated people, I get that. But, as someone who is in Carolyn’s age bracket (I was born in ‘66) and as a person whose familial dialect is swear-word heavy, the sewing community can also very isolating and exclusive. Sewcialists, you do a excellent job of surfacing the hard conversations. Which are, truly, the substantive and informative discussions that will continue to give shape to the solutions to problems many of us aren’t yet aware that we have. Thank you.
Typos above. Ignore them.
Oh Carolyn. Thank you so much for sharing your fears and your pain with us. Thank you for each an every time you show a bit more of your irl personality online. Thank you for championing the experienced sewists who are on line. Thank you for being you and for being here. Xoxo Grace
Thank you Sewcialists for this most wonderful interview, that had me in tears by the time I was finished. Carolyn is my favorite blog and I love it when she injects her point of view on issues other than sewing onto her site. I have the utmost respect for someone who speaks their mind and is not afraid to do so. I left the US seventeen years ago and settled in Mexico and although class racism exists down here it is nothing compared to the level of bigotry, and ignorance that exists north of the border. And what they don’t get is that we are all in this mess together. I wish I knew the answer.
On the pattern issue, as someone in my mid 60s’, I gasp at the price of Indie patterns that are rehashes of the old Big 4. It is so dang easy to draft a basic top pattern from something you already own or make a shirt out of a dress and vice versa. Why would you pay so much for something so basic?
And lastly, Carolyn have a wonderful time in London and Paris. You’re excitement comes through loud and clear!
Oh gosh. Thank you so very much for this interview. Carolyn is amazing and we need her voice more than ever.
What an incredible interview. Thank you Carolyn for saying a lot of things I’ve thought about i.e. indie patterns price vs details vs pdfs etc. and respecting experience over glitter. I also don’t understand Bloglovin’, I find it hard to interact with the (few) people who follow me there. Then my heart ached in tune about the state of the world. I’m in the UK living in quite a liberal enclave but the way the political tide is at the moment I feel that same fear. hings I thought we left in the past 30 years ago are starting to happen again.
I don’t always find time to read the blogs I follow but I’m going to make a space for Carolyn’s from now on.
Any room for gatecrashers when you visit Dibs? 😀
Lainee – I didn’t realize you were living in the UK. And yes, we can talk about meeting in London when I have the schedule down.
Carolyn’s blog was the first sewing blog I ever subscribed to and I always look forward to her posts, makes, and wisdom. So happy to see that someone else thinks the whole crotch scoop thing doesn’t make sense and I am going right over to @wzrdreams to see her perspective.
Thanks for a wonderfully enlightening interview!
I am so proud of you Carolyn. This interview was a joy to read and I am happy you remained you, talking about the things people don’t feel comfortable talking about 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣Meeting you in real life was one of the highlights of 2019 for me and I can’t wait 2020 and our get together.
Dibs – me too! Soooooooo excited about London…seriously have stopped buying fabric in anticipation!
Thank you?. I’ve been following Carolyn’s blog for many years and I loved reading this interview. I appreciate her honesty and heart felt concern for the direction the US is heading in. I think there is a palpable feeling everywhere that the world is changing and not in a good way.
Best interview ever! So much gratitude to Carolyn, who is always, always honest. And always teaching.
Thank you for this. I feel like someone has finally said some of the things I’ve been saying privately for years. I remember when Carolyn wrote the post about the Simplicity pattern envelope situation and I thought that was great! Please keep speaking your mind.
I have shied away in the past from saying some things on my blog or in the sewing community, but I’m 58 and I think the new year is going to bring some new things. I so appreciate this article/interview. It helps to highlight the importance of featuring many different voices!
Denise – maybe we should stop saying these things privately. Maybe we should be as vocal as the people who advocate for these things. Maybe our silence is being used against us as consent…when we don’t consent at all. My hope is that we all stop worrying about followers, free shit and trying to be like others in the sewing community and start being ourselves. We ARE all important. The community doesn’t function without us, just like America doesn’t work without our participation. That is why the forces against democracy are working so hard to shut us up, stop us from voting and to believe the lies we’re being fed. Thank you for reading the post, understanding and commenting. I appreciate your support!
I am so grateful for Carolyn in the sewing world and just in life! She is a force for good with everything she puts out in the world. I have followed her a long time. It feels like every day now is a struggle against evil under this administration. The more specific, lived information we can have about this administration’s impact, the more firmly we should resist. It would help to take the pain and anger we feel reading about what Carolyn and her family have endured and to write to our senators to tell them we support impeaching this president. Acting for change gives hope. Thank you and Carolyn for courageous and creative inspiration.
This gave me all the feels. We grew up in an upper middle class suburb that was predominantly white and outside of Atlanta. There were so many instances of the “low key” and engrained racism. There were even more overt racist events that happened to my older brother (one instance at 16 where he and his friend were pulled over and police surrounded his car with guns drawn because a black man else where in the city had committed a crime). I was pretty naive about it but it then as I was young and looking back I am outraged.
You’ve also made me realize I need to try a big 4 pattern. I love a deal and when you broke down the cost phew did I feel SILLY.
Thank you so so much for this interview y’all.
Amkile – I grew up in a predominately white neighborhood in the suburbs too and the “low key” racism was everywhere. We were the first black family on our block and the white flight afterwards was mindblowing, within two years the block was filled with black families. There were suburban towns my friends and I wouldn’t drive through when we were teenagers because we were guaranteed to be stopped. Or as a young married couple, I always drove when we were on the NJTPK in the evening or after dark, because my dark skinned husband was always pulled over…many times with our sleeping toddlers in the backseat. Like ks_sews said, America has always been racist. And yes, the Big4 is a better spend for your sewing dollars in my humble opinion unless you need a speciality pattern OR the indie company provides a paper pattern in your size.
Thank you Becky Jo & Carolyn for this interview. I’ve followed Carolyn’s blog for many years and always admired her sewing skills and honest reviews. Total respect for the broad scope of the interview & opinions expressed here.
Carolyn complimented the fit of something I made once. I kind of consider that my greatest sewing accomplishment. I love reading what she has to say about anything and everything, she’s one of the grand ladies.
Wil – that’s so kind of you! But you did the work and you got the great fit so you should be proud of your skills!
I love this frank interview and learned a lot as usual . Thank you for putting yourself out there. I want to say that I am also 60 but not near as experienced in the sewing department. I prefer pdf patterns to the big 4 because I am usually grading between 10 and a 18 and it is easier to do this with access to all of the sizes. Everyone has such different fitting challenges and maybe I could’ve figured this out using the big 4 but independent patterns re-invigorated my interest in sewing and were easier for me to use. I do have both still but it is difficult to know which size or group of sizes will work best in tissue paper patterns.
Linda – think of this…if you bought two of the same pattern from the Big4 on sale in two different size ranges…you would pay max $8 on sale for both patterns. Not only would you get a wide range of sizes but you would also get 4-5 garments in one pattern. By laying the smaller pattern piece over the larger one and tracing a new pattern piece to fit your size, you would accomplish the same thing as buying a pdf pattern. You would also learn some things about fitting, altering patterns and how patterns should be properly marked. Maybe try it and see if it works.
Now an addendum – I do use Indie Patterns. I’m a huge fan of Cashmerette Patterns but that’s because she offers a product to an underserved market and Jenny’s patterns do include more than one view/make of a garment.
Thank You for this interview and for linking that bigotry in any area of those we admire and respect is an assault to us all too. Thank You Carolyn for your honesty and please know that some of us will work even harder to make it a better world.
Thank-you for all you have said Carolyn.
The first (and last) time I used a PDF pattern I thought “Really? Making me do all the work is the new and trendy way of getting patterns these days?”, and I was so thrilled to read Carolyn’s blog and discover I wasn’t the only person who thought this way. Reading this has just made me admire her even more. Thank you to Becky Jo and Carolyn for such an honest and thought-provoking interview.
Thank you, to both of you, for all of this <3
Thank you Carolyn and Becky Jo!! This was such a great interview and an important read. Carolyn, I have long admired you in the online sewing community. I remember a couple years ago (probably more than a couple now, because time flies!) when you gently laughed at a young sewing blogger referring to herself as an “experienced” sewist and gently pointed out what TRUE experience looks like and it caused QUITE the stir in the blogosphere! It was a refreshing wake up call to all the young upstarts, like myself, who just came to this craft and thought that because we could tackle difficult sewing patterns with good results that made us experts! I hope you know how much I value your honesty and generosity on all your online platforms. Every time there is controversy, be it on plus size patterns, or (not so sneaky) racism I always look to what you have to say as a basis for forming my opinions. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. And thank you so much for sharing your real, living truth with us on your experiences with prejudice and racism. I know it’s exhausting to feel like you constantly need to be educating white people, so I just want to express my gratitude for sharing your vulnerability, and that it’s so SO important to hear yours and others views and experiences. I’m so grateful, and also so heartsick. I wish your big, strong grandson could one day meet my big, strong son and they could be friends. So much love for you and yours.
I know this is a long shot, but is Grace’s @wzrdeams advice about not scooping out crotch curves available anywhere other than Instagram? Or am I going to have to give in and make an Instagram account, since it’s quite hard to view or search the site without one? I’m definitely with Carolyn about liking blogs best. (This is not a criticism of people who are only on Instagram; they should do whatever they like best, and I know it’s much harder to run a blog. But big thanks to everyone who is still blogging.)
Hmmm. Well, the gist of it is that when you scoop out a crotch, not to be confused with dropping a crotch, but scooping out actually does a few things not likely intended. The first and main one is that you’re removing fabric from entire quantity and circumference. What people end up doing after scooping a crotch is they find fabric too tight around the rear end, then add fabric to the hip. This, like “grading between sizes” causes new fit issues, like you’re moving your side seam off grain and you start to get twisting. Another person that goes into this info is Sandra Betzina, also mentioned in the interview. She goes into some of this in her pants classes. The main point of not doing easy fixes like grading between sizes and scooping and all these “cheat fixes” is that they really end up causing more problems, and it’s better do a proper fix, like find your crotch curve, put in flat/full butt adjustments, and… lol, don’t over fit! 😀 Another option would be taking a Palmer/Pletsch class or a jeans fitting from Lauren… there are very skilled teachers out there, but you know the adage: If it sounds too good to be true… Instagram has a lot of the cheat fix people on there too, so if you don’t want an instagram account, that’s fine, but if you need visuals, then video classes or in-person classes are the way to go. People like Grace and Brooke @sewbrooke give their professional advice for those who are willing to listen; we added Grace in here to pay our respects. They don’t often get the love they deserve.
Well phrased. Fit is a moving object.
And thank you for this interview. I’m all out of tissues, and never out of rage. Or love for Carolyn, her wisdom, her kindness, her truth. The best of 2020 to you and all of us.
Aw, thank you! It was a delight meeting you up in Seattle and hope we meet up again soon in the new year. <3
I’m glad you have pointed this out, BeckyJo. This is the second time I have read your “don’t scoop out the crotch” advice, and it really struck a chord with me. When I saw people doing that, I really wondered “why?” because it SEEMED they were trying to give themselves more room, which can’t be done by removing fabric!
Agreed! I would love to see this advice, but even with an IG account I can’t easily find it. Any tips on how to get there would be most appreciated.
This interview was wonderful/ I love Carolyn and love her blog. I love that she is frank and honest. I read her latest post on 45 and it makes me so angry when people go on her blog and defend that horrible man. I am Canadian and what is going on in the USA horrifies and terrifies me. Political writers are predicting the rise of China (undeniably a ver scary dictatorship) and the fall of the US. I truly believe that 45 is a large part of this prediction. He is just….. and the things he does are just…. and the horrific behaviour he encourages is just….. I like the fact that Carolyn is someone that ACTUALLY knows how to sew and to sew properly and I read her blog because of this and her frankness politically. The shiny and new is not always best. I am 48 and have sewn since I was 12. I was taught in home ec by a teacher who knew her stuff and my mom’s cousin who also knew her stuff. I wish she were still around to help me with fit. She has been gone for 20 years…. Big 4 are not evil. LOL. I learned on those patterns. Some are wonderful and some are not. I don’t find the instructions off putting – but as I said I learned on them. I also sew a lot of Indie patterns but I tend not to buy the simple stuff and purchase more from companies who offer more complicated designs and that I can actually learn something from. I am coming to detest PDFs though. I used to like them because I could have a pattern instantly. And they are not that expensive compared to other patterns in Canada. We don’t have $1.99 sales here like in the USA. We can’t get Simplicity or New Look here anymore. But the blush has gone off that taping paper together rose and if an Indie comes out in paper I much prefer it – however it is a decision to buy because with the $$ exchange and the cost of shipping…. They are super expensive to buy for me. Big 4 truly often are cheaper much of the time. Anyways… thank you for being so honest Carolyn and I hope that for your sake and for the sake of the world that the voting US public comes to it’s senses in 2020. I wish our Prime Minister was stronger and would stand up to 45… that all world leaders would.
I’ve logged in to WordPress for the first time in ages so I could comment on this post–THANK YOU! To both of you. I have not known of Carolyn or Grace before, and am delighted to find Carolyn’s wise, outspoken blog. That’s what the community needs.
(*Note: I accidentally posted a “yes please!” comment about getting to Grace’s advice about not scooping out crotch curves, but it’s moot since I was reading down the page and didn’t realize BeckyJo had answered it. Please feel free to kill that comment.)
I also want to thank you both for going there on the current/ always already political and racial dynamic situation in the USA and the world. As a white kid in the 90s I really did think things had gotten better, and it’s been a process to recognize the privilege I enjoy that led to that belief. I sincerely appreciate the hard work of POC to help make these things clear–how awful to have work upon work upon fear. I do hope that this work helps us all to truly improve things over time, and again, thank you so much for your contributions, Carolyn and BeckyJo and others.
Thank you for this comment! you made my day! /bj
Thank you, Sewcialists and Carolyn for a positively incredible interview. Iam gobsmacked with the honesty, sincerity and total fearlessness with which you both share. This is such a bright light in our Sewing Universe. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Isn’t Carolyn a treasure? I do adore her so very much.
[…] did this interview with Becky in 2019, and I wanted to revisit it in light of the events currently unfolding in the […]