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A Day in the Life of a Seamstress

12 A Day in the Life of a Seamstress

Sewing is cool. Most people don’t believe us. Was Buddy Holly cool before he donned a pair of black, wayfarer sunglasses? Was Tom Cruise cool before he danced across the big screen in tighty whities? Was Bill Gates cool before his first billion? Being cool is about being admired. The cool are envied because of their self-confidence in a unique skill. Jesse James, a custom motorcycle builder, is cool. I can’t weld the front end of a chopper, but he can’t line the inside of a bra cup. Our screw ups are equally as painful.

For my next piece on Coca Cola’s blog, The Journey, I’m showing the world just how cool sewing is by documenting a day in my life, weekend edition. If you’re new to this blog and wondering why I’m writing for one of the largest beverage retailers, well, their blog  highlights innovative people in various fields. I have taken on the role of being the spokesperson for the sewing community – preaching about our world, how much fun we have and the fabulous things we create. So, join me as I begin sewing a dress, interview a local costume maker for my series Handmade and meet up with 2 of my favorite local sewing bloggers. How do I end my uber-exciting, sewing-centric day? You’ll have to hop on over to Coke to find out!

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4:30 AM In my opinion, if you are not up before 7:00 AM, even on a weekend, you have already wasted too much time. No one becomes successful by sleeping in. While the wealthy wake up to a solitary view of a beach or a sweeping view of a grand city like New York, I wake up to a site just beautiful. The first thing I see when I get out of bed is my sewing machine. While my de rigueur machine is a PFAFF Expression 3.2, which is a beast boasting over 200 stitches and an IDT feeding system, I brought out my 1956 Singer Featherweight this weekend. YOLO, right? Weighing 11lbs, it hums like a 1960s Ford Mustang, but rides like a brand new Porsche.

5:15 AM In need of coffee STAT. While I let the java get my blood pumping and my muscles loosened, I read. Call me old school (I prefer the word vintage), but I like taking in my information tangible style. Two books I am constantly reading are Claire Schaeffers Couture Sewing Techniques and Twyla Tharps The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. Perhaps one of the greatest choreographers of her generation, Tharp offers her theses on creativity. As scrappy doo as I can be, I am also very methodical, and Tharp’s prescriptions for creativity offer me a system for turning my ideas into realities. She also provides examples of how the unique behaviors and patterns other luminaries such as Beethoven and Maurice Sendick gave birth to their masterpieces. I find inspiration knowing quirks are not setbacks but advantages. Wasnt that the gist of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath? Last on the daily reading list is The Wall Street Journal. Why? Because the WSJ always does it right. Duh.

9:00 AM Post 10 mile run, I shower and eat a carb and protein loaded breakfast – homemade granola with bananas, dates, chai seeds and almond milk. I am now in the right headspace to sew. Although temperatures are lingering in the low 80s, typical degrees for August in Philly, fall is on my mind. Currently, Im working on the prototype, muslin as we seamstresses refer to it, for a dress. Channeling a structured jacket with its double breasted front closure, face-framing flat collar and center back pleat, its going to be one of those pieces that can transition from fall to winter to spring. At least thats the plan. This morning, I’m doing the first steps of any garment construction stay stitching, sewing darts, etc.

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1:30 PM One of the many series on my blog is called Handmade, where I find and interview local people and businesses that are making a living selling hand crafted products. Just like beer drinkers, it’s important for me to connect with the Philly community. Not only for cross promotion opportunities, but it also boosts my sewing mojo knowing that other people have a passion to create as much as I do exist. Up today is Pierre’s Costumes. I walk past it every evening and its wonted faade gives the impression that its nothing special. I am wrong. After being greeted by Jennifer Valosen, manager of the store, she shows me the front showroom and the sewing studio just behind it. But it is the room way in the back that made me drool – a floor to ceiling closet that houses all the costumes. And you thought your wardrobe was overflowing?

While interviewing Jennifer, I am equally fascinated and inspired by her story. She was the sewer who said she would never touch a sewing machine after her first project. But as she put it, sewing found her and she had no choice in the matter. While attending college for communications and public relations, she worked in the school’s costume shop. Instead of pursuing her major after graduation, she followed her passion, working at several theaters before ending up at Pierre’s.

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3:00 PM For as far reaching as the Internet is, it can also be very small. Two years ago, Andrea, a local sewing blogger, moved to Philadelphia, 2 blocks away from my apartment. Despite our proximity, it has taken us this long to finally meet in real life. Along with Claire, another local sewing blogger, we hit up Cafe Ole. This java jaunt isn’t your ordinary place to get a caffeine fix. Sunday mornings here are as rowdy and lively as your nights downtown. There are some serious art latte throwdowns. Over some cups of joes, Claire, Andrea and I talk geeky, sewing nonsense like making swimsuits, stretching elastic and grading patterns. Unlike online dating, when bloggers meet up, especially sewing bloggers, it does not turn out to be the worst date ever. Pun intended, our conversation from start to finish is seamless; there are not awkward silences.

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5-8:00 PM With a couple of hours to kill, I head to my haven – Madalynne Studios. At 350 square feet, it is my zen zone. I come here, usually alone, to photograph and to sew. On the third floor, it gets a little stuffy in the summer, so I open the windows. Sitting in front of the breeze, I continue to work on my dress. Unfortunately, I ran out of matching thread 30 minutes in, so I switched to another love of mine. Bra making. Six years after I started sewing, I delved into this category as a challenge. The fit, the fabrics and the techniques used to construct a bra are markedly different from garment sewing. Like any challenge I take on, I dove in head first and havent come up for a breadth yet. I’m that hooked. Developing this skill set has even led me to amazing opportunities – I’m teaching an online class in November as well as teaching 2 in-person workshops this winter. Who would have thunk Miss Maddie would be a teacher? Cray cray.

Listening to the breeze whirl in as I cut a new bra pattern, I can’t help but think how lucky I am. My W2 may not have six figures on it, but if I had to quantify my quality of life, it would amount to much more.

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Weekend: Mishka Update

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When I went home to Florida last weekend, I thought a lot about Mark Twain and his views on living in real time. Before his famed titles The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Twain was a travel writer, but instead of recording what happened as it happened, he wrote later. “I would not have fooled away any of it writing letters,” is what he penned during a journey to Hawaii.

I’m a bona fide shutterbug – I see life in photographs – but this trip was different. I found out Mishka, the woman who taught me to sew, the woman who has ripped out so many of my sleeves and the woman who calls me her second daughter, has cancer. My priorities changed when I saw how cancer and chemotherapy devastated my mom’s body and took her life, and it happened again this weekend when I heard Mishka is sick. Once again, I realized that life is too short and can be cruel. I only want to surround myself with the people and the things that matter. Sewing is one of them, and my family, Mishka included, is another. Despite the torment she is going through, one thing has remained unchanged – her spirit and courage. She still goes to the shop ever morning, bald, to sew. Isn’t that incredible?

So this weekend, I broke away from our reportorial obsession to capture this very moment. The only moments I photographed where the ones I was specifically asked to – my brother’s 29th birthday party, dubbed Jamesapalooza. The rest of the time, I did exactly what Mathew McConaughey said to do, “L-I-V-I-N.”

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Book Review + Giveaway: Sewtionary

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I know you know. Tasia, the woman who gave birth to the perfect maxi skirt, has released a book. I admire all the indie pattern makers – Grainline Studios, Colette, Pauline Alice, Closet Case Files – but Tasia has a special place in my heart. Why? Because just like me, she has experience in the production, sourcing and technical design side of garment making. Her newest title, Sewtionary, is a chockablock of the most essential sewing terms and techniques, 101 to be exact, which are written in easy to read language and pretty to see images. Novice or skilled, there’s a place for this book in every sewer’s library. I won’t share too much information about what’s inside, and that’s because one of you will be receiving a copy. Tasia is offering one book to one Madalynne reader. To enter, like Madalynne on Facebook and follow Madalynne on Bloglovin. If you’re already a follower on either platforms, that’s okay. Just tell me so below. In the comments section, be sure to leave your name and contact information. Contest opens immediately and closes Wednesday, September 24th, where a winner will be chosen, notified and featured on the blog. Last, contest is open internationally. Good luck!

And don’t forget the other wonderful ladies who are hosting a Sewtionary tour on their blog:

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Handmade: Wise Owl Shop

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It’s no surprise that I gravitate towards things that are handmade. As mostly a maker of clothing and lingerie, I not only desire the me-made, but I understand and appreciate the value of treasures crafted with human hands. What started off as a humble project in 2009, Wise Owl Shop has grown into a blooming brand that offers upcycled clothing, neckwarmers and soon-to-be boot sleeves. Its home base, which is in the basement of the same building as Madalynne Studios, is a glorious jumble of garments, shoes, sewing notions, fabrics, tree branches and hardcore machines. The dame behind the label, Ashleigh Loeffler, disassembles thrift and vintage clothing and re-assembles them into new, fashion pieces. Her hailed (and very cozy) neckwarmers use recycled fabric as the outer liner and new, micro-fleece as the inner liner. The kicker? Each one is finished with a wooden button that Ashleigh slices from a fallen tree limb from her family’s home in Pennsylvania. How’s that for one hell of a story.

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construction process Handmade: Wise Owl Shop
It was the woman who lived next door to my grandma who got me into sewing. Her name was Eleanor. She altered my family’s clothes, and I would go over to her house and watch her work. I took home economics in high school, and this is when I started to make my own clothes. I had a hippie aesthetic, adding patchwork to my jeans and such. I didn’t sew for a long time after, only picking it up when I had my daughter. I was very into baby wearing, so I made a lot of baby wraps. One winter, Kevin, my husband, was vending his glasswork at Christmas Village in City Hall and I made a neckwarmer just like my current ones. I received so many compliments that I started selling them. The next season, I was helping someone vend and he put me in touch with his wholesale contacts. A year later, I attended a show on my own. That was 3 years ago and we’ve been growing ever since.
your story Handmade: Wise Owl Shop
First, I shop a factory that receives vintage and thrift clothing from places like Salvation Army. It’s huge – blocks long. I spend an entire day sifting through a two thousand pound bale of scarves, usually leaving with anywhere between 500-600 pounds. The following 2 or 3 days, I wash and dry the items at the laundry mat. After, I cut each one to size here in the studio, and then serge it to the fleece.

Each button is made from fallen tree limbs I gather at my family’s home in northern Pennsylvania. Using a band saw, I first slice them and then, I let them dry. I cut when the wood when it’s wet; fresh wood is better to work with. After, I use a sander to smooth the surface and apply Howard’s Feed and Wax. It’s the most eco friendly wood finish I can find. Last, I drill a hole through the middle.

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favorite Handmade: Wise Owl Shop
I consider myself a self taught seamstress, so a lot of the things I make are very simple. My favorite piece is a jersey knit dress; the silhouette was so basic with two pieces of fabric serged together and armholes and a neckline cut out. I still wear it and I still think it’s awesome. I can do whatever I wanted with it – wear it with sandals, put a belt around it, etc.

machines Handmade: Wise Owl Shop
Vintage-wise, I have a 1929 industrial Singer straight stitch and an old Singer zigzag machine. I’m not sure the year on the zigzag – I call it the blue one! For the buttons, I have a band saw, belt sander and a drill press. For finishing, I have an industrial serger and a home serger.

sew for yourself Handmade: Wise Owl Shop
Not really, but I somehow found time to make my daughters Halloween costume last year. She was Daphne from Scooby Doo and I rubbed off the pattern from an existing dress to make her costume. It was a fun process, minus the sleeves. It was the first time I had to set a sleeve to an armhole, and it got a little funny at the underarm, but I figured it out. She loved it.

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mentor Handmade: Wise Owl Shop
I worked at a gallery in Chestnut Hill called Windfall Gallery. It was my first job when I moved to Philadelphia after high school, and the owner was the first person who recognized and fueled my creativity. She allowed me to express my style in the store’s display and merchandising. I also joined her when she attended wholesale shows, and for me, that got my artistic juices flowing. I had the opportunity to see work that most people didn’t have access to. It was an art overload. Most importantly, she taught me to keep my boundaries. If I have an intention with my business, it’s okay to stand by it. Some people tell me what my prices should be, but in the end, it’s my decision and I should stick to it.

still want to learn Handmade: Wise Owl Shop
Leather! I’m not sure what form I would want to create from it, maybe shoes? I’ve made a few moccasins, but they were very much prototypes. Still needs a lot of work!

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      Did you hear that I'm teaching an online bra making class? In 1 hour, I walk you through constructing a bra from start to finish, and I'll cover choosing a bra pattern, finding your size, tracing and cutting tips and construction. Click HERE to sign up now! If you can't attend the class, I will be teaching it in person this winter here in Philadelphia; EMAIL ME to be put on the waiting list.


      Another famous bra maker is teaching an online class! BEVERLY JOHNSON just announced that she will be teaching a class on Crafty and the release date is Tuesday, September 23rd. Enter now to win a free spot!


      If you're like me and you live in the northern hemisphere, then fall is upon us. Join the ladies at CASHMERETTE as they make on spectacular, green coat.


      Have you heard? SARAI and the ladies and Colette Patterns are dedicating the entire month to hems. Called SEPT-HEM-BER, they will cover how to make sure a hem is even, everything you need to know about stabilizing hems, several options to finish the raw edge of your hem, how to stitch a hem by hand, how to sew basic turned hem by machines (and a few different options for doing it), how to sew a machine rolled hem, how to sew a faced or shaped hem, how to sew a baby hem and how to sew a mitered corner. Whoa! That's a lot!


      Congratulations MADY on your second year blog anniversary! I've been following you for only a short time, but I'm excited to get to know you even more. Here's to many more years of happy and healthy sewing!


      For her engagement shoot, ANGIE made a striped Emery dress and looks stunning next to her forever partner and fiancé.