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Portrait of a Seamstress: Cloth & Bobbin

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A lot of seamstresses talk about the community of like-minded and similarly-skilled women and men they discovered when they started the hobby. I didn’t grasp this concept until I met Marci, Nette, and Christine, three bloggers I had been following online but had yet to meet in person, in New York City last November. I had always been a little shy about my strong liking, okay love, for sewing. I constantly felt like a dweeb when I told someone that my plans for my time away from work or school involved making a dress or something similar. This changed when all three women talked about fabric, interfacing, and thread during our meet up. There was no shame in being a seamstress anymore and I was part of the “in-crowd.” Also, I consider that moment the moment I officially became part of the club – the community all seamstresses talk about.

When I met Johanna, Stella, and Linda at Cloth & Bobbin for this interview, it was another testament of how the community of sewing exists in all forms and is present around the world. Cloth & Bobbin is a “small but mighty” fabric store located just outside Philadelphia in Narberth. Situated on a quaint street and across from a train station, it sells buttons, threads, notions, and fabric in colorful prints. They also sell patterns and teach classes. If you live around the area, I highly suggest you check them out!

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your_story

Stella: My name is Stella and I started sewing when I was a child. My mom and my grandmother were what I like to call sewing phobic, they can’t even sew a button, so sewing was not a part of my childhood. Regardless, I played around with fabric and sewing a little, but it is when Cloth & Bobbin opened that I really got into the hobby. I began interning for the store and Johanna (the owner of Cloth & Bobbin) taught me everything I know about sewing. Six years later and I’m addicted to the hobby!

Linda: My name is Linda and depending on your definition of sewing, I started sewing when I was around the age of five or six. I was sick as a child and my mother would give me a piece of cardboard, which had my name written on it, along with yarn and a yarn needle – she was principally a knitter. I would follow the lines and write my name with yarn. I was ten-years-old when I made something on the sewing machine and it was a skating skirt. Sewing in my day was compulsory for girls in junior high and I had a fabulous sewing teacher who, unlike every other sewing teacher on the planet, did not require her students to make the same thing. She let me go off on my own and by the time I was in high school, I was making most of my clothes. In college, I didn’t sew as much but my projects were bigger – I sewed a couple of gowns. I finally gave up sewing for myself because it was too hard to fit my body. It’s hard to fit someone else and it’s even harder to fit yourself, so I started quilting. My first quilt was a mess, but it was for my daughter, who was six-years-old at the time, and she loved it anyways. And from a design perspective, it was actually very nice! I commented to my daughter that I’d make quilts for her cousin and a few years later, her cousin got engaged and she reminded me that I promised to make her a quilt. I craft sew a little nowadays, it’s nice to make things for children, but I’m mostly a quilter.

stopping_from_making_clothes
Linda: In a sense, making garments for myself would be easier than buying a readymade dress, because they never fit, but I would need someone to fit a pattern that would suit my shape. But it takes a long time to make a basic pattern for an individual’s unique shape and it’s equally as hard to find someone that is skilled in doing so.

quilting_technique

Stella and Linda: Accuracy!

Stella: Prewashing! I always prewash to reduce shrinkage and color fading after the garment has been sewn.

Linda: This is interesting because when I was making clothing as a child, we never thought about prewashing. We just cut the fabric and sewed the garment! There was no prewashing in between. Mind you, we didn’t have the washers and the dryers that are available today, but still, the practice of prewashing was unheard of. Another skill that is used in both garment sewing and quilting is mastering the curved seam! Only the brave quilters used curved seams, most find other ways to achieve a curve, and from a garment perspective, achieving the perfect curve, such as on an armhole, is a skill.

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sewing_personally

Stella: For me, it’s a creative outlet that gives me enjoyment and something to look forward to every day. An example is this week – I’m house sitting and I didn’t want to bring all of my sewing stuff with me, so Johanna has been letting me come to the shop and sew because I can’t not sew. If I don’t have anything else going on in the day, I want to be sewing!
Linda: I wouldn’t say that I was desperate to go home and sew after a stressful day, but if I somehow managed to make it to the sewing machine after a horrible day, I discovered that I felt much better.

sewing community
Linda: Stella hasn’t quite discovered this yet, but there is a community, a community of quilt ladies as I refer to them, who are loyal, supportive, and a wonderful group of people. They have expanded my horizons and group of friends.

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function_or_decoration
Linda: Both. And a quilt doesn’t have to be hanging on a wall to be decorative. A quilt on a table or even on a bed could be decorative. And that’s what makes quilting so creative – on one hand, it can be functional but on the other hand, it can be a piece of art.

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Linda: It’s extremely creative. The traditional quilt is repetitive, it is blocks that are sewn together, and this is the notion that most people have about quilting. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Many quilters start off by sewing the basic quilt, just as many seamstresses start off by sewing the basic skirt, but most of us graduate from the basics and go someplace else, some place more creative. It’s visual, it’s tactile, and oh it’s so much fun! The tactile aspect of quilting is what gets me.

one_tip

Stella: Take it one step at a time and don’t get ahead of yourself. On every pattern, it says to read all the instructions first and then start sewing. I never do that because I get overwhelmed! I break sewing project(s) into several tasks.
Linda: There are no rules… there are no rules and there are no police.

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5 Comments

  1. Reply

    Elaray

    I took my first quilting class with Linda at Cloth & Bobbin. I love the store even though I don’t get there often enough. I’m still primarily a garment sewer, but I enjoy quilting also, thanks to my class at Cloth & Bobbin.

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      It’s so great to hear from one of Linda’s students. I had a great time interviewing her. I could tell immediately that her history and her passion for the hobby was deep.

  2. Reply

    Amy

    What a cool name for a store!

  3. Reply

    barbara

    Stella made a pair of pajamas from fabric my daughter picked out for me. They are so incredibly well made! I am jealous of her topstitching finesse. She has amazing sewing skills; I am in awe. Glad to see her and Linda and Cloth and Bobbin profiled here.

  4. Reply

    emily marie

    I love the last bit from Linda: “There are no rules and there are no police.” I think that methods equal parts by the book and without rules make for the best sewing!

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