MD Sewist Spotlight: Jen Van Arkel

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Every other week, we’ll be profiling one of our customers to find out a little bit about their sewing life. This week the MD Sewist Spotlight is on Jen Van Arkel.

1. How long have you been sewing?
I guess I can’t count the sewing I did in my 4th grade Home Ec class, when we practiced making circles on a paper plate. Or the time about 10 years ago when I tried to teach myself on my aunt’s 1960′s Singer; that attempt was ridiculously frustrating and futile. So I’d say I started sewing “for real” in about May 2010, when I began taking classes at Modern Domestic. After the first few classes, I bought a Janome, and then traded it in for my current machine, a Bernina Aurora 430. I continue to take classes at MD, learning new skills and techniques. I also read sewing blogs and books, and practice as much as I can at home. Having a newer machine has really made sewing so much more enjoyable than my initial attempts, and I also really appreciate the knowledge, support, help and enthusiasm available in the local sewing community (and online, too).
2. Tell us about a favorite recent sewing project.
Most of what I make is apparel, and most of it is for my 6 year old daughter. Since she’s small and I’m still learning, the projects aren’t too overwhelming, but I still get to learn and practice new techniques and skills. I make a few things for myself, too — not to worry that she gets all the spoils!
I’ve recently been on a bit of a sewing spree, and I’m happy with several projects: a winter coat for my daughter, a tunic for myself, a scarf for myself, and a pair of silk pillowcases.
For my daughter’s coat, I wanted something that was a bit dressier than her daily Columbia jacket, but not so precious that it couldn’t be machine washed. I chose a faux shearling in her latest favorite color, baby blue. Because of the thickness and the stickiness of the “suede” side, I had some trouble with the buttonholes, but Meredith at MD helped me troubleshoot, and the buttonholes came out great (solution: tear-away stabilizer). I also love the buttons, which are vintage from the Button Emporium, and look like snowflakes. Most importantly, my daughter loves wearing it — success!
The tunic pattern came from a Japanese pattern book. I’d taken some classes about using Japanese patterns (at MD, of course), and had made some things for my daughter. The tunic was the first item for me. I made a muslin first, since I heard the sizing in this book can be generous. After fiddling with the muslin off and on over the summer, I finally made the final version last month. I love the overall fit and comfort, the little pleats at the neck, and the overall simplicity of it.
I’m also really happy with how this ruffled scarf turned out. I love Anthropologie, so when I saw a class at MD to make an Anthropologie-inspired scarf, I jumped at it! I enjoyed learning to work with lightweight fabric, and to use elastic thread. I’m happy with the dramatic end result!
The pillowcases were a recent weekend sewing project, and an opportunity to try working with silk. I found the free pattern online, and chose it for some of the finishing details: French seams and a mock cuff. Beyond learning and practicing these techniques, what I love about this project is that I got to make something luxurious for myself that I probably would never have bought.
3. What is your favorite sewing tip/tool?
I love all the special feet for my Bernina — they make sewing so easy and professional-looking. The feet I’ve been using a lot are the walking foot and the ruffler. The walking foot really makes working with tricky fabrics a breeze. The ruffler makes quick work of ruffles, and makes them look so even and not at all homemade.
4. Where do you sew?
Right now, I sew in a tiny but bright nook off of our dining room. My husband used to call this room the Yogurt Room, because it’s so small that the only thing we could use it for was eating yogurt in the morning. I think sewing in it is a much better use of the space! I use half of the dining room table as my work table, which is not at all ideal (clutter!). My plan is to convert half of my home office into my dedicated sewing space, complete with a new, height-adjustable work table that I got at Ikea.
5. What sewing project(s) do you plan to tackle next?
I’ve got several projects that I’m excited to tackle soon. I recently bought a few Colette patterns: I plan to make the Negroni shirt for my husband, and the Violet blouse and Chantilly dress for me. I also have snagged some lovely fabric at Bolt’s recent sale that I plan to use on another Japanese tunic.

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