Every other week, we profile one of our customers, teachers, or employees to learn more about their sewing life. This week, the MD Sewist Spotlight is on our beloved teacher Amy Alan. Amy is a never-ending source of in-depth sewing knowledge and resident wise-cracker. She teaches the excellent Flat Pattern 101 and Flat Pattern 102 classes at MD.
How long have you been sewing?
I started sewing when I was maybe about 6, back in Indiana, where I’m from. I would bring my mom a long piece of thread and a needle, and she would knot it for me and let me go destroy whatever pillowcase or play dress I had gotten my hands on. I made ballet slippers (that were incredibly ugly but that I loved), Barbie clothes, tiny pillows and rag dolls.
I didn’t take my sewing skills much farther than beading and mending up through high school. I have an aunt who made incredible prom dresses and costumes for me. Some of my favorite first memories of fabric shopping are with her, debating over patterns and trims.
In college I was looking for a major that would allow to me to learn a skill and be able to get a job once I got out. I took a sewing class because it sounded like fun and I found my niche. There was hardly a day I was away from a sewing machine after that. I would even spend Spring Break tucked away in the Arts and Technology building at Ball State, sewing up dresses for fashion shows.
I really loved school. I had some fantastic professors, and quickly became enamored with draping and flat pattern. One of my favorite projects involved illustrating a garment and then creating it with draping. I made an eggplant purple gown out of chiffon, silk and satin.
Another fun project I created was for a studio assignment. You had to make an entire garment, sewing only one seam. You were allowed to do some decorative topstitching or buttonholes, but the main shaping could only be in the form of pleats, tucks, or anything else you could think of. I found a way through folding fabric to make and sew pockets onto my dress, and include a zipper in a back seam. The pattern looks crazy, but the dress is quite fun to wear!
Right out of college, I was offered a job with an apparel company. I was their technical designer, making outlandish costumes and dresses of every kind. I made technical illustrations, advertisements, operated a huge cutting machine, made, digitized and graded patterns and even designed and sewed a bit. I often came home covered in glitter and sequins.
After too many late nights and lots of stress, I left my job and took some time off. It was around that same time that I got into quilting. It was cathartic to chain stitch and design quilts, and I started making them for friends and family. I still enjoy it and need to start another one soon!
I then got a job in alterations and met several knowledgable and hilarious seamstresses and tailors. My days were composed of tailoring the occasional suit (it wasn’t my favorite thing to do), doing lots of hemming on all types of garments, shortening coats, sleeves, you name it. Each day was a little different, because you never knew what you were going to be working on.
Then one day my husband got a job in Portland, and I knew right away I was going to be emailing the ladies opening Modern Domestic to see about interviewing for a job in the shop. I started out behind the counter, and slowly transitioned to teaching. It has been amazing! I love when the shop is full of people and I can take a peek at what everyone else is sewing. The students who take my classes are so entertaining, and they make each time I teach so much fun.
Tell us about a favorite recent sewing project.
My most favorite recent sewing project was a wedding dress upcycle. An MD customer came to me to have me restyle her 1990s wedding dress. We transformed it into a beautiful cocktail dress, and BERNINA even used it in a Spring 2012 promotion!
What is your favorite sewing tip/tool?
My favorite sewing tool is my pair of tiny Gingher scissors my brother gave me one Christmas. I use them for everything from snipping threads to cutting tiny details when needed.
My best tip would be for sewists to really learn how to iron. There’s more to it than running an iron back and forth! Learn the difference between steaming, ironing, and pressing- your garments will look much nicer!
Where do you sew?
I sew upstairs in our 1918 house. The attic is a nicely finished space, so I have tons of room to spread out when I work on projects. My sewing room is constantly changing, so my tall drafting table is missing in this picture!
What sewing project(s) do you plan to tackle next?
I’m trying to be much better about taking the time to make garments for myself. I often buy fabric with very good intentions of making a new dress or skirt for myself, but my own projects get pushed aside for other jobs. I’ve got use up that fabric stash!