I’m just back from the Los Angeles CHA Winter show. It was my first time in LA, and because the trip was so quick, I still don’t feel like I’ve truly been to LA. I spent all of my time in the 3-block radius between the hotel and the LA Convention Center. However, the weather was lovely (70 degrees and sunny!), so it wasn’t a bad 3-block radius to live in for two days.
No real sightseeing, only this stretch of road. But there were palm trees and sun, and no snow!
I’m working on more posts about the most interesting “industry” related things I took away from the show, with lots of pictures and insights from people I talked to. But what’s on my mind first is what I took away from the show personally—mostly, these five things:

1. Sleep is wonderful. When I finally got into LA on Friday afternoon, I was jet-lagged and
on fumes, having barely slept the night before. I managed to check in at the show to get my pass, take a short walk, and order takeout to eat in my room before I crashed at 7 p.m. I slept—uninterrupted—for 11 hours. I don’t know the last time I’ve slept 11 hours. Probably in 2007. Being well-rested really is a gift.

2. It’s good to get out of the house. I used to be pretty social, but I’m finding that I spend more and more time cooped up in my office these days. Getting out among people is good for both my mental health and my confidence. I think a lot of writers suffer from the “no one gives a fig about what I write or pays any attention to what I do.” But I got so many compliments on Sew Retro at the show—people stopping by the publisher’s booth just to say hit to me. To ME! One woman even said that she saw me on TV (on the web)—that little local morning show I did a few months ago and then uploaded to my site. Which of course I figured no one watched.

3. Two-year-olds sound so sweet on the phone. You can’t imagine that they would ever do anything bad when you're gone, like steal their baby sister’s paci and hide it in the laundry room.

4. It is, in fact, possible to pump in the bathroom of an airplane while cruising at 30,000 feet. I can’t even believe I had to do this, but it was either that or hours of misery. Luckily, a sweet flight attendant hooked me up with an “out of order” sign on one of the bathrooms while I did it.

5. I love meeting new people. Sit me down next to someone with an interesting job or a fascinating background, and I’m in heaven (coincidentally, this drives my husband crazy—whenever we go anywhere, he always hopes we wind up sitting next to boring people so he doesn’t have to hear me ask an endless series of questions). I met other authors and editors from Craftside’s various imprints, and learned all kinds of interesting things—from what it’s like to work in Hollywood to what it’s like to be a woman from India who loves and respects her culture, but doesn’t want to follow the traditional path set out for her. Grown-up conversations with interesting people are the best way to re-set my mood and pull me out of whatever funk I’m in. And if they happen to be set against the backdrop of LA sun, all the better!

More on the coolest booths and most interesting trends coming soon . . .
I don’t like winter, but I live in Cincinnati. So I’m pretty much out of luck. The only good thing about winter is the clothes—layers of fleecy, wooly, tweedy warmth. We bought Max his first real big boy winter coat a few months ago, along with hats, gloves, and boots. But it never occurred to me to get a scarf for him. So when I spotted this piece of grey fleece in my sewing basket one impossibly cold Sunday morning, I knew exactly what to do with it. The circles remind me of blowing bubbles, and I picked colors that would match his coat. I used all knit fabric, but you could use whatever is on hand (I actually think using a woven cotton and then fraying the edges would look really great).
 You could probably look at this and figure out intuitively how to do it. But here are the basic steps in case you want to know how I did it.

1. First, cut two pieces of fleece, each about 46 inches by 6-1/2 inches (or whatever length you want the scarf—I wanted some definite length).

2.  Next, cut out a bunch of circles of different sizes and in different colors (trace whatever you have on hand to create circles).

3.  Arrange your circles on the scarf front; keep at least 1/2-inch on each side (room for seams) and about six inches at each bottom (for the fringe).
4.  To appliqué, you can use Wonder-Under. I think my Wonder-Under was too old (and ruined from spending the summer in my hot attic office), so instead, I just dabbed some fabric glue to hold the circles until I stitched.

5.  I sewed around the circles with a basic straight stitch, because I wanted a rough, uneven look. But you could also do a zigzag or appliqué stitch. Or if you want a clean-edged look, follow Anna Maria Horner’s directions for super circles.

6. Sew up the sides of your two pieces of fleece (right sides together). Leave both ends open.

7. Turn and press well.
Don't forget to press after you turn so the scarf's side edges are nice and crisp. Ignore all of the crap in the background, please.
8. Align the rough edges at the ends and make four or five cuts about 5 - 6 inches deep, about 1 to 1-1/2 inches apart.
 9. Tie the ends together to make fringe. Trimming the seam will help the end piece be less bulky. Don’t pull it too tight because it’s easy to stretch. My fringe is never perfect, so I just trim it until it’s even. (I’m sure there are more exacting ways to do this, but it’s for a wild toddler in the snow, so I’m not too worried.)
 10. Add stitching detail. The stitching detail on the outside is actually my favorite part of this scarf! Last year, I won some pretty green yarn at Purl Soho (I was lucky enough to be there the day of their grand re-opening). I wasn’t sure what to do with it until I was trying to figure out how to add some more personality to this scarf. I decided to pull apart the strands and use a single strand (you pretty much have to use a needle threader to get it to go through the eye of an embroidery needle). I just freehanded the fun, curling stitches. (I’m not that great of a hand sewer, and it’s actually very easy to do.)

 The hand-stitching looks good, and it holds the layers together. You could freehand some machine stitching of course, too.

May your winter be toasty!

First of all, I wish everyone could win! I truly loved reading all of your comments (I actually did read every one—I took frequent breaks from the other stuff I was working on to read 20 or 30 at a time). I’m obviously not alone in my love of Anna Maria. One of my favorite comments was from Tiffany; she said, “I think I may have an innocent crush on Anna Maria.” Ditto! Anna Maria just has that effect on people.

So Anna Maria, if you are looking for your next design inspiration, I hope we’ve provided you with some ideas! The most oft-mentioned suggestions: knit fabrics (I second that one!), more clothes for boys (near and dear to my own heart, too) as well as girls, outerwear/a cool jacket, vintage-looking dresses, clothes for the 40+ crowd, pieces to help decorate/ get organized in the kitchen, and bags. Readers also love when Anna Maria introduces them to a different kind of fabric (like velveteen or voile), and are excited to see that might be next. Someone even suggested she collaborate with Anthropologie, which sounds brilliant to me!

I think we’ve given Anna Maria a lot to think about, in case she is ever at a loss for creative inspiration!

Also, thanks to all who offered such lovely comments about my own blog, which is still such a work in progress (any guess whose blog I aspire to?).

I also want to offer one final thank you to Anna Maria for her time and generosity, and to Pierrette for coordinating.

But on with it. There can only be one winner. It’s so sad. But it’s a happy day for:

Autumn Jones!

Autumn, I’ll be emailing you shortly to get your postal address and then I will ship all the goodies to you.

Thanks to everyone for participating. I promise more exciting Q&As with industry-leading designers and giveaways coming soon!

Anna Maria Horner (courtesy Anna Maria Horner)
 I first came across a copy of Anna Maria Horner’s Seams to Me  when I was browsing the craft section at the bookstore. I had one of those instant physical reactions you get when you see something you love so much you can’t believe it’s in your hands at that very moment: sort of tingly, short of breath, and a little dizzy. This was my aesthetic: colorful, smart, playful, and funky.

The shortness of breath returned when I spotted her fabrics at Purl Patchwork in New York City (and blew my fabric spending budget). When I got back home, I started reading her blog and immediately loved the warmth and honesty of her voice. And few months later, when I was five months pregnant, I got a copy of her newest book, Handmade Beginnings. How nice that Anna Maria wrote a book just for me, I thought! I whipped up a handful of the projects in a frenzy, so excited to be able to make cute maternity clothes  and an adorable baby doll and quilt to introduce my two-year-old to the idea of a new baby (he’s now become obsessed with the baby doll, as I’ve written about before, and I made another doll for his cousin for Christmas, along with a dress!). Just last week, I visited Sewn, a shop here in town that’s about to open and is going to carry Anna Maria, and got to see Innocent Crush up close and in person. I had to remind myself to breathe.

I was nervous when I approached her about doing a Q&A for my blog because, well, she’s awesome, and I’m still very much a humble newbie in this craftastic blogosphere of talent. But of course she said yes, because that’s the kind of person she is. She also generously agreed to partner with me in a giveaway of Sew Retro. And on that note: wait until you see what she’s giving away!

Here's a look at the goods!
An Innocent Crush Cotton Fat Quarter Bundle and a Fat Quarter Stack of the whole Pastry Line Collection, plus one yard of the Jewel Velveteen!
A closer look at that luscious velveteen!
The ENTIRE Anna Maria pattern collection!
Yes, you saw correctly! In addition to receiving a signed copy of my book, Sew Retro, the lucky winner will get the following:
   -- A fat quarter bundle of Innocent Crush (cottons)
   -- A fat quarter stack of the Pastry Line collection
   -- A one-yard cut of Jewel Velveteen
   -- The ENTIRE Anna Maria sewing pattern collection--that's 10 in all (Proper Attire Skirt, Ruthie Clutch, Sidewalk Satchel, Roundabout Dress & Slip, Gathering Flowers Quilt, Socialite Dress, Flower Patch Pillow, Evening Empire Dress, Study Hall Skirt, and Multi-Tasker Tote).

I think you'll agree, that's pretty flippin' amazing! So, to enter: read every single fabulous word Anna Maria says, and then leave a comment about what you would like to see Anna Maria design next. Me? I'd love to see her modern take on the jumper.

The giveaway ends Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 at 10:00 am EST. I'll pick a winner at random; I'll post the winner, and also email you, so make sure your email address shows up.

Thanks everyone for participating, the giveaway is now over. But stay tuned for more giveaways! And you can still enjoy this lovely Q&A with Anna Maria.

And now, the Q&A with Anna Maria . . .

Q: You have six kids, including a toddler. Do you sleep?!
   Anna Maria: YES!

Q: Seriously, how do you balance it all and manage to stay so on top of your game, creatively speaking?
   Anna Maria: Oh that’s a good question! I've learned to be patient with my family, but more importantly patient with myself. Everyone but Roman is school age now, so that definitely allows me some hours in the day during the school year to absorb myself in my work. But the fact of the matter is, I just take it when I can get it!  Some days there is no way I am going to get focused work done in the studio so during those times, I just clean, organize. Or I might do some type of hand work in the kids' space, like the playroom or their rooms, which makes it seem like I'm not really working. I am lucky that my work includes various levels of processes—some that I have to do in seclusion, and others that I can do in a family atmosphere. So the trick is pairing the task with opportunity just right.  Which I mess up. Often!

Q: Sew Retro is all about the history of sewing for the various generation of women. What is your personal sewing history? Who taught you and what role has sewing played in your life?
   Anna Maria: My mama taught me how to sew, but I learned mostly by observation and tinkering. She made so much for us—dresses, blouses, toys, doll cloths, décor for our rooms. I love reminiscing about the sweet little calico fabrics she chose for our school dresses. I especially cherish my fabric store memories when I was old enough to help pick out the fabrics for my clothes—what a dream that was. It was invigorating for me, even as a young girl—so much more fun than shopping the girls’ section of the department store! Both of my grandmothers did a beautiful job at any needlecraft that they picked up—crochet, knitting, and needlework. It was all very inspiring as a young girl. I ponder sometimes what life would have been like without those influences, and while I trust that I would have come to the arts one way another because of my nature, I am thankful that it was handed to me by my family.

Q: Does vintage (like retro fashion or vintage textiles) play a role in your creative process? What are some of your favorite sources for vintage inspiration?
   Anna Maria: Not too different than many designers, I love looking through old archives of furniture, clothing, and interior design. Sometimes it’s on websites or at libraries, but most often it’s at markets, antique stores, etc. The Library of Congress is a very inspiring place to look through images of days past and you don't even have to leave your house. But when given the opportunity I love to peruse old goods in person.

Q: Your blog is gorgeous, and I know that hundreds—actually probably thousands—of sewers and craft enthusiasts follow it. How do you balance the work of a blog with the pay-the-bills kind of work? (I ask this because I know a lot of bloggers struggle with this, myself included.)
   Anna Maria: Thank you! This is something that definitely enters my mind as my schedule gets packed with projects. I love writing my blog and I can't imagine not doing it. It serves so many purposes for me. But I do have to remind myself that in regards to the tutorials and projects that I share there, from a business perspective, this is free content. If you're earning a living for what you do, there can only be so much free content in your business structure. So when other projects or collaborations present themselves, as inspiring or as fun as they sound, if it’s not a source of income for the business, I have to weigh its value and whether or not I have room for it while still keeping this place humming, employing myself and a handful of people. Now this is partly because I don't use at my blog as a revenue generator by taking advertising, etc. I do get asked a lot about placing ads on my site, but there's an obligation then set in place to post very regularly, and then I might also feel the pressure of what those posts are suppose to be, etc. Whereas currently, my blog is probably the easiest, most fluid, no-stress thing that I do. All that said, I have been working on pay-the-bills kind of work for years longer than I have been writing a blog, so it’s mostly just been working the blog story into my work story. So far, so good. However, I am aware of how much my blog has enhanced the business. I think this is due in large part to the fact that a lot of the fabric that I design is how-to based. And I very often share how-I-do. 

Q: Clothing design seems to be an area that you’re really focusing on. I don’t know about you, but now that I’m in my late-ish 30s, I’m starting to feel sort of old, like I can’t keep up with the trends in fashion! How do you keep up, and figure out which trends to let into your creative process and which ones to tell, “no thanks!”
   Anna Maria: Keeping up is made simple because I visit style.com almost daily and have for YEARS—pretty much as long as they've been in existence (which is around the same time I gave up my WWD subscription). I think the editing that takes place has to do with what kind of a fashion customer I am. I think if I've learned anything in my personal life of style (and five years as a clothing designer for my own label) it’s knowing what to say no to. I am also very lucky to have a daughter (19) who is really just one demographic age below me who provides fantastic input from her perspective. I am a 38-year-old woman and I employ women who are 24, 26, and 30. Their occasional input is really wonderful because I have the filter of various ages younger than me, each with their own perspective. This is also the same group of ages that I design for /sell to most often. 

Q: I love your new line, Innocent Crush. It feels like, well, an innocent crush! What was your inspiration for the line? 
   Anna Maria: It was really just a very simple idea. The smallest phrase or idea can inspire a narrative which fuels the colors, forms, and print arrangements in my mind as I work. I always have forms, colors swirling around up in my head; they are sort of a cast of characters, if that makes sense. Coming up with a collection title just gives them all a story to play a part in. I know it sounds a little vague, and obscure, but I am a story-based person. Narrative is important and inspiring to me. This has been true since the beginning creative endeavors . . . from my handmade dollhouses, to my charcoals in high school, to my paintings in art school, to my clothing line, to my fabric collections.

Q: So what can we expect to see from you in 2011? More patterns? More lines of fabric? Another book?
   Anna Maria: Yes to patterns, yes to fabric, and not really to a book. But a new collection of inspiration with a new collection of materials. Kind of under wraps for the time being, but I can't wait to share soon!  I also am working on some product lines in the fashion arena . . . and can't wait to spill the beans on those too!
My essay, "Should Little Boys Play with Kitchens?" is up on Shelterpop this morning. It's about how domestic play is so often geared toward little girls, and how that is short-changing all of us in the end. This is a topic near and dear to my heart since (1) I have a boy, (2) I have a girl, and (3) I have a husband who is a stay-at-home-dad and does all of the cooking, and much of the housework. Our society, our expectations, and our notion of what men do and what women do has been changing for quite some time--mainstream toy manufacturers need to start taking notice! Would love to hear what other parents think!
 Throughout the year, I’m going to do a series of quick ideas for boys’ clothes/accessories (sometimes a free pattern, sometimes a pattern review, and sometimes a quick modification or easy embellishment). There’s no shortage of ideas out there for girls’ sewing (ribbon and rickrack and rosettes!), but the creativity needs a bit more coaxing for boys (at least in my opinion). One problem is that because pattern books and magazines show so few boys wearing even the gender-neutral stuff (like T-shirts), it’s easy to overlook these patterns and think it’s just all girls’ stuff.

Today, I’m offering the first two Boy Sewing Brainstorms!

Boy Sewing Brainstorm #1:
Make faux-layered sleeves for a t-shirt.

I’m cheating a little because I already blogged about this when I talked about making this Simplicity T-shirt pattern (Simplicity 5317). I love the look of layered sleeves, and though I wear this look myself, there is something particularly boy about it. It can transform a blah t-shirt into an interesting T-shirt. It’s also a great way to use up little bits of knit fabric. Read about how to do it here.
Boy Sewing Brainstorm #2
Add an embroidered patch to a t-shirt.
 Yes, one more T-shirt idea (what can I say? Boys wear a lot of T-shirts). Once again, this is my favorite Simplicity T-shirt pattern, again with faux-layered sleeves. But to individualize this one a bit, I decided to make a special “All-Star” patch. Instead of using a font and printing it out, I wrote it out myself (because I wanted a genuinely handwritten look) and drew the little star (unevenness adds character, after all). I transferred it using embroidery transfer paper (I used DMC brand, but will use some from Sublime Stitching next time).
 Then, I embroidered it, using a simple split stitch, and added the French knots on each side. (I think I’ll invest in some of Sublime’s Stitching’s T-shirt stabilizer next time though, because I found it challenging to embroider on knit and didn't do the best job with my stitches.) I put some TrueGrid over top the finished embroidery and cut it in the shape of a pentagon and then cut out my patch. I just used a machine applique stitch to attach.

If you come across great boy sewing ideas (which are certainly out there--I'm in the process of collecting them myself), feel free to leave a comment and link and I'll repost.

Simplicity sewing book from the 1950s (courtesy of Simplicity).
 Even though I’ve been getting frustrated with the magazine industry, one thing I still love about my job is that I get to meet and interview really interesting people. Today, I talked to a fellow sewing enthusiast (for a non-sewing related story); we chatted for a while about how her grandmother sewed and now she is teaching her granddaughter to sew. I love to hear stories like this, because it reinforces everything I talk about in Sew Retro: sewing isn’t just a skill, it’s a legacy that grandmothers and mothers and daughters have been sharing for decades. (I always feel bad that I’m leaving the men out—I’m self-conscious about it, but there’s no getting around the fact that sewing hasn’t meant to boys/men what it’s meant to girls/women.) For those of us who learned to sew from women we looked up to, sewing isn’t just about the latest collections of fabric; rather, it’s about collections of experiences—like shopping for Easter dress patterns with your grandmother or rummaging through your aunt’s scrap pile or staring at the wall of buttons when you tagged along with your mom to the fabric store on Saturday afternoon. The fabric, the notions, the accessories are just things (beautiful things, but things nonetheless); it’s those collections of experiences (my own, as well as stories of others’) that I really love. I think that’s why I’m so interested in learning about the history of sewing, and hearing people’s stories of how they learned, and how they’re teaching the next generation.

Actually, I’m so excited that in 2011 the next generation still wants to learn, especially with so much technology competing for their attention. I’m reminded of this silly anecdote my mom tells about when she had my oldest brother. Breastfeeding wasn’t encouraged then (1959) like it is now, but her mother encouraged her to do it anyway. My mom said that she said to her mother something along the lines of, “Oh, does that still work?” Sewing sort of falls into that category, too. “Does that still work?” people say. And, of course, it’s lovely to be able to say that yes, it does indeed still work.

The simple things come with deep roots. It’s a good reminder as we start this new year and create new batches of memories and experiences with our people.