We love Charley Harper at my house. I first discovered Harper when I interviewed Todd Oldham a few years ago. I asked Oldham (who I sort of worship) who some of his design influences were, and he mentioned Charley Harper. At the time, I hadn’t heard of Harper, but of course, I pretended I knew exactly who he was (“oh sure, he’s FABulous!”). But the only Charley Harper I knew was Charlie Sheen’s totally annoying character on that sitcom with the kid. So I immediately looked him up, and was a smitten kitten within minutes (not to mention, I learned that he’s from right here in Cincinnati!). I love Harper’s sense of whimsy and his use of color and contrast. He draws a bird like none other. So it made sense that when my husband and I were ready to invest in some real art for our house, Harper was the first place we turned!
Harper prints above the T Oldham sofa
 I also love the Charley Harper ABC book and the 1,2,3 book. We started reading them before bed early on, and Max really loves looking through them now. He’s even starting to recognize Harper’s work when he sees it elsewhere. For example, we got a postcard from Fabulous Frames and Art  (the best place in Cincinnati to buy Harper) announcing their upcoming Harper show. I showed the postcard to Max and said, “who do you think drew these pictures?” He thought for a minute, and then yelled: “Tarley Harpuhhh!”

I did this Harper-inspired project in Sew Retro, and it got me thinking about other Harper-inspired projects I might try.
I’ve decided to do some Harper-inspired fabric/embroidery collages and give them as holiday gifts. I’m still working out the details (strangely, I’ve noticed that I do a lot of my best project thinking at 5 a.m. when I’m lying there nursing Georgia, wavering between sleep and wakefulness). I’m going to use some of the same transfer and appliqué techniques I used to make the Clifford quilt, but on a much smaller scale. Will post the final result . . .
My randomly chosen winner is Melody Alexander! Congrats, Melody! I'll be emailing you shortly.

Thanks everyone for participating. I enjoyed reading everyone's comments about how Amy has inspired you, and I know she will enjoy reading them too!

Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

And I'll be back after the holiday with another giveaway, so stay tuned . . .

See me talk about Sew Retro, and demonstrate how to make a yo-yo on the Fox 19 Morning Show (Cincinnati).
 Oh, Amy Butler . . . where to begin? I have loved Amy Butler since I discovered her a few years ago when I was getting re-energized about sewing. I think it was on ReproDepot.com where I first laid eyes on her designs, and I was hooked. When I found out she lived in my very own state of Ohio, I was doubly excited. Not only does Amy design the most gorgeous fabric and super-clever patterns, she also makes me appreciate my life in the Midwest and the beauty and pace of life here. In fact, she makes me proud to be a Midwestern girl. I was absolutely giddy the day she agreed to do a Q&A with me for Sew Retro.
Courtesy Amy Butler
But no Q&A is complete without a giveaway! Not only am I giving away a signed copy of Sew Retro, the folks at Amy Butler have generously donated some lovely goodies, including:
-- Five half-yard cuts, all from Amy’s Midwest Modern collection

-- Five Amy Butler Midwest Modern sewing patterns: Cabo Halter, High Street Messenger Bag, Oval Patchy Pillow, Sweet Harmony Handbag  & Tote, and Reversible Sunday Sling.

 To enter, leave a comment about how Amy has inspired you by Tuesday, November 23rd at noon EST. I’ll randomly choose a winner then.  

Now the Q&A, direct from the pages of Sew Retro . . .

Fabric designer and book author Amy Butler  has an amazing line of fabric, patterns, and stationary full of hipster florals, modern paisleys, and vintage-inspired prints. I love her fabric because it’s affordably priced and is a great blend of country chic and mid-century modern. Here, she explains how she fell in love with fabric and where she gets her ideas.  

Q: What made you become interested in fabric and pattern design? Have you always liked textiles?
Butler: My passion for fabrics and sewing has been a common thread through the span of my life. I realized I wanted to become an artist when I was a young girl and learned what the word artist meant. I was always coloring and crafting and making homemade gifts for friends and family.

My grandmother, Velma Heymann, gave me my first fabric stash at age six. She’d let me play around on her “not so nice” vintage sewing machine, where I learned the basics. It was in her attic sewing room that I first fell in love with fabric; its colors and textures gave me limitless inspiration.

As a teen, I focused my energies and enrolled in art school. There I worked hard to hone my skills without losing that sense of intrigue and passion—exploring shapes, colors, textures, and style. Surface design and fashion became my obsession. I would draw enormously tall women with impossible necks, and on them I would create lavish, layered clothing. Within those layers, I would doodle in signature florals, patterns, stripes, and modern geometrics. I found that the passionate creation of the print outweighed my love of the clothing, so I focused my efforts on surface design.

In 1997 my husband and I started producing lifestyle stories for Country Living magazine alongside our studio work. The magazine was short on space, but we needed to get instructions to our readers so they could make up the projects. I designed my first two sewing patterns for Country Living, and this is how Amy Butler Sewing Patterns began.

Q: Do you come from a family of sewers and crafty people? Did you grow up watching women around you sew or be creative in other ways?
Butler: My mom and grandmother, both self-taught artists, were huge influences on me. As a child of the seventies, I watched both of them dabble and often master every craft. They created watercolor paintings, hooked rugs, knitted, quilted, made groovy dioramas with found antique artifacts, and dried flowers—truly making our home a creative nest. My grandmother always kept me supplied with craft materials. I took my first fabric stash and glued together halter tops for my little friends in my neighborhood because I didn’t have a sewing machine at home. It was all about the fabric, and the giving. My friends tried to wear the outfits and assured me it was the thought that counted—a comment I still often get, since I love to experiment on my friends with new ideas.

Q: Where do you find your ideas for the beautiful designs you create?
Butler: My influences and inspiration change constantly, but I do have a few core influences. Broadly, all decorative arts and textiles have greatly influenced my work; I love many different time periods and genres and often tie multiple influences together with the different color palettes I use. Growing up, our home was always filled with animals, and my mother taught me a great deal about wildflowers and birds. Natural influences are a constant in my work. My grandmother was also a prolific gardener, which has been a steady influence in all of my work, and today my garden is one of my most satisfying creative outlets. My home life and my surroundings play a big part in feeding my design inspiration. They are interconnected, and one feeds the other. 

Q: What attracts you to vintage fabrics?
Butler: I grew up learning about and loving all things old. My mom and grandma always dragged me to auctions and flea markets—which I grew to love—so I’ve always made my home and dressed with vintage textiles and garments. I love vintage fabrics because the prints are so soulful and unique and one of a kind. Over the years they have become a centerpiece for my visual vocabulary.

Q: Who are some of your influences, from an artistic standpoint?
Butler: The top of my list is my husband, David. He is a massive talent. He’s a true renaissance man, as he’s a brilliant fine artist, writer, photographer, and graphic designer. His body of work is so impressive. He is true to himself and his art, and that’s what moves me the most.
Kaffe Fasset has always been a great inspiration to me. I admire him because he is a fine artist who eloquently shares his vision for color and design through his work with great warmth and passion. I get lost in the color combinations in his fabrics!
I am also a huge admirer of Harmony Susalla from Harmony Arts. Harmony is leading the way for organic printed fabrics. She is the real deal, an amazing artist, designer, and passionate supporter for the organic fabric movement. She is a visionary with an unwavering heart, and her fabrics are delicious!
I’m constantly inspired by Tricia Guild’s philosophy and her spirited use of color and print. Her designs are sophisticated and approachable at the same time. I love her books, they are put together so beautifully . . . a total feast for the eyes!

Q: Why do you think sewing is enjoying a resurgence in popularity among younger women?
Butler: The retail/design world is so sophisticated, and with the addition of the Internet, young women have a heightened sense of style. I think they’re coming into fabric stores and quilt shops where they can find new products, and are then introduced to the special experience of great education, service, and inspiration that’s been so successfully nurtured by these retailers. Once their creative fire has been sparked, they can’t help developing a desire for sewing! I think it’s an exciting time, with a huge influx of wonderful new designers and products hitting shops. I think we are seeing a new direction where fabric shops and quilt shops are becoming more multi-generational, appealing to their current customer base while also attracting a new, beginner seamstress.

So I’ve been searching for the perfect toddler T-shirt pattern for a while. I’ve tried making my own, and I never get the neck proportion right. I also tried sizing down a larger kids’ pattern to fix my Max (who is almost two-and-a-half). But the results were less than great.

Finally, I’ve found my go-to T-shirt pattern and I love it! It’s Simplicity 5317, and though the main draw of the pattern is probably the cute jumper, the T-shirt is just right for what I need.
  I first made the shirt for Max’s SuperWhy! costume for Halloween, which I wrote about here.  But now I’m making him some versions (without the fancy SuperWhy! logo) that he can wear to preschool or around the house. Here is my first attempt (and don't ask me where his other sock is).
 I think my problem with my own pattern attempts was that I was making the neckband too wide, and not under-stitching the right way. (This pattern leads you through how to under-stitch, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, though I don’t think it calls it that.)  

For this version, I decided to do faux layered sleeves, since that seemed to add a good “boy” element. It’s very simple to do: I just folded the sleeve pattern piece at the line where it says to cut for short sleeves, and added a half-inch at the bottom for the hem. I cut two sleeves (from the main fabric) using that. Then I re-folded the sleeve pattern piece so that I was cutting just the bottom part of the sleeve, and I added about a half-inch at the top for the seam. I cut two sleeve bottoms out of my contrast (grey) fabric. To make the sleeve: I folded the bottom edge of the top sleeve piece under 1/2” and pressed. Then I placed the top raw edge of the bottom contrast piece flush with the top raw edge of the fold on the wrong side and stitched it. That way, you’re hemming the top part of the sleeve and attaching the bottom part in just one step.

I also added a pocket—just a basic 3 – 1/2” square, top-stitched all around, with multiple lines of top-stitching in contrasting thread (I actually didn’t do that great of a job keeping these lines perfectly straight). I was considering getting rid of the snaps on the shoulder because the neck hole seemed large enough, but then I realized that the snaps would prevent the neck from getting stretched out. Oh, I also had to add length to the bottom of the shirt—about two inches. (I still took a 1 – 1/4” hem.)

I used Jo-Ann’s Sew Classic Knit fabric (I think this is it), which I love because it’s super soft, but not so flimsy as to be difficult to work with. They often run it 40% or 50% off. If you want more info on finding knits, check out Meg’s excellent post on knits at Sew Liberated. 

I’ve got more knits and more T-shirt customizing ideas. Next up: creating stripes!
One of my favorite things to do when I need some inspiration for a designing a new project is looking through old women’s magazines. I have a stack of Needlecraft magazines from the 1920s and 1930s, as well a bunch of Modern Priscilla magazines from the teens. If you’re interested, old magazines like this are fairly easy to find on eBay. I’ve collected most of mine at vintage markets (I can usually buy them for $2 to $5 each).

 Anyway, I’ve been looking for ideas for holiday gift sewing, and I came across this lovely idea for a purse from the October 1912 issue of Modern Priscilla. It’s from a story about embellishing with needlework; I can’t replicate handwork as lovely and intricate as this, but I love the overall structure of this purse: handles that wrap around the whole front of the body and provide a skeleton of support for the purse. I’m hoping to create a pattern for it, and then I’ll post it in the Bonus Projects section.