Oh goodness, it’s June. I’ve been absent for so long, the only thing I can think to do is to give some stuff away!

So first, I’m giving away one of the patterns from the book. It’s the Tea Party Tablecloth. I confess, I haven’t had an actual tea party since I was about 5 and used to have them for my stuffed animals. However, I have had numerous gatherings where having a very cool tablecloth like this is the hit of the party. It’s the perfect size for a card table.
To get it, you’ll need to download two files. The first is a PDF of the directions (direct from the pages of the book). The second is a PDF of the pattern piece. Happy sewing!

Secondly, I’m giving away a signed copy of Sew Retro. It’s been a while since I’ve done a book giveaway. I will throw in a vintage handkerchief too (I buy them like candy at flea markets).

To enter to win the book, just leave a comment below about what you are going to make this summer (a party dress, hummus, a necklace, a baby . . . whatever)

I’ll choose a winner on Monday, June 11th at 10:00 EST (or thereabouts).

And if you want to hear from me regularly, head over to my business site and sign up for my newsletter. It’s painless and fun, and you get a weekly newsletter from me. I put a lot of time into writing good, inspiring articles. I’d love to have you join, right here

It's going to be a great summer . . .
When I think of Bari J. Ackerman,  my brain goes to layers and layers of loveliness. Her work is so intricate and her use of color so joyful that looking at her blog is often my reward after a day of stressful work (her logo alone calms and inspires me).
Her first book, Inspired to Sew, (Stash Books) came out earlier this year (do you have it yet? Why not?! Go order right now!). In addition to her line of patterns, she also designs fabric (her next line, Paris Apartment, will be available in July). What I particularly love about Bari J. is that she has this terrific eye for vintage that just feels right and feels real and usable (she talks about this in her Q&A—I love what she says about vintage purses). When I look at her stuff, I am reminded that color and texture and playfulness and nostalgia aren’t just concepts for Milan runways or boutique windows: they can be tenets of everyday life.

Bari J. is generously offering one of her gorgeous patterns (the winner can choose any one of her patterns, all listed here) and a stack of 8 fat quarters (it will be a random mix), which might look something like this . . .

So, enjoy the Q&A with her (it’s very insightful—especially for people who dream of designing fabric), and enter to win Bari's stuff, as well as a copy of Sew Retro, by leaving a comment between now and Thursday, June 16th, at noon EST. I won’t disqualify you if your comment is just “hey, cool,” but in the spirit of Bari J’s story (see question #1!), I’d love to know what goal (sewing-specific, business, design, personal—whatever) you still have for yourself, whether you’re 23 or 35 or 64 or 82.

Q: I’m always fascinated how people come to fabric and pattern design. What is your background, and what made you switch from just making bags to designing fabric and patterns?

Bari J.: Just out of college I worked as a copywriter and graphic designer in advertising. After I had kids and stopped working I started puttering around making jewelry and collage art from found objects, which I sold to local boutiques. Soon thereafter I found sewing and was immediately hooked. Once I had my website up and going I found I was doing a lot of graphic design again and that’s when the idea for surface design, and in particular fabric design, began. It was also pretty clear to me after I started my blog that although people loved my bags and accessory line, my readers were DIYers. I can’t even tell you how many times I was asked for a pattern. The next logical step really was sewing patterns.

Truth told, making the jump to fabric design was not easy. I’d done graphic design and I knew the computer software, but I had no idea where to start. I didn’t know how to make repeats and I didn’t trust my drawing skills. It’s funny because my mother painted my whole life. But having come from a large family, each sibling sort of takes their role and sticks with it. My brother and sister drew and painted a bit, so I was the actress/singer in the family. It’s interesting how family dynamics work. It never even occurred to me that I could draw until I finally tried at 35 years old. In order to design fabric, I had purchased a graphics tablet for the computer. Once I picked up the pen and got going, the ideas kept coming. I can’t even tell you the number of hours I practiced drawing or the number of designs I erased, but eventually I had a collection ... and I’d figured out the elusive pattern repeat.

Right about that time, Spoonflower, started its beta program. So I wrote them and asked to be a part of it. They digitally printed the first collection for me, I made a quilt and other items and off I went to quilt market with several appointments ahead of me with fabric companies. At the time it was still unheard of to have actual fabric samples (now it’s old hat, everyone is digitally printing), so it was a blast to show what you could actually do with the designs I’d done. Everyone wanted to know how I got the fabric printed. Things sure change fast, huh? That was October 2008.

Q: Paris Apartment is your next collection, correct? I love the previews I’ve seen! What inspired this collection, and when (and where) will it be available?

Bari J.: Thank you. I’m thrilled with this collection. It really came about just through doodling and daydreaming. I have always wanted to go to Paris, but I’ve never been. As I was drawing bits and pieces out, I realized it all was part of my elaborate fantasy. This collection is how I imagine I might live if I were to have my own Paris Apartment. It is printed by Lecien and will be available in stores in early July all over the world.

Q: I’m also fascinated with how people arrive at writing a craft book, especially since it’s usually a labor of love. Inspired to Sew is so beautiful. What’s the backstory?

Bari J.: Thank you again. When I arrived home from that very first quilt market, having just sold my first line, Full Bloom, for licensing, I received an email. I was riding pretty high on the success, so in all honesty I was waiting for the sky to fall. You know? That feeling of, it’s all so good, something bad is bound to happen any minute. (Is that just me?)

At any rate, I received an email from the acquisitions editor at C&T that she’d been reading my blog and it turns out I live nearby and would I like to meet for lunch and chat. I was so completely convinced that it was a joke, I nearly deleted the email. I went back to read it a couple days later, and responded, “sure, I’d love to meet and talk about it.” And with a laugh, I forgot all about it. In the end, obviously, I did end up taking that meeting. It turned out C&T was about to launch their Stash Books imprint and it was just the absolute perfect opportunity.

It was, in fact, a labor of love for me. I, again, had no idea how I’d proceed, or if I could even do it, but it all turned out just exactly as I’d imagined, and as an added benefit, it is what propelled me into producing my line of sewing patterns.

Q: I love your tagline: Vintage inspired design for your modern life. What does that mean for you—in both your day-to-day life (what I like to call “the slogging through”) and your creative life?

Bari J.: Throughout my life, I’ve had a love of old things. I think I arrived at it through my mother who also has that aesthetic. However, you just sometimes can’t live with old stuff. In fact, old handbags are most seriously one of those things that are hard to live with in. They can be smelly for starters, something that always bothered me. And for another, they just don’t have modern conveniences. So, the tagline came from the desire to make handbags that were vintage modern. Something with an old-world feel, but with modern conveniences such as added pockets, etc. And that of course easily translates across all of my design whether it be fabric or sewing patterns.

Q: I love your post about the Springtime in Paris clutch, and how many tries it took to get it right. Often times, people don’t see all the work that goes into getting something right (and the mistakes made!). What is your process for developing patterns? Do you see it all in your head, or get your best ideas in the shower, or sketch it out, or just start cutting fabrics, etc.?

Bari J.: I’d say all of the above although I have been know to cut straight into fabrics without a plan which is something I have to force myself not to do.

I do see what I want in my head but sometimes it just doesn’t make sense in reality, so for me, I try to always make a muslin version first after I sketch and work out the measurements, etc. A little restraint in diving right into the real fabrics tends to go a long way for me.

Q: Your work is so rich in color and layers. Does it get tempting to keep adding more, especially when you are working with fabric you love? How do you edit yourself?

Bari J.: Oh boy, I have a terrible time editing. I think it’s just an instinct as to when to stop. I hear my mom saying: “Don’t you think that’s a little bit ‘unga-patchkie’?” Which is Yiddish for over the top or over done.

I do think more is more though. I’ll always say that.

Q: I find that designers are super friendly and the crafting community is a warm one. Still, there is a lot of competition these days as more and more independent designers are producing lines of patterns and fabric. Does it ever feel overwhelming? How do you stay focused?

Bari J.: I’ll tell you what, it IS overwhelming, there IS a lot of competition, but it also is a very warm community and I do think we all try to support one another. There are people who are very giving who have helped me along the way, and I try to give that in return. I do also try to stay out of the blog-o-sphere when I get that overwhelmed “I’m never gonna make it feeling.” And I had a designer say to me once that she just tries to “stay in her lane.” I’ve adopted that attitude.

Q: Lastly, what’s next for you in the short-term and the long-term?

Bari J.: I’ll be working on a new fabric line in the coming weeks for next spring and also a book proposal. And I’ll be teaching at the Sister’s Outdoor Quilt Show’s, Quilter’s Affair next month and then I’ll be in Utah teaching at the Sewing Summit in October.

Long term, I intend to license my designs on other surfaces ... hopefully some home goods and paper. All fun stuff. I really love my job.
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 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 . . .

 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.