The Fabric Studio is getting ready to open its doors next month, so of course it’s a brand new venture, a brand new store in a new building in my new city, full of new fabrics and, hopefully, new ideas. But it’s also the result of a lot of work leading up to these past 4 months. I certainly didnt just come up with the idea in November and sign the lease in January.
While I did sew a little bit as a kid (I remember sewing random-shaped scraps of fabric together into (one tiny corner of) a crazy quilt), I didnt really get into sewing until after college. In fact, in middle school home-ec I gave up on trying to work the sewing machine and just hand-stitched my sweet purple-fur monogrammed pillow instead. But oddly enough, a random memory from my childhood is what got my started back down this path.
I was living in Boulder, going to grad school to get my masters in Creative Writing. It was an interesting time for me, and frustrating in so many ways. I didnt always feel, at the time, that I was learning what I wanted to learn (or learning much of anything). I had been in school for 3 semesters but didnt feel like I knew any more about how to write than I did at the start (looking back, I see that I got a lot out of my time at Naropa, both for writing and otherwise, but at the time it didnt seem like it). Writing had always been something that I enjoyed, and now I wasn’t having fun anymore.
One night I couldnt fall asleep and I was lying in bed, probably listening to my stomach growl, debating if I should get up and eat something or continue trying to sleep. For some reason I started to think about a little embroidery sampler I had gotten as a kid at Ben Franklin. I think my neighbor’s mom bought it for us. It was a little underwater scene. I never finished it, but I remembered really liking it, and for some reason that night I had a great urge to do it again. I got up and started googling to see if I could find any cool, hip embroidery patterns…. oxy moron? Not really! It took a while, but I did eventually find some (the first one being Sublime Stitching).
Lucky for me, embroidery floss is super cheap, so later that week I went and bought a bunch at the store, and started embroidering. I added fruit to my pillowcase, made some tea towels for friends. These werent amazing works of art but I enjoyed making them so much. It was soothing, and relaxing, and creative, it was something you could learn, and you were left with an actual finished product at the end.
One of my first embroidery projects, for Catherine
And I think, originally, that’s what drew me to it the most. The ability to find directions for something, follow them, and then know how to do it. It was completely different from writing. Because with writing it really, truly doesnt matter how many classes you take, how many books you read, or antecdotes you listen to about other writers, there is no way to learn how to write a story. You can be given directions and standards, but there is no guarantee that what you end up with will be good. And there are no concrete parameters for what good means either. All of that is fine, and part of the magic of writing, but finding a way to express myself creatively, that I could also research and learn, and then DO, felt so amazing and energizing.
Overly ambitions early project…
Eventually I started to wish that there were things that I could embroider onto, like pillow cases and tote bags, that I couldnt find to buy, so I decided that perhaps I should learn to sew. After that I wanted to sew all the time. I spent 90% of the time at my desk job in Boulder learning how to sew by researching things on the internet. And also looking at fabric. And the great thing was, the more you do it, the better you get. Maybe that’s true of writing too. But my writing was definitely at a plateau. Plus, recently I had begun thinking a lot about color, and how to use it. I was annoyed by the limitations in writing. I had been using color a lot in my work, but I wished I could do more. If I wanted to write a story that “looked” a certain way (like The Royal Tennenbaums, for instance), how would I achieve that? I had no idea. (And still dont!)
Moving on to sewing
I do know, though, that color is very important to me, and I love more than anything finding ways to put colors together. I love making stacks of fabrics that work together. They might suggest a mood, or an idea, or give you a certain vibe. I like that colors can soothe you, or energize you.
Very first quilt, also for Catherine (wedding gift).
And so, is sewing “easier” than writing? For a long, long time, I struggled with the fact that I preferred sewing to writing. After all, I had a very expensive degree under my belt. And sewing was so fun that it felt like taking the easy way out. I still think that eventually I will figure out how to combine the two, but for the past year or so I have become much more ok with the fact that sewing is what I want to do. It is challenging in ways that give me energy, rather than take energy away. It is fun, and light hearted, and can also be much more than that. It is useful. It makes me think about things in new ways. I love looking at something and then figuring out how to make it, like a bag or a quilt. I like seeing clothes at the store, and thinking about how they were made. I love that modern textiles can be works of art in and of themselves.
First bag on my Etsy shop, 2010
For the past 7 years I have spent countless hours looking at fabric, reading blogs, reading tutorials and how-tos, reading books, sewing, coming up with my own patterns, making quilts, making bags, branching out, very rarely making the same thing twice (except that time I made 50 aprons). I have found that this particular creative outlet has given me endless inspiration and energy that keeps building on itself, ideas leading to more and more ideas. It feels so good to have found something that moves me forward.
I also spent many years giving away the things I made. I definitely didnt try to make money right away, and even when I had an Etsy shop it was by no means a bustling hub of commerce. I think I needed that time to get better, practice my skills, try new things out. I certainly dont need 50 bags for myself, or 50 quilts (though Im getting there!) so thank you too all the people who took my early work and claimed they liked it, and didnt point out my mistakes 😉
And, with all that being said, I hope that The Fabric Studio is an extension of all the things I just listed. That it is a place full of beautiful textiles and colors. That it is a place of positive creative energy. That it is a place that gives people ideas, and excites them. That it makes room for new possibilities, and that it is a place where everyone who goes there, me included, can learn something new.