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why I sew

why I sew: Marisa

Why do I sew? Well, probably for many of the same reasons that YOU sew: for enjoyment, because I can make clothes I love that actually fit my kids, and because it’s become a passion, something I can’t stop thinking about even when I’m not actually doing it. Sound familiar? Read on to find out more about why I sew!

Because I just like making stuff

I’m one of those people who loves to make things. It almost doesn’t matter what – over the years I’ve dabbled in rubber stamp carving, cake decorating, origami, jewellery-making and countless children’s crafts. Since having children I seem to have lost the ability to sit still, so I fill every spare moment with creating things. Making stuff that is useful, like kids’ clothes, is an exercise in multi-tasking: it’s a leisure activity that satisfies my need to make things while providing things for my home and clothing for my daughter (and occasionally my son). While I try to keep my sewing useful and practical, I do have my limits. I will NOT sew school uniforms!

things i make

1. Tissue-paper flowers  2. Coffee sack baskets  3. Stamps  4. Cardboard Christmas tree

Because I needed to carve out some me-time

A few years ago I realised I was run-down and emotionally depleted. Years of child-rearing had taken their emotional and physical toll, and although it’s something of a cliché, I had gotten into the habit of putting others’ needs first and neglecting my own. It was time to take action: do something for myself, just because I enjoyed it. This was not something that came easily to me, but in my mind sewing was not – and is still not – a purely selfish activity, since it involves making things for my family (at least, that’s how I justify it to myself when I go fabric shopping!).

I’d had a sewing machine for some years, but there wasn’t anywhere in old home that I could sew, so I very seldom used it. When we moved into our new house in 2011 I quickly snaffled up a ‘spare room’ to be my sewing space, and this is when I really got started. I discovered the world of online tutorials, and made simple girls’ skirts, zip pouches and dresses. I was hooked, and since then I have always had something on the go, however many days or weeks it might take me to finish it. My ‘me-time’ might be an hour late at night, or a few fifteen-minute blocks whenever I can grab them, but it’s such an important part of my life. In a very literal sense, sewing keeps me sane.

early sewing_edited-2

1. Market Skirts old and new  2. Zip pouches  3. Ice cream dress in seersucker

Because I love being part of the online sewing community

Having benefitted from so many other sewists’ blogs, tutorials, reviews and sewalongs, I eventually joined the party and started uploading some of my own projects to Flickr. I really enjoyed the social aspect of it, commenting on others’ projects and receiving feedback from them. Then came my blog, Thirtynine, which I originally started to document kids’ art and craft activities I ran at our local playgroup. While I continued to post these activities until finishing up with playgroup last year, sewing very quickly took over, and I love the way that blogging has connected me to a supportive and inspiring online community.

sewing community

1. KCW 2012  2. Roots series sewalong  3. Japanese Sewing Book series on Nutta

Kids Clothes Week was the first online event I took part in, and look at me, coming back for more, season after season! I love the way KCW makes what is essentially a solitary activity into something so social, especially important for those who, like me, have very few ‘sewing friends’ in real life.

This is my final post for the Kids Clothes Week blog, so I thank you all for reading, and for being part of this wonderful community. And to Meg and Dorie, thank you for having me – it’s been a pleasure and an honour to contribute.



KCW interview: Amy from amos el

Hello again, this is Marisa from Thirtynine, bringing you the first in a series of interviews with Kids Clothes Week participants.

Last Kids Clothes Week I ‘faved’ a project on the KCW site: a beautiful scoop-back dress modelled by a little blonde cherub with glasses. And this season I was pleased to see that the maker of the scoop-back dress was back, with more amazing self-drafted clothes and the cutest little Halloween outfit. I checked out her blog and was struck by the understated elegance of the things she sews. Today I’d like to introduce the very talented Amy, who blogs at Amos El (you can also see her KCW projects on her profile page here). Like me, Amy has a son and a daughter but sews mostly for her daughter, who is the lucky owner of a wardrobe that is stylish yet totally comfy and kid-friendly. A glance through the gallery section of Amy’s blog confirms her love of neutral shades with a splash of colour, and her preference for simplicity and classic lines –  you won’t see any ruffles and rick-rack here. But there’s nothing staid or boring about Amy’s style: it’s creative, inventive and fun. She sews a simple item like a sweatshirt and transforms it with a giant reverse-appliqued heart. She turns old cardigans into new ones. She even does cool t-shirts!

amy intro


1. cardigan  2. A-line sweatshirt  3. headstand shirt  4. Peg + Cat

I’m so happy to have discovered Amy’s sewing through Kids Clothes Week. I can see myself copying a few of her ideas already, and by the time you finish reading this interview,  you might want to, too!

And now, on with the show.

When did you start sewing your children’s clothes and why?

I’ve been sewing on and off (more off than on, to be honest) most of my life. In middle school I won a trophy for highest grade in the eighth grade class for Home Ec and my mom still has that apron – some pretty awesome straight seams on that thing. Just after my son turned one we moved to be closer to family and I became a stay-at-home mom. With an easy toddler and a little free time on my hands I started picking up some projects here and there. I tried my hand at drafting some shirts and pajama pants for him with mixed results. Once my daughter was on the scene, though, it was a whole new story. I’m definitely guilty of being one of those people who thinks sewing for girls is more fun than sewing for boys. I think that why I like to sew for her is complicated. It’s a creative outlet, in that I’m creating something out of seemingly nothing. It’s also a matter of pride for me. My goal, when I make something, is for people who don’t know I sew not to say “did you MAKE that?” but for people who do know I sew to say “did you make THAT?”. It’s that fine line between home-made and hand-made that I’m always conscious of and the added challenge is exciting. Frustrating, too, but mostly exciting.

amy assorted

1. recess raglan  2. trio of sundresses  3. bimaa top  4. little zippy  5. roller skate tunic

When was your first Kids Clothes Week and how did it go?

My first KCW was Summer 2013. I remember being a little nervous about putting my stuff out there. I had been blogging for a bit, but up to that point I hadn’t really reached out or participated in a way that would actually bring people to the blog. I was and still am so glad I joined in when I did. It is such an amazing way for all of us to come together and share what we’re passionate about, and after that week I was hooked. I couldn’t wait for Fall!

amy kcw 2013

1. swing tank  2. pinafore top

How do you balance your work/family/sewing time?

I don’t think I do – not very well, at least. I usually get inspired, cut and prep two or three garments, and then binge sew for a day or two. I don’t have a dedicated sewing area right now, so I have to take over the dining room table. Having to lug out two machines, an iron and ironing board and all the other paraphernalia necessary for some successful sewing has definitely helped me become more efficient.

How do your children influence your sewing?

Would it be wrong to say they don’t? They inspire me to sew, but neither one has much of an opinion on their wardrobe at this point (and yes, I do thank my lucky stars). A quick look at my KCW project page or blog and you’ll see I don’t sew for my son very often. I prefer a very simple look for him, and it’s hard to get inspired to make a basic t-shirt or pair of jeans when they can be purchased affordably. Every so often, though, he asks if it’s his turn and I take a break from the girl stuff and he and I make a plan. It usually involves a basic t-shirt with a freezer paper stencil. Simple enough for me, but super special to him.


1. amazing tee  2. arrow tee

Many of the things you sew are self-drafted, but you also use patterns from independent designers. Do you have a favourite pattern, one you use time and time again?

I’m pretty sure my most used pattern is the Lovely Rita Skinnies pattern by Shwin Designs. I think I’ve made five pairs total, three of those during previous KCWs. They actually all still fit her, but they’re a little too cropped for cooler weather now and are starting to ride a little low in the back. I have the next size up traced and ready to go, though. Baby’s growing up, as they do. I love this pattern because of the fit, and because of the simplicity. It has just enough detail and pattern pieces to make them feel legit, but not so many that making multiples feels overwhelming. I am toying with adding a fly to this next pair. Wish me luck.


1. flowery ritas 2. dotty ritas  3. red ritas

 What is your favourite piece of clothing that you have sewn, and what is your daughter’s favourite?

My daughter’s favourite is definitely her Spinny Star Scarf Shirt. The top half is another favourite pattern, the Bimaa Sweater by LouBee Clothing, and the bottom is just two gathered rectangles. It’s actually one of the only articles of clothing she does have an opinion on – and that opinion is that it’s pretty much the best thing ever.

As for my favourite, it’s almost impossible for me to choose – but if choose I must, I’ll say that the self-drafted scoop-back tank dress with bias tape embellishment that I made this past summer could pass for a winner. It was somehow both entirely my style and just enough out of my comfort zone to feel like a real accomplishment. It turned out exactly as I imagined it would, both on the hanger and on the girl, which is less often the case than I would like to admit.


1. Scoop-back dress with bias tape  2. Bimaa up top

What other creative pursuits do you enjoy apart from sewing?

I enjoy photography, which seems to go hand in hand with having a sewing blog, doesn’t it? Cooking is also something I enjoy, especially in this rice, soup and stew season we’re entering up here. If only my kids enjoyed eating, then it would be all fun in the kitchen! I also enjoy the occasional craft project, whether it be creating with my kids or making something to make the home feel homier. I actually started my blog as a crafting/sewing blog but clearly my first creating love is sewing and it invariably took over.

Thanks again, Marisa, for inviting me to do this interview, and thank you and hooray to EVERYONE who participates in KCW season after season – it wouldn’t be so much fun if we weren’t all in it together, enjoying and inspiring each other. See you in the new year!

And thank YOU, Amy, for being the first interviewee of the season. I’m so looking forward to seeing what you make next. And if you ever publish a pattern for that scoop-back dress, I’ll be first in line!


HOW TO: sew with words // kid's clothes week

HOW TO sew with words

Hello again! This is Marisa from Thirtynine, bringing you another round of pre-Kids Clothes Week inspiration.

Our Kids Clothes Week blog posts until now have focussed on the visual aspects of storybooks – the people and creatures depicted in the illustrations, the look of the characters’ clothes and the colour palettes. But there’s more to storybooks than pictures – crucially, there are also words.

Of course there are many fabrics available with words and letters already printed on them. But what if you want to choose words from a storybook and put them onto fabric yourself? No problem – there are many different ways to do it, using materials you probably have at home. In this post, I’m going to show you four methods, starting with one that I’m trying out for my own KCW project.

Freezer Paper Stencils

Having recently introduced my ten-year-old to Sherlock Holmes I thought it would be cool to make him a top with a word in ‘dancing men’ code (as used in Conan Doyle’s wonderful story The Dancing Men). It seemed a good opportunity to try out a mysterious American product that, in Australia, can only be found behind the counter of fabric shops: freezer paper. Online tutorials for the stencilling process abound, such as this and this. And having just tried it out – see photos 1-4 below – I can confirm that the resulting painted image comes up well, with beautifully smooth edges. The downside: you can only use your stencil once (although I suspect one Dancing Men top is going to be enough) and you have to be prepared to spend a bit of time cutting out the stencil. Freezer paper is fantastic stuff. I can’t help but wonder, though – does anyone use it in their actual freezer?


1. A word in code  2. the cut-out stencil  3.after being ironed on and painted  4. Finito!

5. Funky Lindsay  6. Crafterhours  7. Skirt as Top


Iron-on transfers

It’s not cheap, but transfer paper – which can be bought at stationery shops –  enables you to use an ink-jet printer to print words (or, indeed, images) for iron-on transfer to your fabric. The advantages are fairly obvious: it’s easy, it’s quick, it can be as detailed and colourful as you like. You do, however, wind up with clear, shiny transfer surrounding your printout , unless you are able to cut it out super-close.


1. You & Mie  2. Femme Fraiche  3. Brighton Kinders

Rubber stamps

Whether you carve your own or buy ready-made alphabet stamps, stamping is a great way to get words onto fabric.  Just get yourself an inkpad suitable for use with fabric, stamp away, and set it with your iron. Alternatively you can dip your stamps in fabric paint, spread thinly on a flat surface. If I had the time, I’d love to make myself a set of Dancing Men rubber stamps… but instead I just had a bit of a muck around with some alphabet stamps (see picture 1 below). Can you work out which storybooks the quotes come from?

If you’ve never tried making your own stamps you might like to have a look at this tutorial – or even try making a stamp out of styrofoam (as in picture 3 below).


1. Alphabet stamping  2. talktothesun  3. A Beautiful Mess


Glue-resist and fabric dye

This batik-like technique involves using glue to write on fabric, then allowing it to dry before dunking the whole thing in a dye bath (see this tutorial for instructions). It lends itself well to cursive script, as you can see from the examples below. Disclaimer: I haven’t yet tried this myself, but it’s definitely one for the to-do list.

glue resist_edited-1

1. Hello Natural  2. Project Run & Play  3. Her Campus

I hope I’ve given you some ideas about how to use words in your Kids Clothes Week sewing, And the above list is by no means exhaustive – how about using a Sharpie to stencil letters directly onto fabric? Or breaking out the fabric markers and letting your kids write their own story? You might prefer to think outside the box and approach the theme as being about books themselves, rather than their content. Whether you’re inspired by words, images, colours or costumes this KCW, I’m looking forward to seeing what you all do!