Monday, August 9, 2010

An Inspiring Interview With Carolyn of Handmade By Carolyn

Carolyn of Handmade by Carolyn is such an inspiration to me. She is a well accomplished dressmaker and an excellent knitter as well. She puts her own artistic flair into her creations and is always challenging herself by learning new techniques. Many of the pieces she creates are of her own design. She does some fantastic refashions as well. She wears her handmade clothes every day. Her photos are always taken in a beautiful setting in her hometown of Perth, Australia; and her words and descriptions of her day and her surroundings are poetic. I just know you will love her as I do. She was so kind to take the time to allow me to interview her; so on with the interview.

Where are you from and/or where do you live?
I live in Perth, Western Australia.  Perth is a small city, and officially the most isolated capital city in the world!  The term “only 6 degrees of separation” is so very true for Perth-ies.  Both my husband and myself were born here, as well as all our three children.

What is the first thing you remember making?
As a little girl I made a few crafty projects such as pincushions and the like, but the first garment I remember making was a simple white jersey dress.  The design was like an elongated tank top, very basic!  The fabric had bright pink seagulls printed on it.  I made it for a school social (dance) when I was twelve.

How did you get started sewing clothes?
Both my parents are very creative and I grew up in a very “can-do” home.  My Dad, a dentist, has been a potter and an artist and has always made beautiful and useful household items out of things he found at the rubbish tip.  My mother, a very accomplished and artistic seamstress, inspired me hugely.  As well as the usual sewing and knitting she has also mastered spinning, weaving and screen-printing and experimented with dyeing using natural plant materials.  I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t some sort of sartorial experiment in progress in our laundry; it was a very creative and enabling environment to grow up in.  She’s always encouraged me to make my own clothes, to push myself beyond “easy” patterns and to never to be frightened of “having a go”.
What role does sewing play in your life?
Sewing will always be in my life!  I’ve been sewing my own clothes for about thirty years and can’t see myself ever tiring of it.  There are always new looks in fashion to get excited about, new fabrics to fall in love with, new skills to learn and a new challenge to invigorate you.
What is your favorite and what is your least favorite thing about sewing?
Of course the planning of a project and the purchasing of fabrics is a wonderfully optimistic time, when the outcome is still a perfectly achievable ideal in your head.  While cutting, pinning and sewing I’ll go into a kind of trance; several hours go past and I’m completely immersed in the technical accomplishment what I am doing.  I love this!  I guess my least favourite thing about sewing is if I need to unpick something, or my overlocker is not behaving and chucks a hissy fit over some tiny thing and need re-threading… grrr!  My relationship with my overlocker is complicated… it’s a love-hate affair…

Where do you find inspiration?
Usually it’s just the fabric that inspires me.  Walking through the fabric store and fingering fabrics, my imagination goes into overdrive with a million possibilities for beautiful and fabulous garments.  Also I’m so inspired by the gorgeous creative visions of high end designers and often try to fashion similar looks for myself.  Always I tone down some of the more extreme aspects to suit my ordinary lifestyle, but the essence will be there!
What aspect of sewing do you find most challenging?
There’s never enough time!

To which sewing book do you refer most often? And what are your top few favorite sewing books?
I’m not a big one for sewing books and just about everything I’ve learnt about sewing has been from following ordinary commercial patterns…  I believe there’s no better method than learning by doing … but currently I’m working through Pattern Magic, by Nakamichi Tomoko.  It’s been very challenging, not the least because it’s entirely in Japanese and I have very little knowledge of that language!  It has been a superb exercise in pattern drafting and manipulation.  Not all of the projects are wearable, but none-the-less I think it has been a pretty good lesson in pattern design.
Do you have any favorite sewing tips?
Well I always try to keep my sewing area neat and tidy and well organized.  I can’t bear to work surrounded by mess, it makes my creative spark wither up and die!  I tidy up at the end of each session and put everything back in its designated space before walking away.  I keep my patterns neatly folded and all together, because I like to re-use them over and over again.
What things have been surprises to you that you've learned about sewing?
That it’s often not as hard as it looks…?

You are great at refashioning clothes. While refashioning, what do you look for in clothing that makes it good "refashioning" material? Do you have any tips on refashioning clothing you could share with us?
That’s so sweet of you to ask that, especially since it’s been a while since I re-fashioned anything much!  I feel there are so many more talented re-fashioners out there than me!  
But when I do decide to do a re-fashion, I look at the fabric first and foremost.  If the fabric is of good quality, and of a colour or print I love I will think about it more for further possibilities…
Then the size of the fabric pieces… as one contributor pointed out on Wardrobe Re-fashion, if a garment is too small for you then it is going to be impossible to make a new item for yourself that fits you out of the same!  Even this is not an impossible situation however.  You can combine materials from TWO garments to make yourself one new garment if the fabrics are of complimentary weight and type, and if they look good together.  
I also think it’s worthwhile looking to incorporate existing features into the new re-fashioned garment, especially if they are well tailored.  For example, if a man’s shirt has a particularly well-finished pocket, cuffs or collar, these could be kept, or cut off carefully to use in the new garment.  Once I saw a very clever ladies’ skirt made from a man’s shirt in which the long sleeves had been cut off and re-attached and used pretty much “as is” to make a tie belt around the waist… it looked fantastic!
I nearly always try to keep the existing hem in some way if possible, partly because once a hem has been washed and worn for any length of time it’s never going to unfold and iron out properly, and partly because I don’t love hemming!
How do you fit time in for creativity?
I work part-time and I’m so lucky in that now my children have grown up enough to allow me some free time during the day outside of my working hours!  My husband is a doctor and works long hours and often over the weekend too.  If I am alone on the weekend I make use of this time to get in a bit of sewing…!

What kinds of projects do you like to do with your kids? 
Gosh, my children are all in their late teens now so we don’t do this sort of thing together as much anymore!  I miss it!  If you have young children, then treasure this time when you can do fun crafty things together, it passes so quickly!  However my daughter and I often sew together and I enjoy these times very much.  She has her own sewing blog (which she updates very sporadically…) called After A Busy Day.
I think my favourite sewing project ever was when I made my daughter’s ball gown for her final ball; we had such a lovely bonding experience planning the dress, shopping for fabric together, and fitting the dress.  I think of this dress as the highlight of my sewing life, and this is partly because we were both thrilled with the outcome and partly of the wonderful togetherness we shared during this time.
I cook with all of my children; sadly I am a horrendous cook but it’s nice to spend time in the kitchen with them, preparing a family meal together.  Also we often go walking the dog together, or go on shopping trips together.  Now they’re approaching adulthood we have great conversations, which (I hope) help me to stay current with young peoples’ thinking!

What are your sewing goals for this year?  What are your sewing goals within the next five years?
Since I joined Wardrobe Refashion I’ve not bought anything new, save for a couple of camisoles about four months ago…  at times I want to aim for sewing my entire wardrobe.  Then I think that I would like to concentrate on sewing more difficult and challenging projects, and just go back to purchasing some of the basics like Tshirts…  I can’t decide!  If you ask my husband he would subtly suggest that there are a few windows still curtain-less in our house… but this sort of project I find dull dull dull  and really have to steel myself to do it.  But really, if you don’t continue to challenge as well as enjoy yourself then what is the point?  I just hope I continue to expand and refine my skills, and make more stuff for me and for my family that we love enough to wear.

Tell us more about you.
I wish I was more interesting…  I’ve already risked boring your readers enough already!  On my blog are a few of those “awards” where you had to list seven or ten things about yourself… interested readers can go there and click on the links,
if they really want to.

What is your motto?
A borrowed one – “Just do it!”


  1. Very interesting, Trudy. She sounds like a very talented and dedicated seamstress.

  2. Thanks for featuring Carolyn. She's one of my favorites to visit too!!

  3. I love Carolyn! Thanks for showcasing her work. She inspires me daily.

  4. Thanks for introducing me to Carolyn. She is a wonderful designer/seamstress.

  5. Lovely to hear more from Carolyn. I LOVE her blog. So nice to hear more from you :)

  6. Trudy, thankyou so much for having me along, and those kind words you wrote at the top. I'm so thrilled and honoured you thought of me for your blog!

  7. Trudy that is such a great interview! I enjoyed reading about Carolyn and getting to know her!

  8. I love the ball dress too. So pretty. I am following from Java's FF now too. Thriftymommastips

  9. Everything is so well made. I love the ball dress too. Thank you for your kind words over at my blog :0)

    All the best to you,

  10. Thanks for sharing her with us Trudy, I love the picture of you on your blog, you are trully a beautiful lady and so are your daughters. =)

  11. Hi! I"m visiting (& following) from Friday Follow 40 & Over. I'm glad I found your blog. My daughters & I all love to sew. Have a great weekend!

  12. What gorgeous clothes! I love getting inspiration from things like this.

  13. Thanks for your warm words on my blog!

    I'm not in your or Caolyn's league (I do basic sewing only) but I've greatly enjoyed reading the interview. Well put questions and interesting answers. And I must say,judging by the pictures, both of you are blessed with model figures.

  14. Wow! that is some pretty inspiring sewing....I love her daughters ball gown...I cant even imagine sewing something like that....

  15. Carolyn is an inspiration to us all - great interview.


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