On my sewing list for quite some time has been the Hudson Pants pattern from True Bias, with the intention of sewing this ostensible sweatpants pattern in a woven fabric, as I’ve seen many people do. But Mac Housley has put me over the top on it — she tells me she’s sewn at least 6 pairs, ranging from flannel pj’s (for the whole family) to the sage green pair above, among others. I’ve mentioned Mac twice in Elsewhere lately — in the context of @meetmakersofcolor and her fantastic Love to Sew Podcast interview (please tell me you’ve listened to it!) — but today I’m here to tell you I have a Maker Crush on her, straight up. It’s not just the Hudson pants, but her energy and openness and apparent willingness to dive right into whatever tempts her. Mac stopped crocheting (hopefully not forever) after her grandmother died fifteen years ago and is eager to learn to knit, but she has taken up sewing in just the past few years and is already a powerhouse thanks to that aforementioned diving-in mentality.
In addition to her joint ventures @meetmakersofcolor and @sewalteredstyle, and the blog of the same name, her @macsmakespace account has become one of my favorites in recent months, and I particularly love her ongoing IG Stories wherein she checks in regularly about works in progress and so much else. If you’re not already following her, I’m sure you’ll find her as relentlessly inspiring as I do.
— I love this piece by my collaborator-friend Jen Hewett (above) on being a creative and a recovering perfectionist. For me, being one too, this bit about her great grandmother is the perfect tiny life lesson: She was a talented cook, but sometimes her cakes didn’t rise properly. “My mother never called those failures,” Auntie Maude said. “She’d slice that cake, pour some cream on top, and call it a ‘pudding.’ And we loved those puddings.”
One of the first knitting friends I made through this blog and Twitter, back when knitters were mostly still found on Twitter, was the dynamo known as @izznit or Iz. You may know her on Instagram for her knitting, her wit, her ink, her plants or her adorable dogs; or you may recognize her from the Porter Bin photos. (Her blog is now dormant but not forgotten, and she’s still got best blog header ever.) And yet like always with this Our Tools, Ourselves q&a, I learned some new things about her! And hope you will too.
Thanks so much for doing this, Iz!
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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
I’m mostly known as a knitter but I was a sewer first — my love for it is what led to my career in the garment industry (patternmaker turned designer). Once sewing became part of my job, it stopped being a hobby and knitting took over. I crochet on occasion but it’s limited to small projects like baby toys or dishcloths. I do know how to spin, even went so far as shearing my own fleece, but I don’t do it as often as I should. Weaving is on the to-learn list!
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
I’m all about metal interchangeable needles for speed and convenience. I hated knitting at first because of the plastic Aero needles my mom taught me with — the yarn squeaked all the way across and required so much effort to move! I settled on bamboo because it was sold at all the big box stores but during the slouchy hat era, I struggled to find fixed circulars in the length I needed. That’s when I learned about magic loop and the versatility of an interchangeable needle set. I bought a nickel-plated set from Knit Picks and still use it eleven years later — no squeaks! The yarn glides! Now when I teach people to knit I let them know other materials are an option and to not get discouraged if their work isn’t moving easily.
I don’t crochet regularly so my hooks aren’t as curated, they’re just what my Mom passed down years ago. It’s a mix of materials and very incomplete.
I also have a stash of handmade bowls to hold my flat-bottomed, center-pull yarn cakes. I don’t have to worry about setting my yarn on an unclean surface and the added weight prevents the cake from flying when I need to pull.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
I made my own pouch for my interchangeable needle set because I couldn’t find one that fit my needs (compact, not flappy, and no extra pockets or slots). Loose hooks and needles are in a variety of handmade cups and vases. I think it’s important to be able to see everything at a glance — if things are hidden they won’t be used.
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
I have a WIP tray that I lug around the house with projects I work on the most. The ones I work on less go in their own Field Bag and on a shelf. That way if I ever have to bring my knitting somewhere I can grab and go.
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
A hand-turned nostepinne given to me by my university TA. She read I was using toilet paper rolls and spoons to wind, and sent me hers as she had no use for it. Eleven years later, it’s still my favorite thing to wind with. I’ve tried other nostepinnes but they aren’t as comfortable to hold. This was also my first knitting-related act of kindness that’s made me more comfortable with the idea of giving neglected tools away where I know they’ll be loved.
Do you lend your tools?
I don’t because my tool collection is so pared down and only comprised of things I use. I’ve given books and older tools when a friend shows interest, though!
What is your favorite place to knit/sew/spin/dye/whatever?
Most of my making is done at home in the evenings after work, but my favorite place to knit is anywhere on vacation. I love that the FO carries memories of the places it’s been, and it’s a pleasant reminder when worn.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I don’t think there is any, really. I knit less frequently overall since my last tendonitis flare up. I don’t recall being a seasonal knitter before then either.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
I’ll let the readers decide which category this falls under but I will never cut a knot. I will always undo it, even if it takes hours, because I’m scared of being short on a project. That includes joins where the yarn was split and I’d only be saving 2 inches. I also have a fear of my ends coming loose on an FO so I will weave far more than I have to. I used to weave tails up to 10 inches long until I frogged a project and realized the absurdity — now it’s down to 4 inches.
What are you working on right now?
The Midsummer Rose Shawl has been my main focus, but I do have WIPs of varying difficulty around, for when my mood or location requires something less intense.My mom taught me to always finish a project before starting another but I couldn’t follow that for very long.
While there are still people knitting — some of whom have started in on a next sweater — today marks the close of the official Fringe and Friends Steekalong coverage. But please do keep knitting! And I’ll keep tuning in to the #fringeandfriendssteekalong feed, where there is so much splendor to behold.
Thanks so much to everyone who participated or cheered participants along. It’s always such a joy join in with knitters stretching skills and sharing insights and making beautiful garments, and that’s never been more true than with all the steekers in this crowd. And thanks especially to Mary Jane Mucklestone for the amazing pattern and for joining in with so much great advice and cheerleading along the way!
— I’ve been limiting my IG time lately (in order to make more time for books), but there are three must-see’s for me: the #fringeandfriendssteekalong feed, of course, plus @meetmakersofcolor and @ebonyh’s Story, which has been my favorite part of each morning this month — so stunning and inspiring
— And most of all, Felicia: “I heard David Whyte speak a few months ago and he spoke of how we are practicing, in each moment, for who we want to be in the next. The fabric we create holds that intention – who were we practicing to be on that day? Were we practicing courage by trying something new? Were we practicing generosity by making for another? Were we practicing a new story about who we are by intentionally moving away from a story that no longer served us? Or were we simply trying to comfort ourselves so we could sit with our sadness or fear or insecurity? This comfort is a gift we give ourselves; a gift of time and space where we acknowledge that ignoring our pain, does not serve us. Allowing ourselves the comfort of craft – and then there being a visible reminder in our homes of us treating ourselves with grace – is so very important.” (photo above, top)
Yes, that. Please remember to treat yourselves with grace — this weekend and always.
SHOP NEWS: In addition to a fresh batch of Black, we’ve got a small batch of the Town Bag in Natural with a darker waxed natural outer panel, making the bag a little more contrasty than the usual subtle tone-on-tone effect. We’re calling it “Natural w/ waxed vanilla,” and we love it but it’s not reproducible, so it’s a self-limiting edition — only at Fringe Supply Co., and only while they last!
I’m jumping the gun on this one because I literally cannot wait until the pattern publishes on Friday — it’s Junko Okamoto’s latest flash of brilliance, the Bouquet Sweater and scarf (not sure if the latter will be a separate pattern, but I assume). We’ve talked before about my love of The Twigs, and I’m equally smitten with her floral doodle on Papa, but this one is next level. Bouquet features a large-scale flower motif that reminds me of a sort of Weiner Werkstätte way of doing a floral — graphic and abstracted. But it’s also not a standard stranded motif and not embroidered after the fact. I’m eager to see when the pattern drops, but it’s either an incredibly clever use of right-side and wrong-side floats, or a wrapping technique similar to that in L’Arbre Hat? Like I said, I can’t wait to see the pattern and find out.
She’s knitted the sample sweater in a marl and a fairly low-contrast color, downplaying the effect — then flipped the two yarns for the scarf. For a higher-contrast version, just look at this gorgeousness.
Croquis (“crow-KEE”) is French for sketch, but in the garment world it means fashion illustrations, which are traditionally based on an unrealistic “model” who is nine heads tall and very thin.
The idea of a faint croquis template for drawing on top of — for those of us who are not skilled illustrators — is best known in the form of the Fashionary products we sell some of at Fringe, which are popular with design students everywhere. I’ve been a proponent of Fashionary for DIY-ers because having a template to draw on has allowed me to make semi-realistic sketches of garments I’m proposing to make, enabling me to see what sleeve shape I like best, where I’d like a sweater to hit (natural waist? mid hip? crotch?), what shapes work together, and so on. It’s been an incredibly useful tool for me in project selection and wardrobe planning. But think how much more powerful it would be if we could have templates based on our actual human dimensions.
So that’s what I hoped would come true, and it has! And I’m thrilled to talk to Erica about it all—
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How did you first get the idea to make a customizable croquis app?
When I first started making my own clothes a few years ago, it was like a floodgate of creativity had opened. I was bursting with so many ideas that it was hard to fall asleep at night. I was also a bit overwhelmed by the infinite design decisions that can go into making each garment. I needed a way to get my ideas out of my head and onto paper, and I needed it to be visual — not just a written list. At the same time, I was recovering from several years of illness and chronic pain issues. Making clothes felt like a thank-you gift to my body for all it had been through. Traditional fashion croquis, at a standard nine or ten head-lengths tall, just didn’t make sense. I found a few realistically-proportioned fashion croquis options, but none that looked like me. I searched for custom croquis apps, but found nothing. I finally ended up making my own sketch templates by tracing over a photo of myself. Every once in a while, I would do another online search to see if anyone had created a custom croquis generator yet. Every time, I was surprised to find nothing. Finally, in January 2017, I decided to do it myself.
And how did you have the know-how to bring that idea to fruition?
I had zero know-how! But I could see and feel so clearly that MyBodyModel was something that needed to exist. My professional background is in nonprofit management and consulting, including a lot of grant writing and collaboration. I’ve always loved the process of starting with the seed of an idea and bringing people together to help it grow into reality. My first steps were finding a local software development company to estimate what it would take, and then connecting with as many makers and designers as possible to see if this was a product that anyone other than me actually wanted. I also took advantage of available free business counseling and trainings, did a lot of research, and got some grant funding to pay for part of the initial development.
It seems like one of the hardest questions must have been “how much do I charge for this?” given that, to my knowledge, there’s never been anything like it. Can you talk a little bit about the pricing model you’ve settled on and how you arrived at it?
There were no “comps” to help figure out the pricing, so that was a bit tricky! I did know from the beginning that I wanted a free-to-preview, pay-to-download pricing model. In my initial focus groups, I gave the option for participants to pre-order and write down the price they would pay for their body model download packages. I used this information when I put together the different backer tiers for the Kickstarter campaign in August 2017. The success of that campaign not only validated that MyBodyModel was a product that people were excited about, but also that our pricing model was on the right track.
Feedback from our Kickstarter backers also helped shape the current credit-based download model. During the campaign, the main questions people had were, “What if my body changes?” and “What if I make garments for clients or loved ones?” We designed the credit-based system so that folks could purchase packages of two or five credits at a discounted cost per credit. We’ve also started offering discounted education pricing for classroom use.
You’ve taken it slowly — and I mean that as a compliment — crowdsourcing funds, hosting a nice long beta period to develop the tools, and now making it publicly available. Has your idea of what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it, changed during that time?
During the Kickstarter campaign, it was clear that people were excited about the idea of MyBodyModel as a practical and creative tool. What I didn’t realize was what a powerful emotional reaction people would have to actually seeing and using their body model templates. I’ve heard from so many customers who say it’s the first time that they’ve ever looked at their body without judgment. When they look at their body outlines, they don’t see flaws — they see possibilities. I think there’s something about seeing the lines and curves of your body as a 2D outline that turns on the artistic and creative parts of your brain, and turns off the judgey mean parts.
What’s one thing that has surprised you the most from the usage and feedback you’ve seen during the testing phase?
Of all the feedback during the testing phases, both alpha and beta, what most surprised me was how often people blamed their own bodies rather than the app itself for any glitches in the croquis rendering! It really helped me understand just how pervasive and far reaching the social construct is of our bodies having something wrong with them. I realized that almost everyone struggles with body image and body acceptance — regardless of size or shape, and regardless of how “normal” or even “perfect” they may look to an outside eye. At the same time, I’ve been delighted to discover that some of the most positive body images are held by people whose bodies don’t match up with commercially defined ideals around what we should or shouldn’t look like. These realizations have made me even more passionate and determined to continue developing MyBodyModel as body-positive design tool — and to make it as accessible as possible.
Do people’s notions of what it is, and is for, line up with what you imagined? Or have people used it in ways you never saw coming?
Initially, MyBodyModel was a product that I wanted for myself. I knew exactly how I would use it, but I needed to learn how others might use it, and how it might fit into their creative processes and planning styles. From our initial focus groups and alpha testing, I learned that we needed to offer formats for drawing on paper as well as digitally. I was surprised to learn how many makers love using analog tools such as notebooks, binders, and bulletin boards. I also learned that we needed different page formats that would be useful during the various stages of the creative process — for example, several croquis on one page for initial exploration of silhouettes, versus one larger croquis with space for project-planning notes.
But of course, since the product release, people have come up with all sorts of creative ways to use their body models! A few of my favorites:
Sharing your body measurements on social media as part of the #sewmysize initiative (such as here, here, and here).
Using a multi-media approach such as creating paper cut-outs to show fabric swatches (or as in the photo below, a color photocopy of a knitting swatch).
I know you must have sunk an incredible amount of time and heart and soul into this. What’s the most rewarding thing so far in seeing it in the world, being used?
It’s hard to put into words how good it feels to have MyBodyModel out in the world.Even more than 6 months after our initial beta release, I still shout out and do a happy dance every time I see someone post a sketch they’ve done using their body model croquis. And I still get teary over many of the DMs and emails that I receive from customers. I think the most rewarding thing is knowing that it’s more than just a fun and useful product — it’s actually transforming the way our customers think about themselves and their bodies. I’ve also loved seeing how many people have been drawing on their templates with children watching and joining in the fun (such as here and here). It makes me so happy to think about the body-positive messages this sends on so many different levels.
And are you focused on the existing product right now and letting the world know about it, or are you already dreaming up what’s next for MyBodyModel?
I’m already working on raising funds and recruiting testers for the next development phase! I have a long wish list and lots of big ideas for the future, but we’re still just getting started. Currently the app is able to render female croquis only; I hope to offer male croquis by this fall, as well as some optional adjustment options. Our R&D budget depends on current sales, and we always prioritize based on customer feedback, so I’m also still very focused on letting the world know about MyBodyModel and our existing product offerings! Thankfully our customers, our testers and our original Kickstarter backers are our biggest champions, so that makes my job a whole lot easier.
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Thanks so much, Erica!
I should note that Erica invited me to try out the app during the testing stage, and I have yet to find time, but I’ll be rectifying that asap!