Q&A with Heather Ross, author of Weekend Sewing
(Note: To see a gallery of images from this book, click here.)
How did you learn to sew?
I have always been fascinated by fashion and clothing and was driven to learn to sew because I had ideas for things that I wanted to make. So I just started trying. Sewing is based on a very simple process: joining fabrics with a needle and thread. After you understand how to do that, the possibilities are endless. And it helped that I always had fabric and sewing machines around. My mother, grandmother, and great grandmother were expert sewers who lived much of their lives in Asia and Europe and collected fabric from every country they visited. Plus, I had a very good home ec teacher who corrected a lot of my self-taught bad habits!
Which project in Weekend Sewing was the most fun to work on and why?
Probably the summer blouse—I wanted so badly to capture that feeling of a crisp little tunic from the 1970s, and to recreate a silhouette that I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about for so long. I worked on children’s clothing designs for many years, so it was very liberating to finally be able to get some of my women’s clothing designs on paper!
Which project in Weekend Sewing was the most challenging to work on and why?
The pajama pants. My editor, Melanie, wanted them in every size imaginable, and you can’t imagine the amount of coffee I had to drink to get through the grading on that pattern.
What was the biggest overall challenge of working on Weekend Sewing? The most rewarding?
The biggest challenge for me is always the fear of rejection, or that my ideas won’t seem like good ones to my peers or customers. The most rewarding was feeling, for the first time in a largely self-managed career, pushed to examine and expand my skills and processes. Along the way I became better at a lot of things that I love to do.
What is the most satisfying project you have ever completed in one weekend?
A “Jane of the Jungle” costume for my friend Karen to wear at a swing dancing festival in Sweden. We went to a florist and bought huge bags of fake ivy, then spent about twelve hours sewing it to a little one-shouldered dress of skin-toned mesh. We used a hot glue gun to position the leaves so that they overlapped each other just right, which was extremely tricky. There were a few very close calls with the glue gun and one unfortunate misstep that led to Karen having to be cut out of her underpants. (The underpants became a permanent feature of the dress, actually, hidden under layers of leaves.) Even so, it worked incredibly well and she looked amazing.
If you could use only one adjective to describe your book, what would it be?
Which was the quickest project to make in the book?
Probably the garden gloves. It’s a very simple project with very impressive and very sweet results. I love the idea that someone who loves fabric can make something for someone who loves gardening. I also love reasons to use jersey fabrics, especially now that they are popping up in more stores.
Which one took you the longest?
I would have to say the Weekend-Away Travel Bag, but not necessarily because it’s a hard project. My initial concept for this zip-up bag was that it would be made from a bright “retro” floral, maybe a 60s pink and green, which I found and happily sewed up. Thinking that this was a possible unisex project, I also made one up in a jaunty sailboat print. When Melanie saw these samples at the photo shoot (we shot some of the book at her lovely old house in upstate New York), she gently suggested that I sew one in a more...attractive colorway. We looted her closet and found a very nice henna-brown hemp, and it worked perfectly. I probably think of it as being a complicated project because I ended up making three in row, all in very short order!
When you were a child, what did you imagine you would be when you grew up?
A teacher. This is probably because the only adults I knew who actually had jobs were teachers, and because we lived in an old schoolhouse. I actually do teach sewing classes, and I love it.
If you could spend an afternoon sewing with one person in history, who would it be? And what would you make for lunch?
My great grandmother. She could sew anything. She partly paid her way through Vassar College by making winter coats for her roommates and went on to lead a fascinating life. She traveled the world and collected costumes and fabrics and always made herself the most amazing wardrobes.
I would serve her strawberry shortcake with wild field strawberries. She kept a farm in Upstate New York and believed that when something was in season, you ate it at every meal. She grew the most amazing strawberries. They were tiny, like the wild ones, and so delicious. When they were in season she served them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I would also make her try my deviled eggs, which I am hoping she will agree taste just like my grandmother’s.
What are you sewing now?
I’m working on two things: a little quilted coat made with fabrics from my Far Far Away line for a new baby in my extended family, and a pair of heavy curtains out of a new Marimekko print to cover my messy inspiration board (which happens to be in my dining area). I want to be able to cover it up for dinner parties.