Barbara Emodi, like many sewists, has been sewing since childhood and never lost her spark for making clothes. Now she shares her passion with others through classes, her blog, YouTube videos and user-friendly books. She believes in sewing smart and is generous about sharing ways to make sewing fun and efficient. Here’s more about Barbara:
How long have you been sewing? How did you get started?
I started sewing when I was eight – a yellow flannelette nightgown for Barbie with button hole stitch edging and some stencilled flowers down the front. I was always over ambitious.
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Do you feel that you chose your “passion,” or did it choose you?
I was born this way. Is that an adequate response to this question?
How often do you start a new project?
I usually sew 3-4 of the same colour group simultaneously. Today, I cut out two bathing suits, four pairs of leggings, and three T shirts. Because I sew for myself and three generations of my family I can do this. There is always that much sewing going on and I am always behind schedule for birthdays.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I used to have a sewing room that was one large room in my lower level. Then I had one room going upstairs too so I wouldn’t have to go down stairs for fast jobs. Then I also set up a satellite space in the dining room because the dog likes it in there and I wanted her to be happy. Finally I moved the whole dispersed operation to fill the entire lower level of my house. Essentially my husband lives in a sewing room at this stage.
What is your favorite storage tip for fabric?
Go through it every once in a while and find out what you once bought. It can be exciting to see great fabric in your own house that you didn’t know you had – either because you really are losing it this time or because you bought it so long ago you can’t remember where or why. Or because there is so much around that you can’t be faulted for losing track of some of it.
Shelves and shelves and sometimes the freezer, or under the beds or in the trunk of the car when I am trying to ease yet more fabric purchases into the system under cover.
Are there indispensable tools in your studio? How do they improve your work? Where are they available?
Seam rippers. I have multiple because I am always losing them and always need one. My granddaughter actually thinks they are called the sewer’s best friend because I am always asking her to pass the sewer’s best friend.
Tell us about your most challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
My most challenging piece was my mother of the groom’s dress I made to wear to my son’s fancy wedding in Washington, DC. The problem was that the pattern was chosen by a committee of my sisters and my daughter, all of whom did not trust my taste. I ended up trying to exceed expectations and made a complicated Marfy pattern with an asymmetrical collar thing that went across the body to a bow on one side. Of course it was in fuchsia silk dupioni and was beaded. Despite my best efforts in the pictures I look like I have on a silk dupioni Girl Guide uniform with my badge scarf draped across my body. What can you do?
Have you had a “never again” moment, then gone and did it again?
Of course. I think I have once put the left sleeve in the right armhole four times and used the sewer’s best friend in between each time.
How would you say your creativity has evolved over the years?
I still jump into things hoping for the best and over my head. In this respect I would say my creativity has been at this same place over the years. Sometimes I get lucky though.
When is your most productive creative time?
Between when I get up and when I go to bed if you don’t count getting up at 3:00 to fix a mistake that bugs me so much I can’t sleep. I let a lot of other things in my life slide.
How do you make time for creating? Do you try to create daily?
See above. I more or less resent any time I spend that is not sewing related so this is not a challenge for me.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
Also see above. It’s being interested in anything but sewing that I need more motivational help with. Any ideas?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
A boss I once had said in any activity 80% perfect is as good as it gets, just learn to live with the other 20%, it doesn’t matter. Broadly this applies to getting all I want done with my sewing. I figure if I can keep it at about an 82% and not get lower than say 78% I am operating at optimal capacity. Sewers of my generation ruin the experience by trying to be perfect.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, Stress-Free Sewing Solutions?
Writing a book about sewing is another part of the ongoing conversations sewists have about their craft. Writing my first book, SEW: The Garment Making Book of Knowledge, started a whole new series of interesting conversations for me. Those conversations had a theme.
So many of my fellow sewists told me how hard they were trying to sew well. But that frequently, despite their best efforts and following the instructions to the letter, things weren’t always turning out the way they wanted. And they didn’t know why. Worst of all, from my point of view, is that many of these sincere and highly motivated makers told me they were finding sewing stressful as a result. This sort of broke my heart. In my own life, sewing is a comfort and a refuge. It’s a way to reconnect with myself and what sustains me, whatever life’s challenges. That not every sewist had access to the same life resource upset me and I decided to see what I could do about that.
The result was Stress-Free Sewing Solutions: a No-Fail Guide to Garments for the Modern Sewist. In it, and advocating for real sewists everywhere, I use the term FAIL – followed all instructions let-down – to describe this experience. For each FAIL, such as a bumpy shirt collar where the collar band meets the placket, a gaping knit neckline, a wavy hem, a clunky continuous lap cuff opening, I provide an immediate fix when one is possible, the reason why the FAIL occurred, and a relaxing stress free way of sewing this detail next time for beautiful results.
This was a crazy book to write. I did it during Covid lockdown. Essentially working from fabric I had in my house, I became completely driven about sharing easier-than-usual techniques. Some I had collected over the years, as well as some I invented myself with members of my creative tribe. We were cut off from the usual publishing resources, my husband did the how to photos and drawings, a friend photographed family and friends in the clothes, but it really became a mission, a labour of love, for me. I hope that readers will find something in this book that adds more joy to their sewing life. If that happens I will be so, so happy.
Tell us about your book, Sew. . . The Garment Making Book of Knowledge! What inspired you to write?
I was inspired by seeing so many new sewers (or sewists to quote the title that Google insists on changing to sexist) start sewing. I just wanted to pass on as many of the handy hints I could in the hope that understanding some mistake I have learned from in my past might be helpful to a new or returning sewist who could then avoid the same mistake themselves.
Everyone who sews should have a great time doing it and feel clever. Pattern instructions leave out so much and what they leave out is the important stuff that makes the difference. I wanted to fill in some of those blanks.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
There are different kinds of creativity and I think many of us who sew excel at ingenuity. That’s part of our sewing heritage; improvising and adapting are themselves creative acts, and generations of home sewists were geniuses at it. I think it is important to get back to those roots, to not just execute our garments but actively enjoy the pleasure of clever construction – techniques you learn from folks like me – but more importantly methods you develop and invent yourself. When you take the performance stress out of sewing, that becomes possible. I really look forward to continuing to learn from others who practice this craft. There is so much art in clever problem solving and creating. Aren’t we lucky to have this in our lives?
Really I don’t have a clue. Right now I am up to my eyeballs in new projects and trying to share as many tips as I can, through my book, on my blog, on Instagram and my YouTube channel. If folks buy these books my publishers will let me do another one. If not, well, then I can sew more.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Talk to me. I love hearing from other sewers. The best part of my blog is definitely the comment section. You can find me at barbaraemodi.com, @bemodi on Instagram and Barbara Emodi on Youtube. The book can be found in many libraries and bookstores and of course on Amazon.
Here are some of Barbara’s great how-to videos:
Interview posted June, 2018, updated July 2021
Browse through more garment making inspiration and projects on Create Whimsy.