Online sewing friends Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr met one day for lunch and the creative sparks flew! The result was their first successful book proposal, and they have collaborated, blogged, sewn and inspired garment sewers ever since.
How long have you been sewing? How did you get started?
Sarah: I learned to sew when I was 16. My mother would not let me get my driver’s license until I learned how to sew. It wasn’t until 5 years later that I really began sewing. I met a young woman during a summer job who made all of her clothes. They were beautiful and she served as my inspiration to sew for myself.
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Julie: Like most pre-teens of my generation, home economics was a required course and it was my first exposure to a sewing machine. None of the women in my family sewed. I was hooked after my very first class project, which was a simple elastic waisted skirt.
How do you keep your skills fresh?
Sarah: Like so many other skills, practice makes perfect! In February I treated myself to a 6-day French Jacket Class in Florida with Mary Funt of Cloning Couture, and Helen Haughey of Helen Haughey Designs. It’s not something I often have the opportunity to do, but thank goodness for great sewing blogs, online classes and YouTube videos.
Julie: I also feel repetition is important. I like to keep a notebook nearby to jot down what works and doesn’t while sewing a particular pattern. It’s helpful to have those reminders in case I like it enough to make again. My first in-person workshop with Susan Khalje was a total game changer to my sewing and was the foundation for my love of couture sewing techniques.
When you started to sew, did you make just for fun? When did you envision it becoming a business?
Sarah: I started my blog Goodbye Valentino to hold myself accountable to my pledge of no shopping and sewing all of my clothes for a year. When Mood Fabrics approached me about joining its new Sewing Network, I began to understand online sponsorships and gradually began to look at my sewing in a more business-like manner. From that point on things began to happen, and I enjoy the honor of partnering with other businesses including SVP as an ambassador for the Pfaff brand and Coats and Clark.
How did your collaboration come about?
Sarah: Julie and I became online sewing friends through my blog and the Pattern Review website. We both live in South Carolina and finally met up for lunch one day on the coast. Our aesthetics are very compatible, so one weekend we got together and drafted a book proposal for The Tunic Bible.
Through the years, Julie’s good taste and sewing skills have inspired me. My last two French Jackets were inspired by her love of couture sewing.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing?
Sarah: We wrote A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing to inspire sewists. Once one understands the principals of classic design, creating variations of the silhouettes that are flattering to you and reflect your personality is the next step to sewing a customized wardrobe. Every prominent designer understands the classic concept before stepping on to the runway. When we know how to adapt classic garments to suit our style, age, shape and size, we are a step ahead of seasonal trends. Sewists get the best of both worlds by applying the designer’s essence to clothes that work for their life.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Sarah: Everyone is creative, but the creative spirit is often suppressed. I took a wonderful course, The Artist’s Way many years ago. The course helped me release my creative spirit and go with the flow. I highly recommend the book or course if it is still taught.
I also believe we can inspire others to be creative.
Julie: Both! Confidence begets creativity. I began sewing garments again in 2012 after a decades-long break. After a hesitant start, I had a few successful projects under my belt and it was as if a tap was turned on in terms of my self assurance in selecting fabrics, colors and styles.
What words of encouragement do you have for sewists who are frustrated with the fit of commercial sewing patterns?
Sarah: Making a muslin is the key to sewing a commercial pattern successfully. I make muslins for almost every new pattern I sew. Sarah Veblen’s book The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting is an excellent resource for fitting patterns. As with the rest of life, there are no shortcuts to success, but the rewards of sewing garments that fit are truly worth the extra time!
Julie: Commercial patterns are typically designed for fit models. It’s the rare individual who can sew one straight from the envelope with successful results. Thinking otherwise is a sure-fire set up for disappointment. Observing what’s going on physically in the body is the key. Fitting and Pattern Alteration: A Multi-Method Approach by Leichty, Pottberg and Rasband is like a medical textbook and I find its straightforward layout an invaluable tool. Once you identify the characteristic you’re dealing with, the illustrations and text are clear and concise.
Do you follow any blogs? Which are your favorites and why?
Sarah: I love Mary Funt’s blog, Cloning Couture. Mary is brilliant, thinks mathematically (unlike me) and is a phenomenal teacher. She can recreate any couture garment and explain how to do it. I also like Karen Helm’s blog: Fifty Dresses. Karen sews lovely clothes and she writes thoughtfully. I enjoy Handmade By Carolyn. She knows her style and wears her clothes well. Non-sewing blogs such as francesschultz.com also inspire me.
Beyond blogging, I love Instagram and follow numerous sewists on that platform. It’s the perfect tool for showing finished projects!
Julie: In addition to those named by Sarah, a few other blogs I enjoy are Barbara Emodi’s Sewing on the Edge for its warmth, wisdom and wit; Marcy Harriell’s Oonaballoona for her sheer joy and colorful sense of style, Julie Eilber’s Jet Set Sewing for her knowledge of fashion history and focus on classic designers (Claire McCardell in particular) and Tracey Hogan’s Featherstitch Avenue for her edgy couture quality creations and her photographer husband Santiago Vanegas’s stunning images of them.
[Editor’s note: Check out Barbara Emodi’s Spotlight on Create Whimsy!]
How much do you improvise when you sew? What is the most memorable thing you did “on the fly”?
Sarah: I almost always change something on a pattern, but I do not sew on the fly. I really love embellishing patterns with trim, borders, etc… to give a more RTW appearance.
Julie: Most of my garments begin with a designer inspiration piece so I love to study pattern line drawings for the basic silhouette and build from there, sometimes inter-changing elements from multiple patterns.
Draping is a skill I greatly admire and Carolina Herrera is one of my all-time favorite designers, so I once tackled an on-the-fly version of her classic ruched yoke pleated skirt in black silk dupioni. Paired with a good white shirt, it’s an outfit that will be in style forever.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Sarah: I have my own sewing room. It’s not fancy but it works. I dream of a professionally designed sewing space one day!
Julie: My sewing room is where I escape to and instantly feel a sense of relaxation when I walk through the door. I splurged on custom built-ins several years ago when I first commandeered a guest room for my own space and couldn’t bear to leave them behind when I moved last year. Carpenters removed and carefully reassembled so that my new room instantly felt like home. I like lots of organization and have dozens of labeled glass jars on shelves for notions and accessories. Two rows of wall cubbies store seagrass basket drawers for storage of patterns and trims.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Sarah: Angela Wolf kindly sent me a clapper after we met taping some It’s Sew Easy episodes. I let it sit for months without using it, but once I did, it became indispensable. It miraculously presses out unwanted bulk, and I use it on everything from heavy boucle to lighter weight fabrics.
I also love the heat soluble markers such as those made by Frixion. All marking disappears with the touch of the iron.
Julie: I do love my Reliable Velocity Iron for its clouds of steam with no leaking. Other than that, I’m a pretty low-tech sewist. Good sharp Japanese hand sewing needles and cotton basting thread are indispensable to me and my 4” Kai scissors are always close by. My magnifying OttLite is also a must-have for hand stitching.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
Sarah: In my recent workshop, Mary Funt demonstrated using chisels (from hardware stores) to cut button holes. They work beautifully.
Julie: I keep a hammer in a nearby drawer for tapping thick seam intersections on heavier fabrics before sewing.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Sarah: I often have something playing in the background. I’ve created several playlists on Spotify specifically for sewing – follow me 😊 Audible books often keep me company in the sewing room, and I just finished listening to Andre Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches. It’s a fascinating story about his rise to the top of fashion journalism. As far as podcasts, I enjoy Threads and Fresh Air on a regular basis. Right now, I’m listening to Bishop Curry’s podcast, The Way of Love. I’m also a news junkie.
Julie: Lately I find myself more often than not enjoying the solitude of silence as I sew. The feeling of concentrating completely on the task at hand for hours on end without interruption is a stark contrast to my full-time career in custom residential construction management. Otherwise it’s an audiobook or a podcast such as Love to Sew, Dressed: The History of Fashion or What We Wore.
How many projects do you have going at once? Or do you focus on one creative project at a time? How do you keep them organized?
Sarah: I only work on one project at a time. When I returned to sewing in 2011, I vowed to finish each project I started before starting another one, even when it was heading south. I’ve stuck to this promise; otherwise I’d have a room full of unfinished garments. I learn so much by completing each project, even the disappointing ones.
Julie: I, too, prefer to finish one project before beginning another. That prevents me from having to keep them organized!
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
Sarah: I would interview Jackie Kennedy and Oscar de la Renta.
Jackie Kennedy lived her life so creatively and gracefully. Her impeccable classic style intrigues me. Did she realize her fashion choices would provide perpetual style inspiration? I admire her strength, how she raised her children and her intellectual curiosity.
Oscar de la Renta knew how to make women of every age, shape and size look and feel beautiful. His clothes always speak to me.
Julie: I have had a fascination with textile and fashion designer/ inventor/ Painter/ photographer Mariano Fortuny ever since I was fortunate enough to have “inherited” an entire room full of his glorious fabric that had previously upholstered library walls in a Charleston Harbor penthouse renovation I supervised several years ago. He manufactured his own dyes and pigments for his fabrics using ancient methods and begin printing on velvets and silks using engraved wooden blocks. Though he died in 1949, to this day the process remains a closely guarded secret to all but a few workers who operate the looms, and no one is allowed to observe the weaving process. Venice’s Fortuny Museum, which also houses the showroom and workshop, is a place I dream to visit one day.
Tell us about your blogs and websites. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
Sarah: In 2011 I made a vow to renew my sewing skills and abstain from Ready to Wear shopping for one year. I created the blog Goodbye Valentino to in 2011 to document the year.
The blog chronicles my sewing projects but more so it serves as a connection to the online sewing community. Blogging is a two-way street. I’m honored when I learn I’ve inspired a reader, but the inspiration and knowledge I’ve gained from readers who take the time to comment is immeasurable.
What I hope people will gain by visiting my blog is a sense of enjoyment and a pleasurable experience.
Julie: Instagram is where I share my sewing projects. Knowing you’ve inspired someone on their sewing journey is the ultimate compliment and I enjoy the feedback, as well as the opportunity to discover new-to-me creatives and fabric/trim sources.
Follow Sarah and Julie on Instagram to keep up with all of their latest creations!
Interview with Sarah Gunn and Julie Starr posted July 2020
Browse through more inspiring garment makers and projects on Create Whimsy.