Born in the Philippines to creative parents, Sonya Philip has explored the world of art with a multicultural perspective. In addition to the Philippines, her family has lived in San Francisco, Hong Kong and, now, she is back in San Francisco with a family and creative career of her own. Sonya once challenged herself to make 100 dresses, and that process led her to design garment patterns that are accessible to beginners with flattering fit and contemporary style.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I’ve always made things, I come from a family of makers. My mother trained as an interior designer and my dad is an architect and would spend the weekends fixing up our family home. They both encouraged my creativity and imagination by providing art supplies and taking my brother and me to museums. I was also really fortunate to go to schools with really great art programs.
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Did you have a “gateway craft” as a kid? Which creative projects led you to the work you do today?
Braiding lanyards and God’s Eyes at after school and summer camps and were my earliest craft memories. I also got really into macramé in elementary school and made several plant holders and belts.
What inspires you to create? How does your international living experience shape your work?
I approach creativity from the standpoint of answering questions. I was very curious child and remain a curious adult. Many of the things I make are because I can’t find them in the world.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I approach sewing from the standpoint of a beginner. As I’ve become more confident I haven’t forgotten the fear and intimidation that seem to go hand-in-hand with the craft. And I’d like to think that my patterns and book are geared towards those beginners, making garment sewing accessible and understandable.
How did your 100 Dresses challenge come to be?
It began with taking a pattern drafting class with a teacher named Cal Patch. I was so delighted that I could make a garment I would actually wear. I made four dresses in one week, then the number 100 popped into my mind – I would make 100 dresses! It went from there, evolving into a project where I documented each dress.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your new book, The Act of Sewing?
I view The Act of Sewing as a workbook, where readers can pick and choose different elements to build things they want to wear. The clothes that fit their needs and their size.
To what do you attribute the current enthusiasm for sewing?
I think the enthusiasm for sewing is one that’s been building for a while. It’s made up of people who are learning for the first time or who are taking it up again after a long break, people coming over from other crafts like knitting. They want to take some control over what they have in their closet, whether it’s color or style or material.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I tend to be more of an improviser, but making patterns for a living has forced me to be more of a planner. A lot of the times when I make things for myself, I’m inspired by a particular fabric. Depending on how much there is, I might need to make modifications on the fly.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
I do like to finish things, but have magpie tendencies with my head turned by new and shiny projects. So I try to balance things out by making time to go through piles of half-finished things. I have a quilt I started several years ago and thought hand quilting would be good idea. I’ve picked it back up and am slowly working on it again.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have different corners of the house where various craft materials live, like yarn, roving or art supplies. But for my business I do have a dedicated studio space. With my family at home either working or doing virtual school, it’s been so incredible to have a space I can go to work.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
The most indispensable thing is really just having space. Previously all of my things were tucked into closets and having everything within easy reach is such a gift. Also having a dedicated cutting table is amazing.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have several notebooks, one at my desk, one by my bed, one for knitting, I carry one in my bag. Even though I don’t journal regularly, I always find the need to jot down ideas. I would like to be a better at using my sketchbook – that’s one thing I’d like to find more time for.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Sometimes I listen to podcasts or an audiobook while I’m working, but more often than not I just enjoy having silence. Even though my kids are now mostly grown and out of the house, I still prefer having my time working alone being quiet.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I have a new website for The Act of Sewing and I hope that people will find inspiration as well as information on upcoming events and classes, virtual for now but hopefully in person in the not too distant future!
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
Gaining confidence was and still is a big hurdle. I started sharing the things I made online through blogs and then social media. It’s really easy to compare yourself and what you’re doing with other people. And continuing to make the things that speak to you can seem lonely or even pointless sometimes. Especially when it seems like other people are getting the attention or accolades.
If you could interview a creative person (past or present), who would that person be? What is it about that person that intrigues you?
I would love to interview Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Her work is so beautiful and creative. I also really admire her business acumen and the way she meets makers at so many different points.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think anybody can be creative. To me it’s less of a skill and more of a mindset, a willingness: to play around without any fixed result, to take chances, not knowing all the answers.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
It’s important to be able to be loose and let go of expectations. We live in such a results-oriented society, where our worth is so tied up in how productive we are. Just making for making’s sake every week or every month, whether it’s painting or sewing or baking. Using your hands and making your individual mark on things is vital vital to fostering your creativity.
Interview posted April 2021
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