On a rainy evening in 2007 I walked into a used bookstore in Waltham, Massachusetts and picked up a dusty craft book. The yellow cover was torn in the corner and nearly all the pictures were black and white. The book was published in 1971, four years before I was born, but to me it was brand new and completely eye opening. The book was Good Design in Soft Toys by Rudi de Sarigny. I brought it home and studied it completely.
I’ve read and reread it for years. I’ve made many of Rudi’s designs and I’ve even been in touch with her granddaughter (via this blog). Her book had an overwhelming influence on me. It made me realize that there were basic methods you could use to design stuffed animals and dolls and that with these methods anything was possible. This book was the seed that grew into my career.
In many ways, Good Design in Soft Toys changed my whole life.
I think nearly all of us who do creative work encounter something that changes us like this. There we are, marching through life, when one day we open a book or a pattern and suddenly we are propelled in a new direction. That experience is the genesis of a new blog series I’m putting together called, “The Pattern That Changed My Life” of which this is the first post.
Each Wednesday throughout the summer we’ll hear from a designer about a pattern or book that caused them to head in a new direction and helped form their career.
My first guest is Sara Lawson. Sara’s designs sewing patterns and fabric. Her blog and company is Sew Sweetness. She currently has 19 bag patterns for sale, all in PDF and some in print. Her first fabric collection with Art Gallery fabrics debuted at spring Quilt Market and her first book, Big City Bags, was published by Martingale last year. She also has a thread collection with Aurifil.
This is the story of the pattern book that changed Sara’s life: Style Stitches by Amy Butler.
“I started my blog in September 2010 when I was learning to sew as an adult and received Style Stitches for my birthday that November,” Sara recalls.
Once she got the book she quickly decided to seriously delve into the patterns in it. In a blog post from that time Sara wrote, “I’m really excited to say that I’m going to be attempting every last one of them. It may take me awhile, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to start at the beginning and work my way to the back, and post about my progress of course!”
Some of the bag patterns in Style Stitches by Amy Butler.
Reflecting on that experience now, Sara says, “The book changed me because I began to think about how bag sewing patterns were written, and also about specific things needed in bag construction, like interfacing. This book was the inspiration for everything that I do today.”
Sara met Amy Butler at Quilt Market in 2012. “At the time my business was just starting,” Sara says. “I was too shy to tell her what I was doing.”
“Before I got Style Stitches, I sewed a few things for my kids. They were simple things like bibs and easy outfits. I’d found a PDF pattern on Etsy called the Jenna Lou Mabel bag, and I made several of those, using different interfacing for each one. Then I got the book, and the bag bug was firmly implanted.”
“This book was the first time I had ever seen a bag pattern call out specific things in the supply list, mainly interfacing. Sometimes, bag patterns just say something generic like medium-weight interfacing. It is very scary going to the fabric store and not knowing the name of what exact item you are looking for. But Amy specified the particular Pellon items that she used. So that gave me a bit of confidence, and that’s why in my patterns I always call out the exact product and for interfacing I’ll usually list a couple alternatives for the main interfacing that I’m using.”
On the left, the Blossom Bag from Style Stitches. On the right, Sara’s Blossom Bag sewn in 2011.
“My favorite bag from the book is the Blossom Bag, which was later made available for free on the Sew Mama Sew. The bag contains many features and details which make it unique. When I design bags, I try to incorporate a lot of details in my own bags as well. I was very flattered when I went to the free page for the Blossom Bag just now and saw a ‘Related Link’ to my free Brookfield Bag pattern.”
Seeing that link was a reminder, I think, of the success of Sara’s career. Her free pattern is now listed right next to the pattern that inspired her career as a designer.
Just a few of the many patterns Sara has designed.
“I think I’m mostly known for my bag patterns and for information that I blog about and lecture on in regards to interfacing, and this is definitely where I got started. Without this book, who knows what I’d be doing now.”
Style Stitches by Amy Butler is the book that changed Sara Lawson’s life.
What is the book or pattern that changed yours?
Wendi Gratz says
Anatomy of a Doll by Susanna Oroyan. It totally blew my mind! I still refer back to it sometimes – and I still have the very first doll I made after getting the book.
I love that book! I bought it in 1997 at a bookstore in Memphis, TN. I’ve read every page dozens of times. That book definitely changed me. Great pick!
Great series idea, Abby! For me, it was Quilts by Denyse Schmidt. I still go back to it all the time. In fact, I just finished a quilt that I pieced in 2008 which was inspired by one in that book.
That’s so great! Doesn’t it feel amazing to finish things that have been waiting for you for so many years. I have a Denyse Schmidt book that I look at often as well and even though I don’t make many quilts, I still find it very inspiring.
Lora Douglas says
I saw Denyse Schmidt’s quilts in NYC before she wrote her first book or was recognized by the quilting community. They influenced me greatly. Additionally, Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr’s first book, Color Harmony for Quilts (2002) started me on my modern quilt journey. It has been re-released under the name Quiltmaker’s Color Workshop.
Ann Martin says
I work with paper, but had a similar experience. While flipping through an issue of Martha Stewart Living, I was stopped in my tracks by beautiful designs made of curled paper strips. I’d never seen anything like them before, but knew immediately I just had to learn. And now I teach others and create commissioned pieces. To think a whole new career was born in that moment!
That’s amazing! Sometimes just seeing the right thing at the right time can set you on a totally terrific path.
What a great idea for a series! I knit and crochet and mine was From the Top Down by Barbara Walker. It empowered and inspired me. I started designing professionally about 18 months after I first read it.
That’s so awesome. I love these stories of how one book was so eye-opening.
Caroline B says
A little pattern in a magazine for a tiny dog is the pattern that changed everything for me – I started by following the pattern and making them for friends, but then tried to change and adapt the basics to make my own style of dogs, then cats, then rabbits and guinea pigs. One of my cats was spotted by an animator in my Etsy shop, which lead to her commissioning a cat, then farm animals, then furniture and other props for a film being made, which I have been doing for two years now. So I now design my own knitted animals and rarely use anyone else’s pattern, and have learned so much – I even got a big commission designing American university mascot scarves from it. All from one tiny simple pattern – mind-blowing when you think about it!
It truly is. I love that sometimes the thing that starts us down the path is an image or a pattern from a magazine. It can just be a single page, you know? And suddenly we’re off to the races.
Amy Clausen says
I started quilting a few years ago, using a pattern in a magazine. That quilt is still in pieces, in a tote. Last year, I saw a pattern on Moda bake shop for Pinwheels and Prairie Points, which really was my catalyst into quilting full time. Since then I have barely stopped, and now make bags as well.
Flo @ Butterfly Quilting says
For me it was “Lemon Squares” pattern on Faith’s Fresh Lemon blog ( http://www.freshlemonsquilts.com/?p=561)
I had wandered into a quilt store, and knew nothing about quilting. The sales clerk sold me a Thumbleberry quilting book, but I just couldn’t find anything that I wanted to make. Then I found the Lemon Squares pattern, and I was in love!! I found that modern quilts can be bright and fresh and so pretty!! And that was how I got started!
The right project with an aesthetic that gets you excited is so important when you’re learning something new. When you love the look, you’ll hang in there for the tricky, frustrating parts, you know?
The pattern that changed my life is Anna Maria Horner’s “All Set” collection for kids. It really helped me gain confidence and start doing more than just basic sewing for my daughter. I have made so many pairs of quick change trousers that it’s a little out of hand! I also conquered buttonholes with one of the patterns. Her patterns are so well written and now I feel ready to try more challenging projects.
It’s amazing how much you can learn from a well-written pattern. I love patterns that teach, and it sounds like this collection really does that.
For me, it was 48 Hour Country Quilts by Fran Roen- my mom picked it up at a yard sale when I was a teenager. I followed the instructions and made many quilts at a young age- becoming completely self taught. The book has lots of typos/mistakes and has some pretty un=appealling fabric choices but it was great for a beginner! Now I make quilts all of the time, still haven’t taken a “real class,” I co-founded a branch of a modern quilt guild, and fabric has overtaken my life!
I had a book about soft toy and doll making that was in my room as a kid. It was almost like a pamphlet. The style and fabric choices were totally hokey, but I studied every page. I didn’t have the skills to make anything from it, but I loved it anyway. Sometimes even a sorta poorly done book is enough to get us started!
I love this series!
For me it was the book ‘Sewn Toy Tales’ by Melanie Hurlston (of Melly & Me). I hadn’t been sewing for very long at this point, and still had not purchased very many patterns. I found this book used on Amazon. I make the triceratops, then the giraffe. I couldn’t believe that I could make a stuffed animal! I started getting braver and sewing more, and discovered the patterns from While She Naps and Funky Friends. I’ve made dozens of stuffed animals now, along with clothes for my kids, quilts, and bags.
Great story, Emily! I like Melanie’s book and have admired it many times at the bookstore.
And I love your description of getting braver. That’s it exactly!
For me it was the annual Christmas Issue of Family Circle…my Mom sewed all my clothes and clothes for my dolls, but I always wanted her to make me a fabric doll. As an adult, I took a class to make a teddy bear and since then have made bears and dolls and more for myself and friends…and I just found that old original pattern on e-bay…one day I’m going to try it!