A former middle school math teacher, Shea Henderson now owns Empty Bobbin Sewing Studio, a sewing and quilt pattern company.
She is the author of School of Sewing: Learn it. Teach it. Sew Together., winner of the IBPA 2015 Ben Franklin Gold Award. She’s also one of the founding members and former president of the Kansas City Modern Quilt Guild. Shea lives in Kansas City, MO with her husband and three young children.
Here’s Shea to tell us about the pattern that changed her life:
In my previous life, before our second child was born, I was a middle school math teacher. My first years of teaching are when I feel deep into the rabbit hole of sewing, way back in 2004 and 2005 when the wonderful world of modern quilting was introduced to me in the form of the book Denyse Schmidt Quilts (like Blair wrote in a previous post in this series, I, too, still have sticky notes in my much-loved copy!).
The teacher in me loves a helpful visual and greatly values detailed and clear instructions. I knew that if I couldn’t convey a concept or process clearly, my math students would struggle. Trouble in math is less about the content and more about the delivery…and sewing patterns are no different. I would, on occasion, find myself perplexed when looking at some sewing patterns. I’d think, “Am I the only one who doesn’t get what that instruction means?” I remember making a quilt for someone and the pattern only listed “assorted scraps” for the materials. That was it. Not even a rough estimate. At the time, I was a beginner and without a large stash, so “assorted scraps” didn’t help me with my fabric shopping in the least. Because of a couple of run-ins with instructions that left me hanging, I began to really discern pattern quality.
By 2008, when our first child was born, I’d sewn enough to start dreaming of a day when I would have my own pattern company. This was also the point in time when Kathy Mack from Pink Chalk Studio published her Mail Sack pattern.
I tell people it is the most well written bag pattern I’ve ever sewn with. And I don’t say those words lightly.
One of the features that stands out to me about the pattern is that it takes in to account different heights (I’m 5’11”, so this is a big deal!) and bag strap length preferences. But it doesn’t just leave you hanging with a vague “adjust accordingly” line in the instructions. Kathy details how to find the right strap length for yourself with text and an illustration. She also includes several great tips for zippers and pressing. Those extra bits of bonus info are what I worked to include in my Empty Bobbin patterns when I started writing them in 2011. I want people to really get added value from their purchase.
Making a project twice is rare for me, but I can count at least six different Mail Sack bags I’ve made. I love it that much! The first I made for my sister and when I made one for myself, I roped my mother and two friends into doing some together.
I wrote about that here. Looking back on that day, I can see the early elements of School of Sewing forming. Sewing something along with a community of friends, enjoying the company and helping beginners along. What’s not to love?
Each pattern I have written, be it an Empty Bobbin pattern or instructions in School of Sewing, I think, “What can include for added value? What bonus instructions or tips can I include?” The bar set for me by Kathy’s Mail Sack pattern is a great one. Today, I consider Kathy Mack a friend and giver of trusted advice. I love every chance to visit with her in person, too.
Here we are at Quilt Market a few years back (with my friend Carrie Bloomston in the middle!). Kathy also happens to be the first person to ever leave a comment on my blog, back in 2007, and anyone who’s ever started a blog knows just how great it feels to know that someone out there is reading!
I was just thinking this spring about making another Mail Sack from some Robert Kaufman Railroad Denims or Chambrays. And writing this post has me properly motivated now!
The Mail Sack by Kathy Mack is the pattern that changed Shea Henderson’s life.