In my last post, I recounted the story of how I came to Africa and eventually ended up designing PDF sewing patterns. With the past now documented and behind me, it’s time to look forward.
The Zoona Nova blog is just 2 months old. I’ve known from the beginning that I would be writing about sewing and design, but I also wanted to share parts of my unconventional life here in Africa. I’ve been in Malawi for 13 years now, long enough to adapt to the challenges around me and to feel normal calling this place “home”. I honestly can’t imagine leaving Africa. Luckily, I’m married to a man who feels the same way. But I’m guessing most sewists won’t be dropping everything to run off to Malawi, so I hope my stories bring this beautiful place a little closer.
Drafting PDF sewing patterns is the perfect job for a design-obsessed sewing fanatic living in a remote corner of the world. It still seems incredible that I can be in a small African village designing clothing (when we have electricity) that can be made by people from Ottawa to Auckland – without any of us having to leave our sewing space. Hurray for the internet!
A few days ago, I gifted one of my designs-in-progress to a friend. She was shocked that I had made it myself. It’s rare in Malawi that the “designer” is also the sewist (or tailor, as they call it here). I constantly have to tell people, “No, really. I designed this and then I sat down and sewed it myself.”
My friend asked me, “But how did you learn to sew?” That’s a question I bet all of us get asked. I taught myself how to sew out of necessity. It wasn’t really “hard” but it took a lot of patience and practice (and many ridiculous pieces of clothing) before I knew what I was doing. My personal learning-to-sew story began with a mid-life crisis.
Five years ago I moved to Italy. I worried that we were “not being serious” about our future and figured my husband and I should get “real jobs” back in the “real world”. I heard too many well-meaning voices from friends and family and thought, we need to go back. Lesson learned? Listen to your heart, not the voices. But I digress.
The first thing I did when I got to Italy was buy a sewing machine. But I didn’t really know how to sew beyond a few basic skills. I was dependent on printed pattern instructions, which all too often made no sense at all. In addition, my previous attempts had been with commercial patterns, and there were no “Big 4” patterns in Italy. My Italian family told me to go to a sarta, or dressmaker, but I wanted to sew things myself; so they showed me the pattern magazines available at the tobacco shops. I’m sure they are wonderful to the initiated, but I was deathly afraid of those crazy multi-colored pattern puzzles in the back. That was not an option.
The whole time I was in Italy, I never turned on my brand new sewing machine.
When I returned to Africa 7 months later (with my never-used sewing machine) I made myself a couple promises. Number one, I would stop listening to voices. And two, I would learn how to sew and make my own patterns. I spent most of my savings on books from Amazon and got busy. The first thing I learned was how to draft a sloper. After that, how to shift darts…
It was a long journey spanning a couple of years, but eventually I became comfortable drafting and sewing anything I wanted to make. I found amazing tutorials on the internet that helped hone my sewing skills, and kept buying more books to fill the gaps in my pattern-making knowledge. I was lucky to have an endless paper source (the Italian Fathers have a printing press) and kilometers of muslin from my textile painting project. But desire was what kept me going. I really wanted to make my own clothes – and nothing was going to stop me.
I know I’m not alone in my passion for sewing and design. I want this blog to be a fun place to indulge our creative passion and share ideas. Maybe you are totally new at sewing and don’t know where to start. There will be tips to help demystify some of the sewing terms and skills that confuse everyone in the beginning. Intermediate sewer? You’ll find tricks I used when I was in charge of a small commercial sewing studio here in Malawi. To make things faster and easier, we adopted efficient production methods for our team of tailors. Many of these methods I still use today when tracing, cutting, and sewing in my home studio. If you’re already a seasoned sewist, I hope you will find creative inspiration from the pattern reviews and design tutorials. And if you’ve never thought about sewing and are just here for news on the School Fees and Trees project – be careful. Sewing is contagious!
I’m excited to sew-up PDF patterns from other indie designers and share my makes and reviews here on the blog. Of course, I’ll be posting about my own designs and creative projects, too. The big event for Zoona Nova in 2016 will be the launch of our first PDF patterns. I’m putting together a list of pattern testers, so please get in touch if you want to be part of the fun. Finally, I will continue to share stories from my African life; I’ve got some fabric-hunting trips planned, and you’ll find all the adventures here on the Zoona Nova blog.
Thanks for stopping by and I hope to hear from you soon! Happy New Year from Malawi!