A very fitting sponsor for this week’s challenge – we have Melissa from A Happy Stitch, who is an inspiration for anyone interested in the sustainable/slow fashion movement. She also sells gorgeous kits with everything you need to make your own espadrilles! She sources the most beautiful fabrics for her kits, or you can use your own!
First up, tell us a bit about your shop. How and when did it start, where are you based, and what are these espadrilles kits all about?
Hello everybody! I’m so happy to be here and be a part of such a fabulous event! I am Melissa and I sell kits full of all the necessary supplies for making espadrille shoes out of my home in New Jersey, although I’m originally a Minnesota girl.
My blog, A HAPPY STITCH, officially started in 2010, which is hard for me to believe….so long ago! Back then, I was struggling in a difficult work situation. I have a Masters in Public Policy and was working with a group of researchers studying ways to fight poverty. But, I was growing disillusioned with what impact the research was having and had concerns it wasn’t reaching the people in power in any meaningful way. At the same time, I had just had my second child and found myself struggling to be a good parent and a good worker simultaneously. It was really exhausting and I felt like some kind of human-robot hybrid. Eventually, I made the difficult decision to leave my job and almost as soon as I did my friends started asking me to teach them how to sew. I loved it and felt so good about sharing and spreading creative pursuits. As difficult as that time was, it really was meant to be.
For many years, I mostly taught classes and blogged about the things I was sewing. As I started to make more of my own clothes, I started learning about the impact fast fashion has on the environment and global worker conditions and in 2013 I stopped buying any new clothes. Since then I only sew or buy secondhand clothes. It’s been a wonderful creative and emotional challenge and I love the people and ideas it brought into my life. This January it will have been five years since I bought anything new to wear. My friendship and professional community grew and was quickly populated with other makers. It was so inspiring and really opened my eyes to the amazing businesses people were building from the ground up. Businesses that nurtured their creative interests and made good in the world. Last year, after attending for a few years, I was asked to teach a class at business and makers conference called Craftcation in Ventura, CA. Craftcation is full of really kickass business women (including one of your editors!) and, on a whim, I decided it would be fun to teach HOW TO MAKE ESPADRILLES. I had been enjoying making them and had taught the class a few times in my area. The class was so much fun to teach and everyone loved their shoes. This got the attention of Debbie Stoller, one of the editors from BUST magazine, who then asked me to create an espadrilles tutorial for the August/September issue. As the magazine piece was being pulled together, I thought I might as well look into creating espadrille kits. Some of my students from Craftcation were asking where they could get the supplies and I discovered it was pretty annoying and difficult to find everything you needed. I thought it would be nice for people to find all the finicky parts they needed in one place. I had no idea how much people were going to love the kits. That was only a few months ago and since then I’ve been enjoying seeing all of the espadrilles people are making and love putting the kits together far more than I expected.
You’ve chosen so many gorgeous fabrics for your kits. Do you have a favorite?
Oh goodness. Thank you so much. Sourcing the right fabrics is truly one of my favorite parts of pulling together the kits. I love them all but I really love how the newest fabrics from Jen Hewett look as shoes! They are a lovely linen-cotton blend and the collection is called Imagined Landscapes. The pair I wear all the time is called Headlands in Sunset and they are super fun but sophisticated and make my feet so happy.
Shoe making. Many sewists seem to be testing the waters nowadays. How did you get started, and what advice would you give someone wanting to try it out?
I know! It is so exciting. I’ve seen people making leather sandals and sneakers and it feels like an exciting frontier right now. Kind of the way that bra-making had its moment (and is still having its moment, really). I actually got started just by coming across the shoe soles in my (now shut down) local quilt shop. I was browsing the aisles after teaching a class and came across the shoe soles for sale. (This, by the way, is one of my favorite ways to be inspired when I am in a funk. Some of my most fun adventures started because I gave myself time to just browse random supplies. Doesn’t even have to be at a fabric or craft shop! I’ve started down new, creative roads after a lackadaisical stroll through Home Depot.) I held on to the them for a long time until I finally got around to making the shoes. After that, I was hooked!
As for making espadrilles it is really much easier than it seems like it would be. If you can sew some easy curves; you can sew espadrilles. The only advice I would give is the same advice I give myself when I am making something new….read the instructions once without making anything and then make the shoes. It’s just very satisfying to make something as novel as a pair of shoes! Oh, and don’t be afraid to do a bit of extra work on getting the right fit! Your feet deserve it!
Moment of honesty; how many pairs of espadrilles do you have in your own closet right now?
Ha! Oh man, this is such a good question. I really need to laugh at myself because I have EIGHTEEN pairs of espadrilles. That’s a lot. However, many of them are not my size because I make shoes just for the purposes of taking pictures for the listings on Etsy. So, they don’t really count, (Ha!) Right now I’ve been working on Wedge shoes (so fun!) as well as toddler sizes. Of those 18 pairs, I wear and use only four. That’s not so bad, right?!
A Happy Stitch is about so much more than espadrilles. Where does the name come from and what else are you up to behind the scenes?
Thank you for noticing! It really is. I mean, espadrilles are taking up a lot of my brain space right at this point in time but my blog tagline is “creating a mindful wardrobe” and that is really what is behind what I do. I’m trying to be more mindful about my wardrobe, both from the perspective of limiting the degree to which getting dressed impacts the planet but also working toward wearing clothes that I love and make me feel good.
I like creating things and my blog is a place where I discuss all of that creative exploration.
Speaking of behind the scenes, where do you do all of your work? May we have a sneak peek at your workspace?
Yes, of course. My ‘studio’ is one half of our large bedroom. It is full of light and open space and is mostly neutral. I try to limit my fabric stash to one chest of drawers to ensure I really use what I have and don’t buy fabric I don’t need. If you want an even deeper look, check out this blog post of me at work: http://ahappystitch.com/2018/01/08/why-i-stopped-buying-new-clothes/
Lastly, what do you enjoy making other than shoes? Any recent makes you’d care to share with us?
I LOVE making my own clothes. Lately, it has been so hard to find the time but I did make this fabulous coat, the Cascade Duffle from Grainline, in this incredible red wool from The Confident Stitch in Montana. The fabric was rescued from the leftovers pile of a designer, which I think is so cool. It’s perfect for this fall weather! That coat and my two Matcha Tops (pattern by Sew Liberated) are probably my most heavily used items right now.