Blog Tour: Deborah Moebes on Stitch by Stitch

I always knew Deborah Moebes was a powerhouse, but lately her empire has grown exponentially! Her shop Whipstitch Fabrics was one of the first major fabric shops on Etsy. She recently went from teaching sewing classes at Atlanta’s Beehive Co-op to opening her own brick-and-mortar shop and sewing lounge (also called Whipstitch). For the locals she’s been hostessing awesome in-store events like the recent Fabric Design Weekend, and soon they’ll have their first sewing retreat. The Whipstitch blog has also really taken off lately, with tutorials and cool bloggy things like the Sewing Buddy Project and e-courses.

In our Meet the Sponsors interview a year and a half ago, she cited her biggest challenge as “Needing more hours in the day! How on earth does Amy Butler do it??” Now, I say, look who’s talking! Because she’s done all these things and more on top of having her fourth child and writing a book. (!)

And it’s the book that brings us together today. I’m a huge fan of classes-in-book-form and it hit me that that while my shelf overfloweth with sewing reference volumes, there was a big gaping hole in the form of a good, comprehensive, modern teaching book. Stitch by Stitch: Learning to Sew, One Project at a Time teaches essential skills with well-designed projects and little side lessons and exercises. While geared toward the absolute beginner, there is plenty here to help intermediate stitchers strengthen and expand their skills.

Deborah sticks with quilting cotton and other easy-to-use fabrics in the book projects (for good reason, as you’ll read below) but also guides students gently toward more suitable (but more difficult) fabrics, especially for the apparel projects. I know Deborah is as excited as I am about the recent wave of designer apparel fabrics on the market, and I was curious about her perspective on the trend as a retailer and teacher.

It’s a whole new exciting world of designer apparel and home dec fabrics out there. Which collections are you looking forward to most this fall? And what do you see in your crystal ball for the future? Rayon? Silk?

I love that the fabric manufacturers, who’ve been pretty devoted to quilt-weight cottons exclusively, have been willing to branch out and try new fabrications and base fibers. I think we might have Anna Maria Horner to thank for that — she could sneeze on fabric and I think most of us would happily buy her fabulousness — so when she put together the Little Folks collection on voile, it was a huge step forward for the industry. Patty Young has done us all a huge favor putting out her knits collection, and getting some really top-quality cotton interlock into our hands. I’m very, very excited about Anna Maria’s Innocent Crush collection, with voiles and velveteens on top of cottons and home decs. Alexander Henry also has some yummy lawns just out that are a great, affordable alternative to the Liberty most of us covet, and Moda has their own collection of Liberty-inspired lawns coming out later this year. I’m also licking my chops for Liesl Gibson‘s City Weekends, which has some great interlock prints.

As for the future, I think we’ll begin to see some rayon blends, and more bamboos and tencels — sustainable fibers in blends with cotton. I think shoppers will begin to demand fabrics with more drape and recovery that will behave more like the fabrics we find in runway designs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more fabrics with a touch of stretch to them, too.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Whipstitch online transitioned from a mostly-quilting-cotton shop to carrying more apparel fabrics right around the time you opened your brick & mortar. Did you/do you find a big demand for apparel fabrics from your customers and students and respond to it, or did you make the first move?

Whipstitch actually carried apparel fabrics like linen, corduroy, and lawn from the very beginning, and they were all so popular that I struggled to keep them in stock. I opened the shop online as an outgrowth of my (now retired) children’s clothing line, so I had apparel fabrics to offer that I might not have thought to include had I started the shop with the intent of getting into the retail fabric business. What I learned very quickly is that there is a real hunger out there among home stitchers for fabrics that go beyond quilt cottons and cotton prints, and give them the chance to really hone their sewing chops with more ready-to-wear looks that mimic some of the styles they admire off the racks. Nearly everyone is emboldened to try a new fabric if they have the opportunity, so I’ve seen a number of long-time customers branch out and dip their toes into apparel fabrics and then come back for much more. Very cool to see!

Your clothing projects in the book are sewn with quilting cotton. Now I know that is a controversial topic. What are the advantages and disadvantages (if any) as you see them?

For many folks new to sewing, its the amazing variety and design of cotton prints that draws them in — we have such beautiful fabrics on the market now to work with that many folks who have been wanting to learn to sew are finally encouraged to do so, just so they can use these lovely prints. I wanted the projects and pictures in the book to draw folks in and really be irresistible and inspiring and visually exciting. On top of that, cottons are super straightforward fabrics to sew, and create a good base for refining foundational sewing skills without having to add an unusual fabric into the mix. I love to see folks try new fabrics and search for great fibers for their projects, especially clothing, and I enjoy mixing it up with texture and fiber and stretch for apparel, for sure. Lots of folks feel intimidated by that, though, and that prevents them from taking up sewing to being with — they’re worried about having to learn so much more information all at the beginning, and it paralyzes them.

I think using quilting cottons is controversial because those don’t always have the same weight and drape as an apparel fabric might, but the ease of working with them more than makes up for that. I love working with quilting cotton and think it’s a fantastic way to get into sewing and master skills while creating a whole closet full of beautiful clothes that are easy to wear and show off.

Say you have an awesome fabric sitting in your stash, and that you have enough of it to sew most anything, but have no idea what to do with it. What are your favorite ways of getting past a lack (or overabundance) of ideas?

I’m for sure an “option paralysis” girl when it comes to this — I have wonderful fabrics and long ago got into the habit of buying vast yardages when I saw something I love but have no specific plans for, so I’ve got piles in the studio that could really be anything, and no way to narrow down that potential. For example, I have this amazing spring green herringbone wool right now (see above) and I’m laboring over how to use it. I tend to try a number of techniques: I do a little Fashion Plates action, and will take the fabric and put it into “outfits” with other things I have in my closet, maybe under a blouse as a skirt or over it as a jacket, or wrapped around a handbag to see how it will work in that shape; I do some draping, a lot of times on myself, and “wear” the pretend garment-to-be around to see how it behaves as a pair of pants or as a hat; and sometimes I’ll swatch a little corner of it and make an inspiration board with images I’ve pulled from the web or magazines.

{ Fashion Plates, for those of you who were born too late! In-progress eBay auction here. }

Bottom line, I’m an elimination worker, and have to work through what a fabric can’t be before I can figure out what it’s asking to be (oh, like your fabrics don’t talk to you, fibber), and a lot of that comes down to weight and drape. This wool is 100%, with a fabulous drapey hand, but it doesn’t have the recovery I’d really want for a pair of pants, even if it’s lined (but can you imagine the unending fantasticness of this as a pair of flat-front wide-leg trousers with a ridiculously huge cuff? YUM), so that was out. I also don’t really need another A-line skirt, but can’t go pencil for the same reasons I can’t go pants. Because it’s so fluid, I think it will do well as a mid-century mod swing coat with a wide collar and maybe a self-tie at the neck. We’re still in negotiations.

Fashion Plates! Now that’s a trip down memory lane. Thanks so much, Deborah, for stopping by, and congratulations on the book!

Follow the Stitch by Stich blog tour at these other fine stops:

9 Comments

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  3. Yael says:

    Lovely interview! looks like a great book!
    I had that Fashionplates thing! use to love it!!! brings back memories…

  4. Mary P says:

    Thanks for the interview. I tell you, when she said Fashion Plates, I was like “what?” and then I saw the picture and remembered MANY happy hours of playing with them. Makes me wish I still had mine around…

  5. anabel says:

    I also had the fashion plates. I think my mom still has them somewhere. Those were great fun!!!! Nice interview.

  6. Kim Woolf says:

    I think my mom saved my Fashion Plates!. I loved playing with them!

  7. Interesting interview! Never had the Fashion Plates;I think I was born too early. They sound like fun.

  8. dana says:

    oh my! Fashion plates! I had completely forgotten about those. So many memories are flooding back….

  9. Skooks says:

    My friend had Fashion Plates and we played with them CONSTANTLY! I wish they were still around for my little girl.