Interview: Katie Allen (Just Sew Stories)

Hooray! Katie Allen‘s new book Just Sew Stories is out today (you have until 6pm to win a copy on this very blog, by the way…) and she was kind enough to allow me to interview her for the big occasion.

What inspired you to write the book?

I suppose my jumping-off point was very personal, for two reasons. Firstly, I love making things, but my real creative passion is sewing. I wanted to pass that on in a book, to inspire other people. I’m quite inspired by the DIY, punk movement – of making your own things rather than buying something from a chain store.

And secondly, most of the things I have made over the years have been presents for other people.. I really love making something personal for someone which suits all their idiosyncrasies, plus it’s not often you make something and get lots of thanks and applause afterwards! So I wanted to include simple, imaginative projects in the book which people could make for their nearest and dearest (handy in the run-up to Christmas!) but also cool enough that they might just want to just keep them for themselves.

What’s your favourite project in the book and why?

Probably the “I’m dotty about you” quilt. Not to come over all Winona Ryder, but I think there really is a story in every quilt. Not just in the fabrics you choose and the colour combinations you pick, although those are of course important and fun decisions to make – but in what you think about while you’re stitching all those little squares together. I find making a quilt is a balm for any troubled soul…

I also wanted to show that making a quilt is not as hard as it looks – nor as slow! My dotty quilt took me just a weekend to put together.

What was your soundtrack when writing the book?

A ha! You’ve caught me there. I listened to everything on my iPod at least twice I think – especially Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, which I think is very conducive to a pleasant sewing rhythm. In fact I’ve included a playlist in my book! But when I started to get a little demented with sitting in my kitchen on my own sewing or writing night after night, the radio became my surrogate friend, particularly BBC 6 Music, and BBC Radio 4. Desert Island Discs is particularly good…

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get started with crafting, but was maybe a little nervous?

Go for it! Crafting of all ilks is a wonderful way to spend time creatively- and to make things prettier too. Think of Lisa in Dirty Dancing, whose role is to “decorate” the world. Nothing wrong with that!

I would say do a little research into what you might like to make first. Craft fairs are an excellent way to see what’s out there and get ideas. Then find a nice simple project from a book (ahem!) or a blog – having someone lead you step by step through something is a great confidence boost, especially when you have a lovely little project at the end to show for it. Then demand praise from everyone you know– that always helps to keep the creative juices flowing.

 What would you say to someone who said that crafting was anti-feminist?

I think it comes down to the old ‘choice’ argument. Crafting – or sewing in particular – was only ever a hindrance to women when they were forced to do it as a way to keep them quiet, particularly in the 19th century when “accomplished” women had to spend hours embroidering teacloths and what not. I think sewing was rejected by many in the women’s lib movement of the 70s and 80s because it became a symbol of domestic oppression. But today I don’t think embroidery or dress-making are foisted on anyone – it’s a choice to make things, whether for pleasure or for retail, and anyway I think we should celebrate those skills. There’s nothing ‘lesser’ about say embroidery compared to painting a portrait.

Which four celebrities would you like to start a crafty collective with and why?

Sue Perkins because I suspect she would be as witty and entertaining in real life as she is on TV – plus we could discuss cakes!

Kirsty Wark because I’d love to talk to her about what it’s like to be on Newsnight, and about all the interesting people she’s met

P J Harvey – just because I love her, and perhaps she could sing a song or two

Lady Grantham – of course! I think she’d bring a certain something to proceedings, although I can’t see her getting to grips with a glue gun…

Just Sew Stories is published by Hardie Grant and is out today, priced £16.99. Check out Katie’s blog at www.katiestitches.wordpress.com

If you buy the book and make something, let me know!

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