Living the Handmade Life

It's no secret that I am a huge fan of Japanese sewing books.

The projects have a modern design simplicity that is impossible to resist. A key element of this is the Japanese concept of zakka, which generally means anything that improves your everyday life, especially surrounding yourself with handmade things. If you really take this idea to heart, you will be inspired to make everything in your world, no matter how ordinary or mundane, beautiful. Zakka-style sewing really celebrates this by adding extra special little design touches to everything from dish towels to clothing, while still maintaining an elegant simplicity.

Appliqued pillow from I Love Patchwork.
Appliquéd pillow from I Love Patchwork.

Pencil case from I Love Patchwork.
Pencil case from I Love Patchwork.

This aesthetic had a major influence on designer Rashida Coleman-Hale, who spent years in Japan soaking up inspiration from this handmade culture. I first met Rashida through her popular blog, i heart linen, and discovered her love of zakka. I was acquiring books for Interweave at that time and was really impressed with her designs, so I asked her to do a book with us. The result of this collaboration is I Love Patchwork: 21 Irresistible Zakka Projects to Sew. We've continued to work together over the years as Rashida has also been a regular designer for Stitch. I love learning about the design process of other designers, so it was great to chat with Rashida about how she got started as a designer and what inspires her work: 

Tricia: How did you get started as a designer?

Rashida: I studied fashion design at FIT in New York and then sort of drifted off into career limbo. I began sewing again when I had my daughter four years ago and never looked back. I started my blog in 2007 and was posting my projects and photos on Flickr. Then I began designing patterns for magazines and wrote I love Patchwork. I've almost completed my second book, which will be out in fall 2011 and have fabric lines debuting with Timeless Treasures in spring and fall of 2011. I never thought that I would be a part of such a wonderfully fun, friendly, and creative industry! It all happened so quickly I'm still pinching myself!

T: How do you find inspiration for your designs?

R: I find inspiration in just about everything–everyday life, my children, other designers, colors, fabric, classic movies, vintage items. But my biggest inspiration would have to be Japanese craft books and zakka, which I absolutely adore. I also take lots of photos of things that I see when I'm out and about if I like the color or the combination of colors so that I can use the colors in a project later.

T: Your designs are heavily influenced by Japanese craft and zakka. What speaks to you about this aesthetic?

R: So many things speak to me about this style–the linen, gingham, patchwork– it has such a lovely modern yet old-fashioned feel to it. But what I love most is the simplicity. I'm certainly drawn to the ease of creating beautiful handmade items without it being too complicated. Japanese craft projects are created using simple techniques, and the results are phenomenal. What makes them stand out the most is the details; a sweet vintage button, some embroidery, maybe a little piece of lace ribbon. These types of simple embellishments really make a project stand out.

Sewing machine cover from I Love Patchwork.
Sewing machine cover from I Love Patchwork.

Button calendar from I Love Patchwork.
Sewing machine cover from I Love Patchwork.

T: Your blog is call "I heart linen." How did linen become your signature fabric?

R: I've always been fascinated by this fiber ever since learning its history and properties in my textiles course at FIT. It's such a wonderful and versatile material to work with, strong and durable as well as elegant and lovely. I also really love the texture. There are several weights of linen available that give you the ability to make bedding, baby items, toys, clothing, towels, bags, tablecloths, curtains, industrial items–the list is endless. It usually starts out quite stiff, but after several washes it becomes softer and even more elegant over time. The natural color is my favorite, ranging from subtle shades of beige to creams. It just looks great with any other color fabric you pair with it.

T: What is your favorite project in the book?

R: If I had to choose just one, my favorite project would have to be the button calendar (above). I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning working on the prototype and was so happy that I did. It's really a great project to make for yourself or as a gift, and you can reuse it for years and years! How can you resist covered buttons, anyway? 

T: What is your #1 sewing tip for readers?

R: My number one sewing tip will always be the same. Have fun! Play with your fabric, experiment with color, designs and techniques, but really enjoy it and have a blast doing it! That's what it's all about, isn't it?

That is definitely what it's all about!

Happy sewing,


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Hand Sewing

One thought on “Living the Handmade Life

  1. Im not sure where to post ideas for using Ty’s new fabrics; but, this seemed like a good thread to post something about that. Im glad to have raised my kids around a home that places handmade items in such high regard. I create both functional items and art pieces for my home, family, and beyond. I regularily get requests from my children’s friends for things they want me to make for them. My sewing skills have a long way to go; but, my sister is a quilter and seamstress and has had a large influence on my integrating sewing into my fiberart work. I truly feel that having handmade things in our everyday lives makes us rich beyond words. Im proud to be developing these skills and passing them on. As for Ty’s fabrics, I would be thrilled to pair his textiles with my own handspun, handknit items. I would love to design complimentary knit fabrics for a variety of uses. All I need is the fabric in my hands to inspire great things!