@blakandblanca | Sewing InfluencerA stylish and prolific sewing enthusiast shares her self-sewn wardrobe
Blanca, of @blakandblanca, has described herself as a “beginner,” but one look at her social media posts proves this description to be inaccurate. Her style encompasses everything from elevated T-shirts to boiler suits to Chanel-inspired jackets. Even at her most casual, Blanca looks chic. She frequently uses the hashtag #sewover50, and is proof positive that great fashion and dressing for yourself has no expiration date.
Who taught you to sew?
Who taught me to sew? Well, there was someone to show me that it was possible to make something wonderful. My sewing story begins with a passion for a mod pantsuit in the 1960s. There was a sewing machine in our home but no one used it, until I could not live another day without the suit that I had seen the Beatles wearing. Being a preteen in those days meant shopping in the young women’s department, and it was filled with shirtwaist dresses.
There was a dressmaker in our neighborhood, and she was a lovely and patient woman who welcomed the request to “help” me create that menswear-inspired suit I had to own. After several weeks it was complete, in turquoise dupioni no less, and I loved it. There was not much opportunity for this new outfit to leave the house but I insisted on wearing it to run errands with my mom. Just opening the closet and seeing it there was such a thrill and defined my style, which remains menswear-inspired to this day.
After that, I did not sew much, as I was busy with everything else. However, there was a sewing machine in my closet waiting to be plugged in. A few years ago I retired and decided it was time for a whole new wardrobe. I thought it would be fun to try to make three garments in three months. That led to a need for classes. Now I will say that the internet, books, and magazines have become my instructor, as I live in a no sewing zone. Purchasing new classes, listening to podcasts, and reading about sewing, and jumping into new skills is a regular pursuit.
What is your favorite sewing term?
My favorite sewing term is “match point.” I know my destination but without those I am lost and going off on my own, which never goes well for me. Notches are dangerous because I use French seams frequently, as there is no overlocker in my sewing space, and the brakes fail on my scissors. Cutting past the seam allowance is not good for fitting. Chalk can leave ghost marks on some fabrics as I learned a few times, but trusty tailor’s tacks never let me down. Setting in sleeves, attaching collars and cuffs, zipper insertions all need the match point to show the way. If there are not enough points, it goes all wrong—and setting a sleeve in backward is the stuff of nightmares. Marking these is one step that thrills me every time I cut and add tacks to a pattern.
Which fabric do you like best to work with?
This is a tie between wool and cotton. Wool is so easy to sew with. The stitches get buried in the dense fibers, leaving lots of wiggle room for my less-than-perfect stitching. Pad stitching and herringbone stitches and fell stitches are all so satisfying. Then there is the joy of steam pressing it into beautiful collar rolls and shoulder caps. Glorious wool is like a forgiving friend.
However, it has competition from cotton in all its different forms. Who doesn’t hang onto denim forever, keep cotton poplin on hand for shirts? Then there is silky-soft lawn and gauze for summer clothes. Canvas and twill for jackets and trousers are the vehicles for rivets, snaps and bar tacks, and topstitching. I consider these the frosting on those stable utility fabrics. Finally there is muslin and it is a cotton I can’t do without for fitting toiles. My shape, like most, is challenging. I’m not a fan of iron-on interfacing, so I keep swiss cotton and shirting around for interfacing collars and cuffs.
What are you currently sewing?
Currently there are two projects in the works, as usual. It is nice to have a long-term, slow-sewing piece and another that is quicker and easier. On the mannequin is a muslin for a wool tweed jacket. It will take months to finish this one, but I am a slow sewist and that’s fine for me. This jacket will be in my wardrobe for years, so no need to rush to get it finished. It is fun to have this one for taking outdoors this summer. I do the basting and hand stitching while enjoying the flowers and the warmth for a few months. I keep this project on a big serving tray so I can scoop it up and put it inside when the mowing team arrives to cut the grass. Grass clippings on my nice wool are a hazard of sewing outside.
The second project on my sewing machine is a pair of denim utility trousers. The pockets take awhile and there is topstitching and all the other extras. It might be another month before they hit the street. As an enthusiastic, but not terribly skilled sewist, I need patience and time to watch classes over a few more times before finishing my projects.
Can you share what you love most about sewing?
What I love the most about sewing is discovering that it does not have to be a solitary pursuit these days. There is a diverse community of sewists on Instagram who are supportive, generous, and very humorous. They are there to sew with you 24 hours a day in all parts of the world. If not for my original plan to join Instagram as a challenge to make three things in three months, I don’t think I would have started this plan to have a mostly me-made wardrobe.
It is so inspiring to these women and men of all ages and sizes creating personal and meaningful clothes. It is exciting to follow them, sometimes copy what they make, and to sometimes chase a luxury designer just to see if I can make something close to what is in their new collection. I am not there yet, but the whole process of sketching and swatching and finding the pattern is a complete joy.
The next best thing about sewing is that it does not require lots of tools or a big investment. My small sewing space has one sewing machine, scissors and thread, a minimal fabric stash, and a regular household iron. Keeping it simple does not have to mean that your clothes are simple. Sewing has made getting dressed every day a pleasure. I love what is in my closet and look forward to making more. The world of fabrics and patterns offers endless possibilities. I always keep a few empty shelves and hangers in my small closet so there is a home for future creations.
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