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We have 2 projects from the book in our projects section - Tubular sundress and stretch velvet skirt.

Improv Sewing Interview

Debra Immergut & Nicole BlumHi Debra and Nicole, let’s start at the beginning how did you two meet and what made you decide to write a book together?

Debra:  We worked together at FamilyFun magazine, a US publication that gives parents ideas for making the most of their time with their kids.  I’m an editor there and Nicole works with us on crafting and styling.  I was looking for a project to do outside of work, and Nicole always came in to the office with gorgeous clothes she’d stitched herself.  I really wanted to learn how to make things like that — and I suspected other folks would to.  So together we decided to put a book proposal together, and things happened really quickly after that!


For anyone who hasn’t seen the book yet please tell us what it is about.

Nicole:  We’re on a mission to convince people to get over their fears of messing it up and start having a lot more fun when they sew.  Improv Sewing is made up of 101 projects – garments, home décor items, gifts, and kids’ stuff.  We give clear step-by-step instructions for each project, then teach a slew of cool techniques for embellishing, so the reader can really unleash her creativity and make the project her own.  The book is great for beginners who might feel a little intimidated by the whole process, but is also ideal for more experienced sewists who are just looking to free up their approach and learn how to infuse their projects with more personal style.


What are both of your backgrounds, when did you start sewing and have you always taken a more laid back approach to it?

Improv Sewing 101 fast, fun and fearless projectsNicole:  I had an old machine I’d inherited, but I really started sewing a lot more when I got a new machine that worked well.  It was like everything got out of my way and I was able to be much more creative - I didn’t have to contend with the crankiness of an old and difficult machine when I tried to do even the simplest project.  I think that was the genesis of this book project for me, but I didn’t know it at the time.

Debra: I have a lot of creative energy and have always loved making things, but I’d never been all that confident about my skills – I always refer to myself as having “klutzy crafter syndrome.”  This book was a way for me to push myself and see what I could really do if I opened myself up to it. I bought a sewing machine, and within four days, I’d stitched my first dress.  With the right, relaxed attitude, I found it was all a lot easier than I thought.  I learned to really love the process and to embrace any imperfection as a kind of artist’s mark…an indication that the project was made by my own hands.


What has been the response to your book so far?

Debra:  We’ve had some really lovely feedback from readers, and at the workshops and demos we’ve done.  We’ve found there’s a lot of people out there who have a love-hate relationship with sewing and especially with their machines, and they’re really grateful when we show them how they can ditch a lot of the stress-inducing fiddling, let their creativity flow a lot more, and still create gorgeous things.Velvet Skirt

You’ve got a whopping 101 projects in the book as well as lots of techniques.  How hard was it to come up with that many ideas?  How long did it take to get the book written?

Nicole:  The idea-generation phase was the greatest part of the whole process—we both love doing that and are used to coming up with tons of ideas for our magazine work, so it was surprisingly easy—we even left a bunch on the cutting-room floor!  We finished the final draft a little less than a year from the day our proposal was accepted by our publisher.  It was a bit of a crunch there at the end…and by that time, we really understood that 101 is a big number!


Have you got a favourite project and why is it your favourite?

Debra:  For garments, I really love the Modern Stretch Velvet Skirt – it’s just a simple project with a big pay-off in a stylish, really flattering skirt.  I also love the Fiddlehead Dress because it reminds me of the ferns around my house, and the wool-jersey version I made is one of my favourite things to wear.  Then I also am crazy for projects made with vintage table-cloth fabric, like our potholder and the floor cushion—because they give me an excuse to shop at my favourite flea markets.

Nicole:  Oh, I might be boring here, but I have to echo Debra’s thoughts on the stretch velvet skirt.  I love the rough edged applique, the weight of the fabric, the way it fits, and how it looks with my favourite brown boots!  All of the garments lend themselves to creativity, but the 4 panel dress is so great because I can really play with the fit and add fun contrasting stitches down all the seams.  I also make a lot of the loose leaf canvas paper to use as thank you notes, love notes, and to “draw” with my machine – it is cute and the possibilities are endless.

 Floor cushion from Improv Sewing

Most the projects involve jersey fabrics, why this fabric?

Debra:  Well, jersey is perfect if you like to get creative and don’t have a ton of time. It’s cheap, so the stakes are low, and the cut edges don’t ravel or fray, so hemming is strictly optional—you can leave the edges raw and it will look stylish and awesome. Also, it’s SO comfortable—almost all the clothes all of us wear these days have some degree of stretch – our jeans, our tees, our sweaters.  So why not learn to sew with it?


Do you have any tips for working with jersey you can share?

Nicole:  First off, it’s much easier than you think. You absolutely don’t need a serger (overlocker) or any kind of fancy machine.   It does help to use a jersey or stretch needle—they are made with a ball point that slides between the loops of the fabric-- you can pick up these needles inexpensively at any shop that sells sewing supplies.  If you’ve never worked with jersey and are at all apprehensive, just take any old unloved tee shirts from your family’s drawers or the thrift shop, and use that fabric to sew some practice lines.  You’ll see that sewing on jersey is really not that different from sewing with woven fabrics.  Oh –and our book has some fun stuff you can make with those old tees, too, so you can warm up with one of those projects.

 4 Panel skirt project from Improv Sewing

Is there a follow up book in the works?  If so can you tell us anything about it?

Debra:  We are talking about it, brainstorming. But at the moment, we’re still focused on getting the word out about this one!


Where can we find you both online?

Debra:  We have a blog together called Improv Diary, and Nicole also has a blog called One Golden Apple.  We share lots of new ideas, tutorials, sewing tips, and just random stuff that is going on in our lives.


Any exciting plans for the future that you would like to share with us? 

Nicole:  We’ll be at World Maker Faire in New York City on September 29 and 30, where we’ll be teaching thread drawing.  Plus it looks like we’ll be doing more travelling to stitch and chat with people in the next six months, out to California and hopefully to Austin, TX…we really enjoying meeting other folks in the creative community.

You can buy Improv Sewing in the UK from Amazon here.  Our review of the book is here.


Photography by (c) Alexandra Grablewski.