For this month's Q&A we chat with Erin Gilday. Erin is proprietress of Patchwork Underground and a frequent Stitch designer. Let's get to know her!
Stefanie: How and when did you learn to sew?
Erin: I get asked this all the time and the truth is I don't know
the exact moment I learned to sew! There
was no "before sewing" in my life. My mom ran a one-woman sheepskin
slipper business called Wooly Bully Sheepskin Company out of our
kitchen/backyard/garage. She had the
industrial sewing machine humming in our kitchen just about every day and the
clicker-press whomping away in the garage every couple days. I remember learning to read and write on the
floor next to the sewing table. I
learned to sew mostly from watching her, trial and error, and, later, reading
books on the subject.
At first, I would hand sew doll clothes, rag rugs, and things
for my dollhouse. Mom wouldn't let me
use the industrial machine (good call, mom!), and at that point we didn't have a home
sewing machine so she bought me a junk yellow toy sewing machine. I graduated to grandma's 70's White sewing machine around 3rd
grade. That's when I decided that I
wanted to make something I could wear—a knit tank top. Of course, all I had to work with was an ugly
yard of country kitchen blue calico.
I made the top out of the calico
but I couldn't understand why it didn't look right. At the time, I thought I was a failure but it
turns out even the best seamstress can't make a knit from a woven using a
sewing machine. But at 8 years old, who
knew? I still thought sewing was
S: How does sewing fit into your life?
It's funny. People
talk about a "work/life balance"—that's a phrase in our culture
now. There's "work" and then
there's "life." But are you
dead when you are working? In my
opinion, if the answer is yes, then you are doing something seriously wrong.
I work full-time as a pattern maker and designer for the
craft market so I definitely sew for work.
Before I started pattern making, I was selling one-of-a-kind patchwork
clothing at crafts fairs and before that I worked as a stitcher in costume
shops. In between each of those gigs, I
took "normal" jobs—ones involving computers, phones, meetings and
fake smiles—and hated it. I would sew on my time off. I still sew on my "time off." But then, I also plan my next project in my
so-called "time off." So, I
guess the answer is both: I sew for work and fun. But it's probably also: addiction,
religious experience, remembrance, exercise in mindfulness, political statement
and just 'cause in no particular order.
S: Walk me through the steps when you're making a project.
Where does your inspiration come from, and how do you translate that into a
E: I don't have one way of working. I often find that I do my best
"work" when I don't think I'm working. I'll think I'm goofing off, thrift shopping
or indulging some other frivolous "side interest" or whim and then
I'll stumble onto something—a need, a shape, a color or a feeling—that
inspires a great design. When I fight
really hard and try to wrestle with my imagination, that's when it all goes to
hell. I can sit down and deliberately
work sometimes but usually only after I have accidentally discovered that
central, key piece. After that, I'm just
filling in the holes.
I do have ways of triggering the "accident," though! My best secret weapon is the list. I have a notebook filled with lists of things
that need to happen: "sketch out designs for the next issue of
Stitch," for example. I'll write it
down even though there are no "designs" to speak of, yet. I'll even schedule it out—"sketch
designs tomorrow." I think just
having the written affirmation that there will be ideas helps make the ideas
Also, when I am thrift shopping or flipping through books at
the library, even if I don't find what I want, I will imagine what I wished I
had found, based on what could have been there. Bam, that's an idea. I also like
to imagine objects or clothing for particular people or events. What would John Lennon wear to his 70th
birthday party? If Scarlet O'Hara took a
job at a millinery, what would her first hat look like? If the Virgin Mary lived now, what would she
Overall, though, the most important thing for me is to allow
space for bad ideas and ugly things. If
I make something hideous, I know that I am on the right track. It takes real balls to honor ugly
S: Several of the projects you've made for Stitch have
featured appliqué and hand-stitching. What do you like about those techniques?
E: I love texture—textiles are all about touching! Applique and hand-stitching are also cool
because they emphasize natural human shapes. I like to be able to see the motion of craft in the final product—imagining the crafter cutting out the applique shape or stitching lines into
the fabric. It's so much more evocative,
emotional and varied than looking at another perfectly set row of machine
stitches going around another square.