Archive for March, 2012

A New Favorite Product: The Laundress’ Wool and Cashmere Shampoo

March 29, 2012

With spring in full gear, I decided to clean out my closet a couple of weeks ago and pull out the wool sweaters that needed to go to the dry cleaners before being stowed away till fall. (I know I’m asking for 12 inches of snow by thinking it is a good idea to put away the woolens before March is ended!) When done, I looked through the basket and realized at about $6 a pop, I was probably looking at a $60 laundry bill easy … It is way more fun to shop for clothes than clean them!

Of course, I could not stop with just the current dry cleaning bill I was facing, I had to go back and start calculating the cost of upkeep of each wool sweater over its lifetime – an estimated $40 and counting for each of the sweaters above, yikes! As I tallied away on my calculator, the gods intervened by dropping in my lap (well not exactly, but close), a copy of the Wall Street Journal article on the The Laundress line of cleaning products. 48 hours later, I had in one hand a bottle of The Laundress’ Wool & Cashmere Shampoo and in the other an old but favorite SmartWool sweater. If it shrunk up small enough to fit my daughter, so be it. Per “The Laundress,” I turned the sweater inside out, filled the sink with cold water while pouring in two capfuls and began my experiment. 24 hours later, I was holding the sweater, now clean and dry – it smelled great with no petroleum scent, was super soft, and still the same size as it was before its dunk in the sink!

The soap is not cheap, $19 a bottle plus shipping if you order from the The Laundress website, but still cheaper than the cleaners. Thanks to the “Find Us” button on the website, I was able to find a store nearby that carried it and thus avoided the shipping charge.

An Interview with Marybeth Lewanski

March 11, 2012

Last year my daughter came home from school with the news that there was a  new girl in the 4th grade who was really nice and her mom sewed. Since that time, our daughters have become good friends and I’ve had the occasion to talk “shop” among other things with the mom, Marybeth Lewanski. A few months ago, she mentioned her Etsy shop, Emmevielle, and I was smitten by the fairy shoes. I asked if she would talk here about her craft, so read on but be warned: You may just want to clear the calendar for a few hours to sew afterwards!

Photo Courtesy of Marybeth Lewanski

Yvonne: How long have you been sewing and why did you begin? What was your first project?

Marybeth Lewanski: I began sewing way back in elementary school, probably during 4th grade. Though my memory is hazy, I know I would have been taught by my mother. It’s interesting that among the five girls in the family, I was the only one who ever learned to sew … go figure! I am not sure what my first project was, but I do remember making a lot of curtains for my mother.

Photo courtesy of Marybeth Lewanski

YM: What do you most like to sew?

ML: I enjoy creating bohemian clothing from tops to skirts to dresses. It is fun to think of clothing as a canvas on which to express a thought. Only recently, I’ve begun to use clothing to convey a message reflecting a thought or a feeling from some of the greatest thinkers. Topics include life, self-expression, and inspiration.

Photo Courtesy of Marybeth Lewanski

YM: What are you sewing right now?

ML: I sew at the same pace I do everything else; more rapidly than conventional. I have so many pieces of things; fragments of ideas in a variety of fabrics. Some times, ideas for a piece come to me quickly. Other times, I keep elements around until it occurs to me what they are supposed to be. Once I know what something is designed to be, then I do all of the preparation for sewing: measuring, cutting, pinning. Sewing is a relatively quick final step. I usually know what I will be working on the next day. Most of my projects are completed in a few days. Right now, I am concentrating on clothing with an occasional bag here and there.

Photo Courtesy of Marybeth Lewanski

YM: What is your sewing space like?

ML: I have two spaces that I work from. I have a studio in the basement that has excellent lighting and tons of room for supplies; however, it’s in the basement. I always end up back at the kitchen table where the large windows provide so much sunshine to work by. My husband really wishes that I could stay put in the basement studio, but he knows where I will always be.

Photo Courtesy of Marybeth Lewanski

YM: What is your favorite part of a new sewing project?

ML: My absolute favorite part of sewing is when an idea for a fabric occurs to me and totally clicks. There is nothing more exciting than the spark I feel when a new idea comes together!

Photo courtesy of Marybeth Lewanski

YM: Do you tend to finish what you begin, or like many quilters, do you have some unfinished projects stowed away in the closet?

ML: I always finish what I start. It’s not exactly a choice; I would describe it as more of an imperative. It comes from inside me and I see it in other parts of my life as well.

YM: Do you design any of your own patterns?

ML: I tend to follow patterns to the best of my ability. I envy those who can manipulate a pattern in line with their vision. One thing I would love to learn is the art of resizing a pattern; I’ve seen so many lovely vintage patterns, however, they usually come in just one size.

YM: What makes for a beautifully sewn garment in your opinion?

ML: Attention to detail, serged seams, and no blatant ‘improvising.’

YM: Tell me about your Etsy store name, Emmevielle.

ML: Well, my husband introduced me to the world of Etsy in 2008. I immediately wanted to establish a presence, so in my impulsive way, I chose the first name that came to mind. Why Emmevielle? I’m more than a little embarrassed to say that it is the spelling of my initials M-V-L. I thought it sounded French and to me it was so close to “femme vielle” which I think would be an old young woman — which is the way I see myself.

YM: Your Etsy shop seems to reflect what you like and what you like to make in that it is a mix of vintage finds, as well as clothing that you have upcycled. The whole idea of upcycling has take the country by storm in the last couple of years, but you started doing this long before it became hip. What attracted you to making something new from something old?

ML: For years, I have loved to shop at thrift stores. It’s fun to find the unexpected, the prices are low, and the selection is always changing. In the past, I only shopped for fabric at the fabric store. But, as we all know, prices have been increasing over the years. It really was a ta-da moment, when I realized that I could combine both avocations – thrift shopping and sewing. I saw potential in the discarded items and realized that they needed to live again, perhaps in a slighly different way. It opens up a world of possibilities. It is interesting to think that two or more pieces with different histories could come together for something new and great. I really upcycle because it’s fun; I wouldn’t do it if the excitement was not there.

Photo Courtesy of Marybeth Lewanski

YM: Project Runway has introduced a whole generation to sewing and made it very cool. Do you watch Project Runway? What do you like best about the show? 

ML: I have only seen Project Runway a few times. I have a lot of respect for the people who can design on the fly within time constraints. Whether they win or lose, I think many of the contestants demonstrate talent and skill. Also, I think that the show has made sewing ‘cool’. The show attracts young people to the industry in a way nothing has before. Over the course of the last year, several people have contacted me to tutor them in sewing – a direct result of the popularity of the show.

YM: My house, nicely put, can seem a bit up for grabs sometimes with a quilting project laid out in my sewing room, a science project on the kitchen counter, an art project on the kitchen table, and books spilling off the hall entry table on a range of topics, but I believe that this atmosphere of making results in a lot of conversation between my kids and me, as well as builds good problem solving skills. What do you think your family has learned from your sewing?

ML: Surprisingly, my making has given me a cool factor among the kids and their friends; something I’m still surprised to hear. Having a project in progress around the house is a bit of a dangerous proposition. I hate to put everything away, but with four kids, a dog, and a cat, I’ve learned it’s better to be safe than sorry. Otherwise, the cat snuggles into soft fabric, the dog chews on spools of thread, and the kids are really, really sorry for spilling something!

I think that my making things has given the kids the idea that I know how to do anything. They come to me with problems that they think I can fix because they’ve seen me put things together. In addition, the kids have seen that it is possible to work from home. They know that I take my business seriously and that I push myself hard to meet deadlines. My oldest son marvels at the success I have had and he has said that he knows it is because I work hard. My business influenced him to start his own online candlemaking business last summer (he’s 14). My youngest asks me to teach her new skills all the time; last year, she was beading, this year she learned to sew by hand (she is 9). Truth be told, my husband would prefer that I have a conventional office job. Even so, he has seen my shop grow over the years. He knows I’m determined and that I will continue to work hard for what I want.

YM: As mentioned in previous interviews here, I love the American Craft Magazine series, “Why I Make,” so why do you make?

ML: I make because I have to – it’s something that’s deep inside me. Since I was little, I’ve always made things with my hands. Using my imagination and bringing a project to fruition seem to be part of my DNA. The times in my life where I tried to work a conventional 9 to 5 have been less than stellar. I need to work for myself making the things that need to be made.

YM: What type of sewing machine do you sew on? 

ML: I sew on a relatively straightforward Janome machine with a handful of stitches and no computer capabilities. I also use a Simplicity Easylock serger which alternates between being my favorite tool when everything goes smoothly and the bane of my existence when I need to rethread it.

YM: What are your favorite fabrics to work with?

ML: Cotton duck, wool, lightweight leather are my favorite to work with. Their weight makes it easy for the machine to perform optimally. I would love to work more with velvet, but have found it very difficult to work with.

Photo Courtesy of Marybeth Lewanski

YM: What are your favorite sewing tools?

ML: My new favorite tool is a pair of scissors from the Dollar Store; they allow clean cuts on so many fabrics on which my more expensive scissors have let me down. Another tool that I like is my light box; I use it to copy multiple sizes from one purchased pattern.

YM: Do you have a favorite sewing book or two that you can recommend here?

ML: A must-have is The Dressmaker’s Technique Bible: A Complete Guide to Fashion Sewing by Lorna Knight. It is an excellent reference full of helpful explanations. Also, lately I have really admired the work I see in Belle Amoire magazine, as well as the Ruth Rae book, Layered, Tattered, and Stitched.

YM: What is your favorite fabric store in the Chicagoland area?

ML: Oh, I always end up at Jo-Ann Fabrics. It’s a convenient go-to for supplies and a reliable inventory of fabric. Online, I have often used for a great variety and reasonable prices.

YM: What music do you like to listen to?

ML: Am I the only one who is still stuck in the 80’s? I love to dance to music I know and 1980’s dance music brings me back to a really carefree time in my life.

YM: Are there other crafts you enjoy? Any new areas you would like to explore?

ML: About 10 years ago, I took a class in ceramic tile. I loved it and the possibilities are endless with clay. It would be wonderful to take another class and spend some time in a ceramic studio.

To see more of Marybeth’s work, visit her Etsy shop here.  Happy sewing!