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mixing motherhood and sewing: a chat with Anna Maria Horner


photo from Anna Maria

Meg: Anna Maria, you've clearly poured so much of yourself into the pages of Handmade Beginnings, and this makes it one of the best sewing books I've had in my hands in a long while! My copy is dog-eared with project plans, and I just love that you've shared your home and family within its pages – your beautiful handiwork is in not only the patterns, but the eye-catching photography and fabric selections as well. Hats off to you! Oh – and I'm really sure that I've never owned a sewing book that makes me want to have five more children. Ahem. The Center of Attention Quilt calls!

Anna: Sorry about that baby crazy thing that I seem to inspire.  The more the merrier!

Meg: Within the pages of Handmade Beginnings you'll find projects for not only new arrivals, but for pregnant and nursing mamas, big siblings, and even a cool diaper bag for dads. Many of the projects stand out as items you could make not only for a baby's room, but that would make beautiful additions to any home. Another example of the versatility of many of the projects is the Mariposa Dress & Blouse, which can be made to fit pregnant mamas, but also shines as a super-cute nursing top or even a not-nursing-at-all top! So, sewists who don't have little babes yet (or perhaps their babies are all grown up) will also love your book, and find much inspiration in its pages. But for the purposes of this interview, and since we seem to share not only a love for sewing, but also little boys who were both born a year ago in May, I thought I'd focus on the mama/sewing realm, if that's ok with you!

Anna: Perfect !

Meg: The first is a hypothetical question. If you had all the time in the world and wanted to put together an amazing gift for a dear friend who was about to have her first baby, which three projects from your book would you include, and why? What else might the package contain? A favorite children's book? An indispensable baby item? Something special to help the new mommy take care of herself? A coffee machine, for example? Anything's game …

Anna: Hmmm, good question!  I would make her the Sixth Time's the Charm Crib Quilt~ I would make her the Quick Change Trousers (one in every size- does that still count as one item?)~ and I would make her hhmumumumum....  the Four Corners Blouse~

Outside of sewn items, my favorite gift to bring to a new mom is what I call the grocery store baby gift.  I run down the baby aisle and get all the not-so-exciting necessities, like diapers, wipes, shampoo, lotion, rash ointment, powder, thermometer, Onesies, etc.  And I often also include some favorite (non-baby) magazines and movie candy for mom and dad.  It's all practical and useful and I like thinking that I've saved new parents a few trips to the grocery store in those days after baby has come home.

Meg: The next is a very, very practical question. I couldn't help but notice that your adorable little Roman hangs out with you in your studio. Am I correct in understanding that he's with you the entire day while you go about your work?

Anna: You are correct!!

Meg: If so, you are, hands down, the most amazing person I've ever “met!” I can only sew when Patrick is watching Finn. My studio isn't a very toddler-friendly place at the moment. Can you give us new mamas some practical suggestions for creating a sewing space that is also child-friendly?

Anna: I don't think that I have a handle on any secrets over here, mostly just common sense stuff and years of experience with babies at my feet.  I obviously keep all dangerous stuff like needles, pins, scissors up out if the way.  I would like to hire a security guard for the iron and ironing board because there is no practical way that I have found to keep that safe, but I just try to make the corner of the room where I keep it very uninteresting to a baby.  Before he could really respond to my verbal warnings and was crawling everywhere, I just put the ironing board in an adjacent bathroom and shut the door.  It was a lot of marching to and fro from the machine, but no doubt saved a few accidents. 

I also keep several of his favorite things in a simple bin under my drafting table on a soft cushy rug and I throw a few pillows down there.  I think that making one corner for him that is cozier than the rest of the room helps keep him in that spot.  And I try to sit there with him for a minute a few times a day and get him interested in a book or toy.

Every baby is different, all of mine have been.  For instance I have a glass cabinet that houses all my personal fabric stacks, and throughout my pregnancy I wondered how on earth I would be able to keep that think organized once the baby is crawling around.  But even at one year old, Roman is way more interested in just opening and closing the doors to it, than he is knocking out all the stacks of fabric. It simply hasn't occurred to him.  Which I think is so funny.  And when he does dump out my other bins of fabric scraps I remind myself that its very entertaining for him and he is learning something.  Is it annoying some days? YES!  But its also cheaper than daycare and I get to watch him enjoy my mess. 

One other little thing that I think I've learned more with him than any of the kids: Very often I pick him up for a cuddle before he has the chance to whine for one.  It makes him so happy, he just glows and you can tell he feels fulfilled.  I have found that this prevents fussiness, the days go smoother, and it only takes a little bit of time to completely stop what I'm doing to have a moment together.  And it earns me lots of moments where we are each completely absorbed in our own tasks.  In short, a few minutes of full attention are more beneficial for both of us than all day of halfway doing something.  And of course there are days that all these suggestions don't have a prayer.  That's what the baby jogger and vacation days are for!

Meg: **Sidenote - after reading this I was totally inspired to make my studio welcoming for Finn. More about that sometime soon!** How is it that you've welcomed your children into your creative work and encouraged their own expressions of creativity? You definitely model a creative life, and it seems that your eldest daughter, Juliana, has been bitten by the same artsy bug as you!

Anna: Well Juliana grew up in a very similar environment!  And keep in mind that all my other children are in school so the advice I've laid out above works well when you have one at home.  Juliana (who just graduated from HS!) was the only one at home (and in my store back then) for 6 years.  The middle 4 kids were one right after the other about every 18 months, so that was definitely more of a challenge.  I often employed the help of local mother's day out programs a few days a week,  but in general I just worked less. 

As far as their creativity goes, kids naturally gravitate towards making.  And having every available medium for them to mess around with in a casual unstructured way has been a huge benefit.  I am so grateful that I've been able to share what I do with them!

Meg: Finally, your designs for children aren't limited to those in your book - I remember, way back when, that you made the most stunning patchwork jackets for your little girls. As designers and mamas, we're undoubtedly inspired by the little people who surround us. As a mother of a little boy with no girls to sew for (yet, anyway) I've been perusing the 'net for inspiration for home-sewn clothes for boys. There's definitely less out there, but I was excited to see that several of the designs in your book (the Reversible Hooded Jacket and the Pants) are modeled by boys! You even give tips for choosing fabrics for boys. Are there any boy-pattern goldmines out there that you are aware of?

Anna: I haven't bought a sewing pattern since I was about 15, so I am sorry I can't help you there!  But I think Ottobre magazine seems to offer one of the best selections of boy patterns that there is.

Meg: I'll have to check out Ottobre! What are some  favorite "boy" projects you have sewn over the years?

Anna: I'll be honest with you here- I of course, have made much less for my boys than I have for my girls.  The trade off between buying or making for boys is so different.  You tend to want more basic items for boys than girls with fewer details and colors.  So I think that a simple t-shirt pattern paired loads of favorite striped cotton jerseys, and a simple pant/short pattern paired with loads of favorite cotton wovens will get you through the first few years just fine!  I LOVED making striped tees and corduroy pull on pants for my boys when they where young.  But I was much too busy (or impatient) for boy items that had lots of buttons or details.  If I'd had the Baby-in-the-hood jacket pattern, though,  I would have made them that for sure, as I have for Roman!

Meg: Thank you so much for taking the time for our little chat, and congratulations on your wonderful new book!

Anna: Thank you Meg and happy to be sharing so much in common these days in life and work!