I am so excited to introduce Marcy Tilton, my featured guest on Sew Maris today!
I have known Marcy for some time—we first met at a Design Outside the Lines retreat in Santa Fe almost 10 years ago—and have managed to stay in touch through our mutual love of fabric, sewing, and design. I learned some wonderful new things about Marcy’s sewing journey, and am so glad I can share part of her story with you.
When you were a young girl, what did you dream of becoming?
I fantasized about becoming a fashion designer. I have ALWAYS loved clothes. Once in college one of my friends in a beginning psychology class brought a “test” with squares and questions. In the category “Things I Think About All the Time” I drew a picture a little dress!
Who were some of the influential mentors who helped you to develop your sewing skills when you were young?
I am so grateful for the many people who have helped and encouraged me along the way. When I started sewing, My Aunt Mary (who could make ANYTHING), really encouraged me and was happy to fix my mistakes and never talk me out of ambitious projects. After I could sew a little and she realized I was “hooked”, she told me “Oh honey, now you will NEVER be able to walk past a fabric store again!” She was sure right about that! Another aunt and my mom were also very supportive; they never tried to minimize my dreams or talk me out of overly ambitious projects. But I would say that Sister Margaret Mary really, really taught me to sew when I was in a junior in high school. The first time she saw me at a sewing machine I was trying to poke the bobbin thread up through the soleplate hole, and she came right over and showed me how to do it properly. I thought to myself, “I am going to like this!”
What did you study in college?
I had always loved cooking and sewing, and I went to a Catholic women’s college where I majored in Home Economics, and minored in Education and French. If I had had more money I would have gone to New York to study fashion design, but that wasn’t really an option for me. I studied classic, “old school” sewing and tailoring, which has been and still is a great love of mine. The weekend that John F. Kennedy was assassinated I remember sitting glued to the TV, working on my pad stitching assignment for my tailoring course.
Now that you are a grown-up, what do you love about your work?
I truly love everything I do. The thing I love most is the thing I am doing at the moment. I just love to sew. I enjoy the whole process. I love making things with my hands. I like the process of problem-solving. Figuring things out as I go along. Whether it is a pot of soup, a jacket, whatever. I love running a business and it has been a wonderful thing to discover that I am good at it. The more I do it the better I get at it. I am starting to offer some entrepreneurial coaching with a few people, and it is really fun for both of us. I love learning where my edges are!
What would you like to change about your work life right now?
I would get some photography help, and I’d like to adjust my work schedule so I prioritize more time as well as more prime time to focus on my own creative pursuits. I’ve just enrolled in a week-long photography course held in Paris next spring!
What makes you jump out of bed in the morning with excitement?
Running a business. Some days it is all about posting fabrics. Some days I make a pot of tea and head out to studio and sew all day. I love the patternmaking and design work I do for Vogue which involves a lot of problem-solving, sewing, and then figuring out the technical writing. Often the best days for me are the ones where I can “play” in my studio and not have any attachment to the outcome. Heaven!
What was the most interesting thing you have done (so far) this year?
I went to Australia over Christmas and New Years to visit some old friends. No sewing! In retrospect I rather wish I had taken an Alabama Chanin project along – I am itching to work on a dress – but that might be more than I can handle. Anyway, spending 3 weeks with people I hadn’t seen in 30 years was a risk, and it turned out to be a fabulous, restorative time!
How did you get your start in this industry, and what was your encouragement?
After graduation I taught classic tailoring to high school students. Then back in 1976 I took a long trip with a group of friends (the same friends I just visited in Australia!), and when I got back to the Bay area where I lived, Sandra Betzina hired me to teach tailoring at her California School of Dressmaking in San Francisco. Eventually, Sandra sold her school, and the new owner ran it for a year and then it closed. I loved teaching so much that I started The Sewing Workshop in 1980, and ran that school until 1992 when I sold it to Linda Lee.
I have had so many mentors encouraging me throughout my life. The fiber arts community in San Francisco was AMAZING. Bobbie (Roberta) Carr was a fabulous teacher and mentor, and Sandra Betzina has always been a great friend and supporter.
Which designers inspire you?
Issey Miyake will forever be my favorite—I just LOVE Japanese designers. Currently I watch Maria Cornejo.In Paris I have become an admirer of Azzedine Alaia and Jean Paul Gaullitier, who are the only living couture designers working in Paris. We went to the Gaultier ready-to-wear shop in Paris which was friendly and very inspiring. I am also a fan of Karl Lagerfeld, and his RTW boutiques in Paris which are welcoming and fun—not too serious. When we went in with a small group they broke out the champagne!!
What would you say are the key tools people need for learning to sew?
Use common sense and follow your intuition. There is a direct link between creativity and responsibility. When you want to learn to sew you are responsible for how you do it. I see people getting stuck in their work by blaming the pattern or the fabric or even the teacher. If you want to make a painting, you buy the paint and paper—but don’t blame the paint or paper if it doesn’t work out. Gather supplies you love, make it a point to read and study, start with a concept or an inspiration and then start making every step an opportunity to refine your design, technique, and fitting skills. I’m still learning and enjoying the process; that is what keeps me coming back to the studio every day I can!
Thank you so much for your time, Marcy! I learned so many new things about you, and my favorite was your love of tailoring. You have inspired me to do more tailoring this year myself. I’ll give you a call if I have any questions. 😉
How about you? What was the “favorite new thing” you learned about Marcy? Do share!