Meet Marcy Tilton!

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.

Marcy Tilton Interview for Sew Maris

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.

Marcy Tilton Interview for Sew Maris
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.

Marcy Tilton Interview for Sew Maris

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!

Happy sewing!


20 Responses to Meet Marcy Tilton!

  1. Maris that was a lovely interview. Marcy is indeed a wonderful and inspiring person. I love the comment and thought around “blaming the pattern or fabric”. How quickly we all turn victim to our surroundings when things don’t go right. I love the words, “direct link between creativity and responsibility.” When one is in a clear, open-hearted space, those are empowering words.

    • Thank you so much, Gwen! Marcy and I had SUCH a fun chat on the phone for this interview. Really, I did not want to hang up! And totally agree with you – and Marcy – empowering is the ticket!

  2. Thanks for posting this very inspiring interview. I love Marcy and Katherine Tilton’s patterns and also enjoy their blogs and yours.

  3. Thank you for posting this interview with Marcy. She is the number one design inspiration in my sewing work. (Her sister Katherine, and friend Diane Ericson run a close second!)
    Marcy’s generous spirit is displayed throughout her website. Full of tutorials, sample garments, and tips and tricks, she gives so much information to those looking to improve their design and sewing skills. I can’t imagine my sewing world without Marcy in it!

  4. The thing I know after taking several classes and spending time with Marcy is how generous of spirit she is. She is quick to encourage sewists of all levels and to share her knowledge. I’m am blessed for knowing her. Thanks for publishing this interview.

  5. That was a great read…thank you.
    I didn’t know Marcy was Home Ec. trained . I taught Sewing and art at high schools in England. When I came to the US Bobbie Carr was my mentor. I always enjoy knowing what Marcy is doing!

    • You are welcome Jane! I learned a lot about Marcy’s background too – it was really fun to chat with her. We always catch up for a few minutes at Sew Expo in Puyallup, but it is such a madhouse there that we don’t have enough time for real girl-talk. Hope you have a great day sewing!

  6. I spent a week with Marcy in Paris and didn’t know some of her sewing background. What a beautiful interview! Thank you.

  7. Loved the interview. I didn’t know Marcy & Linda Lee have a tie. I have 2 of Linda’s Craftsy workshops as well as Sew Confident 2014. I am currently watching Hand Embellishing Knit Fabric instructed by Natalie Chanin. LOL I might get a dress done before Marcy.

  8. I have attended several DOL’s in Santa Barbara and Marcy is an exceptional teacher. I was suprised that she majored in Home Economics. Now I know why I love her so much. We both majored in Home Economics and are both teachers. Great interview. Terry Pederson

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