Please join me in welcoming today’s guest Melanie McFarland as she shares with us her love of sewing and teaching others to sew. She’s also giving away a copy of her latest book “Out of the Box With Easy Blocks” along with a matching coffee mug. See below for how to enter.

Sewing has always been fascinating for me, and some of my earliest memories are of my mother, pins in her mouth, stitching up something great, with my brother and I in tow. Our other siblings (five of them) were in school and we were home with mom & Jack LaLane, on the TV. Pfaff was her machine of choice: a huge, black powerful engine, set in an enormous cabinet, with a knee lift! How I loved to hear it roar, as I awaited the newest addition to our clothing or linen closet.

pre-kindergarten photo
My pre-kindergarten photo… note the torn sleeve trim on the left. I guess mom couldn't keep up with the demand!

When I was about 10, mom received her teaching credential, and off she went to the public schools early education program. We were in school by then ourselves, so it was an easy transition. However, I missed the additions to my wardrobe. Mom made the creating appear easy. She was an art major, graduating in 1944, from Rosemont College, PA.

Paper, markers, crayons, & glue were within easy reach. Creating was always encouraged. Somehow, I must have figured I could do this, too. So I rummaged through her sewing cabinet and found a pattern I liked and suitable fabric. Mimicking her, I laid out the pattern pieces, pinned to the lilac-printed eyelet cotton. I cut along the outer lines, and around the notch bumps. I cut armhole and neckline facings. It was a darted, shift top. Remember those? In fashion school, we’d call it the “basic fitting block”, or “sloper”. The style was in the fabric, not the design. It had a zipper down the center back, as did most garments then. I still don’t like to put in zippers, but I do love the newer “invisible” ones – whew, sewing just got easier!

first quilt
From my first quilt, made in 1976, entirely of used jeans (+ some machine appliqué!)

Naturally, I took sewing instruction in high school. My sister, Paula, paved the way for me and convinced our teacher, Mrs. Olivia Fraioli, to let me skip the basics and move up to advanced sewing. That was the highlight of my day. Sewing and creating was a wonderful outlet, for teenage angst.

I was introduced to the world of fashion when a rep from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, FIDM, paid a classroom visit and my closest friends encouraged me to enrol. I spent two years in school and then did my time, 25 years, in the garment industry, working my way up from pattern maker to designer and beyond. Travel to far-flung places became the norm, with well-known companies, like Gap and Disney. Telling people that knowing “how to sew” got me to such exotic locales as Istanbul, Cairo, and Singapore, was entirely truthful!

Who wears short-shorts? I guess I did. This is my embellished work-of-art from high school days.

For the past four years, I’ve spent an hour a week in the company of young men and women inspired by sewing. Volunteering at a public high school each week keeps me grounded. These students create the most original and conceptual garments, irrespective of their ages. Each time I visit, I’m reminded of their curiosity, intelligence, stamina, perseverance and utter disregard for negativity. If they think it can be done, there’s a way to do it. After every visit, I’m energized to return to my studio and create, too. Last week was their crowning glory: they completely designed and choreographed a fashion show. I only served as a facilitator.

Julia and her quilt at Road to California Quilters Showcase, January 2012

My destiny seems to be centered on sewing. I LOVE to be surrounded by fabric, able to create on a whim. Because I find it so empowering, making something from nothing, I love to “pay it forward” and teach others to sew. My first student was a neighbor, Julia. We started when she was just seven, but already she was a veteran from a local sewing program. Last summer, we made a quilt together, using pre-cut squares and strips of Kaffe Fassett prints in reds, blues, and greens. Julia entered it into the (Road To California) quilters showcase in January, in their “Next Generation” category.

Julia's quilt
Close up of Julia's colorful, original quilt design.

Recently, another young friend, Flo, who’s 10, came over to learn sewing techniques. Flo has a passion for fashion and is quite intrigued with reality television shows such as “Project Runway” and “Fashion Star”. (These are too “real” for me, dredging up fashion career horrors that I’d rather delete from memory.) Thinking pajama pants would be the perfect first project; she quickly assessed the “stash” and settled on red dots and stripes. Pants are ideal as there are minimal seams and few fitting issues. It’s safe to say she’s hooked on sewing and one of the benefits for me of sewing with my young friends is that when we talk I learn about popular teenage culture. This information is priceless; as they sew, the words just tumble out.

Flo in her original design pajama pants, creating "yoyo's" with the Clover yoyo maker.

I’m not sure what my life would be like today, if I hadn’t discovered sewing as a hobby way back when. Perhaps I’d be a cake decorator or an architect, but my life could not be more exciting than it is now!

Here's a more up-to-date photo, posing with my book cover quilt.


Out of the Box With Easy Blocks

I’m doing a drawing for a free copy of my book, “Out of the Box With Easy Blocks” along with a matching coffee mug. If you would like to enter, please reply to the following question: “What quilting fears have you recently conquered or are you still working on?” Mine is machine quilting. It’s taken me FIVE years to summon the courage to quilt my own tops!

Winner will be selected randomly next Wednesday, May 16, 2012.

For more on Melanie’s sewing and quilting observations and experiences, visit her blog:


Congratulations to Pat who won Melanie’s book give-away. Check your email for a message from me.



Sewing – A life-long passion
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58 thoughts on “Sewing – A life-long passion

  • May 15, 2012 at 11:19 am

    My fear is attempting free motion designs other than just meandering or loops while machine quilting. I’m determined to practice on some children’s quilts… they likely won’t be critical!

  • May 15, 2012 at 11:34 am


  • May 15, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    This looks like a great book and what a nice story!

  • May 15, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks for a chance to win your fantastic book! I still haven’t tried free-motion quilting. If I had a long arm I’d have no fear trying it; however, with my tiny machine it is a tug-of-war to get the quilt to fit in that small space. I still only use regular stitching. Perhaps, I’ll make some pillows and try it on them.

  • May 15, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    I would say free motion quilting, but really, *any* machine quilting leaves me leery. It’s much easier to hand quilt it! LOL! Your book cover quilt is quite darling and makes me smile! :)

  • May 15, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I’m still working on conquering the dreaded curved piecing. :)

  • May 15, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Machine quilting big pieces. I only have a small domestic sewing machine and quilting big tops has always frighten me. Last week, though, I began to quilt a big piece and I’m quite happy with it.

  • May 15, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    I just finished a tshirt quilt, which was definitely a fear conquering activity for me! Turns out, it wasn’t as hard as I had imagined and I didn’t ruin one single shirt! :)

    Thanks for tis great giveaway!

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