Sonya Philip is the creator of the 100 Acts of Sewing patterns. She is a maker, sewist, knitter, activist and mother. Much as I’d love to go and interview Sonya face to face, San Francisco is a bit too far for the weekend. So for the last few weeks we’ve been bouncing a few questions back and forth. She is a truly inspiring woman and I hope that this is just the start of our conversation…
G – I’ve admired your style and outlook for a few years now, so I was just a bit excited and delighted when you asked Beyond Measure to be your UK stockist. How do you feel about the response to the patterns in the UK so far?
S – I am so excited to have you stock my patterns in the UK. There seems to be this unspoken rule in the crafting world where people stay in their ‘corners’ and as someone who has always loved dabbling in a bit of everything, Beyond Measure is such a great fit, because you bridge that handwork divide between knitting and sewing in such a wonderful way. As for the response, I am thrilled that the patterns seem to be virtually flying off the shelves!
G – Yes they have! It’s been amazing. I have only really returned to knitting fairly recently, as a result of doing wool (yarn) shows and the amazing inspiration I found there. I suppose I have always been a bit of a Jack of all trades – sewing, silversmithing, ceramics – I have always had an urge to make. So it the same with you?
S- It’s absolutely the same! I have always enjoyed making things; my parents encouraged my creativity and acted as do-it-yourself role models. There were rooms painted and gardens terraced while I was growing up, all these home improvement projects driven partly out of thrift, but also out of the enjoyment of building and making. I also feel really fortunate that the schools I attended had robust arts instruction. I lived in Hong Kong when I was younger and the secondary school had art and music classes on offer, but also domestic science and needlework, as well as shop classes like woodwork, metalwork and plastics. Both boys and girls took all these subjects (the American equivalent of 7th to 8th grades). Looking back, I suppose all that choice really informed the way I am as a maker.
G – That all sounds incredibly nurturing and creative – it’s no wonder that you have become an artist/maker and a pioneer of the ‘make it yourself’ movement (I hope you feel that is an accurate description of what you do). It’s well documented that the patterns developed from your project 100 Acts of Sewing, which was an artistic/political act, rather than a commercial venture. They emerged at the same time as the home sewing movement was really taking off, and now it seems to have exploded. Of course this has enabled and empowered many people (including myself!) to develop businesses and connect with other through sewing and craft. But do you ever worry that the initial reasons for making have become lost and it’s just become another manifestation of fast fashion (making the latest trends in the latest fabric designs as quickly as possible)?
S – I see myself as a participant more than a pioneer. I am standing on the shoulders of many makers who have blazed trails, like Wendy Mullin of Built by Wendy, Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated, and of course Cal Patch. When I started 100 Acts of Sewing I knew that I didn’t want to make dresses to sell, because I felt like people didn’t have the knowledge to value handmade garments. I think aspects of a fast fashion mindset can creep in when a person wants an instant handmade wardrobe. It’s just not possible. There’s a balance between having a considered wardrobe, where the pieces are crafted to fit in with what you like to wear and making something just for fun out of lovely fabric. I find that my relationship with clothing and shopping has changed. I am still the slowest mender in the world, but I’m much more inclined to repair the clothes I’ve made or give it a new life by overdyeing or refashioning.
G – The cut of your patterns is very simple (no darts, fastenings and minimal shaping) but they seem to work on bodies of many shapes, sizes and proportions. What kind of pattern cutting magic is this and how did you decide on the final shapes and designs?
S – When I initially started the project, I wanted a simple pattern I could use in a wide range of sizes, since I was making dresses for people that I knew. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I made it myself. When I first released the pattern for sale, I worked with a pattern maker and grader to clean up my original design that became Dress no. 1. Then I started butting my head against the conventions of garment design. My goal was to synthesize the pattern to its most simple elements, while at the same time allowing the maker to have a greater say as far as adjusting and modifying the pattern to make it their own. The magic is probably having made quite literally hundreds of dresses myself, as well as teaching people of all abilities. If you see a photo and the caption is “modified” Dress or Pants or Tunic you know that I’m wearing the early stages of a pattern. Many of the designs and shapes are inspired by what I want to wear. I’ve rounded out my wardrobe quite nicely testing all the patterns
G – I think what you are saying makes so much sense now I have made some of the patterns. I was like going back to basics, but within that, you start to see endless possibilities. Through the act of making something very simple, it allows us to deviate and personalise, therefore bringing back the creative element to making garments. It’s been quite refreshing and very interesting – though now I just want to try all the patterns! Do you have any more designs that you’d like to create or do you think that you literally have us all covered?
S- I am always coming up with new ideas! What I need to be better about is finding time to work on them. I have one or two things in the pipeline and am hoping to release the patterns before year’s end. I posted a teaser of one, it’s Shirt no. 2, another basic layering piece, but this will be designed for knit fabric.
So watch this space everyone! We’ll definitely be stocking the new designs in the shop when they arrive.
You can also find more fabulous pics and inspiration on Sonya’s Instagram account
In the meantime, let’s carry on with 100actsofsewingjuly!