Maybe introductions aren’t necessary for our sewist of note this month since many of you may have met Monserratt aka Monsie (@monserrattl on instagram) already! Not only was she one of the models for our Sienna Maker Jacket, but she pops into our studio every now and then to dole out a round of her amazing hugs, share her infectious smile and sometimes to help us sew up samples when we’re in the weeds. That’s what she was up to when she came in last (in her maker jacket no less!) so we thought we would grab some snaps of her in her natural environment; sewing, smiling and generally spreading joy. We asked her some questions about her sewing practice and she shared some pics of her at home studio (very cool organizational ideas at work) so let’s get into this interview and get to know Monsie a bit better!
What do you do for a living?
After several years in research doing experiments in the lab (ed: she has a PhD in neuroscience!), and a couple of kids, I’m now starting my little business sewing supplies for sustainable daycares. Garderie Durable aims to contribute to the well being of the community and the environment; it aims to help us create a more sustainable environment for our kids where we can nurture them and show them ways in which we enjoy life and create less waste. I thoughtfully design and sew accessories that help daycares be more sustainable. Thoughtfulness, ethics and sustainability are at the core of my designs.
How often do you spend time do you spend on your sewing practice a week (including planning, researching, sewing etc).
Back in 2012, when I more formally started sewing, I used to sew lots and lots of garments. I guess it satisfied a big craving in my life to wear things that fit me. I used to sit at my sewing machine every night before bed and every morning (early, early morning) to sew. The sessions were long and pleasurable. Sewing took over my mind, it took over my days and it took over my life. It was all I wanted to talk about with my friends, all I wanted to learn and all I wanted to share. Do you remember those days when you had all the time to sew?? (Her blog Mexicanpink is worth a read!)
And then one day the only certain thing in life happened, life changed. I finished my PhD, David and I decided to marry, we decided to move to a different apartment and then we decided to have kids! The hardest best job I’ve ever taken on. One that affects the rest of your life in ways you never imagined and more often than not takes most of your mental energy (click this link if you want to read my blog post on this topic). Once I had my kids I had to let go of most of the time I had to sew. I could still think and dream about it, but I could no longer sit for hours and hours on end at my sewing machine. Then a very interesting thing happened; I started to think about sewing more than I actually sewed, and I thought about what my sewing practices brought to my life and how they affected others. I learned about the impact of sewing and fashion on the environment. I self-reflected about what I wanted to teach my kids with the practices in my life. And I started sewing with more intention. I started to spend more on materials and trying to waste less.
I started teaching sewing at the community center, at the sewing coop, and at a mother’s center. Sewing slowly took over my life again (or maybe it just never left). These days I don’t sew garments as much as I used to, but I’m thinking and learning about sewing and fabrics all the time. I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to do this from an economic perspective while my kids are still little and now at daycare. If I want to keep sewing for a living I have to figure out a way to make this more sustainable though. I need to make it profitable so I can contribute to our household economy. And this is how life brings me to what I’m doing now with my business.
I’m also part of the team of volunteers who organized the first ever @MontrealFrocktails ! Our intention with this event was to bring the sewing community together and celebrate our fondness for design, our interest in materials, our love of fabrics, our passion for sewing and sharing what we sew. With this event, we aimed to break the isolation of sewing and get to know people from all kinds of places in a celebration of all things needle and thread.
So when you ask “How much time do you spend on your sewing practice every week?” the answer is all the time that I have that is not with my kids!
What is your favourite thing you’ve made?
Learning to sew my own bras changed my life. I belong to the group of women who never knew wearing a bra could be comfortable. Once I learned to sew a bra, I was hooked! I went to Hamilton to learn from the Fairy Bra Mother in person how to fit bras for all sizes. My back no longer hurts, I can design them with variable level of support, I can feel more confident or more relaxed, I can design them to breastfeed or even draft a secret pocket to keep a hankie handy! Bras are truly small pieces of engineering and architecture. Fitting bras can seem challenging, but the bra making community is constantly growing and it’s easier than ever to get advice on how you can improve on your bra making skills. I love that with bras there is always a different or new design feature I want to try. I remember when I sewed my first bra, I was hesitant to post about it on my blog. So I decided to discuss it with David as I do with many other things. His response was “well, you should feel proud of yourself! Why wouldn’t you want to share it?” (Ed: Yes David!)
Did you have a gateway person or experience that brought you to sewing?
Sewing came to me in a time of transition.
By 2011, I had been living in Montreal for a couple of years, I started to settle down in my new life as a postgraduate student in Canada. After an initial rough transition to a new country, I started to make new friends with whom I learned to cook. I met David at the University and he started to come to our cooking sessions. We learned to cook and to love cooking together, it’s funny how food can bring us close and let us learn so much about each other. You could say we fell in love over science chats and cooking experiments. We started officially dating in early 2012. It was then that I started to look into learning to sew. I needed an output for my creative energy and I had a little free time on my hands. I went to the community center and took a class where I learned how to use a sewing machine, nothing fancy, just the basic threading and straight lines. Well, it turns out I got hooked and never looked back! I started learning to sew my first garments, and I quickly learned to modify patterns to get a better fit for my body and I started my blog to share my experiences. Not everything was smooth sailing, I think there are still many people who teach sewing who have never been faced with having to teach a plus-sized person to sew for themselves. There were times where I felt sad and disgusted about myself, much like the way I used to feel when I went shopping. The Curvy Sewing Collective got started in 2014 and with it I was finally able to connect with a great deal of people who were living a similar situation to me. I found encouragement and empathy in many situations where I had previously felt unseen and disappointed. You see, when you live in a plus-size body it can be quite a struggle to find clothes that fit because most clothes are just not available for larger sizes. Up until recently, this was the case for sewing patterns for the home sewer as well. The advantage of sewing your own clothes was limited to your ability to transform the patterns in the constrained available size range to fit the larger bodies they were not designed for. Plus-size sewists have to learn not only to transform a pattern drafted in two dimensions to fit a body in three dimensions, but also to grade it and alter it many other ways in order to try to fit it best to their larger bodies. The fit achieved is often poor, because the bodies for which the patterns were originally designed are smaller. Much too often several muslins and many, many more hours of work are required to obtain a fit that works for our bodies.
It is imperative that fit issues are addressed and more thoughtful design methods/protocols are put in place. Extending the size range (i.e. grading the pattern in the largest size) is clearly just not the solution, in order to design size-inclusive garments, the industry needs to have a new sample/model in the larger size range from which the garments can be properly graded and fitted to the larger sizes.
I was so glad to see a BIG shift towards inclusive sizing in the sewing community at the beginning of 2019. Up until then there were very few companies that offered patterns in larger sizes. I don’t know if anyone other than Cashmerette was actually doing it from a larger drafted sloper. As I said before, if a pattern company is to take the jump towards inclusive sizing, it is imperative to do so in a thoughtful manner and draft a new sloper for the larger size range. I was so excited to see Closet Core Patterns and many other Indie pattern companies taking the challenge on. I was even more so excited when Heather asked me if I wanted to model Sienna, her first pattern in the inclusive size range.
How would you define your style?
I don’t yet know if I have a defined style…I just know that I dress very differently since I sew my clothes. Before sewing, I used to wear mostly men’s clothes. I just didn’t find any amusement nor interest in looking for clothes that fit me in entire shopping malls only to leave feeling defeated, unsatisfied and sad about myself. After I started to sew, I realized I liked colors, prints, dresses, skirts, jackets and so many more things that I’m yet to discover. Sewing allows me to be alive and express my heart’s deepest desires. It makes me happy.
Thank you Monsie! (We love you so much.)