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A few weeks ago I took several hours to work on my wedding dress. Working from a sketch I made in the fall, I’ve been slowly constructing parts of the gown: adding structure to the bodice, cutting & piecing boning along the seams, adjusting the skirt pieces to reduce fullness. I finally stitched everything together enough to slip it on and look in the mirror. My heart fell. It didn’t feel like me.

I immediately panicked. When you’ve been working under the assumptions of a plan, it can be disheartening to realize the plan isn’t right. For months I was certain the style was what I wanted. But it felt foreign and almost like I was playing dress-up as a bride. I kept pacing back and forth, asking Les, “What’s wrong with it? Why don’t I like it?” He gave me a hug and reassured me that I’d figure it out.

The next day I cut and sewed a completely different dress — sleeker design lines, shorter hemline, competely different silhouette to the first gown. I slipped it on, and looked in the mirror. I sent a photo of the new design to several trusted friends. The reaction was the same: “That’s so you.”

STYLES CHANGE, PREFERENCES CHANGE

It makes sense that our personal style changes over time. If we’re doing this life thing right, we’re constantly learning, growing, adapting, and becoming better versions of ourselves. Just as each decade has a unique fashion footprint, so the seasons of our lives mimic the change. Careers, life events, even personal preferences shift over time, and our wardrobes (for better or for worse), reflect our individuality and personality.

Women’s fashion in particular has shifted over time: women transitioning from home life to the workforce, protesting for equal rights, and fully entering the sexual revoluation have all impacted style. It’s hard to believe there was a period in time when wearing pants was seen as a liberated, political act.

PERSONAL STYLE SHIFT

Before I was making my own clothes, my wardrobe was pretty consistent (and boring): dress pants, blouses, blazers, a few pencil skirts and shift dresses. Think business attire in black, grey, and navy tones. My original intent with learning to sew was to recreate this wardrobe but in higher quality fabrics and better fitting garments. I soon realized that sewing dark, solid fabric day after day was boring. My eye was drawn to crazy, wild colors and patterns.

After a few years of making anything and everything, I slowly fell into a new uniform. Enter Exhibit A:

The formula is pretty simple: fitted top (in this case specifically a bodysuit), paired with a full gathered/pleated/circle skirt. I sewed many variations on this particular theme, creating a closet full of skirts in various prints and fabrics, and close to 10 solid-colored identical tops. This uniform ruled my wardrobe from 2014-2015 and I still look back on it with a whimsical appreciation: the outfits are colorful, flattering, and echo a 1950s charm. They were also convenient. Everything mixed and matched, and getting dressed each day was incredibly efficient.

Fast-forward to Fall 2016: a time of preparing for new businesses to launch, the excitement of cooler weather (I love fall), and a shift, albeit slight, in the uniform:

A keen eye will notice that this is merely a sleeker version of the above uniform: a slimmer (but a-line) skirt; fitted turtleneck or sweater tucked in to accentuate the waist; bright but slightly muted color palette. The silhouette is much more 1960s than 1950s despite the subtle change in style.

That brings us to winter/spring (which is it, East Tennessee?!) 2018. Somewhere during the fall, I started creating sleeker, more streamlined dresses. Utilizing a more 1960s silhouette but in one piece, I created several new dresses with slight variations, but all producing the same effect: slimmer through the hips, more form fitted, shorter hemline.

The fabrics have also shifted: there’s only one print among this group of dresses and it’s a very elaborate Italian brocade. Two of these include design elements I created myself: bishop sleeves on the lower right dress, and a front pleat detail on the lower left. The fit overall is closer to the body. The look is more professional, more mature, more “business.”

I regularly post photos of my handmade garments, but I never took the time to analyze my style preferences until I was faced with a major sewing project: my wedding dress. Despite the vision in my head that this design was what I wanted, the reality fell short.

The problem is that while this is very much a silhouette I once adored (see Exhibit A), it’s no longer the foundation of my wardrobe. It may have suited me then, but it doesn’t suit me now. I felt like I was in costume, like an imposter. It simply wasn’t me.

WEAR WHAT YOU LOVE

Luckily, I’m a seamstress and I can (and did) create a new dress for my wedding. (Stay tuned.) But this experience made me consider an even greater point: our clothing tells the world who, and where we are in life. Regardless of why you wear what you wear, I believe in wearing clothing that I love, that makes me feel fabulous & invincible, and that celebrates the uniqueness of my body with all its curves and flaws. I believe in wearing clothing that genuinely feels like me. 

My style will inevitably shift again — when I become a mother or age gracefully — and I’m excited to see what I’m creating 10, 20 and 30 years from now. I look forward to looking back to see where life, and my style, takes me.

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I’ll admit I came up with this tagline when I was creating my website for Modern Seamstress. I needed something catchy but simple, and this three-part phrase came to me one day in the shower. It’s not just a tagline, though. There’s depth to this phrase, and today I’m sharing what it means to me.

Wear What You Love

Easy, right? Not really. I remember my clothes shopping days before I knew how to sew. Something beautiful would catch my eye — the color or cut, the fabric, or maybe a cute embellishment. But a voice in my head told me the garment wasn’t my style, wouldn’t be flattering for my body type, or just wasn’t me. A few times I went ahead and bought the garment only to pack it away in a closet until many years later when I finally felt confident enough to wear it. When we consume fashion advice and believe lies that certain styles are only for certain body types, we do ourselves a disservice. When I learned to sew, I started by falling in love with the fabric and then imagining the garment. I still do this, and my instinct is never wrong. Whether you make everything in your closet, or shop at the mall, wear what you love.

Love What You Wear

This one has a few layers: first, if you wear what you love, you’re naturally going to love what you wear. But this also applies to the care of your garments. Well made garments can last for decades if cared for properly, and simple garments can be strenghthened for posterity with linings and construction details. We live in a fast-fashion society that encourages consumers to consume more, and dispose more often. This habit doesn’t make us any happier, and in fact studies show we’re less happy with our bodies adhering to this model. So, find pieces you love and love them back. Clean them properly. Store them in a cool closet. Avoid dry cleaning chemicals that break down fibers. Learn how to take care of your clothing so it will last for years to come.

Love Your Body.

If I could scream this to every woman, young and old, I would. This is the fundamental tenent: no matter your age, size, weight, height, or curvature, your body is beautiful. Period. I didn’t believe this for a long time due to circumstances and people in my life, but I do now. Not only do I love my God-given form, but I also love myself enough to get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, exercise, eat healthy food, and avoid toxins I know make me feel less than healthy. The next time you look in the mirror, remember to tell yourself that you’re lovely. You won’t regret it.

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Sewing is one of my all-time life passions. It calms me down, energizes my creative center, and provides me with an outlet that improves my confidence and self-esteem. For the past three years (what?!) I’ve been sewing for others, teaching classes & lessons, and taking on large scale alterations jobs.

If you’re curious about sewing in 2018, here are three ways you can work with me:

Take a sewing class!

I offer sewing classes for seamstesses of all skill levels every month. Sewing 101, which is for complete beginners, and Denim Bootcamp are my two most popular classes. This year I’ll be expanding into shorter, more topical workshops to include easy alterations & home decor, as well as offering some weekend bootcamps on fitting & more complex garment contruction.

Classes are a great way for you to learn the basics, meet new friends, and have pretty extensive individual help in a classroom setting of beginners. I teach all classes at Modern Studio, which is located in the downtown north neighborhood of Happy Holler. Classes are announced on my Facebook page as well as this site 3-4 weeks in advance of the start date.

Commission a custom garment.

If you’re looking for the ideal garment but can’t seem to find it, you’re in luck! I work with clients of all ages & body types to create beautiful, one-of-a-kind garments that meet their unique style. We start with body measurements, a design consultation, and a fitting session before moving on to the final masterpiece.

A custom garment is like no other piece of clothing you will ever wear. Perfectly fitted to YOUR unique body, a custom garment ensures proper fit, superior construction & longevity, as well as being consistent with your style. And, if you’re interested in a one-in-a-million dress for your wedding day, I work with brides as well. Custom garment consultations are scheduled individually as convenient.

Take an individual sewing lesson.

Maybe you know the basics of garment construction, but need specific assistance with an individual project — either way, I offer individual lessons scheduled to work around your schedule. You choose our topic, and I prepare a lesson outline. This can be something as specific as fitting, or simply working through the construction of a new-to-you garment.

Ready to get started? Contact me today:

burke.brewer@gmail.com

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A trusted friend & advisor and I had a long chat a few weeks ago about many important things: what’s the personal vision for 2018? How do we cull goals out of that vision? Finally, how can we make life easier? As we discussed efficiency in the new year, he mentioned meal delivery services. I’d never tried one of these for several reasons. First, I LOVE to cook and enjoy the creativity behind preparing food. Second, it honestly never occured to me that this type of thing could be delegated from the to-do list. The more I thought about it, though, the more I couldn’t help but wonder if it might be a lifesaver.

Les & I tried Hello Fresh last week and here’s what we thought:

PROS

1. The meals were tasty & everything is included. We ordered One-Pan-Shrimp Lo Mein, Pesto Chicken, and Balsalmic Meatloaf and all three were yummy. Every meal was very well curated with variations & flavors that complimented each other, and I liked how the box included the perfect amount of each layer of ingredient (like garlic or ginger). Do note that you have to provide your own EVOO.

2. Serving sizes were on point. This one kind of threw us. We ordered three meals for two, and each meal came with exactly 1 serving per person. This got us thinking: are we eating too much? Probably. If you’re looking to lose weight or practice portion control, this is perfect.

3. The meals are accompanied by step-by-step instructions. Les & I have different cooking skill levels, and I’d say overall I’m more advanced that he is. These meals are perfect for someone who wants to learn how to cook or those who want to try new skills. The instructions were accompanied by photos, and each step was crystal clear.

CONS

1. Your card is charged before you pick your meals. This one irritated me quite a bit. Before you can even look at their menu, you have to sign up and enter payment information. As soon as you choose your plan and register, your card is charged. Then you’re able to change your menu or make plan changes. I prefer the method of creating a cart, reviewing it, and then paying. (You can also cancel at any time which is a nice feature.)

2. There’s quite a bit of waste. While the food portions are perfect, everything comes in its own packaging. Meaning, the two tablespoons of ketchup for your meatloaf comes in a small glass jar. The pesto comes in a plastic tube. And so on. While I’m used to carrot peels and waste that can be composted, there was a lot of packaging that made me question how environmentally friendly the service is.

3. If you enjoy being creative with food, these meals might lack ingenuity. I’m still on the fence about this one as I tend to enjoy figuring out how to create a meal with what’s in the kitchen. I also felt like I could have made each meal better with a few tweaks, or mixed and matched the kits for completely new meals.

So, will we purchase this again? YES. First, our portions are clearly out of wack. As we make health goals for the new year, we agreed that we need to recalibrate how much food we’re eating. We also agreed that this is a great way for Les to learn to cook more, especially on nights that I’m not home. Instead of running out to Chik-fil-a, he can easily whip up one of these meals in less than an hour. Finally, there’s something to be said for not having to think about what you’re going to make for dinner (which I find very intriguing). The meal planning AND shopping is done for you which can be a great comfort at the end of a long day.

Have you or would you try a meal delivery service?

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At the beginning of 2014, when I’d only been sewing in earnest for two years, I took a Ready-to-Wear Fast challenge with Sarah of Goodbye Valentino. The challenge was simple: I couldn’t purchase clothing for 365 days (including thrifted clothes) and had to sew everything I needed excluding undergarments. I knew the challenge would force me to do several things: first, I knew the necessity would force me to sew more consistently and seriously consider the value of each garment in my wardrobe. Second, I was learning more about the hideousness that is the fashion industry and finally felt ready to put my actions behind my ethical stances.

That year I made 57 garments, many of which are still in rotation in my wardrobe. After that first year I unofficially continued the RTW fast on my own, and have purchased less than 10 garments in the past three years. The official RTW Fast is active again for 2018, and I decided to once again hop on board. A lot has changed since that first year. I don’t worry about my skill level or my ability to make things that I might need (including undergarments). My style has also settled into a reliable pattern, whereas my beginner seamstress self wanted to make all the things despite their level of practicality.

While the fast allows you to purchase things like wedding gowns, I’m proud that I’m making my own wedding dress by hand. Even a newbie could tackle this: every project is easy when you break it down step by step. There’s something thrilling, though, in knowing that my skills have matured and I’ve settled into a more professional habit with each garment.

My hope for this year’s fast is to take more time intentionally designing my wardrobe. As my roles shift in life and business, I want my clothing to reflect those changes. My dresses in particular are looking more business-professional and less mid-20s whimsy. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a floral summer dress, but I don’t need to wear one during business meetings. I’d also like to sew slower, use more professional techniques, and ensure that each garment will last for decades. We’re so accustomed to fast fashion that deteriorates quickly, I wonder if that doesn’t seep into my sewing habits too. I plan to take my time and create classic, everlasting pieces.

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A few weeks ago we hosted a bluegrass/jazz concert at Modern Studio ,right smack dab in the middle of a theatre production run. My business partner swung by to help, based on her intuition that we might need her help prepping the room. We assembled lighting, figured out how to hook up our sound system around the theatrical set, and even realized we were missing a very important electrical cable. In the end, everything worked out well and the show was successful. Luckily, two of the musicians that night sat down and dialogued with me about what we did well, and what needed improvement. As a business owner primarily focused on keeping the doors open, these conversations provided the best set of feedback we’d received all year, and taught us a few things in the process.

Feedback is GOOD

I don’t think this one is obvious based solely on how many people I’ve had to cajole and massage through a session where I’m providing feedback. If you run a business, feedback is your only pulse on your public perception and how you’re actually doing. I’m not talking about asking your closest pals for a recommendation or testimonial. I’m talking about shutting your mouth and genuinely listening as a customer shares their experience. The truth is that you may believe you’re the bomb diggity at certain things, but you won’t know until you ask your customers.

SHUT YOUR MOUTH

This one is important. You really have to come to a place where you’re not internalizing or taking anything personally when you receive feedback from your customers. You have to shed your desire to be defensive and counter every claim with an excuse or all the ways you’ve been awesome. Your job here is to ask questions, close your mouth, take notes, and finally implement the feedback. If you can’t do this, find someone who can funnel this information for you OR create a way that people can provide feedback online or through your social media.

Be Grateful

I read somewhere that for every one customer who speaks up, there are two dozen more who have stayed quiet. Be grateful that someone cared enough to take time out of their day to have a conversation with you. As it turns out, both musicians we chatted with mentioned things we hadn’t considered based on their many years of performance experience. In the end, all of their feedback will make our venue better and stronger.

What are your tips for accepting feedback?

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Language is an interesting tool — it can relay our vision, mission and values, or lack thereof, in seconds. What we call our projects can either turn them into successful ventures, or keep them relegated to the nights and weekends. In the same vein, how we describe ourselves or our roles related to our work can help or hinder. Below are three words I’ve come to hate the past few years:

SIDE HUSTLE

As a “multi-passionate entrepreneur” (thank you Marie Forleo), I consider none of my businesses to be “side hustles.” They were never side hustles, and they never will be — they consume my thoughts, energy, and time, and I maintain passion for each one. Calling your dream small business a “side-hustle” implies that you don’t give it the time it deserves to thrive, and maybe ensures that you don’t treat it like you should to nurture and grow it into something that could actually support you long-term. If you run a venture that brings you income, call it what it is: a business. You don’t have to have a million dollars in inventory and 30 employees to call your passion a business, and frankly, doing so will encourage you to take it more seriously.

GIRL BOSS/LADY BOSS/BOSS BABE

Hashtags are a beautiful thing, and I use them regularly, but we all need to move on from this clump of titles. Whether I’m a girl, lady or a babe has no bearing on the fact that in every business I own/manage/run, the buck stops with me. I’m the boss regardless of my genitalia. I totally understand that we need to support female bosses, but let’s just call them what they are: the ma’fuggin’ boss, an amazing leader, a visionary. Anything but something that points out their gender first, and their impact second.

MAKER

This is another cutesy term that is used to describe people who make things (soap, clothes, craft beer, whatever). It’s catchy and I get it, but let’s not forget the other roles an entrepreneur shifts in and out of everyday: marketing executive, IT support, customer service rep, strategic thinker, financial guru, vendor relations specialist, photographer, writer, etc. Again, if you’re putting your heart and soul into a business concept or product, and doing the hard grind of getting it out into the world, you’re an entrepreneur. Period.

So, what should we say instead? I’m a big fan of “entrepreneur,” defined as someone who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. This one pretty much sums up what I do everyday and who I am, based on the fact that I have three of these that I routinely manage and redefine as they grow.

The bottom line is that starting a business, quitting your consistent day job, taking monumental risks on an idea or product, giving your time, energy, and money into making something happen takes courage. Not just the run-of-the-mill courage that you muster to kill a spider or end a bad relationship, but the type that requires you to act quickly and persevere no matter what gets tossed your way. Let’s not diminish our impact on our local communities and our customers by calling our businesses or ourselves a watered down version of the truth.

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Whether you work from home as an entrepreneur, consultant or maker, or are able to telecommute for a major company, working from home has its perks and its pitfalls. Below are my 8 tips to staying sane (and healthy) when you work from home.

I’ll start by saying I’m probably a bit biased towards working from home as it’s been my norm for almost three years now. I absolutely LOVE it and wouldn’t want to trade it. There are some drawbacks, though, and things you absolutely must plan for or your experience will be awful.

1. Even though you’re “home,” you’re not actually home.

This one is important and I think eventually gets worked out on its own: everyone who knows you work at home (including yourself) needs to be aware that there are hours you are absolutely off limits to every personal requirement related to your household. For example, it shouldn’t be assumed that you can attend to every household issue (like something needs to be repaired, the dog needs to go to the vet, the dishes need to be done, etc.) just because you work from home. You might physically be working inside your home, but you’re not “home.” That means that you need to schedule work hours and have very strong boundaries around those just like if you were in an office. You can’t answer every text or call, you can’t drop what you’re doing to tend to household things, etc. This is helped tremendously by your employer requiring you to log into some type of communal software or be available for drop-in discussions (like on Slack, etc.). If you’re left to your own devices, you’ll need to create boundaries around your work time. This means you schedule lunch like you would if you worked in an office, etc. And if anyone asks, it’s not the default position that you handle household tasks simply because you work at home.

2. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries

Research shows that telecommuters actually work longer hours and are more productive than those who work in an office. So, curb the initial response to be hyperproductive: set your work hours, do your work, and shut it down at closing time. This means you have to physically enforce boundaries around when you work (no email after a certain time, etc.) and where you work (create an office space that you can walk away from at the end of the day). The natural tendency will be to go back to work if you have a lull in the evening. You have to fight this tendency otherwise your self-care will suffer tremendously. Related to this: you MUST take a lunch break and breaks throughout the day. Again, you’re going to have to fight the urge to go 200%, and you do this by creating a schedule and boundaries around it.

Which leads to another point: schedule times to answer email, listen to and return calls, etc. and then stick to it. You probably do this already, but you have to be extra vigilant when you work from home.

Something that might be specific to my businesses but might be worth noting is that you’ll have to train people on when you respond to things like calls, texts, emails, etc. Fight the urge to be available all the time just because your office is at home. Unless there’s a serious emergency, you shouldn’t re-enter your office after work hours are over.

3. Create a morning routine.

There are mornings where all I do is make tea and put on a bathrobe and work well into the afternoon. Other days I get up and full on get dressed like I’m going out — depends on the day, the tasks, the season, etc. Figure out what works for you and then do it. You’ll figure out after a month what your natural tendencies are — maybe you like to ease into the morning (I certainly do) or maybe you like to start early and wrap up early. Whatever your natural tendency is, once you figure it out, refine it to where it becomes routine.

4. Create a physical workspace.

I work off my dining room table, mostly because it’s large enough for all my crap but also because I don’t want my office in my sewing room (*priorities*). I tried having my office in my sewing space, but I preferred the light, the open space, the access to the kitchen, and frankly the aesthetic of the dining room, and soon found I naturally gravitated towards the dining room. I also liked that I could sit in 6 different locations based on task types (so I can physically break up the routine if I wanted or needed to brainstorm and be creative). I also liked the space on the table to spread out materials and organizational items. Figure out where you naturally tend to work and invest in that space.

5. Invest in the right tools.

This goes without saying, and you’re probably doing this one already too: use the technology (probably provided by your employer) and supplies you prefer. I’ll be the first to enable a planner/supply/pen obsession and I don’t apologize for it. I have nice pens, nice planners, nice everything so that I physically enjoy the workspace I use everyday. If your brain is aesthetically pleased, you’ll have an easier time fighting the tendency to be lazy on days when it’s easy to be lazy (think snow days, rainy days, etc.). This helps with the obvious issue of occasionally disliking the work tasks too.

This also extends to apps, programs, etc. that make your life easier. My set-up is incredibly mobile: iPad, iPencil, keyboard, a ton of apps that do things I need (PDF, printing, etc.) plus my paper tools, pens, etc. and everything has a function. The function is to make my life and work easier.

6. Socialize

I don’t really mind this one as I’m fairly introverted and enjoy the quiet (I also spend a good deal of time in meetings with clients or others), but if you find that you’re lonely and need social interaction, schedule in lunch with friends, work from a co-working space, or spend a day in a coffee shop. If you’re not required to be tethered to your home office, branch out to be around others. Even an hour or so of social contact will help ease this. Alternately, you could join some social groups (yoga, book club, whatever) that occur regularly so you know you’ll be getting social contact every Tuesday at 6:00 for example.

7. Teamwork

I haven’t experienced this, but I’ve had close friends who have worked remotely for major companies and have seen this firsthand. Going to a physical office breeds all sorts of synergy (my favorite word) with colleagues. Utilize your remote tools (Slack, email, whatever) to be social with co-workers even if they’re far away. You really have to double up your efforts here to feel involved in a team (if one exists) and build rapport. Become FB friends, share dog photos, whatver it may be, but work hard to build rapport. This may not come up, but keep this in mind if you’re expected to be part of a team despite working from home.

8. Adjust your food budget if you don’t currently take your lunch to work. (This is also a great opportunity to eat healthier!)

The good news is you’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t, and that will happen naturally the more you settle into the job and your physical space so go with your natural tendencies. Otherwise, create a schedule and then hold yourself to it. And remind friends and family that you might be physically home, but you’re not free.

What are YOUR tips for staying sane when you work from home?

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Anyone who knows me knows I’m a hyper-planner: I have notebooks, calendars, to-do lists, etc. to keep me organized and all my projects moving forward. Today I’m sharing the tools I use to organize my fabric stash as well as my sewing projects and notes. Enjoy!

Modern Seamstress | My Organizational Tools - YouTube
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It’s that time of year again, the time I love more than anything: FALL! There’s something about being able to turn off the AC for the summer, open every window in the house, and sit back and smell all the foliage changing shape. I absolutely love it. Fall also happens to be my favorite season for fashion which is why it’s absolutely critical that I plan my upcoming fall wardrobe. Check it out!

Modern Seamstress | Fall 2017 Wardrobe Planning - YouTube

What are your plans for fall sewing?

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