No. 4 / COLOR - Sewing with purpose, with Anna Graham
Anna Graham has her hands in a lot of sewing goodness these days and if you’re a Making magazine reader you may be familiar with her work, from petal pouches and totes, to wallets and her newest amazing project in COLOR, the Making Backpack. Anna’s ambition and passion is evident as she tells her makers journey, one I’m sure many of you will be able to relate to. We’re so inspired by her approach to making and hope you will be to. You can find Anna at noodle-head.com and on Instagram @noodlehead531.
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Episode No 4. / COLOR - Sewing with a Purpose with Anna Graham
Ashley: [00:00:02] Welcome to Making, a podcast for makers. I'm excited to share with you some incredible people I've had the opportunity to talk to in this community we love so much. From knitters and quilters to builders and painters, here's where you get to listen to a little part of their making journey.
Sponsor: The Woolly Thistle: [00:00:21] I want to thank our sponsors for this week's episode The Woolly Thistle brings you favorite yarns from across the pond and makes them easily accessible in North America. At thewoollythistle.com you'll find the best of British yarn such as Blacker Yarns, West Yorkshire Spinners, The Knitting Goddess, and Jamieson & Smith to name a few. You will also find yarns from Scandinavia including Plötulopi, Rauma and Tukuwool. At the Woolly Thistle they encourage woolly wanderlust and they share information from where the wool was grown and milled. Specializing in finding yarn made at the source, whether that be on the wild Scottish islands or in the Devon countryside or in the mountains of Wales they'll find it and share it with you. With excellent customer service and beautiful yarns and books to peruse, you will love shopping at thewoollythistle.com and if you make a purchase before March 31st, use the code "Making Zine" for 10 percent off of your order. Let the Woolly Thistle do the international shipping so you don't have to. Make sure to follow along on Instagram @thewoollythistle.
Ashley: [00:01:30] Anna Graham has her hands on a lot of sewing goodness these days, and if you're Making Magazine reader you may be familiar with her work. From petal pouches and totes to wallets and her newest amazing project in Color: the making backpack. Anna's ambition and passion is evident as she tells her maker's journey. One I'm sure many of you will be able to relate to. We're so inspired by her approach to making and hope you will be too. You can find Anna at noodle-head.com and on Instagram @noodlehead531. And with that here's Anna.
Anna Graham: [00:02:03] Yeah it started when I was a kid with my mom and we would sew together and it would be mostly her doing the important parts and me jumping in and messing things up and then having her step in and fix the situations. And we sewed garment's, that was the thing we did. You know we had our pinking shears and kneeling down the floor pinning our patterns to the fabric and that was just how you did it. I don't remember her being, there was no like rules, really. I think a lot of people maybe get started out with the onslaught of rules of this is what you do and this is what you don't do. But I think she was definitely more of like a hands off let me do what I wanted to do and wasn't critical in any way of of how things would turn out. And I mean of course I can look back now and think gosh that was amazing to have that you know. My mom gave me that you know as a gift really because it totally could have gone the other way. But so yeah it was that creative freedom that she kind of instilled in me. And I'd say that's a blessing.
Anna Graham: [00:03:25] And so that's kind of where my first taste of sewing came in, but we had of course Home Ec. And I made a backpack in Home Ec. in high school in the beginning of high school. And also there was Girl Scouts. It was just another one of those things that you did. And we made vests all our whole troop made vests and I'm pretty impressed with our troop leaders for you know guiding our group of you know silly fifth and sixth graders to make something like that so. But in high school didn't do a whole lot of art and craft stuff. I do remember making a few gift things here and there there is always something creative going on. I did a lot of painting. I was always interested in art. So there was always art classes being taken. And I remember painting being one of my favorite things in high school. And then when I got to college I started out as an archaeology major and I kind of was a pie in the sky kind of person at the time I think and thought well I'll just pick whatever I want, whatever sounds interesting so I think archaeology sounded totally interesting and I went to University of Wisconsin La Crosse and they're one of the only colleges that offers archaeology as a major. And that's kind of where I got that idea.
Anna Graham: [00:05:01] I didn't really remember saying like I don't want to do archaeology except that in the back of my mind I always thought well if I ever did decide to you know seek out a career in archaeology it would be probably something I'd have to move around for. Something I would maybe not necessarily be able to have a family with and it was it was just a choice of thinking about well could I get a job anywhere. Probably not. It would probably be a little more difficult to jump in and just get a job anywhere. So it was more of a practicality thing where I'm like art I can probably do graphic design. It sounds interesting and that's what I did. It just seemed to fit. It was, I remember driving in the car with my now my husband then boyfriend and saying like art that is the thing I need to study. Like I feel like that is the degree I could really you know hopefully transform into something that would make me happy and feel good about what I'm doing. So majored in Art did a lot of painting and printmaking a little bit of sewing. Nothing in school but I did you know sew a few things here and there for for fun. And so that's kind of where it led to in college. And it wasn't until I was pregnant with my first-born Natalie that I picked sewing back up again. It was I was pregnant with her and of course being a mother, the nesting instinct kicked in and I just wanted to make everything for her. And I went to you know JoAnn Fabrics with my mom and we picked out a crib bedding pattern which seems ridiculous now because it is mostly simple squares. But we picked up the pattern in the fabric and it was hideous. But I made it. I made her all the crib stuff and I finished it as I was in labor.
Anna Graham: [00:07:11] I didn't know I was in labor at the time but I obviously would have been doing something more fun. But, yeah that's where that went and so I actually after that didn't stop sewing and it just became more intense when I started my blog. I had been sewing up until that point and then finally decided that after reading a few other blogs that it would be a great opportunity to keep track of what I've done. And that's kind of where it where it started, hasn't stopped. I definitely think it's tied through to my kids. We have always, I think back to like when they were super tiny, that's how we connected is through creative work and art and being messy and just trying out different things. And I've never been the mom to feel anxious about getting things dirty or messed up. I think as far as that goes I was lucky that I could bring creativity to them and and not have any anything hold me back.
Ashley: [00:08:29] So you live in the Midwest. Did you grow up in the Midwest?
Anna Graham: [00:08:34] Yeah I grew up in La Crescent, Minnesota which is the apple capital of Minnesota. Just thought I'd throw that in there. I was a little Miss Apple back in the day, when I was I think I was 6 years old. And it's only about a 15 minute drive from where I live now. So yeah born and raised right here in the area and I left for a little bit and then really felt this like strong pull that I needed to come back here.
Anna Graham: [00:09:02] The area we live in is not your typical Wisconsin area. I think when maybe people think of Wisconsin they think of farm and you know maybe low rolling hills but we live in the river valley the Mississippi River is just a 10 minute drive. And so there's actually seven rivers in our region and these huge bluffs that I know they're kind of like fjords in Norway. There's said to be similar to that. Not that I've been to Norway but someday. But the areas just yeah amazing outdoor recreation and I definitely feel that it's influenced every every bit of who I am and my work. We live in a small house it's a three bedroom home. And my business takes up a third of it and it just got to the point where nothing made sense anymore and we had been trying super hard to try and figure out this puzzle that is my business and our home and family. And nothing quite seemed to fit. We had talked about building a house, building a garage with the studio, building out our basement so that I could move my things down there and we did that. But of course outgrew that part too. And we finally were like We need to find a space that's separate and the only way we're going to do that is to buy a building in our downtown area which is just a few blocks from our house. It's the only place that really made sense for for me to move into. It's just a good location for us.
Anna Graham: [00:10:45] And so the next piece of that puzzle was actually finding something that was going to be for sale and I thought it was going to take much much longer than it did and we were in negotiations with another building another couple owners trying to buy a building that wasn't for sale and that ended up not panning out which really worked in our favor. But then once that kind of fell through we were talking to another business owner downtown and they had mentioned that the building next door was going to be up for auction at a sheriff's sale. And it just happened to be the perfect timing for us the perfect situation. And after a lot of questioning and thoughts and really weighing out all the options we bid on the building and were the successful bidders and it was ours. So yeah so it was a long kind of journey that I didn't know we were really on. But that was it was pretty I don't know serendipitous I guess how it worked out. And we're just really grateful to have the space. And I just love old things. I mean I've always been drawn to things that aren't perfect and things that need fixing up and that's why we moved into our house now, it's it was just the old 1950 house that needed fixing up and it had the perfect quirky characters that I was looking for and the building is really no different in that it's old. We just removed some of siding from the facade of the building and the date on that was 1890. And so it's one of the oldest buildings in our in our town that's still surviving. There was a fire in our downtown area that kind of destroyed everything else. After that point a little bit.
Anna Graham: [00:12:48] So yeah we were pretty lucky. And so we're just uncovering some of that history and going to restore it to as much as we can to keep all the historical details intact which there isn't a lot left. But what there is left. We plan on restoring it. And you know just bringing the downtown area a little bit back to life and yeah making making things look good again.
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Anna Graham: [00:14:37] I started out sewing for my blog. I sewed anything and everything and I think over time it kind of just, I kept coming back to bags and totes and baskets and things that hold other things. I really love sewing things that have a purpose. Something that you can use and it's not just for display but it's also you know a piece of art at the same time. Something that you can't find in a store that kind of you can make and that it speaks to who you are as a person. And so yeah I just I'm drawn to that. I love things that function. I love zippers and I love being able to use the things that I make. I'm always looking for something that's a little different. I like fabrics and working with materials that are going to be durable and I find that a lot of times when if you use quilting cottons for a bag it just doesn't hold up as as an outside of a bag very well. So I'm always drawn to trying different materials that are going to last and be durable. And it's just something that I also think as a designer I'm curious about. So I want to try and I don't want to hold myself back from designing something because I'm afraid to work with a certain material or I'm afraid to do a certain technique. I mean I was that person years ago. I was scared just like anybody else. The first few times trying something new like rivets or doing an adjustable strap or grommets, snaps even.
Anna Graham: [00:16:33] It's there's so many things that you know you look at maybe a bag in the store or wallet and it's just what it is. It's there. But when you get to the point where you're making it yourself and then it kind of dawns on you that oh there's all these components and it is intimidating to like cut a hole into your bag that you'd just finished making it. It looks amazing and you don't want to mess it up but it's just part of the process. And I always say that if you're scared about using something like that is just to try it on scrap material and just try it out. I think hands-on you're going to learn much more than reading a thousand tutorials or looking at different people's suggestions of how you should do things. I think it's definitely a process that you have to get a feel for. It's not just something that you can read about and then do. So I think it's just more of being curious and exploring the different materials more than anything for me and I hope that it also helps others that are you know intimidated to try something that will give it a try too because nobody starts off as an expert and I think the more that you can just set aside your fears the more options you're going to have. And I think the more proud of what you make that you'll be. The way I start designing is I think I'm the opposite of a lot of people where I start with like the super basic-ness of it and and then add the details from there.
Anna Graham: [00:18:18] So I think that allows me to explore different variations that maybe I wouldn't have come across otherwise if I had started with a super complex design and had to strip it down to something you know less less complex. So yeah I think it's a a fun way to to work through a project. When I was designing the backpack for Color I was in this kick of like backpack world. Just the convenience of a backpack itself is amazing but I love thinking about how something can be worn. And I just was really curious about the color palette that Carrie had chosen. It was it was interesting too to begin a project with a color in mind and that really was probably the basis of the design and how it started and evolved. Just thinking about how a nice bold color would affect the design of the backpack and I think color is a huge part of sewing. I think it's even before I look at the design of a fabric, if it's a printed pattern, I look at the color first and it's not, it's like the stepping stone of any fabric I think. So that's that's where I always start when I'm looking to begin a new project. I Look at color and I'm always drawn to like the chambrays and denims. I love anything that has texture and a little variance in color is always something that's more interesting than us a solid to me. And yeah so I'm always kind of drawn to the more muted colors. But it changes through the seasons. I think if I look back through like my Instagram I can see it. But at the time I don't see it.
Anna Graham: [00:20:29] It's just something I'm drawn to without actually consciously thinking of it which I suppose is good in a way. But yeah I'm just kind of follow what I'm drawn to and in a lot of it is based on the seasons and like right now when everything is brown outside I'm drawn to green like I'm always thinking green in the summer and I don't know if it translates into my sewing but it definitely is in my mind. So yeah that's that's how color is for me.
Ashley: [00:21:03] As you've built Noodle Head, you know which obviously started as an idea and was backed by passion. How did that as a business for you develop?
Anna Graham: [00:21:15] When I first started my blog which is actually the launching point of the business I did not think of it as a business and it was not even a few years into designing patterns and selling them that I really even realized myself that I had a business. I didn't talk to anybody about it other than people in the sewing community so it wasn't really real. You know my husband knew and he was supportive but it wasn't it wasn't like I'm starting my business now. It was just definitely more organic than that and I really feel like when I wrote my book that was in 2014, with the majority of 2014 I spent writing my book. It was a long time in planning. I had spoken to Suzanne Woods, my editor for a few years before we actually signed a contract. And it kind of just was a really slow process in the beginning and once the contract was signed it was a very intense period of really nose to the grindstone type work.
Anna Graham: [00:22:37] And I I totally get into that type of thing and I at the time it was excruciating but it really solidified things for me. The book is totally an exploration of anything that interested me at the time and it was it was something I looking back now I probably wouldn't try and attempt again but there's garments, two garments in the book and bags and accessories and quilts and home decor stuff, I even built a bench which I think is pretty cool. I mean it was just a it was a really design free for all for me. It was just a pass to like you get to go do this and you can do whatever you want. Which is really pretty cool you know opportunity. If you think about it. So I think that's where it really more intensely solidified everything for me and as much as I say that it was such a struggle. It was really difficult but I think I look back now and I learned so much about myself and my design process. And I definitely grew during that time period. Even though it was extremely challenging it was really ended up being a turning point for me in my business and it just it really solidified how I work through different business decisions now and how I explore new designs.
Ashley: [00:24:21] So obviously you sew, what other types of making come into your life?
Anna Graham: [00:24:26] Well I taught myself to knit in 2013 after seeing my friend Shannon. She, I think she tries to lure all of us sewists to the dark side. Yeah. So it worked for me in my case and I really admired knitting so much it was not something that I ever grew up with. My mom crocheted but I don't remember her doing that. But it was it's just something so different than sewing that. I think that's what really draws me to it. Amongst it being like squishy and amazing. You know it's totally just a different thing to play with for me. So , knitting and then I want to get better at it. So I'm trying to push myself a little harder. But it's something I have to do you know in my free time and and some I'm trying. And I think just just the playing with Home Decor basically design home design just especially with the building the studio. It's that type of thing is fun for me to to look at as a whole and then kind of pick apart the different things that go into it. My my grandma, she passed away last February but she was 100 percent Norwegian and she I definitely feel a bond with her in that way and she would always compliment me on my furniture choices and their clean lines and it was it was kind of fun. She was ninety nine and she it was fun to have that kind of bond over style that we did.
Anna Graham: [00:26:20] There's so much that the future holds that I think I can only really think about it when I look back at the past and see how far things have developed for me as in my designs. And my style and it's just exciting to think about well what will the future bring. And I try not to push myself too far out in advance as far as that goes but I think it's full potential that it can really only be discovered when when it's ready.
Ashley: [00:27:08] The biggest of thanks to everyone involved in this week's episode the Woolly Thistle, Wool & Honey, Anna Graham, and our producer Alice Anderson.
Giveaway: [00:27:17] This week's giveaway is sponsored by The Woolly Thistle, and they're giving away a fifty dollar gift card to their shop full of British and other European yarns. To enter this giveaway leave a comment on today's episode's blog post at makingzine.com.
Ashley: [00:27:30] And if you have yet to subscribe for 2018 there's still plenty of time to do so before our first issue No. 5 Color begins shipping in April. Go to makingzine.com to subscribe for both issues: Color and Black & White. You'll also find a new selection of yarns including Moeke and Biches & Bûches along with project kits, notions, and books. I hope you'll join me each week as we talk and learn from more fascinating makers. For podcast notes and transcription visit makingzine.com. If you're interested in being a part of this podcast as an episode or giveaway sponsor shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a wonderful week.