Dress featured above was seen in Sew Beautiful and is made from the Emma's Smocked Baby Dresses pattern from The Old Fashioned Baby
SB: Jeannie, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions that we can share with our readers! Let's start out with the usual -- tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jeannie: As the daughter of a career Air Force Officer, I grew up traveling around the country. I guess the longest I lived any one place was Newfoundland because my father had two tours of duty there. I loved the gypsy life. I settled down in Baton Rouge when my husband took a job with LSU 24 years ago. Five of my six children are grown. One son is still in high school and I am blessed with 7 Grandchildren, five of them girls.
SB: Just for fun, what are some of your interests and/or hobbies outside of sewing?
Jeannie: Roses!! I love growing roses although I am a bit of a haphazard gardener. I love the antique, easy to grow roses. No surprise that I would love antique roses, I guess. I love to read and always have a book going. I am a Christian and I love Bible Study groups.
SB: Favorite food?
Jeannie: Well, all I am thinking about eating right now is Lamb for Easter. And we have Yorkshire pudding with it. I love them both.
Dress featured above was seen in Sew Beautiful and is made from the Baby's Smocked Layette pattern from The Old Fashioned Baby
SB: Okay, enough with the silly business and on to our real questions! How long have you been sewing, and more specifically, how long have you been involved in heirloom sewing and smocking?
Jeannie: I come from a sewing family so I didn't think you could be a 'real' woman until you owned a sewing machine. For me, that was at age 18. I smocked my first dress for my baby daughter who is now 37, so I have been doing this a long time. I parade that little treasure before my Smocking Students to encourage them to see the beauty in what they are doing and not find fault in their work. My skills have increased with time.
SB: Tell our readers a little bit about your business, The Old Fashioned Baby, and its history.
Jeannie: I love babies and I love old baby clothes so it was the perfect combination to have a business designing baby clothes. I consider myself a designer first of all. I love designing. But I started my business teaching locally and making special order baby clothes. My Pattern business began around 1991 when I designed my own patterns to look like the old baby clothes I loved. I used my designs in magazine articles and people wanted to purchase them, so I printed them to sell. My first patterns were printed in 1992 I think.
Bubble pictured above is from Sweet & Simple Bubbles and Bonnets pattern from The Old Fashioned Baby
SB: From where would you say you get your inspiration for your sewing projects, patterns and designs?
Jeannie: Old Baby clothes are the biggest inspiration for me. Generous students and friends share their family treasures along with their antique shop finds with me and for this I am grateful. I know a lot of very nice people, I am lucky that way! Old embroidered linens and vintage books and magazines are also a wonderful field of inspiration.
Set pictured above was seen in Sew Beautiful and is made from the Old Fashioned Baby Layette pattern from The Old Fashioned Baby
SB: As a talented seamstress, teacher and business owner, how do you balance work and play when it comes to sewing and being creative?
Jeannie: Any woman will tell you that is the most difficult part. My priorities might be different from another business owner. The creative process is the most important to me and I put that first. Next, I work from deadline to deadline. What ever is up next is what I work on. It might be an upcoming class to teach or a pattern I am trying to get to the printer. I do tend to avoid the parts I don't like until I can't put them off any longer, like paper work!! And I never stop my creative process. Creativity sparks more creativity. When I am working on a design for a new pattern or article I always get sidetracked with ideas that come from the design I am currently working on. Often , the ideas enhance the current project but sometimes they have nothing to do with it. I just let myself flow in another direction and keep the notes and drawings I make. I have learned that if try to keep myself on track, it squelches my creative juices. Sometimes I can't wait to finish what I'm currently doing so I can begin working on my new ideas. In fact, I almost always begin the new project I am excited about before I have finished the current one. I also have a big box full of my ideas and designs that I have never used. I'm afraid that I am more of a dreamer than a doer!! I love ideas!! And I have more than I can ever really do.
Bib pictured above is from Jeannie's book, Jeannie B's Book of Heirloom Embroidery Designs & Stitches
SB: You have a distinctly heirloom style of sewing that many of us would love to master. How would you describe the process you go through when planning and sewing a unique garment that incorporates heirloom styles and techniques?
Jeannie: I am a visual person and I need to see it what it will look like so I draw it first. I usually draw several variations of the garment I want to make so I can see how they will look using different sleeves or hem styles. Once I know the style I want, I choose the fabric and lace. I pull out bolts of lace and fabric and eliminate the ones I don't like until I have the look I want. But I do tend to design as I go and change my mind in the process if it doesn't look like I thought it would. That is why I never have a problem adding to my 'collection' of lace. I like to have a variety to choose from. If you live near a "brick and mortar" shop it will be so much easier for you because you can see the different fabric and laces together before making a decision. In construction, I am a firm believer in basting. All the vintage clothing we admire was not slapped together. It was carefully basted to make sure it didn't shift when it was stitched. Sometimes pins will do the trick (called pin basting) but often you will be wise to baste the lace to the fabric before stitching. Practice a technique before you use it on your garment. The time and money are well worth it.
Pictured above: Jeannie's first smocked dress!
SB: What would your advice be for a true beginner of heirloom sewing who wants to learn more, but isn't sure where to start?
Jeannie: First I will tell them that heirloom sewing is easy! Anyone can do it. And you must use quality materials. It can make a big difference in how a technique turns out, not to mention the overall look of the finished garment. The worst thing you can do is to buy cheap materials to practice on. If a class is available, take it. Classes are the best way to learn! If you can't get away for a class then purchase a book that shows the heirloom techniques (you can never have too many books) and a tried and true pattern and start with a small project. This could be an embellished yoke or a bonnet. Be sure to use a light weight thread when sewing fine fabric. Find other like minded people to sew with.
SB: What are some of your favorite go-to sewing tools?
Jeannie: 1. My See-Thru rulers. I have three sizes. My favorite size is 18"X2". I use it for both designing and sewing. 2. A Thimble. I use a thimble and encourage every sewer to use one. 3. And the Blue wash-out marking pens. I would have to give up sewing with out those three items.
Pictured above: Sweet & Simple Daygown, which Jeannie will be teaching at the upcoming SAGA National Convention
SB: What about some of your favorite sewing resources (publications, websites, individuals, etc.)?
Jeannie: Well, I have to have Sew Beautiful magazine! It is my favorite. I like Australian Smocking and Embroidery magazine too. I must see them both as soon as they come out! Any book is a great sewing resource. You need a library of sewing book. As I said before, you can't have too many books. I have recently discovered the "Blog World" and there is a lot of inspiration there. I now have a blog called "The Old Fashioned Baby Sewing Room". I am showing lessons about some of the techniques needed to sew children's clothing. I want people to see how easy it is to sew for children. I will mention only one individual blog here and that is Southern Matriarch. Martha who is the creator helped me set up my own blog. I could not have done it without her. Her Heirloom Blog is one that stands out!
SB: Any last words of advice for our readers?
Jeannie: Yes. Be Bold!! Don't be timid or afraid to make mistakes. If you are, you will not progress in your stitching. Make that challenging garment that you are longing to do. Read all the instructions, ask questions and stitch it. When you are finished put it on your child and be happy with it! Other people will only see the beauty of your child in the little garment made of love. And NEVER point out your mistakes!
SB: Jeannie, thanks so much for taking the time to answer all of our questions. We loved hearing what you had to say and know our readers will too!
Don't forget to visit Jeannie at her website and on her blog, and be sure to check back next month for our May Designer of the Month!