In Conversation with SuAnn Bell

We are lucky to have built a loyal international customer base over the last few years. It never fails to amaze us all the corners of the world we send packages to from our small Rye workshop. Ordering fabric online can be tricky, but by using our sample service you can get a feel for the fabric before committing to purchasing. We’re also more than happy to help with fabric choices and pattern matching over email. Su Ann Bell from Canada started ordering from us maybe a year or so ago, and we always enjoy seeing what she comes up with next.

You can follow Su Ann on Instagram @suannbell.

When did you learn to sew?

I first learned to sew when I was eleven, but I can’t say that I spent a great deal of quality time behind a sewing machine in the nearly thirty years that has passed between then and now. However, that brief period of exposure, when I was young, did set the stage for me to take up sewing again as an adult. When I saw a pattern in a local shop that I absolutely loved from Merchant and Mills, The Dress Shirt.

Around this time, my eight-year-old daughter was taking a sewing class. I enjoyed watching her create and the vibe in the studio was inspiring. I have always loved working with patterns and fabrics, but like many people, I have spent most of my life dedicated to academics, career and family. I simply haven’t taken the time for myself to indulge in a creative outlet.

At the end of my daughter’s summer sewing classes, I told her that I wished I could sew that dress pattern I saw in the shop. An eight year-old, when given the opportunity, can be fantastic at giving an objective assessment of a situation and readily offering a solution.  “You can do anything,” she replied, “Why don’t you sew it, mom?” A healthy list of my daily time-consuming responsibilities began to fill my thoughts. It was both an abundant and extensive list. However, not wanting to burden my child with the logistics of running a household and a business, I explained (whilst displaying a most solemn expression) that unfortunately, we were not in possession of a sewing machine.  She had a solution for that too. So that day, with my juvenile cheerleader by my side, I bought the dress pattern, ordered the Merchant and Mills Sewing Book, and purchased a sewing machine.

I suppose I could have started on a pattern slightly more at my level. (Is there one below tea towel?) After all, I had not sewed in any meaningful capacity since I was a child.  However, anyone who knows me well was not surprised. I like to set my sights high, unafraid to make mistakes, and learn in the process of doing. Albeit frustrating at times, it’s more fun this way.  Growing up, I was that child who could not sing but would still audition for the lead role in the annual school musical! There is a term ‘over-falsity of confidence’ that may apply.  However, I prefer the term ‘hopeful’ and I find satisfaction in a challenge. And so, The Dress Shirt started me off on this creative and fulfilling journey.

Fielder Top | Virgin White laundered linen with matching ribbing.

Flight Bag

Flight Bag from The Sewing Book | Oiled Linen (most similar current fabric is Navy Oilskin) and The Tote Bag from The Sewing Book | Bull Denim

Do you make clothes for yourself, or do you make to sell?

I started making clothes and bags for the purpose of making something that I fancied. I would post my creations on Instagram. The feedback was surprisingly positive and I received many requests to sell the items I made. I responded to these requests, but soon learned that given the time constraints of being a mother of two, a dentist, and having the many other responsibilities of family life in general, I had to remind myself of why I started on this journey.

For now, my primary focus is to design, create, and inspire. I find joy in the process of creating and take both the accolades and critiques in my stride.

Is there a Merchant & Mills pattern that has become a favourite?

Merchant and Mills has such a repertoire of patterns that are all so lovely and timeless. If I had to pick just one, it would be the Fielder. It’s incredibly versatile and wearable. It’s practical and packable. It’s the yin to my yang and I practically never leave home without it!

Fielder Dress | Sweeps Scrim laundered linen and matching ribbing and Fielder Top | Hendy Blue laundered linen. 

I feel like all of your clothes co – ordinate so well to create a capsule wardrobe. Is this your intention or a happy accident? 

You said it in one of your Instagram posts…” You can’t beat a spot of monochrome!” This is a particular colour palette that I am drawn to. I don’t pick out fabrics with a plan to coordinate an outfit or to create a capsule wardrobe. My choices are serendipitously random or subconsciously premeditated. Either way, for each and every pattern and fabric selection, my aim is to create something with an effortless and timeless style in mind.

I loved the skirt you made with our Japanese Bubble fabric! Do you have any tips for working with this fabric?

The Japanese bubble fabric was unique and fun to work with. It is a light and sheer fabric. I lined it with Nishio Charcoal linen/cotton and this gave the skirt a fuller form and the weight it needed to flounce. Because the fabric is light and easily moves upon manipulation, it was difficult at times measuring out the lengths from one end to the other.

I resorted to obsessive pinning and using pattern weights, placing them carefully to hold the fabric still when I was drawing the pattern onto the fabric and then cutting.

It is a playful fabric, one that speaks to your inner bubble wrap-popping, ten-year old self while showing your outer older self that playful and formal can be one and the same.

Landgate | Oiled Linen (most similar is Navy Oilskin)  and Strand Coat | Winterberries Wool.

Why is making your own clothes important to you? 

It is empowering to produce what you envision.  More importantly, it is also empowering to understand the process behind the fabrication.  I find that making my own clothes is every bit of that.

What is your favourite part of the sewing process?

My home sewing studio is a retreat for creativity and mindfulness. It is where I celebrate me.  Sewing forces me to slow down and appreciate the effort and time it takes to make anything. My favourite part of the whole process is when my children come into the studio, curious to know what I am making, and then join me in on the process. I feel I inspire them to be brave and to try new things. Sewing is that for me.

What advice would you give to somebody wanting to start sewing but not knowing where to start? 

I would say, create a space that is just for you with all the necessary accoutrements you need to get started. Find a pattern that you want to sew, take a sewing class, and buy a good sewing book. So much of sewing is time. The rest, is all you.  I had more loses than wins at the beginning. I still do.  This is where you will learn and appreciate it the most.

What’s next on your sewing table, are there any fabrics you have your eye on?!

I am looking forward to sewing another coat in Merchant and Mills velvet and wool.  The Hudson Velvet and the Japanese Iwami Charcoal wool have both caught my eye. I recently purchased The Workbook and the Heron top in Tottorri Cross Navy Japanese cotton is also on the to-make list.

Strand Coat | Drizzle Wool  and a Gathered Skirt | Bark Grey and Nishio Charcoal.