DIY: Handmade + Built to Last

Today’s guest Blogger, Katie Allen, is part of the Sprout Patterns team.

Do you have a favorite craft that you do just because you love it, something that helps you recharge?  I’m one of the engineers here at Sprout, and while I have a lot of fun writing code all day, sometimes it’s nice to turn away from my computer screen and work on something handmade and tangible.  In the evenings, it’s really hard to decide whether to pull out my woodcarving tools or sit down at my sewing machine.


I’ve loved making things all my life, but a pivotal moment in my development as an artist and maker was the summer I spent at the John C. Campbell Folk School in 2012.  When I first saw their course catalog, I wanted to take every class that they offered!  I was accepted for their work-study program: in exchange for several weeks of helping out on campus, I got to take three classes.


It was tough to narrow down my choices to just three.  Enamel jewelry and leather shoemaking were incredible, but my favorite class was definitely marquetry.  I fell in love with the (rather involved) process of creating pictures from thin sheets of wood veneer.  For my first project, I made a portrait of one of my favorite baby goats.  This panel became the lid of my very first dovetail box.

It can be tricky to get fine detail with the marquetry saw.  As my skills grew, I began creating special portraits for friends.  One photo I took of a piece in progress really grabbed my attention, so when I began working at Spoonflower, I created a fun repeat pattern from it. In the design, you can see the different wood grains used and the gap in the wood where I had just cut out a tiny silhouette.


Beyond the skills learned from the classes, the Folk School is just a magical place.  The sense of community there is strong (like at Sprout and Spoonflower!) and everyone there appreciates fine craftsmanship and the time it takes to make something that will last.  When my favorite teacher announced that he was teaching a class in two weeks, I immediately planned my second trip to the mountains to attend!


As I was gathering my favorite tools and packing my things for my weeklong adventure, I found the time to stitch up a Colette Patterns Laurel Blouse from Sprout with my marquetry design.  I knew that I’d be seeing a lot of old friends who would ask what I was up to these days, and I was excited to show off a Sprout pattern.  I always love wearing things that I’ve sewed myself, but what made this shirt extra special was the fact that it featured a design based on the skills I’d learned the first time I was there.


When looking at the size chart, my measurements actually fit the size 6, but I chose a size 8 since the blouse does not have closures and I wanted it to be a little looser so it would easily pull over my head. (Also, I’d tried on a size 8 from our sample closet before, and I really liked the way it fit.)   A fun Sprout hack for the Laurel would be to create a split in the center back seam about 6 inches down from the top, and put a tiny button & loop at the neck…but that’s a project for another day.


Since the trip was a couple days away at this point, I didn’t have as much time as usual to sew up my top. I probably wouldn’t have attempted to fit in a sewing project if it wasn’t a Sprout pattern, all ready to be cut out.  I realized at the last minute that I hadn’t printed out the PDF version for dart placement, so I improvised and created my darts by pinning them directly on my body. It turned out really well!


I wore my Laurel at the Folk School on the second day of my woodworking class, when I was planing and scraping the top of the coffee table I was building.   My table began as a 10 foot long piece of cherry.  Using hand and power tools, we cut and shaped the wood into tables with mortise-and-tenon joinery.  It was amazing to go from a huge board to a piece of furniture in just a week.


Throughout the week, I wore some of my other Sprout clothes, like my Hey June Handmade Sloan Leggings with a baby goat design.  Other students would comment on the interesting prints and were amazed that not only had I sewed the clothes myself, but I’d created the surface designs as well.

There were some late nights in the shop, but I ended the class with a beautiful table that will certainly be the centerpiece of my living room someday.  It is nice to have a piece that is not only of higher quality than something I could find or afford at a furniture store, but also has the memories of a magical week of fun and learning built right into it.


Katie is an artist, an engineer for Sprout Patterns, and a developer at Spoonflower. Her latest adventure has been learning Ruby on Rails. With a background in sculpture and costuming, if she isn’t sewing, she’s building dovetail boxes in the wood shop. She also loves hiking, contra dancing, Iyengar yoga, and mindfulness meditation.