Friday, April 10, 2015

An Interview with Busy Debbie Glenn

Who taught you needlework skills and when did you first start learning?
Sewing has always been an integral part of my life. As a child, I remember hours spent at my grandmother’s side hand stitching doll clothes, running tiny fingers over my great aunt’s delicately embroidered quilts, and lying in bed listening to my mother’s old Singer dreaming about her newest creation. At age seven I begged my mom to teach me to sew... her response was "first you must learn how to deal with mistakes, because they happen". I spent the next few days impatiently waiting until she handed me a straight pin and let me rip out some crooked stitches.  To this day I still get a warm fuzzy when helping students "rip out". Six month later I made my first "outfit", pink gingham baby doll pajamas. Soon I was babysitting on Friday nights to buy fabric for a new Monday outfit, and combining commercial patterns to recreate designer prom dresses and ski clothes. With each year my passion for machine work grew. Shortly after the birth of my first child I discovered heirloom sewing and smocking. I was hooked immediately and before long teaching others how to recreate my designs.

What is your favourite form of embroidery?
My first love is definitely machine sewing, especially recreating handwork by machine, but almost all of my projects are include traditional handwork too. Like fairy dust adding a few pinwheel roses, lazy daisies or dimensional cast on poises make the entire garment, then everyone thinks my 10 second machine granitos are handmade!

What sewing tools do you carry everywhere and why?
A small pair of Japanese KAI black handled, micro-serrated, curved tip scissors & a purple thang. I use the scissors for everything from cutting corded scallops before satin stitching to trimming threads and the purple thang for encouraging lace (as it bends a bit, unlike a skewer) and it's also perfect for "un-smocking" (since it's curved and smooth, so it scoops into valleys & won't snag threads).

What other hobbies/interests do you have?
I love time with family (at the beach, football games in the fall, sailing, skiing), traveling, antiquing (I collect linens, sewing tools, baby bonnets & christening gowns), and English gardening, probably because it's a lot like adding delicate embroidery on top of geometric stitches to see flowers of different heights and hues bloom in front manicured evergreen bushes!

Have you a favourite location where you most enjoy teaching?
I've been fortunate to have taught and stayed with so many lovely SAGA members all over the country, making memories and and lifelong friends along the way.  Two of my favorite locations are Boston and Nashville... after a busy day of stitching what could be better than being in the heart of the Dixie listening to music at the Bluebird CafĂ© or in the chilly Northeast enjoying a delicious lobster dinner, it's the love of fine needlework that bind us.  Needles and pins, fabric and lace… these tie the women of SAGA together!

Where can we get to see your projects (magazines, stores etc.)?
For the past 24 years the answers been Sew Beautiful or the Martha Pullen's School of Art Fashion. I feel blessed that both of my children grew up on the pages of the magazine wearing my Love and Stitches designs.  Those “Sewing for Three” articles transformed my creative outlet into an opportunity to share my often unique machine methods with leaders and students across the country. Today look on my website, or Facebook™ for my latest projects, patterns, classes & my Making Machine Magic Schools.
I hope to see many of you in Chicago at the next SAGA retreat!

What do you do to recharge your creative spark?
Years ago I inherited a box of fancy eyelet cuttings and laces which my great aunt saved from her days in the garment industry. Tucked inside were original embroidery designs, hand drawn by my great grandmother, Scholastica Jochem (dated 1904-1920), with the corresponding “Industrious Needlewoman’s Pages” from The Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper featuring projects using the motifs.  Whenever I need a little inspiration I go through this box and my collection of vintage baby clothes.  They always inspires me to create a new garment or work on some new technique for recreating handwork by machine.

What technique still can’t you get the hang of…….. ?
              Needle tatting, I'm a complete failure!

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
For years I longed to reproduce my great grandmother’s exquisite work, but, was less than satisfied with my hand embroidery skills. Then in 1996, after attending the Royal  School of Needlework I found a little handmade dress stuffed in the back of a drawer in an antique store. The precious baby gown, reminiscent of earlier times, was beautifully hand embroidered with padded satin stitch bouquets and trimmed with tiny blanket stitched scallops. Re-inspired by that dainty confection and other intricate Victorian articles I’d studied at London’s Victoria and Albert museum, I set out to duplicate the high relief embroidery and scalloped edgings using today’s conventional zig-zag sewing machine. In September 2000, my machine made interpretation was awarded first place viewer’s choice at the Smocking Arts Guild national convention, but by far the greatest honor was receiving Margaret Boyles’ perfect scores in Design show.  SAGA members, students, shop owners, and fellow teachers insisted I share my “machine magic” with others leading to the release of my book Victorian Treasures Nostalgic Needlework.
Katrina-Debbie is teaching this at the SAGA Chicago Retreat!
What is your absolute favorite sewing technique and why?
Recreating handwork by machine, especially padded satin stitched scallops as they instantly transform any project, from a simple baby bonnet, collar on a smocked play dress, table linens, window treatment to a boudoir pillow into something special.  I just love how with the right recipe of threads, needles & stabilizers our sewing machines are capable of applying perfect
stitches with much greater speed than we could ever do by hand, making so many projects you might never have considered attempting doable!

What is your favorite thing about teaching sewing to others?
In class I love showing students how new products like wash away & fusible threads, glues, stabilizers & German interfacing, make sewing easier. Starting with a PowerPoint presentation then move onto samples covers students different learning styles (be that visual, auditory or hands on). Samples provide no stress practice, so students can get comfortable with the new technique before applying it to the class project.  I love sharing my unique machine techniques with students and watching them experiment and master them, but my favorite part is hearing that they've added the new technique to other sewing projects.

                                                                Thank you for sharing with us, Debbie!

You can find out more about the classes Debbie is teaching at the SAGA  Chicago Retreat by visiting

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