The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Carolyn from The Diary of A Sewing Fanatic

If you were on the teleseminar the other night you heard me extol the virtues of Carolyn on The Diary of A Sewing Fanatic.  She really is marvelous if you haven’t been over there, and what she does with her TNT patterns is really awesome.

This is one of her creations with her TNT (tried ‘n true) patterns.  Carolyn is the first one to bring this phrase to popularity by practicing it so efficiently and expertly.  But here’s the thing.  Without a practiced eye, it’s hard to tell if she’s really using a new pattern or not!  That’s the sign of a real expert.

I did an interview with her and it follows.  It’s important to remember here that Carolyn is not only a working gal, but has a lot of time-consuming responsibilities with her firm.  That means she’s not a 40-hour-week gal – she’s more like a 60-hour-week gal, yet she still finds the time to sew her entire wardrobe, and because she does, she looks professional, well put-together and comfortable.

Read along to find out how she manages all this!

SA:  How did you start with sewing?….was it at your mom’s/grandmom’s/aunt’s knee?…through classes?….something/someone inspired you?

Carolyn:  My grandmother taught me to sew and of course I learned by sewing Barbie doll clothes.  We spent summers with them on their farm and went “to town” on Saturdays for supplies.  We were given an allowance every week and I took mine to Woolworth’s toy department to purchase clothes for my Barbie dolls.  My grandmother thought that was a waste of money.  So one Saturday she took me to the fabric department and the pattern section to show me patterns for Barbie dolls that cost one quarter of what I paid for a doll dress.  We picked out a pattern together and when we got home she gave me one of her old dresses to use as fabric.  I still remember that dress.  It was midnight blue satin taffeta with a chiffon overlay.  The bodice had some embroidery and beading on it.  To an 11 year old girl it was love at first sight! *LOL*  She showed me a few hand stitches and made me practice on a scrap of fabric.  Then I was off and I’ve never looked back!

SA:  What was your first garment you sewed and how did you like it?
Carolyn:  The first garment I made was a straight skirt from a pillowcase.  There were after school sewing classes at my local elementary school.  Being hungry to learn more about sewing after the Barbie doll clothes, I joined the club.  The teacher started us off with pillowcase straight skirts.  Believe me after my third skirt my Mother wasn’t very happy with the fact that she no longer had matching pillowcases because I just took the ones I liked from the linen closet.  After that my Mother started picking up pieces of fabric for me to sew with.

SA:  What problems have been the biggest to deal with?
Carolyn:  I learned to sew so young and continued with it by taking any class that I could find in and out of school that I don’t remember having problems…just techniques I wanted to learn.  Now as a more experienced sewist, I’ve done about every technique there is but there are some that I could be more proficient at.

SA:  You have a full time job…just briefly explain what your “day job” is and about how much of your time it takes?
Carolyn:  I work as an Office Manager/Executive Assistant at a small investment banking firm.  When it’s slow, I work a 40 hour week, although since I live in NJ and commute to NYC, you have to add 4 hours of commute time every day to that. So I leave home at 6:30am and return at 7:30pm on a good day and after 8pm or later when we’re busy.  This means that I don’t sew during the week only on weekends.

SA:  So with your career, where do you find time to sew?….how do you budget your time?
Carolyn:  Let me start by saying that I’m alone now and can basically do what I want.  Divorced and my kids are grown so my time is my own to budget as I see fit.  However, when my kids were smaller and I sewed not only my own clothing but their clothing too, there was a lot more time management involved.

When they were small children, I still primarily sewed on the weekends because there was too much to do with caring for a house, a husband, a full time job and church & afterschool activities.  Friday evenings became my prep time.  It was usually pizza night so I didn’t have dinner to prepare and there was a looser schedule since no one had to get ready for school the next day.  I would determine what I wanted to sew and get fabric prepped and things pulled so that I could sew all day Saturday.  Many Saturdays I would put little people down for naps and catch a quick nap myself.  That way I could sew late into the night.  Catch a few hours of sleep and get up and get the family ready for church on Sundays.  I usually could hash out a few hours Sunday evening, my ex-husband was very cooperative in this regard, which allowed me to sew a little more.

I also had a system where I sewed the girls outfits first, starting in August for the start of school in September and sewing through until the end of September/beginning of October.  Then and only then would I sew for myself.  I used the same type of system for spring, which mostly entailed adding tops and cutting off jeans to make shorts or cute little skirts for the girls.  Short sets were quick and easy and I could turn out a bunch for each girl a weekend at a time.

Now, I determine my own schedule and I sew all weekend long.  It helps that I have food & groceries delivered (the grocery store is the bain of my existence).  I only leave the house on the weekend for a dinner with friends or a family related manner and I try to schedule my sewing around that.  My sewing cave is pretty well stocked so that I don’t need to stop and start a project to get supplies and 90% of my sewing is preplanned.

Planning is done while I’m commuting…making supply lists, going through the construction steps, etc.  So that when I actually head to the sewing cave I have a roadmap in place and know exactly what I’m going to make.

Sewing vacays are planned – I try to do a 3-4 day one for spring/summer and an entire week for fall.  I need these to stay sane.  To sew all of the things I want to make and also because honestly I hate to travel.  A sewing vacay is way more relaxing to me than heading to the airport.

SA:  What causes you most problems currently and how do you solve them?
Carolyn:  Fitting – just like everyone else.  Sometimes just by being persistent.  Not giving up and thinking outside of the box to make it work.  My advice here would be not to be scared of the challenge.  To go with it and make it work.  You’ll be surprised at the things you will learn and the freedom it gives you.  Failure is not a bad thing, sometimes it actually motivates you to do better the next time.

SA:  How do you keep your creative mojo going?
Carolyn:  Through fashion magazines, catalogues, online retail sites and

SA:  Have you always had a dedicated sewing room/space?…if so what was it?
Carolyn:  I’ve always had a designated space to sew, even if it was just a corner of my bedroom.  And I’ve had dedicated sewing rooms on and off – luckily this time it’s on.

SA:  What sort of equipment do you have?
Carolyn:  My sewing machines are all Janomes – 8900, 6600P and my back up 8000.  I believe a midline sewing machine will work for a sewist.  Do I believe that you need a top of the line to make fantastic garments?  No, it’s just my desire to sew on top of the line machines and the reason I own them.

My serger is a Babylock Evolve – and in this regard I think you should purchase the best serger that you can afford.  You can waste A LOT of time adjusting tension on a serger that can be solved if you spent just a little more for a more upscale vrsion.

My iron is a Rowenta Professional.  I have a Rowenta Steam Generator iron but rarely use it.  Have thought about a gravity feed one from time to time but I think I’d need to rewire the sewing cave for it so haven’t gone there yet.

I keep a three section box behind my sewing machine that holds, needles, bobbins, screw drivers, tweezers, seam rippers and make up brushes for cleaning my machines.  Then a giant coffee cup that one of my grandkids gave me holds small rulers, hand needles, etc.  But honestly there is a lot of stuff behind my sewing machine for easy accessibility.

SA:  How do your friends, family and co-workers react to your sewing?
Carolyn:  Sewing is such a huge part of my life that if you know me, you know I sew.

SA:  How do your clothes fit into your professional life?
Carolyn:  I sew for the life I live.  I don’t sew garments that don’t work for my professional and off duty life.  If I never told anyone I sewed, no one would notice the difference between my clothing and RTW.  Although in various secretarial positions I’ve had to let people know that I sew because otherwise my work wardrobe looked far superior to “the role” I had.  It looked more expensive and upscale and was actually commented on when I was younger and newer in my profession.

SA:  Do others ask you to sew for them?….what do you say?
Carolyn:  Yes they ask and the answer is always No.  Plain and simple.  I don’t hedge or hum…I don’t want to do it so I don’t encourage it.

SA:  I know sewing is a big part of your life – can you say what sewing gives back to you?
Carolyn:  I think there are several types of human beings – the analytical, the athlete and the creative person.  I am a creative person.  My day job has some creativity to it but not the kind that I need to thrive and flourish.  Sewing allows me to explore my creativity without time restraints, someone else’s input…it allows me to go and do what satisfies me.  And yes, I definitely get lost in my work.  My family does sometimes wonder how I can spend hours alone there, with just the TV set and my sewing machines but it works for me.  Keeps my equilibrium straight…

SA:  You sort of developed the TNT concept of patterns. Can you describe how you came to use this method of sewing?
Carolyn:  Actually I didn’t develop this concept.  I learned it from Shirley Adams who use to have a sewing show called Sewing Connection on PBS on Saturday afternoons.  You can still see some of her sewing videos on Youtube – (  I learned this concept from her and used it in my sewing.

I have a two dresses, a pair of pants, two skirts (straight/pencil and a-line/flare), a twinset (cardigan both v-neckline and u-neckline) and a couple of tops, about ten that I would consider my core TNT patterns.  These are my go to patterns when I have an idea I want to execute (make design changes) or just need a basic garment that I use ALL of the time.  I probably have about 20-30 patterns that I’ve developed over the years as TNT patterns.  They are used off and on as the spirit moves me.  My TNT’s are classic styles.  Patterns that can be used again and again.  I’ve added to the peripheral group but the core group has remained the same for at least a decade.

SA:  Where do you get the ideas of how to change up your TNT patterns?
Carolyn:  The answer to that is everywhere.  On the street, in magazines, catalogues, a TV show or movie, sometimes even the changing of the leaves in fall or the appearance of the buds in spring can trigger something.


Isn’t this wonderful – I love how she budgets time to sew and gets so much done.  I also loved how she had to explain that she sewed because her clothes looked so good otherwise folks would think she had a secret inheritance and didn’t need to work!!!!  Carolyn has some more of her garments on flickr – just click here to see them.  You can visit Carolyn’s blog here to catch up on more of what she’s doing.


  1. Excellent interview! Carolyn is a gem.

  2. Great interview Claire! I read Carolyn’s blog consistantly and have totally embraced the TNT concept. It really, really works! Thanks for sharing one of my sewing idols.

  3. Claire ~ thanks so much for sending such interesting and detailed questions and for being such a champion of my work. I’m really honored that you wanted to interview me, so thank you so much!

    • Carolyn – it was a treat for me too! Like I say, I’m so impressed with your creative TNT’s and your time management!!!

  4. Awesome interview! I loved the bit about Carolyn needing to explain that she sewed, too! That’s a good sign that you have an amazing wardrobe!

    • Yeah – I thought that was particularly telling. The thing is that when you make your own clothes, you get to 1.) fit yourself better therefore 2.) you are much more comfy in your clothes, but also 3.) you look way better than the rest of the world in their cheap fashion clothes!!!

  5. Great interview!

  6. Great interview, Claire. I really enjoyed learning a bit more about Caroline. She is definitely an inspiration. Hope we have more of your interviews!

  7. What an excellent interview. I learned so much about Carolyn.

  8. Thank you for this interview! I’ve been reading Carolyn’s blog for at least three years and here are all these things I didn’t know about – like the four daily hours commuting. I really admire Carolyn for her skills and her willingness to share things with us by blogging. What I do want to know though, is whether she has enough time to wear all her creations! I’m pleased to discover your blog, too.

  9. Great interview! Wow! Carolyn thank for showing us all of your quality facets. You are great. I would like to meet you one day. I thought my commute was bad, but you have me beat by about an hour more.
    You rock!

  10. I am in awe. I get a lot of inspiration from Carolyn regarding sewing, and now I have more from her regarding life skills. New goals to aspire to. Thank you so much.

  11. I really enjoyed immensely reading your interview with Carolyn.

    About 3 years ago,(it might have been longer than that even), but when I found her blog I became so inspired by her, that I blew the dust off my sewing machine and start getting creative again. Although, my level of creativity and designing is no where near her professional designs….I find her blog posts challenging me to get better and better at what I produce.
    She’s been a real “Inspiration” to me.
    Getting to know her more through your interview was so wonderful!!
    I look forward to reading your blog now too!!
    Take Care and Happy Spring!!!

  12. I have been following Carolyn’s blog for years, yet I still learned a few new things here. Thanks Claire and Carolyn!

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