My introduction to Michelle was online, through Stasia’s Style School alumni Facebook group. She was all color; bold, graphic, fun color. It was admiration at first sight. I enjoyed getting to know her better through the group and Instagram but when I found out she sewed I had to talk to her.
I strive to introduce a fellow sewist every month in the Daily Sew email and I felt Michelle’s story was one worth sharing with everyone. Her energy is contagious, or at least you hope it is because when you talk to her you can’t help but think, as it was famously said in Harry Met Sally, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
(And I think I’m getting better at asking my interviewee good questions and finding the interesting bits).
Me: I love your style. Can you give us some insight to how it represents you?
Michelle: I grew up around a lot of color. My mom and grandmother were both fiber artists and there were no rules about playing with my grandmother’s fabric. I was allowed to play and make mistakes with it.
I was a gypsy for Halloween for so many years using the fabrics and costume jewelry from my grandmother.
My mom always bought fabric with a project in mind so her stash was off limits but my grandma had no rules. Her philosophy was to buy what she loved and then maybe make something from it. And being an immigrant she kept everything.
You sewed from a young age?
Well, I grew up on handwork, mostly tatting and learning Belgian bobbin lace making. Sewing came later.
What did you like about handwork?
Tatting is repetitive and easy to pick up and put down. You can start and stop in the middle. Sewing takes more steps which can make me antsy; it’s the transitions that sewing has. There’s sewing, reading the instructions, pressing. I got distracted and sleepy. So when I sewed I stuck to fast projects like simple patterns.
I love draping though, it’s relatively easy and stimulating. You can pick it up and see immediately the change in front of you.
When did you learn to sew?
When I was about seven or eight I took a class that my grandmother taught at G Street Fabrics (A most awesome DC metro area store). I think we made backpacks.
My grandmother had a huge influence on me even after we moved away from her. When she would come to visit she would stay awhile. And we would spend the summers with her. She’s very creative.
What’s your sewing style?
I am somewhere in between my mom and my grandmother when it comes to collecting fabric. Sometimes I buy with a vision of making something particular and sometimes I buy because I’m drawn to it.
I actually wear a lot of things from my grandmother and mother. Their hand-made hand-me-downs. My mom was an engineer when it came to sewing. She would make clothes out of striped fabrics and ALL of her stripes matched exactly.
What do you enjoy about sewing?
I don’t like making clothes. Maybe if I draped them to make the fit better I would like sewing clothes more.
But I love making crafts – totes, headscarves, quilts. I love being able to say “I made this.” It is nice to be surrounded by things that are consistent with my values. To be able to set aside the time to make something; to follow through on the intention, to express my creativity. To say to myself, “I’m setting out to do something besides watching television.” I want to sit down and finish something. I want to be cloaked in my values.
So you are making something lately. Something cloaked in your values. Tell us about your new company, Sleep & Sparkle. What is it and how did you come up with the idea for it?
The idea behind SLEEP&SPARKLE is to make creative, comfortable head accessories that help people express themselves.
It started back in April when I posted a story on Instagram of a headscarf I made with a wire insert: “Look what I did with wire”. People asked “Wait. What did you do?”. They seemed to like it and I had always thought if I got my act together I would open an Etsy shop.
I had just been diagnosed with narcolepsy. I had extended my medical leave of absence from graduate school because I wasn’t sure how I would do on the medication. Well, the medication seem to have immediate effect. Suddenly I had more free time; time when I wasn’t sleeping. And so I quickly sewed up 30 of these wired head scarves and mailed them out to the women who had seen the first one I made.
I got positive feedback on the prototypes so suddenly, whenever I was awake it was “get out of my way, I have work to do!”. I don’t ever remember I time before starting narcolepsy treatment when I had this much wakefulness, and this ability to follow through. I was either working on making the website or the scarves.
The narcolepsy story is really interesting and a big part of your story. Do you mind sharing?
I’ve had narcolepsy since I was about 7 or 8 years old. It was only just properly diagnosed this February, and I started treatment in April. I never knew what it was like to feel normal. Activism for mental health and chronic health are really important to me because I went misdiagnosed and mismedicated for 20 years. I want to increase awareness about sleep disorders because they are extremely hard to diagnose and frequently mistaken for mental health issues like ADD/ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia.
My number one message on this topic to everybody is that you know your body better than anybody else; better than any doctor, and you are the only one who knows if something is truly wrong. I want every person to feel empowered to fight for their health and for proper care and it starts with us learning that we are trustworthy and that our bodies are trustworthy. and. We are worthy and deserve to fight for a healthy life which can be a tough message to internalize for people with rare and orphan illnesses that doctors are not familiar with.
(And I confess, there was more to Michelle’s story but I became so absorbed in it I forgot to take notes. Ah, the power of now 😉
You’ll want to visit Michelle’s personal site curious sparkle dirt. She’s one creative Dynamo and very inspiring.
And do check out SLEEP&SPARKLE they really are comfortable head scarves that stay put. They are a must for curly hair, growing out hairstyles, bad hair days, days you want to feel fun or playful, and days you want to just be more chic. So basically every day.