PITTSBUGH – Lesley Ware still remembers helping her mom sew clothes when she was a kid growing up in Muskegon, Mich. Now she’s helping other girls make those kinds of memories.
Her book “Sew Fab: Sewing and Style for Young Fashionistas” ($19.95; Laurence King Publishing), published earlier this year, aims to equip readers with the skills and self esteem to create their own looks through colorful illustrations, step-by-step projects and words of style wisdom.
The response has been “really positive,” said Ware, a former Pittsburgher who lives and runs an art gallery in Brooklyn with her husband, Kamau. He’s the gallery curator, while she serves as fashion director and coordinates its sewing workshops and fashion camps. “I get photos every week from girls who’ve actually started to make the projects in the book,” which include how-tos for hair bows, a scarf, totes, a circle skirt and other apparel.
Besides sewing tips, the book covers such fashion advice as how to shop your own closet, mix prints and figure out what colors work best for which people.
“It’s the stuff that I wish I would have known as a girl and even as a young adult that I had to figure out the hard way,” Ware said.
For her, “Sew Fab” is a culmination of the various twists and turns her life and career have taken her over the years. After high school, she earned a degree in elementary education at Western Michigan University, but soon after college realized that the classroom wasn’t the right fit for her, she said. She later went back to school to pursue a master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in nonprofits. She landed a job with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and then moved to Pittsburgh in 2004 to work for the Pittsburgh Project, a nonprofit community development organization.
Starting a new job in a new city gave her a chance to reinvent her style. “That’s where my interest in fashion started to re-emerge,” she said. People started to take notice of the way she put outfits together and invited her to take part in some of the fashion events across Pittsburgh, including modeling in some runway shows.
“Even though I was working in philanthropy and had this 9-to-5 life, I found ways to incorporate fashion into my extracurricular life,” she said.
Also while living in Pittsburgh, Ware met the man who would become her husband when he sold her some art from a gallery he was running downtown at the time. The couple eventually migrated to New York City, and Ware took a job with the national office of the Girl Scouts. But her desire to do something in fashion didn’t go away. On lunch breaks, she’d scout fabric shops in the Garment District (“I didn’t even have a sewing machine,” she said). During New York Fashion Week, held in tents at Bryant Park at the time, she’d grab a sandwich and a bench outside the shows and daydream about what it would be like to be inside.
She launched a blog TheCreativeCookie.com and sought out gigs in the business, including interning with a few designers and working at Anthropologie. When she saw an ad on Craigslist for a man looking to teach his 11-year-old daughter how to use a sewing machine he’d bought for her, she applied. Her background in sewing and elementary education made her a good fit, so she spent the next several months visiting the Upper East Side teaching the young girl – and then her friends – how to sew. It was from this experience that her idea for the book was born.
“I figured that there had to be a million books on the shelves for girls about sewing. All the ones that I found were not anything that I would feel good about sharing with my students,” she said, adding that they didn’t feel modern, lacked diversity in their imagery or were too difficult to read. “So I guess I’m going to have to write a book,” she decided.
By this time her position with Girl Scouts USA had been eliminated, so she was able to focus on writing and designing the book. A connection she made at a book expo in New York City helped her land a publisher. Laurence King Publishing is slated to publish her second book – a sewing workbook – in early 2016.
So far, “Sew Fab” is for sale in select bookstores and museums in New York and online at Amazon and the Barnes and Noble website.
“Hopefully it will help girls speak up with their fashion,” she said. “If you can speak up with fashion, I feel like you can speak up with other ways, too.”