Handmade Baby Clothes: An Interview with Erin Rankin

 Handmade baby clothes

As I was doing a little bit of internet research for this issue dedicated to vintage, heirloom, and handmade pieces, I discovered two things. First, there is a large, lovely group of people in the world who have a personal connection to vintage sewing items (like we do). And secondly, there are many incredibly talented people in the world who are capable of designing and constructing beautiful children’s clothing (like our own KNACK designer Maryanne does.)

One person who I specifically found intriguing is Erin Rankin, from handmadebabyclothes.org. The more time I spent on Erin’s website, the more I felt like she was doing the kind of things that we wanted to do too. She was reusing old or familiar pieces (like plain white onesies) in a new way. And she was finding inspiration in vintage family pieces (like a hand-me-down Christmas dress.)

I contacted Erin because I wanted to learn a little bit more about her approach to design and construction of handmade baby clothes, and the interview with her was delightful! I’m sharing it with you because I hope you learn a couple of tips from her and that you enjoy her ideas as much as we did!

Shelley, KNACK Magazine: On your site, I read that you have an educational background in architecture, that you’re a mother, and that you currently live in the south with some cows. (You totally sound like the kind of girl I want to be friends with!) Can you tell us a little bit more about how and why you started your site?

Erin, HandmadeBabyClothes.org: Thanks, Shelley!  I started sewing shortly after having my daughter, about two years ago.  I studied architecture in college and even though I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom, my desires to design, create, and learn new things needed an outlet.  Sewing clothing for her fulfilled those needs perfectly.  I toyed with the idea of putting my work on the internet and decided to go ahead, thanks to wonderful encouragement from my husband!  The web component adds another level of challenge to the mix (especially at first!), but I’m so glad to have some experience with websites – I’m not scared of them anymore!

Vintage FabricShelley: What styles (or period?) of clothing are you drawn to, for fashion in general, or for your baby clothes?

Erin: I am a really simple girl when it comes to fashion – a jeans and tee-shirt girl for the most part.   I like to choose things that are classic with some well-chosen details.  I think that comes through when I sew as well, as I rarely choose many prints.  Although I love many of the print fabrics out there, when I sew, I’d rather add character through tiny little details like tatting, extra rows of stitching, or pin tucks.  I love classic fabrics like linen, seersucker, and plaid.  Linen and seersucker are particularly comfortable for our hot, humid summers.  I think the two baby rompers I made as gifts are good examples of this.

Shelley: How do you get inspiration for the things you make? Or where do you look for inspiration?

Erin: My latest source of inspiration really comes from books.  I have to credit Katy Dill of NoBigDill.com who came up with the “Once Upon a Thread” series. Whenever I read with my children, I’m taking mental notes of what makes this book special and how that might translate into some clothing!  For my daughter’s birthday, we did a vintage Winnie-the-Pooh theme party complete with outfits for her and her brother.  Now I’m thinking about which book to choose for my son’s first birthday to use as a theme (and of course, what I need to sew, too!)

Shelley: What are a few of the reasons why you spend time making clothes when it’s often cheaper just to buy them?

Erin: I don’t make all my children’s clothes.  Especially now that I’m a mom to two, time is at a premium.  So now I am more selective with what I make and even why I’m making it.  Many times I make things because I want to learn how or I just want to try.  (That’s really a selfish reason, but it’s the truth.) My “embellish your onesie month” was really a challenge to myself, not because my daughter needed thirty onesies!

Sometimes I sew because I can’t find what I’m looking for anywhere.   You would be surprised (or maybe not) at how difficult it is to find outfits without a lot of writing or cartoon characters on them.  As I mentioned before, I’m really simple and almost plain when it comes to clothing style.  I’m not trying to downplay my sewing, it’s just that I think simple clothes let children’s personalities shine!

There are a few little dresses from my childhood that my mom saved over the years and gave to me after my daughter’s birth that are so special.  She didn’t sew them herself, but how extra-special would that have been?  When you can sew something with multiple generations in mind, it really makes the time invested worth it.  That idea is in the back of my mind when sewing too.  I don’t feel that I’ve quite achieved that level of refinement yet, but I know that it is going to take practice (and making mistakes) to get there.  So I keep on sewing and learning a little at a time.  I’ll eventually get there!

Shelley: I love the idea of sewing clothing not just for your own little children now, but for generations to come! What a great perspective on “handmade.” Now I understand why I could see on your site that you seem to like vintage looks. So you have a natural attachment to those dresses your mother saved; are there any fabrics, notions, styles that you choose because you have an emotional connection with them?

Erin: As it says on my site, I live in the Deep South (Alabama, specifically). Tradition, heritage, and history are big things here.  Although I didn’t grow up here, my husband’s family did, and we live on his family’s farm.  I think my tendency toward vintage or what I might call ‘traditional’ styles is really a reflection of where I live and all the history that is around us.  Simple designs, natural fabrics (like linens and cottons)… it all feels right for where my family lives and how we live.

Vintage ButtonsShelley: Do you have any vintage sewing items that you love? We have button boxes from great grandmothers, or crochet hooks from grandmothers, sewing boxes from moms. Do you have any vintage or heirloom items like that?

Erin: I just recently acquired my grandmother’s button tin, which I am so happy to have!  Neither my mother or grandmother were big sewers, though, so I don’t have a lot of special hand-me-downs in that regard.  My mother in law did a lot of sewing for her children, so she is a wonderful source of information and advice as I try to teach myself to sew.

Shelley: What do you do with fabric scraps? Do you have any hints for fun things to do with fabric scraps?

Erin: My favorite “scrap” project was my Very Hungry Caterpillar butterfly applique.  It used just a tiny bit of lots of different fabrics, justifying my months of keeping all these teeny pieces.  My daughter is interested in tea parties and “cooking,” so I’ve started using scraps to make some play food.  My other favorite (albeit non-sewing) use for fabric scraps is supporting my tomatoes to their cages!  I cut long fabric strips usually from old shirts that I’ve upcycled and wrap them around the branch of the plant, securing it to the cage.  They don’t cut into the plant, and I think they add a little personality to the garden!

Shelley: What great ideas, Erin – and it just so happens I have a garden full of tomatoes that I need to tie, so that’s perfect! Thank you so much for sharing these ideas with us – I hope our readers enjoy these tips as much as I have.

Erin: I had fun doing this interview. Thanks again for contacting me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *