I’ve admired Anna McClurg‘s talent as a seamstress for a long time. So when she agree to chat with me about her creative process and her new Fall/Winter 2012 line for Anna Allen Clothing, well, I just couldn’t wait to share our conversation with you!
What prompted you to start Anna Allen Clothing?
I’ve always been sewing something since I was a little girl and it seemed to be something I had a knack for. When I was a teenager I was obsessed with history and especially the 19th century. I became really good at making historical garments and started an online business in 2003 selling clothing to living historians and reenactors. After doing that for several years, I became more interested in sewing my own apparel and discovered a whole new world of people who were interested in fashion and sewing. Often people would tell me that I should make modern clothing or wedding dresses. So I finally decided to get serious about it and teach myself to draft patterns. Soon after, I designed a small collection and took the plunge with my new clothing line!
Walk me through your creative process — I guess you could call this the “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” question. Do you have a finished product in mind from the start, and then execute a series of steps to achieve this? Or do the ideas evolve and take life as you go through the creative process?
Recently, I have found that it’s better when I have a finished product in mind and sketched out on paper first before I scout for fabric. I’ll usually start by drafting a pattern and later decide that my original sketch doesn’t look right. So I tweak it a bit and the design usually evolves during the drafting process. And other times I’ll see some fabric that I love and design a garment with that particular fabric in mind.
Everyone likes a peek into designers’ studios. Can you describe where you do the majority of your work?
I have had three different studios since I started my clothing line back in 2010. The first one is about the same size as the one I am in now. The second one was huuuuge! Way too much space actually! My current workroom is a bit tight, but I like it! It isn’t fancy and it’s filled with old hand-me-downs from my mom (e.g. an old ironing board and sewing cabinet). Someday I want to re-vamp my sewing room and get a new cutting table, shelves to store fabric, and a better place to put my sewing machine and serger. At the moment I have to swap table space between my sewing machine and serger every time I need to use the other one. But I simply don’t have room for another table! My workroom may not be as pretty as other sewing spaces I’ve seen, but it works for me and it’s cozy!
Do you do all the sewing yourself? What does collaboration look like for Anna Allen Clothing?
Yes, everything is hand-made by me! I am probably a bit of a control freak and it’s hard for me to think that I could give this work to someone else to do. But eventually I will probably need to get help. I think a collaboration would be so fun and inspiring! I haven’t done one yet, but I am open to it!
At one time or another, all creatives experience that “hitting a brick wall” feeling, where the ideas just stop. How do you deal with creative slumps and roadblocks?
I absolutely know that feeling much too well! I feel like I just went through one recently. I think what really helped me get out of it was thinking hard and searching within myself about the reasons why I am doing what I do and what I love about it. I think it is so easy to forget what I love when there are so many beautiful images surrounding me on Pinterest, blogs, Instagram, Twitter, etc. It’s very inspiring in many ways, which is why I am addicted! However, it can also get distracting when you are trying to be true to yourself. That may sound corny, but sometimes I think I’m not good enough because my clothes are not like some of the others I’ve seen out there. I have to tell myself that my clothes don’t need to look like other designers’ clothes! They are my unique designs, and I’m proud of them. Another thing I’ve found that really helps when I hit a brick wall is to learn a new skill, especially if it is slightly out of my comfort zone. It can be very rewarding and inspiring when I accomplish something that I’m afraid of!
Let’s talk trends — or rather, the intentional lack of them. Why do you think classic, timeless simplicity resonates with so many people?
I think it has something to do with feeling safe and comfortable like an old quilt. For me, I’ve found the clothing I am always most comfortable in are classic pieces. They make me feel confident and I know I don’t have to worry whether or not they are in or out of fashion. Clothing has the ability to share with others around you who you are in a nutshell. Although it’s never good to judge a book by its cover, most people do! So when you feel put together and you love what you are wearing, then hopefully you can convey to others a little aspect of who you are.
Can you share your biggest influence as a designer, whether it be human, literary, geographical, or….?
I probably find my biggest influence in old films. I grew up watching old movies and there is something so timeless and effortless about the clothing people wore back then. I know my garments are not replicas or anything, but I am definitely inspired by the way people dressed. They always had a different garment for every occasion. I want to get back to that. I think they really took care of their clothing and the quality was so much better in the past than it is now. I am also a huge fan of Nancy Drew books and my mind is always spinning whenever I think about putting together a collection inspired by them!
What is the most challenging thing you have faced in your creative career?
I would probably have to say the business aspect of things! I hate the business side with taxes and such. They are so confusing and I remember when I first started I used to cry because I was so frustrated! But now, although it’s never exactly easy, it is more manageable. It is one thing you have to learn if you want to share your creativity with others, and I think it’s worth it!
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to fellow creatives?
Just keep doing what you love and keep stretching yourself. Continue to learn and do things that don’t always feel safe to you! The only way to be dead in creativity is to stop learning and growing. Also, take time to become really good at what you do. Sometimes what you love doesn’t come easy, and sometimes it is a pain. But I believe it is really worthwhile in the end.