anna allen :: interview, and upcoming clothing collection

if you're like me, you've been eagerly awaiting the opening of anna allen's new store. as soon as i saw anna was about to release her own clothing collection this spring, i asked if she'd be willing to answer some questions about it and tell me what's led her here. in the middle of all the madness, the talented seamstress, knitter and cook has taken the time to graciously answer!

why hello, anna! give me your five minute bio: where you started, where you are now and where you're headed.

I started sewing when I was a little girl, maybe three, after my mom taught me the basics. At about 13, I discovered my interest for the American Civil War. I had been obsessed with American Girl dolls, but was getting too old to play with dolls, so living history seemed like a nice alternative. I didn't realize this would pretty much take over my life for the next 12 years. I was intrigued with learning about 19th century sewing methods, fabrics that were produced during that era, and how garments were constructed. Back then I could care less about modern clothing and wouldn't dream of wasting my money on modern fabric, especially when I could spend a little more on enough fabric for an 1860's dress! As I have grown older, I've discovered I love modern apparel just as much (and sometimes more) than historical clothing.

anna's interview1

Right now I am learning SO MUCH! For many years I have talked about learning to draft patterns and have dreamed of selling some of my modern creations. Finally I'm doing it. And although I only have a few patterns made now, I plan to continue creating more designs.

As for where I'm headed, I'm not exactly sure! I know I want to continue sewing, creating and learning, learning, learning! Seriously, there just never will be a time when I'm not learning. Someday I think it would be the coolest to learn tailoring, just for the heck of it. Maybe I'll move to London and be an apprentice... Hah! Are my five minutes up??

whoa, three years old?! for a three year old to be interested in sewing and stick with it that long, you must have had a pretty serious love for it.

When I was little I think it was just the idea that I got to make things for myself that made me stick to it. It didn't matter if it was a simple square pillow or a little dress for my doll. Though I have to say what really inspired me to continue sewing was my love for history.

what did you want to be when you grew up? how does what you're doing now reflect that?

I remember being asked in Sunday school what I wanted to be and I said a nurse, because I thought all girls were nurses when they grew up. Hah! I didn't really think much about what I wanted to be as i grew up, but one day I thought, "what do I spend all my time doing and would do all my life even if I never got paid for it?" All my free time had been going into sewing, and when I wasn't sewing, I was studying how to be a better seamstress. I didn't ever think I wanted to be a fashion designer, so instead I decided in high school that I would start my own business to sell historical clothing. I started right after graduating high school, and nearly six and a half years later, I still love what I do. I'm more comfortable now with being a designer, and to be honest, I find designing the clothing to be a lot more fun than sewing. At the moment, I don't have any plans to go back to school for it, but you never know, I may change my mind.


so, did you go to school to learn to make historical clothing then?

Actually, I never went to school past high school. My family was very supportive about my decision and I am very grateful for that.

i think familial support is crucial. and since your sewing aesthetic seems to have a real appreciation for classic styles and vintage, was there anyone who passed this appreciation down to you?

It may sound funny to say this, but I think it was a result of watching primarily old 1930's and '40s films growing up. In my opinion, that was a time when people knew how to dress really well.

anna's interview2

amen, sister! so would you say that era is where your main inspiration comes from then?

There are so many things I'm inspired by! Everything around me is inspiring. 19th century paintings of real everyday life is very inspiring. Old French fashion plates and vintage patterns. I also love to find pictures of people working from the early to mid 20th century, especially the depression era. I am also very inspired by pictures I find on flickr and all the blogs I read. There are SO MANY talented people out there! Whether it's a picture of a room in someone's home, a field full of flowers or some fresh bread sitting on a table. I love peaceful scenes of everyday life. It's like I'm peeking into someones personal scrap book.

oh me too, sometimes the inspiration gets overwhelming! what do your family/friends think of what you do? do they give you a hard time about your online life?

They are all very supportive of me, which I am very grateful for! Most of my friends and family don't think my online life is too weird. I try to keep the online part to a minimum, though, to ensure I still have a "real" life too. But I gotta say I am pretty happy I live in the age of the internet. I don't know what I'd do without it (sad, but true)!

yes, it's great if you can keep a balance. and your everyday life, especially your weekends have always inspired me. would you say you're content and happy with where you are?

anna's interview

Thank you! I try to show only the good stuff about my life, hehe... But yes, I am really happy right now! I'm about to move into an old church in a small town that used to be a religious commune in the mid-19th century. I'm actually pretty psyched about living in an 1860's church! I don't know if I'll be in this spot forever, but for now I'm very content.

wow, i can't imagine a cooler, more inspiring atmosphere! and without giving away your trade secrets, are there any fabric/yarn shops that you'd want people to check out if they were in Iowa?

Actually, there really aren't too many great fabric or yarn shops around here. You might find some good yarn shops in Iowa City or even Des Moines, but I haven't had too much luck finding great fabric stores. I usually shop at Hancock or JoAnn Fabrics for my basic needs. And then I purchase all of my other fabric primarily online. I know some people are hesitant to order fabric online because you don't have the ability to feel and see it in person, but I have had pretty good luck. There have been a few times I've ordered some fabric I really disliked, but that happens. Now, if you go to Chicago or Minneapolis, there are some really nice fabric warehouses and yarn shops.

well, everything you choose for fabric is beautiful. what would be your favorite fabric to work with?

I love anything that is made of natural fibers. I LOVE working with silk taffeta. It's so nice. It's not too light and not too heavy and it has a beautiful drape to it. Cotton lawn is also a really great fabric to work with, if it's a quality lawn. Linen is my more recent favorite, however cutting it out can be a pain! It likes to squirm around and get out of place, but I think it's worth the effort. I also love working with blends of natural fibers like cotton/linen or silk/linen.

ooo, this is making me want to run to the fabric store, so i'd better wrap this up!!! when you're working on a project, what do you do to pass the time as you sew?

Sometimes I listen to music or books on CD. I am really picky about what I listen to. It can't be anything depressing or sad. I need happy and upbeat or loud. But my mood changes a lot. Once all I would listen to was hip-hop and re-mixes of Sufjan Stevens ("Illinoize") and once I listened to the whole MGMT album over and over for a week until I finished a project. When I listen to that album now I think of that project, that always makes me laugh. In the last several months I have gotten into "watching" old movies on YouTube because my DVD player was broken on my mac. But they have to be films I've seen over and over again otherwise I get too interested in them and want to stop sewing!

ha! i can barely talk on the phone and walk at the same time! as far as when you're not working, what is something you do to relax and get your mind off everything?

I love to sit back and watch old movies with my boyfriend. Lately we're starting to get into the silent film era, but I adore the pre-codes (saucy 1930's flicks!) and I got on a huge Hailey Mills kick a few weeks ago (um yes...I am a little kid at heart). I also like to sit back and knit, usually while watching a film. I watch too many movies, need to read more...


i just had to wikipedia "pre-codes," very saucy indeed! and as far as reading more, me too. especially since magazines don't count...

and finally, now that you're about to open shop, what is your new brand name and when can we buy your spring line?

I thought about this a long time and just decided in the end to give it the same name as my own, Anna Allen. Sometimes I feel weird about that, but whatever. It just makes things easier for me; this way I don't have to worry about coming up with something creative. My spring line should be available mid-May, although I haven't set a date yet. I'm planning to get it ready in the next few weeks. I'll start small and hope to continue to build my line into a larger collection over time.

wow, thank you for taking the time to share, anna! i look forward to what you've got in store!

Thank you so much, Elly!

make sure to check out anna's blog and her new bigcartel shop! and don't forget to sign up on her mailing list to be the first to know when her shop opens.


Unknown said...

ooh thanks Elly, this was great. I love Anna's clothing and style.

ButterPeanut said...

wow, I love her style! Thanks so much for the tip.

claire said...

ooh, i can't wait. thanks elly for this great little peek.

Natalie said...

What a great interview! It's so inspiring to hear about other people's businesses that have been started up without the aid of a degree or higher education (as you know!) Anna's clothes look so great, I can't wait to see the collection all together!

Kristien said...

I loved reading your interview with Anna, Elly. It was so interesting to learn more about her background, including her decision to pursue her craft full time instead of going to college. I was really impressed by how she knew in her heart at such a young age what she wanted to do for her career, and, simply, went for it. You did such a great job of asking questions that gave us a peek behind the curtain of Anna's design process, and her inspirations. I really can't wait to see Anna's collection! I love her style and her photography is awesome. Congratulations to Anna on this new chapter!

I had also never heard of pre-code films and now I am totally intrigued!

Laura said...

Great interview! I love reading about how people got their start. Someone should interview you!

chelsea said...

Yay! I love Anna and am thrilled that she'll be opening a shop!!

Unknown said...

I'm very interested in the fact that Anna did not go to college as well... kudos to her for succeeding down a different path!

laurie of liquid paper said...

Great, great, great interview Elly! I loved reading about your inspiration Anna -- the 30s era of film one of our absolute favorites. Oh, and we live in south eastern SD so I loved hearing that Anna is in IA. Good luck and thanks to you both!

Sharon Stanley said...

well done...i think i am going to like these clothes...very lovely .. thanks for the introduction.

ilana kohn said...

I've been following her blog for awhile - as a total history and sewing nerd i can't get enough of what she does!

thanks for this interview, i loved hearing more about where she's coming from.

can't wait for this collection!! :)

ilana kohn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

great interview!