The irrepressible Tina Givens is a Renaissance woman—illustrator and stationer, as well as fabric, pattern, and clothing designer. Now she’s an author, too, as Sew Tina! debuts on October 5. It’s a charming collection of 30 projects for children that celebrates Tina’s signature clothing and accessories, all made from her glorious fabrics, of course. Here’s the first part of my discussion with the busy designer and mother of three; look for the remainder of our chat in October, when Tina tells all about designing fabrics and gives us a sneak peek at her upcoming line.
Tina, you do so many things! People love your line of fabrics and patterns. But you were discovered at a stationery show. Tell me a little about how that happened.
My handcrafted stationery collection launched back in 2004, and a year later I decided (at the last minute) to exhibit a new scrapbook paper collection at the Craft and Hobby Association show. We arrived and found our booth miles away from the whole scrapbook area. We wrote few orders that show, however it was enormously successful in that representatives from Westminster Fibers came into the booth and introduced themselves. They loved my work and literally on the spot invited me to design fabrics for their FreeSpirit line. I was stunned. A seamstress at heart, this was a dream. I kept pinching myself all the way home!
I recall that you have no formal art training. Have you always loved to paint and draw?
Since I was a little girl I’d express myself by illustrating, painting and sketching. I hated art class, though, because I never stuck within the boundaries of the project at hand. I went on to graduate with an economics degree and pursued an advertising executive career. Over the years I progressed into various sales and marketing positions and managed large budgets and many people until I stopped suddenly and asked myself if I was happy. So a little while later I completely quit the corporate world and started painting, became a mom of three, and launched the stationery business, Cid Pear.
In Sew Tina!, you emphasize that you use many of your own unique construction techniques. Do you think sewists can get too hung up in doing things “the right way”?
Absolutely. Although sewing can be very technical if you are tailoring and fitting with perfection, I think I could give some of the designers on Project Runway a run for the win! For casual and fun sewing you don’t need to be a perfectionist and worry about every detail. Sometimes the imperfection is the magic in a garment or project. We need to relax and enjoy the process, especially if it’s made for our kids.
You grew up in southern Africa and have also lived in Canada. A project like the Giraffe Wall Art in the book certainly demonstrates the African influence. Has your international background informed your design aesthetic?
Definitely! Just like I am influenced by the park around the corner in our North Carolina neighborhood. It all depends on my mood…I am currently designing a group of characters in a winter wonderland for Christmas and it’s very northern American woodlands. I have designed very African-rooted fabrics in a collection I called Chloe’s Imagination, which was about my childhood yet also drew on my daughter’s friendships here. Places are very inspirational but I’m also influenced by the people in my life, from my eccentric aunties still living in Africa and my group of friends—even a stranger I may pass by.
There are so many adorable things in Sew Tina!, but one of my favorite projects is the Flying Pig, which soared over your booth at Quilt Market when we first met. Where did he come from?
I truly came from a background of self-sufficiency—if we wanted something we had to make it. Fashionable clothing and accessories were not readily available when I grew up in a trade-sanctioned environment, but we had fabric and we had thread (Coats thread by the way—parent company of Westminster Fibers). So the saying “when pigs fly” is a perfect dare for me because I will literally tackle anything…well almost anything. I won’t bungee jump or parachute (not because I am afraid to, but because I want my kids to have a mom!). Thus the flying pig. He’s magical and wonderful and symbolizes the “we can do anything we want to do in this life” spirit I grew up with.
Here’s the Sophie’s Choice question: What’s your favorite project in Sew Tina!?
That’s a tough one. I love the baby items including the Moses Basket, but then I love the Sweet Dreams Canopy because everyone should have a canopy in their life! I really enjoy making the various booties and will probably make a lot more in my lifetime. The Zig Zag Dress is a favorite and easy to make, I love the Flying Pig because all that he stands for, and I thoroughly enjoy working in applique like the giraffe. It’s so freeform and like sketching with my sewing machine. If I had more time I’d be doing a lot more of that… it’s so fun! I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book; it was a wonderful journey and I truly grew from that experience asa seamstress and got closer to who I am as a designer.
Tell me a little about your children’s clothing line with Westminster, Biscuit & Poppet.
What a fun project this has been! Together with the Westminster Fibers team I used a variety of fabrics (including some of my own) and tied them together in this sort of mudpie concoction that turned out beautifully. We launched in New York and the project is still in its infant stages but growing into something I truly enjoy doing. My favorite part of the whole project was photographing the current brochure. We got to play and set up in a local antique shop that was a perfect location for the kids. I am currently working on an adult collection…who knows where this will lead!
Now, in the spirit of Vickie Howell’s Craft Corps (with a nod and wink to the Actor’s Studio), when you accidentally stitch pieces together upside down, what’s your favorite curse word?
Merde, naturally. But then I look at it and say, “Oh, I like it better this way.” Do you honestly believe I even own a seam-ripper tool thingee-a-bob, Valerie?
Visit us again in October for sew much more fun with Tina, and don’t forget our fabulous Free Project Friday when we’ll post some bonus material from the book and share the love about Tina’s blog tour.