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June 27, 2016

The Curvy Confidence Interviews: Carolyn of Diary of a Sewing Fanatic

Welcome back to the second in the Curvy Confidence Interview series! (Want to read part 1? Check out Monserratt’s story here). This time, I’m thrilled to be chatting to Carolyn of the popular blog Diary of a Sewing Fanatic.

Carolyn’s been a real inspiration to me as one of the first plus size sewing bloggers, and I’m in awe of the phenomenal skills she’s learned over 46 years of sewing. She’s known for her fantastic interpretations of designer outfits, or garments seen on TV, and sets a great example of how well-fitted TNTs can be hacked to fill your wardrobe. I wanted to learn more about Carolyn’s confidence, and her history with body image and sewing, so I invited to her to chat. I hope you enjoy this interview!

CurvyConfidenceNorman

Hi Carolyn! Tell us a little about yourself.
I will be 57 soon and I’ve been sewing since I was 11 years old – 46 years and there is still so much to learn and do! I live in NJ and work in NYC for a Market Research firm where I’m an Executive Assistant.
As a child and teenager, how did you feel about your body and appearance? 
I wasn’t plus size as a teenager.  In fact I was so skinny that my family called me “Olive Oyl” – y’know that chick that hung out with Popeye. That whole skinny movement hadn’t arrived yet so I stuck out like a sore thumb. Which was especially terrible for my self-esteem because Black Americans celebrated thick women…women with hips and thighs…breasts and curves. I lacked those and felt terrible about it. It also seemed like it took forever for my body to mature, another thing that weighed on my self esteem.
Carolyn3
Can I also talk about the fact that when I was a teenager, big lips, high cheekbones and frizzy hair was the epitome of uncool. So its interesting to see how people are paying plastic surgeons to get those features now – and the natural hair movement may have saved me many Saturday afternoons of hot combs and burned ears.  The models of my youth were Cheryl Tiegs, Christie Brinkley and Kathy Ireland – the only black model was Beverly Johnson. So my culture and the media images totally conflicted causing a lot of uncertainty and insecurity when I was most susceptible to criticism.
Who or what most influenced your body image as you grew up? 
Probably my family and the black women I saw in movies and Ebony Magazine.  Women like Diahann CarrollPam GrierJayne KennedyMarilyn McCoo from the Fifth Dimension. I wanted the class and dignity of Diahann Carroll and Marilyn McCoo and the body and sexuality of Pam Grier and Jayne Kennedy. I had none of this as the tall, gawky girl with the long frizzy hair and thick glasses whose nose was always in a book.
Carolyn2
To what extent do you think that sewing your own clothes has changed the way you think about your body?
This is an interesting question because when I started sewing there was a sewing machine in almost every home.  I learned to sew from my grandmother but I continued my education in public school where everyone who wanted to could learn to sew. So in the beginning sewing allowed me to have the styles and clothing that my family couldn’t afford. It didn’t affect my body issues then. However, as a grown woman, when my body changed after having children, sewing allowed me to dress the way I wanted to regardless of what was in the stores. Of course, there were some insecurities especially after my body changed from childbirth, but there was a confidence to because I could make whatever I wanted.  My life wasn’t dictated by what was in the department stores and what or wasn’t made for curvy women. I could make and wear whatever I wanted in whatever color worked for me.
Carolyn1
What types of clothing make you feel most confident? Has this changed over time? 
I have ALWAYS loved a dress or skirt and top combination…since I was a little girl a dress has always made me feel more feminine…and nothing has changed!
Carolyn Diary of a Sewing Fanatic
To what extent do you think the sewing industry embraces plus size women? Are there sections of the plus size community that you think are less visible than others? 

*Sigh* it’s better than it was and I believe the big 4 is truly trying to reach women of all dimensions BUT it’s been a long road.  Especially since I’ve been sewing for over 45 years and I’ve seen a lot of the cycles of sewing. I do appreciate the fact that there are several indie pattern designers catering to plus size/curvy sewists and giving them fashionable choices but if you wear a size larger than a 26/28, you are still struggling as a plus size sewist.  There are very few fashionable patterns available to women in those sizes. Also, we as a sewing community still flock to the smaller thinner bloggers. It’s really hard to be a plus size sewist in the internet community – just read some of the vile things that were said about me and my weight on an infamous online message board. Why would anyone who is plus size or heavier than I am want to put themselves out there for a community to mock you, your lifestyle choices and how you choose to live your life!

Carolyn Diary of a Sewing Fanatic
What are the biggest challenges you face today in being positive about your body, and how do you overcome them? 
Believe it or not, losing weight has really played havoc with my body positivity. I was a happy fluffy person. I hate how my skin looks now that there isn’t that pleasant layer of fat fluffing everything out. Nothing fits and I’ve had to change the way I’m sewing. You would think that losing weight would make me happy and all those things the advertisers tells us makes life wonderful when you lose weight.  I can honestly tell you that I have to remind myself everyday that it’s okay. It would probably help if I I liked to exercise but I don’t, or if I was willing to have plastic surgery which I don’t want to indulge in, so I just keep trudging.
I’m still working on loving the body I’m in right now especially since I’m still losing weight. Not as rapidly as before but it’s still coming off. My philosophy now is that life is a journey and I should enjoy the trip.
What advice do you have for women who struggle with their body image?
Don’t fall for the hype. You are wonderful just as you are. Every woman is beautiful and you bring your own uniqueness to the table so revel in that.
Carolyn Diary of a Sewing Fanatic

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Thanks so much for sharing your journey Carolyn! Do you have any questions for Carolyn? And are there any other sewing bloggers you’d like to nominate to be interviewed?

Cashmerette

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40 Responses to The Curvy Confidence Interviews: Carolyn of Diary of a Sewing Fanatic

  1. Ernestine Ranson June 27, 2016 at 9:53 am #

    Wonderful! Carolyn is one of my favorite bloggers and is truly inspiring.

  2. MaryEllen June 27, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    I love Carolyn’s blog & am inspired by all she makes – thanks for a great interview

  3. Diane June 27, 2016 at 10:47 am #

    Carolyn, your enthusiasm for sewing and your creativity come through on every post on your blog. I enjoy reading every one.Your post about the Sewing Expo this year made me wish I had gone! Thank you for sharing!

    • Carolyn Norman June 28, 2016 at 8:32 am #

      Diane – thanks for reading along. Sew Expo truly is amazing. Hopefully you will get a chance to go some day!

  4. Tanya Maile June 27, 2016 at 10:58 am #

    I love reading more about Carolyn!

  5. patsijean June 27, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    While not being plus size, I am 150 lbs at 5’2″, a far cry from the slender me I was. At 71, I am trying to lose, by being sensible most of the time, but many things factor in at this age, but I rue the fact that I’m not 110 lbs any longer. I still think you are “cute as a bug” which I told you right off a few years ago when I started reading your blog. Regarding your skin, I will tell you what a dermatologist told me several years ago. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the best body lotion you can use. i asked him why and he said it was the natural chemicals. I buy large bottles at a big box store and they last a long time.

  6. robbie June 27, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    Love reading about Carolyn. I read her blog faithfully. She is definitely my Sewing She-ro.

    • Carolyn Norman June 28, 2016 at 8:35 am #

      Robbie thanks for following along on my sewing adventure, I so appreciate it!

  7. Nakisha June 27, 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    First of all – “Don’t fall for the hype. You are wonderful just as you are.” <— THAT.
    Second, I remember being in Freshman writing and one of the first topics were of body image and the media. There was one other black woman in class and we both were lanky 18 year olds! And of course had the same reaction as you did – WHAT?! Not having boobs or a big round butt or curvy thighs is bad! It's horrible!! Being rail-thin is NOT what's up! Ha!

    Lastly, you inspire more folks than you probably realize! So keep doing 'you'!

    • Carolyn Norman June 28, 2016 at 8:37 am #

      Kisha – you made me laugh out loud! Thanks for your last comment, it means a lot to me!

  8. brendamarksstudio June 27, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

    Jenny, thank you for this wonderful opportunity to know more about sewists that I adore! Carolyn, thank you for being open to sharing! Best wishes to you both.

  9. Jess June 27, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    Carolyn, you and your blog are absolutely delightful and a favorite of mine. Thanks for sharing your story!

  10. catewmsCate June 27, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

    I have never commented on your blog, but I read it religiously and you are one of my favorites. Keep living your life to please yourself.

    • Carolyn Norman June 28, 2016 at 8:40 am #

      CatewmsCate – leave a comment any time on my blog…I appreciate the interaction! Thanks for reading along too!

  11. Seams Long June 27, 2016 at 3:34 pm #

    Love the honesty

  12. gilliancrafts June 27, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

    Carolyn, that was a wonderful interview! I feel like I know you a bit better, too. I love seeing what you sew yourself and how clear you re in your personal style!

    • Carolyn Norman June 28, 2016 at 8:44 am #

      Thanks Gillian! Staying true to your style can be a blessing and a curse in these shark infested Internet waters…but in the end garments reside in your closet and are worn by you alone. Y’know what I mean! ????

  13. Michelle June 27, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

    I’ve always loved reading Carolyn’s blog. She seems like an absolutely sensational woman, and as she and I were/are in the throes of losing weight over the last couple of years I really identify with her struggles with this! It’s hard changing the way you sew and the silhouettes you wear!

    Great interview. Keep being you, Carilyn – I think you’re fabulous.

  14. Wendy June 27, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

    Did you hear this past week’s “This American Life”, episode 589, called “Tell me I’m fat”? It’s amazing–don’t miss it!

    • Carolyn Norman June 28, 2016 at 8:46 am #

      No but thanks for the referral.

    • splendidcakes June 30, 2016 at 8:36 am #

      EVERYONE should hear this story!!! Lindy West is fantastic, and her appearance on a previous episode of This American Life is about her experience/ confrontation with man who had read her writings on her militant(in a good way) acceptance of her body and sent her vicious messages from a Twitter account in her dead father’s name… he actually apologized on air!!! I think any curvy blogger will find a lot of solace and empowerment in hearing this story. I think every curvy woman should hear it, in fact!

  15. oonaballoona June 28, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    Carolyn For President.

    • Carolyn Norman June 28, 2016 at 8:29 am #

      Now you know I couldn’t pass the background check! Though it seems to be loosened somewhat this year! ????

    • gingermakes June 29, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

      Seconded! 😉

      • splendidcakes June 30, 2016 at 8:38 am #

        Thirded, fourthed, fifthed…

  16. Tamara June 28, 2016 at 7:58 am #

    Carolyn you are inspiring. You have been sewing for almost a half a century and of course have witnessed so much in the sewing world in this time. I especially love how you share the differences of culture where a curvy woman is actually adored and revered. How I wish we could see this in every culture not just a select few. I love the last pearl of wisdom – very wise indeed.

  17. Joen June 28, 2016 at 11:22 am #

    Carolyn our journey’s are much the same from a skinny insecure tall girl to a 57 year old with a slightly fluffier body than I would like ;). I sew for the same reasons you did I was and still am a fashion lover!

  18. Rebecca June 28, 2016 at 3:52 pm #

    Love reading Carolyn’s blog, and that blue and white striped dress with the yellow sweater is fabulous!

  19. Stephani June 29, 2016 at 11:41 am #

    Carolyn is so inspiring! I love her interpretations of RTW/designer stuff. She’s so creative. Thank you, Jenny, for sharing her story, and thank you, Carolyn for being so open and honest.

  20. Rachel June 29, 2016 at 4:52 pm #

    Reading this gave me such a serene feeling. Thanks to you both!

  21. deadlycraft June 30, 2016 at 8:19 am #

    I love this! I am not a woman of colour, am not in my forties, not American and don’t really like wearing skirts/dresses – yet just about every bit of this interview resonated with me. I have followed your blog for a while and you have such a lovely style and an honest way of expressing what you make and why. Thank you 🙂

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