Meg McElwee ’03 knows that the best things in life are often the most simple, like buzzing two pieces of fabric through a sewing machine, sketching out plans for a new dress or running her fingers over the fabric that will soon become a fort for her boys.
“Like any creative art, the pleasure and balm is found in the process and the product,” says McElwee, who learned to sew as a young girl.
While working as a teacher in Chihuahua, Mexico, McElwee was inspired by the rural landscape’s bold colors and the simple lifestyle of those around her. Instead of being able to run to a store when she wanted a new shirt, McElwee would sew it up herself.
She designed and created her own clothing, countless objects for her home and tools for her classroom, including aprons for her students’ cooking and painting activities. “The process,” says McElwee, “is, at once, meditative and challenging. The product is a thing of functional beauty.”
- Related article
- Meg McElwee’s favorite ways to personalize her home and clothing
With the encouragement of her husband, Patrick, McElwee began selling her patterns online. At first, this was a simple way to fund her “fabric habit.”
By the time the couple moved to Durham, North Carolina, her hobby was a growing business, Sew Liberated. She soon gave birth to Finn, now 2½, and Lachlan, 1, and running her own business fulfilled the dream of working from home while raising the children.
McElwee believes the benefits extend far beyond the income and personal satisfaction that Sew Liberated generates. “My design work,” she says, “helps fill me with a relaxed enthusiasm that I can then transfer to mothering my boys, and being an inspired parent has a far-reaching ripple effect on society.”
She enjoys creating spaces for her young boys to play, read and explore, as well as clothing that is well-suited for their active lifestyle. “I’m making Lachlan a pair of insulated, waterproof pants,” says McElwee, “so that he can comfortably sit and scoot while we explore the natural world during our frequent nature walks.”
The 30-year-old loves the fact that design and sewing give her the ability to customize clothing and home to suit her style — practical, simple, comfortable — while living within her means. She also enjoys “the freedom that comes with being able to sew clothing that fits your body, not the unrealistic measurements of the fashion industry.”
This freedom and adaptability is part of what make her sewing patterns, and the projects found in her books, Sew Liberated (2010) and Growing Up Sew Liberated (2011), appealing to so many — her company has sold more than 55,000 patterns. The clothing’s simple and elegant construction can be adjusted to any body type or fit. Sewists use the basic project as a blank slate, allowing their fabric choices, unique embellishments and personal touches to shine.
Through Sew Liberated, McElwee shares her love of this process and encourages others to showcase their unique style. “Sewing, design and crafting spaces are creative activities that replenish my energy reserve. Mothers must make it a priority to fill their own cups,” says McElwee, “and one way to do that is to delve into sewing and design.”
Grace Myers is a freelance writer who blogs at BetterWritinginBusiness.com. During her free time, she enjoys crafting and has made three versions of Sew Liberated’s Schoolhouse Tunic.