An Interview with Master Seamstress Sara Gonzales

Come with me and let’s go shopping!

What an extraordinary sentence that is. No matter the age of the person or the actual age itself, females need no further information than what that one sentence implies.

There is a Shoppe that holds that same ageless appeal. A shop where a master seamstress will not only build you a dream of an outfit but whose charm and gracious treatment of you will win your heart.

Sara Gonzalez is the owner and creator of all the gowns at Ensembles of The Past. Whether it is a classic dress for a wedding, a period correct gown from the Renaissance to the roaring twenties and on to today, Sara Gonzales’ work is a stunning example of the fine art of sewing.

It is with pleasure that I offer this interview with Sara Gonzales to you.

Sara Gonzales, Ensembles of the Past
Sara Gonzales, Ensembles of the Past | Source

Welcome Sara!

Barbara Bethard

Hello Sara, and welcome! It is a pleasure to be here with you today.

Sara Gonzalez

Thank you; it is a pleasure for me as well.

Barbara

To start us off, can you tell me how old you were when you started sewing and who was your teacher?

Sara

I’ve never quite known how to answer this question, to be honest. I was probably six or seven when I started mending my little sisters’ diapers on my own, but more realistically, my maternal Grandmother started teaching me the basics of sewing and the sewing machine when I was eight. I sewed for a year or two under her instruction doing basic projects, but never truly fell in love with it. When I was 12, I got the thought into my head to make a dress, and the sewing-bug was rekindled inside me. With help from a long-distance friend, I taught myself how to read a pattern and alter one. I’ve been sewing constantly ever since!

Barbara

What got you interested in sewing period garments?

Sara

I don’t really know for sure; it was so gradual. It must have been that first dress I made when I was 12. Sometime during that previous year, I had discovered Hancock Fabric’s sale flyer and started snatching up patterns for $0.99 when I could. Before long, I had a whole stack of period costume patterns without really knowing how to make them. But it gave me so much joy to look at them! And when my family decided to take a vacation to Washington DC and Williamsburg, Virginia, that summer, I knew I just had to find a way to make a Colonial Dress to take with me!

Barbara

That sounds so exciting Sara! I can hear from the tone of your reply that you were on fire to learn how to sew those gorgeous dresses from yesteryear. I suspect your seventh grade essay on “What I did on my summer vacation” started your year off with an “A”!

What is the most difficult part of the garment construction process for you?

Sara

When I’m sewing for myself, the most difficult part about the garment construction process is making the commitment to start. It’s usually a question of “Do I really want to kill myself the next 3 days trying to get this done, or should I put this project on my wish list for later?” I know that once I start a garment for a specific event I’ll HAVE to get it done, no matter how much time or detail I would like to put into it! When I make commitments (even to myself) I do my best to keep them. Because of that, I admit I tend to be a last minute gal when it comes to my own projects. When I’m sewing for others, however, the hardest (and most thrilling) part is the design process! I could easily spend more time on designing than I should, without actually beginning on creation. It’s all a constant battle between creativity and logic – all bound by tragic time!

Barbara

What is the most magical part of making a garment?

Sara

The most magical part of making a garment is when I begin to see my design come to life! Sometimes it’s during the construction process or the mock-up stage. Sometimes it’s when it’s nearly finished. But no matter when it is, it’s an extremely thrilling moment when you’re So Excited about seeing it all come together that you literally forget about eating… or that you’re tired. You can’t quit until it’s finished and you don’t even care what time it is. It may be 3 AM and you have a full day ahead of you. But it doesn’t matter, because at that point, when you’re that excited, you can live on happiness and nothing else!

Barbara

Yes, absolutely Sara! All right, if there were only one season of the year which would you choose?

Sara

Spring - definitely! There is no other season that brings me so much joy! It reminds me that no matter how cold and dreadful winter has been, flowers will bloom, lambs will be born, and God will melt the snow.

Barbara

What a good way to put it! Is that the season you prefer to sew garments for now?

Sara

Not necessarily. I love sewing garments that are appropriate for each season, and although I love springtime, I also love warm scarves for fall, heavy cloaks and hats for winter, and sun dresses! I love sun dresses and light sheer 1860’s dresses for the summer!

Barbara

What is your favorite color to sew?

Sara

Period restrictions and certain projects aside, it thrills me to be able to sew with rich blues and purples! Especially if there are sparkles, flowers, or ruffles involved at all!

Barbara

I agree, blue is a color that makes me feel content and happy. But what makes you pick one color over another?

Sara

You know, it all depends upon what I’m making. For period clothing, it’s pertinent to choose a color (and a pattern) that’s period appropriate, but also one that captures the personality of the person or character wearing it. The same goes for modern wear. On a whole, just as far as my personal taste goes, I tend to choose natural hues and cool colors for mid-19th-century garments, cheerful, bright ones for 18th century wear, and whatever catches my eye in the fabric store for modern wear!

Barbara

What is the best material for beginners to use for a dress or for a shirt?

Sara

100% Cotton quilting-quality fabric for both projects, hands down. When you’re beginning to sew, the last thing you really want is a fabric that stretches, or slips underneath your fingers as you stitch, or gets bogged down under the needle like a sheer or heavy-weight fabric often does. You want to stick with something simple and straightforward. There’s nothing that will make you quit sewing faster than failing on your first project!

Barbara

I agree, and please tell us about your sewing classes Sara!

Sara

I teach group and private sewing lessons at Margie Pearl's Fabric store in Bolivar, MO, in my studio located near Bolivar, and other places upon request. I also teach sewing classes at SBU, Southwest Baptist University, in Bolivar, Missouri. It's the university that I teach at and work for frequently.

Barbara

That is good to know! How can our readers contact you about classes?

Sara

Individuals interested in hiring me for group classes, workshops, or any other event in which they need a sewing instructor can contact me via email: info@ensemblesofthepast.com

Barbara

It would be wonderful to be one of your students…what can people like myself do to take advantage of your sewing expertise but who do not live in Missouri?

Sara

Actually, few people will know this by the time this interview is published, but I’ve been considering and looking into offering sewing video tutorials in the future, for beginner and intermediate seamstresses, and students who have moved away. I admit this venture is still in the research room right now, but I’ll be announcing it to my followers as soon as I’m able to offer it! However, in the mean time, if someone is interested in these tutorials, I’d be thrilled to hear from them via email with the type of sewing tutorial they’d want most! And, at the same time, they’ll be the first to know when I’m offering them! Emails may be sent to: info@ensemblesofthepast.com

Barbara

How about, for those of us that are beginners or for other reasons unable to create our own period dresses you also handle custom orders, isn’t that right?

Sara

Absolutely! I can create almost anything you want! And if I may add, I also have an etsy.com shop called Ensembles of the Past (ensemblesofthepast.etsy.com), where I currently sell Limited Edition items and a few ready-made ones, as well as a growing selection of silk fabrics and other sewing materials.

Barbara

Thank you, I know many of us will be eager to look at your Etsy shop!


Custom gown by Sara Gonzales
Custom gown by Sara Gonzales | Source

What is your favorite material to sew with Sara?

Sara

My absolute favorite fabric to sew is silk - Silk Taffeta or Silk Dupioni to be precise. They both have body and drape, and silk is a natural fiber so it presses well and molds to your body beautifully! That’s one of the reasons why I’ve chosen to sell those types of silks most in my Etsy shop

Barbara

One of my favorite dresses is the white dress with elegant flared sleeves and dark piping that is shown on this hub. Is that material brocade Sara?

Sara

Actually, that’s 100% quilting quality cotton. It’s a tone-on-tone print, which is why it may look like brocade in the photo to some. The sleeves are pagoda sleeves, and the dark piping is actually Navy Blue ribbon. The silhouette is period correct to the 1860’s, but I took liberties with the execution of the design and fabrics. That’s the beauty of being a designer and a seamstress – I can tailor to the needs of my clients, and offer costumes on both sides of the spectrum: period correct down to the number of stitches, or costumes that appear era-appropriate for theatre or just a “costume.”

Barbara

For custom orders, do you draft your own pattern or use a purchased pattern?

Also, do you feel that learning how to draft your own pattern is important?

Sara

Yes, for custom orders, I often draft or drape my own patterns. Sometimes I’ll use or adapt purchased patterns, but it all depends on what my client or customer wants. Really, the answer to the question depends upon what the project at hand is, and also what the easiest (less time-consuming) avenue will be to achieve the desired finished look.

To your second question, drafting your own patterns is probably only necessary if you want to make items that are not already available on the pattern market. It’s not bad to know, but it does take some know-how and time getting there!




Is having a dress form something you suggest for beginners? If so, what should the beginner know about using a dress form?

Sara

No. In my humble opinion, no one really needs a dress form, and beginners especially don’t! I have five of them (granted, they’re nothing high-tech!), but the most I’ve been able to use them for is something on which to display my finished dresses. In my studio during construction, I also use the height adjustment for hemming skirts or the form to pin a garment piece onto as I stand back to admire it, or check the way it drapes. However, I could work without them if I had to. Contrary to what most beginners think, fitting on a dress form isn’t ideal unless it’s a form specifically made to duplicate the person you intend to fit. Those dress forms are individually made and are extremely expensive!

Barbara

Is there one dress making technique you feel is imperative to learn when someone is just starting out?

Sara

Yes, there is, fitting.

It may seem like an advanced technique, but it’s never too early to learn, and the earlier you learn, the better your garments will look.

You can have an elaborate gown made from expensive materials without the proper fit, and you can have a simple gown made from the lowliest cotton and simple cut that fits and flatters, and the latter will win.

Always.

At least, in my opinion that’s always the case. And it’s always the case for good reason; one looks like it was made for you, and the other doesn’t!

Barbara

That makes a lot of sense indeed!

Explain the ‘why’ of making a mockup of the outfit you are sewing.

Sara

Why do I make a mockup of a garment before I begin the actual construction of the finished piece?

Because that’s how I fit, and adjust, and make those tiny changes to the pattern before I actually cut into my fabric (and sometimes very expensive fabric if I may add)!

Barbara

Rather like the measure twice cut once rule of carpentry then! Makes a Lot of sense indeed!

However, do you ever make a dress without doing a mock up first?

Sara

Yes. If a garment is a simple one (e.g. modern dresses, loose shirts etc.), or if I’ve made the pattern before with little adjustments, I will often do the fitting on the actual garment as I’m constructing it. Or, if I must confess, sometimes if I’m in a hurry on my own projects, I often skip the mock up stage altogether, pray real hard as I’m cutting, and pin up as needed hours before I’m supposed to have the garment completed!

Barbara

Which pattern company do you love the most? If there is a favorite why is it your favorite?

Sara

This is a very hard question. If we’re talking generic patterns found in any fabric store, Simplicity and Butterick both are known to have fantastic costuming patterns. I have special attachment to some of them simply because I’ve used them over and over. I don’t know; it’s a tie in my mind!




Barbara

Tell us a bit about this picture Sara, this dress is so elegant! I can see myself dancing to a minuet all night! Was this for a festival or historical ball?

Sara

This gown was made for SBU Theatre’s production of The Illusion, set in the Rococo (18th Century) time period in France. I did many costumes for that production in 2013, and it was a blast! This particular gown is a Robe a la Francaise gown, and the actress, Elizabeth, modeled it beautifully!

Barbara

What brand of sewing machine do you wish you could have used when you were twelve years old and making the colonial dress and why?

Sara

To be absolutely honest, I don’t wish I had had another make or model of sewing machine other than what I had at my disposal at the time. In my mind, it’s all part of a story.

That cheap $89 plastic Kenmore sewing machine my mom had purchased less a year before I made my first historical costume got me through it. It did a fine job, and I didn’t know any different! No, it’s not the best machine, and I certainly don’t suggest cheap plastic machines over an all metal interior machine to anyone. But you know what? I still have that machine, and I’ve taught countless little girls (and boys) how to sew on it! It’s amazing, really, if you think about it.

And actually, this question reminds me of a Downton Abbey quote: “A bad workman always blames his tools.”

I have to remind myself of this sometimes when I find myself wishing for tools I don’t have or can’t afford. I have to remind myself that it will all come in good time. Until then, our charge is to do our best with what the Lord has given us today!

Barbara

I agree wholeheartedly Sara, and thank you so much for sharing your expertise on sewing and your heart with us today. Your passion and joy of sharing your art of sewing with others is inspiring! I look forward to following your lovely Shoppe, “Ensembles of the Past” as you proceed on your career.

One last question just for fun!

I have one more question for you today Sara and this question is just for fun.

If you were a biscuit what kind of a biscuit would you be?

Sara

Is there such a thing as a chocolate biscuit? Perhaps an English one?!

Yes, make me a Chocolate English Biscuit, with a hint of Orange Zest. Totally traditional and totally surprising!

Barbara

I love it! You are indeed that kind of biscuit Sara, conventional but with an exciting twist! Thank you again for sharing yourself with us today. I know you will continue to inspire and thrill us with your skills as a seamstress!




Acknowledgements

Thank you to Sara Gonzales for her patience and time throughout this interview process.

Thank you to Sara's mother for the use of the pictures on this hub.

All photos in this hub were taken by Sara’s’ mother, Veda Gonzalez of

http://www.vedagonzalezphotography.com and are used with her permission.

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