With inspiration from what she sees behind the lens of her camera, plus travel to exciting places – she and her family took a vacation to Chile recently – Gemia Carroll turns her imagination into designing unique items to wear that others can recreate through her patterns. Find out more about this talented designer! This month she’s created a great Fringed Swimsuit Cover-Up you can check out after learning more about her below!
Where are you from? What is your community like?
I grew up in a small town in Los Angles California. I have lived in the Pacific Northwest from 2001-2017 and recently have moved to Boise, Idaho. I love the slow relaxed pace of Idaho and the friendliness of the people I have met here. Each of these places has taught me different things about community, acceptance, inclusivity, and have inspired me visually. I am actively engaged in both my physical community and the online sewing community.
Tell us about your business. How did you choose your business name?
Phat Quarters began as a small fabric shop with myself and three friends. Since there were four of us and we each loved a different aspect of the sewing world we called ourselves Phat Quarters – with a PH cause we are nerds like that. Life has taken us in different directions and now I am the sole owner of Phat Quarters. I no longer sell fabric, but rather digital PDF sewing patterns and run a fun and inspiring blog under the same brand.
How did you get your start in the sewing industry?
I began to become part of the industry after having my first child. I had graduated from college and was beginning my journey in motherhood. I needed something that I could escape to but also that would be a benefit to my family so I did not feel like I would be wasting time and could help contribute to my growing family. I would sell items I made, which led to buying a lot of pretty fabric. This led to the initial fabric shop and has evolved over time from there. I feel I am very young in the industry but I LOVE it and I cannot wait to see where I can go in it.
Who taught you to sew?
My mother did when I was young but I am not sure I enjoyed it much as a child. Once I decided as an adult to take it up again I have spent many hours reading texts on sewing, watching tutorials, reading blogs, and practicing a lot! I think I can say that my mother gave me a taste of how to sew and I have been teaching myself all I can for years.
Which kind of sewing do you like to do best — garment making, crafting, or quilting?
Hands-down garment making! That could just be due to my current place in life, but I love the process of visualizing a garment in my mind (or from a sketch one of my children draw for me), working out the construction, picking the fabrics & prints, sewing it all up, and finally seeing the joy & confidence it gives my children when they wear it. Knowing that I can use my hands and knowledge to bring joy to my children is just such a great feeling – it’s my sewist’s high! I also love sewing crafty things with my children and for fun. I want to be a cool quilter so bad, but I just haven’t done it yet. I’m still young I am sure I will get to it.
You primarily focus on garment sewing. If someone is new to this, what kinds of garments would be easiest for them to begin with.
Everyone seems to be afraid of sewing with knits but I think a simple knit top is the perfect beginners sewing project. The nice thing about knit is that they have give and take which allows for little mistakes to be less obvious. A simple knit shirt is also pretty fast and there is nothing better than a quick sew to help you feel accomplished for the day. I have two great knit shirt patterns that are great for beginners: the Camas Top (drafted for girls) and the Everett V-Neck (more unisex).
Do you have to shop for garment fabric differently than you would for quilting fabric?
Yes, I think there are a few things to consider when shopping for fabrics being used for garments that quilters do not need to worry about.
- The first thing to keep in mind is that you should ALWAYS PREWASH your fabrics before you cut out your pattern pieces. Because of this I would advise that you add ¼ of a yard onto the required fabric calculations given by the pattern that you are using.
- It is also very important to use the suggest fabrics provided in the pattern you are using. Garments are often drafted for a particular amount of “wearing ease” that is dictated by the type of fabric being used. For instance knit has a good amount of elasticity so the wearing ease that is used to draft the pattern will be less than a pattern drafted for rayon or a woven cotton.
- The other important difference is that you should really make a muslin (rough draft) of the garment before cutting into your good fabrics. This is because patterns are drafted for a range of sizes and no one is a perfect size. I always recommend that you purchase and have a good stock of old bed sheets or less expensive knits & rayons to create your muslins with. When fabric goes on sale buy the ugliest cheapest bits and keep them in a box just for that purpose!
- Lastly, there are a bunch of accessories, trims, and hardware that are often needed for clothing. I like to cut a small swatches of the fabrics I am using and take them with me when I am picking out buttons or zippers, and threads. This helps me stick to a good color & or texture story for the overall style of the garment
Are there features you should look for in a sewing machine if you want to sew garments? Any special feet you should be sure to have?
I am a bit old school in that I like to use what I have until it is dead. I feel that as long as you have a good solid sewing machine that has a straight stitch, zig-zag, and possibly a stretch stitch you can make any garment. Garment sewing is more about the techniques used to construct it, the stitches are pretty simple. Having a automatic button hold stitch would be awesome though. As far as feet go I use my basic foot, a narrow foot, and a zipper foot the most. I also would recommend using the proper needle for the fabric you are using (like a denim needle, ball-point jersey needle, and a fine point needle). Having a twin needle will help your knits look mmm-mmm-good, but it is not a necessity.
I love my serger and use it on almost every garment I make but it is not a necessity. I also have a coverstitch that I am just using but that is a definite luxury machine more intended for those who plan to sell handmade garment in my opinion. Having a automatic button hold stitch would be awesome though. As far as feet go I use my basic foot, a narrow foot, and a zipper foot the most. I also would recommend using the proper needle for the fabric you are using (like a denim needle, ball-point jersey needle, and a fine point needle). Having a twin needle will help your knits look mmm-mmm-good, but it is not a necessity.
Who knew you could make your own baseball cap! Do you need any special sewing skills to make them? (LINK: Baseball Cap)
Nope! No special skills, but you do need to be patient with yourself. Learning how to attach the brim can be tricky and will take a few attempts to be perfect, but it is such a fun pattern and so rewarding to make. Take your time and if you are nervous about the sizing make a muslin! This is a great project for your scrap fabrics and for up-cycling old hats that are just too out of style or dirty. Just give them a good wash and take your seam ripper to the front brim attachment point. Once that is off, use the super handy OLFA Magnetic Touch Knife to quickly cut the stitching on the base of the brim to remove the fabric covering. We have also had pretty good luck with using recycled milk jugs for the brim, layers of thick interfacing, swim scuba fabric, or simply purchasing brim inserts online.
On your Facebook group, members have gone crazy over the Colorado hat, especially the messy bun version. Why do you think that is?
I think it is because it is different. As with all things we kinda lose our sewing mo-jo from time to time. The thought of making your own hat is unique and intriguing. It’s fun to put down what you are good at, make a few mistakes, and learn new techniques! That exploration is what fuels our creativity and makes us want to sew more.
Join Gemia’s Facebook group here.
Have your sewing tastes changed over time?
Absolutely. I decided when I started sewing clothes for my kids that I wanted to challenge myself to grow with them. I wanted to teach them that they can wear their own styles and not be limited to fast fashion trends. As their styles and likes change I want to find ways to change my designs and technique so that they will see that a handmade and intentional wardrobe is attainable and empowering! I also always want to continue to grow as a designer and to do that I have to try new things outs and see what really makes me happy.
How do you organize your fabric and sewing supplies?
I call my studio “creative chaos” or “creative entropy”; my hubby calls it a whirlwind of a mess. I want to be more organized but I am on a strict budget right now for both time and money and I just never seem to make it a priority. I do have to clean up often though so that I can focus and be creative, so it’s a balancing act that I am still struggling with. Next, year all my children will be in school full time so I am hoping to make this a greater focus! I like to have my fabrics organized by collections and by the shop I purchased it from. This helps me when posting on social media to tag everyone and give credit where credit is due.
What has been the most rewarding part of your business?
That’s hard. I think there are two answers for me. The first is business wise; seeing other people find joy in sewing and in discovering they can create something beautiful and useful. It makes my heart so happy when people post pictures of garments they have created from my patterns! It is the best!!! Personally; I wanted the most rewarding part of my business to be that I could do what I want from home with my kids and enjoy being a stay-at-home mother too. The reality is though, that working from home is still working. I have to set business hours, juggle motherhood & family priorities, take business calls and sad teenager calls all at the same time, and hopefully shower every few days. It is not easy and I am not yet at the place I want to be. Yet, I know that this is a good path for me right now and being able to be home when my children and husband come home for the day is a great thing, even if it means my work hours are while they sleep at night.
What school class do you wish you had paid more attention to?
I am a total nerd and paid attention in all my classes but I wish I had tried a few business classes in college. I also wish I would have thrown in a few more electives just for fun.
When you have free time, what do you do for fun?
I love photography and I love nature. My family and I hike all the time and love exploring new trails and areas. I love to travel and see different countries too. If I had a million dollars I would pull my kids from school for a few years, travel the world, and document it all in photos. I also love board games, scrapbooking, gardening, and bird watching.
Do you snack when you sew?
Sometimes. I love fresh fruit which makes my hands sticky so most often I will have a few crackers and water (so exciting I know) and then take breaks for fresh fruit and cheese.
Besides OLFA, what are your go-to sewing tools?
My seam ripper! Seriously I use it all the time! I also love having my Cricut Maker in my sewing studio. It has opened up so many possibilities for me and saves time. I use a turning tool a lot and also my silly little yellow hump-bumper (awful name, I know) is fantastic. I think having the right sewing needles on hand is vital to a good product as is a good iron for pressing all those seams!
Please give us a quick tip.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SEW! I hear so often people say they are afraid to mess up fabric so they don’t even try. It’s just fabric and thread! It comes apart with a pair of precision scissors or a seam ripper. JUST DO IT! Try a new technique and totally screw up! You probably won’t make the same mistake more than twice and you will definitely learn something from the experience! ANYONE CAN SEW. If my 6 year old can make his own, very interesting scrap scarfs and bow-ties for church, anyone can grab some fabric, take it a sewing machine and try it! Please don’t be afraid to sew! You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for… JUST DO IT!
Connect with Gemia on any of her social media platforms.