Introducing Saki - Sew-along photographer and all-round awesome maker!

Today's post is a little bit different and a little bit special! You may have seen that late last year I put a post on the blog looking for an illustrator and photographer to help with my workload. A number of people applied for both positions and I was lucky enough to find an illustrator to help me with the illustrations for my pattern instructions, who I have now been working with for over six months (and you would have seen her work if you have used any of my recent patterns).

I found someone that I thought could take the sew-along photographs, but when it fell through soon after, I balked. I just couldn't get my head around how I would be able to pass this job onto someone else. It all just became too overwhelming to cope with. I accepted that I'd just have to keep doing it myself (and maybe just find someone to assist me).

Anyway, somehow in the months that followed (and a bit of time and space to think about it), I started working out how I could get someone to work on this part of the process remotely, and Saki came to mind instantly. She had sent me an amazing application for the job and it was a no-brainer (and had dropped a very funny fact about herself that you will learn in the interview, that meant she was unforgettable). I reached out to her and thankfully she was still keen to give it a go! We jumped on Skype and had a chat about it all and then after ironing out a few details we were ready to get started - her in Germany and me here in Sydney (how amazing is the internet, right?). What I liked about our exchange from the beginning was that we were both open and honest about where we were and our thoughts on the process. I haven't used too many freelancers and definitely have lots to learn, and although Saki has done a lot of freelance work, this particular type of job was new to her too. We nutted everything out together, from how we would price the job, to the timeline, to what size the finished files would be. I think it is a little scary working with someone you have never met before on something so important, but I think we both felt safe knowing we were part of the same community, and in a way that community acts as a bit of a safety net. 

Saki took a whole collection of beautiful photos of her assembling both versions of the Collins Top, so that I could create the sew-along for the pattern. I couldn't believe how much of a burden was lifted off my shoulders having someone else be responsible for this aspect (I really don't enjoy taking photos and have no skills whatsoever!) and I know that Saki really enjoyed doing it, so it really was a win-win situation!

In today's post, just before the sewing posts in the sew-along begin (and you get to admire her beautiful work), I thought it would be nice to introduce Saki on the blog (although a lot of you might already know her from her great blog and instagram account) with a little Q & A style post.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

Could you please tell me a little bit about yourself.


Absolutely! My name is Saki, I was born in Tokyo but have spent most of my life in Portland, Oregon. I currently live half-time in Portland and half-time in a tiny town in the wine valley of Germany with my partner, John. I speak two languages fluently (unfortunately, neither of which are German) and am slowly (s l o w l y) working on a third and fourth. I love to travel, meet new people, and have been to four continents.

Can you tell me 3 interesting facts about yourself?

1) When I’m in Portland, I mostly work freelance as a hand model for the social media accounts of a few international companies. While I have to be discreet about dropping names, I think it’s safe to say that if you follow the social media accounts of a major coffee company, internet search engine, or sportswear company, you have probably seen my hands. The experience has given me some truly useful insight into product photography, lighting, and styling. 

2) I tend to say YES to opportunities I believe in, even if they’re not fully fledged ideas or I’m not fully skilled enough yet to accomplish it. Sometimes, of course, Future Self isn’t always the happiest with Past Self’s overconfidence, but in the end, I always land on my feet. When Emily asked me to shoot the Collins Top Sew-Along, I gave her a resounding yes, with the caveat that I’m going to have to learn some things as I go along. I’m so glad we both embraced this opportunity, and I can’t wait to do it again for her next pattern!

3) I used to have a black thumb to the point of killing succulents, but I was somehow able to keep my cat, Oliver, alive (and healthy!). It dawned on me one day that if I treat my plants like I treat my pets, they may also live longer than a few weeks. I now check in with my plants near-daily, checking for new growth, pests, or watering, and I listen to them when they show me their needs and read up on specific species. It might sound tedious, but it’s a ten minute task that brings me great joy, and now I can’t imagine what my life would be like without plants.

How did you start sewing?

My mom used to quilt entirely by hand and taught me how when I was six. I helped her trace and cut pieces, and then we started a short-lived Sewing Club with the neighborhood girls where we made tiny quilts for our dolls. After my friends’ interests died down, my mom and I moved on to creating an entire wardrobe for my favorite doll, complete with a Kimono, Christmas gown, and onesie pajamas. A decade later, I taught myself how to use her decades-neglected sewing machine, and nowadays I give her mini lessons on how to sew with a machine.

Here’s an obligatory nose-picking-naked-baby photo of me on my hand-sewn baby blanket made by my mom.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on catching up on my blog! I have a handful of photographed but unwritten garments to work into blog posts, but it’s always just more fun to start daydreaming of the next sewing project. For example, I picked up some African Wax Print while in Morocco, and I can’t decide on which of the many things I want to make out of it. A two-piece set? A shirt dress? A summer dress? Who knows!

What is your favourite type of garment to sew?

Hmm… good question. Honestly, I’m in a phase where I’m shifting my sewing priorities, so it’s hard to answer this question. A year ago, I would have said dresses and gowns because I’m a person who will find any excuse to dress up. But I can’t sew a gown a week and steadily contribute to a Me Made Wardrobe, so now I guess my favorite type of garment to sew is whatever my next inspired project is.

I know that you have an amazing eye for detail when it comes to beautiful finishes on your me-mades. What is your favourite seam finish or technique for getting a really beautiful finish?

This is a surprisingly tough question, but I think I’m going to have to go with visible and contrasting bias binding. I love how adding homemade bias tape gives garments a bit of a quilterly quality, and when in all other ways it’s hard to tell whether your garment is RTW, it’s a detail that confirms it’s bespoke-ness. 

What garment in your me-made wardrobe are you most proud of and why?

Also a tough question. It could be a number of garments for a variety of reasons, but for the sake of being succinct, let’s go with the Collins Top. I’m not someone who has TnT patterns and the most I usually sew a pattern is once, but I’ve now made the Collins Top three times, which is a lifetime record for me. 

Do you have any favourite things to watch or listen to while you are sewing?

To be quite honest, I’m a pretty boring seamstress. I’m so horrible at multi-tasking that I can’t watch TV, listen to music or podcasts, drink wine or hold a conversation while I sew. But on the off-chance my brain is functioning enough to do it, I enjoy listening to Rachel’s Maker Style podcast or watching some pretty trashy reality tv (Hello Bachelorette and Catfish).

What would be your number one tip for beginners learning to sew?

Just do it! I know, cheesy, right? But you won’t learn how to put in that invisible zip without having put in an invisible zip. You won’t learn how to sew silk charmeuse without cutting into your silk charmeuse. You won’t get faster at hand stitching without sometimes setting yourself up in front of the tv for a Stranger Things marathon and hand-finishing a few meters of bias binding. Of course it’ll look wonky the first several times, but we ALL go through a phase of wonky construction, and we ALL still make rookie mistakes; my most common rookie mistake is cutting into the wrong side of the seam allowance for flat felled seams.

You take some beautiful photos for your blog. What would be some tips you would give others about how to get beautiful and interesting photos of their me-mades for their blogs?

Thank you! I know it’s not within the budget for many people but I think it needs to be said; a decent camera and lens does wonders for photos. It doesn’t have to be pro-level, but anything that gives you manual options and can shoot RAW has the potential to improve your photos.

Outside of that, my main technical tips are: 

  • Use as much natural light as possible, and in conjunction, check your white balance. Artificial light tends to run yellow or blue and it’s much harder to adjust that afterward on every photo than to just get it right from the get-go. 
  • Set your camera up before handing it off to your photographer friend. I lean on Aperture Priority mode a lot (for indoors, around 2.4f and outdoors 1.8f), which lets me keep depth of field and light levels somewhat consistent and lets the photographer basically just push a button.
  • Shoot in RAW if you have access to a photo processor like Lightroom. Shooting in jpeg pretty much halves the breadth of information stored within a photo and limits your ability to edit the photo later. 

On another note, when I’m in Germany, I have John be my enthusiastically inexperienced photographer, and I’m (obviously) my own enthusiastically inexperienced model. Even with my best friend behind the camera, I’m still as awkward as humanly possible, and it’s not uncommon for us to take literally 200+ photos for a single blog post and come out with loads of derp-faced photos and less than twenty that are worth posting. 

It’s ultimately a numbers game… the more you take, the more that have to come out useable, right? We build it in to whatever we’re doing that day, like going for a walk through the vineyards or visiting a castle ruin or museum (John calls the background low-hanging fruit), so it’s not so much a chore or obligation as a fun thing we do together. And in the end, I’m just lucky to have the most supportive partner who can laugh with me when I make silly poses. 

If you had the time and resources to have an unlimited number of hobbies, what other things would you like to try out and why?

Oh man, can I just say EVERYTHING? Of course, I love everything and anything that involves fibers and fiber arts. I love to cook, and thankfully I have to eat every day, so I have a built-in excuse to play in the kitchen all the time. At the risk of sounding particularly Portlandian, I’m most inspired by foraging and food preservation experiments; drying, fermentation, pickling, curing, smoking, et al. Also, I used to hike and take landscape photographs weekly and feel that it takes too much energy now, but I’d do it again if I lived forever.

I also just started dabbling in 3d printing, with my first project being the curtain rod bracket shown above. And John just got a laser cutter, so when I sit down at my computer to write a blog post or photo processing, I’m always so tempted to open up a CAD program and start fiddling with all the things that can be done with lasers! There are some limitations as far as laser cutting fabric goes (it’s especially important to know the full fiber content), but I’m excited to start playing with that too.

Thanks so much for having me, Emily! It’s been a pleasure working with you!

And there we have it! I hope you enjoyed this post and learning more about Saki. You can learn more about our collaboration (and her beautiful Collins Tops) over on her blog.

Stay tuned for her sew-along photos coming over the next few days.

See all the posts in the Collins Top Sew-along.

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