A hobby, a mission, a new path—all thanks to a birthday present and loads of internet tutorials about making clothing. Galveston-based seamstress, Sallie Barbee, with the help of a sewing machine gifted by her parents, took up the handmade art as a way to cope with the loneliness of moving cross country from Philadelphia to Houston.
Over the past three years, she's created modern, interesting ensembles and documented the process for her popular sewing blog, Sallieoh. Barbee's impeccable craftsmanship and eye for style have helped her amass quite a following among sewists across the web and even landed herself a spot as one of the elite bloggers chosen for the Mood Sewing Network (yes, the very same New York-based fabric mecca frequently shown on Project Runway).
“I think sewing might be indicative of my desire to always be learning something,” Barbee said. “It's a very satisfying craft, in that you can really measure your improvement from garment to garment.”
Growing up in Reading, Pennsylvania, Barbee was always an artistic child and pursued that route all the way through a MFA in painting from the Tyler School of Art. After her husband landed a residency in The Glassell School’s prestigious CORE Program, they moved to Houston and, later, to Galveston where Barbee is now the program director of the Galveston Artist Residency and her husband is an artist-in-residence. Her love of both art and fashion informs her sewing work, even inspiring her to try new methods to achieve the look she wants.
“[Making clothing] has lead me down many other paths that I don't think I would have pursued had I not had sewing on the brain—like painting and dyeing my own fabrics and picking up knitting,” she said.
Making her own clothes not only gave her a hobby she enjoyed, it also helped her slow down her clothing consumption by making her consider what’s important to her. As she honed her craft, Barbee learned what fit her personal style, satisfied her needs, and what flattered her figure.
“Really, once I cleared away the clutter of what I thought I should look like and be wearing, it was much easier to listen to my own inner voice and follow my instincts on what makes me feel good when I wear it,” said Barbee. “I'm also a pretty practical person so I'm constantly trying to focus on those items that actually get continual wear in my closet. It's hard to avoid the siren song of sewing pretty dresses, but the reality of my life is that I'd much rather be wearing pants, so I make pants!”
Her style is influenced by young, modern designers, namely Rachel Comey, Suno, and Band of Outsiders, which gives her wardrobe a minimalist, sometimes architectural focus (read: clean lines, lots of angles, unusual silhouettes) with some great color and pattern thrown in. Two of her standout projects, however, are of the casual variety: a pair of stovepipe skinnies and a draped leather jacket.
For those interested in sewing their own clothing, Barbee recommends jumping right in—and keeping at it after you churn out a few disasters.
“Don't worry about starting with 'beginner' projects like aprons or simple skirts if you don't want to, it's way more likely that you'll actually want to sew if you're making something you're excited about. And if it doesn't turn out so great, oh well! There's always next time, and that's how you'll get better, just by continuing to do it.”