Tuesday, September 4, 2012

An Interview with Martha Pullen + GIVEAWAY!

Today we are getting an intimate look into the life of Martha Pullen, the woman who started it all.  We had the privilege to sit down with Martha and ask her a few questions.

Sew Beautiful: Why are people drawn to heirloom sewing, and by “heirloom” we mean French sewing techniques, smocking, fine embroidery and, of course, fine materials?

Martha Pullen: First of all it is beautiful, very beautiful. Classic heirloom has been in style for over 200 years and I believe it will never go out of style. I was taught the joy of beautiful sewing and materials as a very young child from my mother and Aunt Chris.  They both loved fine materials. Mama told me when I was very young, “When I went to college, my mother bought me two nice dresses which were way too expensive for her budget. But she said to me,’We cannot afford cheap clothing since we can only have two things. These will last and look good for a long time.’”  Mama only sewed on nice fabrics and only used nice thread. She said her time was too valuable to sew on cheap materials.
I fell in love with smocking the first time I saw beautiful smocking. It was truly love at first sight. Our only daughter, Joanna, was just a baby and I remember thinking, “ I have to have these clothes for Joanna.” I have always loved to sew beautiful children’s clothing. I love fine embroidery although my hand sewing has consisted mostly of hand smocking.
The very word, “heirloom” relays to me that my work will be appreciated for generations to come. My love which has gone into every hand made garment will last possibly 100 years from now. The memories will be in the heart of those for whom I made the garment. Heirloom simply means to me-Made with love for someone I love. I especially love christening dresses, communion dresses, portrait clothes, wedding clothes, and other special occasion clothes.  I also love white bedrooms and beautiful white home decorating pieces. I love the white clothes and sometimes pretend that I knew the lady who made them. I simply love white heirloom clothes—new or 150 years old and Joe and I have traveled all over the world searching for them. This is really quite funny but I thought as I bought each one, “Oh, we will make a pattern out of this dress. Or I’m sure we will reproduce this embroidery design in Sew Beautiful magazine.  This will be a great centerfold pattern.”  If we had used every garment I have bought over the last number of years Sew Beautiful would be 500 pages long each issue.

SB: Machine embroidery vs hand embroidery; it’s an ongoing debate. Can you share your feelings on this subject?

MP:  I love them both. The beauty of hand embroidery is magnificent and no one appreciates the beauty more than I; however the reality of time to do hand embroidery is ever present in most lives today. I have to admit also that it takes a lot of skill to accomplish beautiful hand embroidery in addition to lots of time. Frankly I am not accomplished in hand embroidery. Years ago I found out that shadow work by hand was the easiest hand embroidery and I truly enjoyed that. Surface embroidery with one strand of embroidery floss is not going to be in my repotoire during this lifetime. With today’s magnificent embroidery machines one can choose heirloom designs and have gorgeous machine embroidery in a blink of an eye. Not only do most not have the time to accomplish hand embroidery  when one gets older and has more time to sew the eyesight is not as good as it once was and fingers many times are not as agile as in earlier years. One of my sweetest quilting friends simply wore her hand quilting fingers out and now she adores machine quilting. Life is all about change and truthfully one should choose whichever makes one happy! Both are magnificent to me.

SB:  We all know that fashion and current dressing trends drive sewing. Can you speak to how Martha Pullen Company has weathered changes in the industry due to lifestyle? To what do you attribute your company’s stamina in the market?

MP:  Classic heirloom clothing will never go out of style. It never has. Christening dresses, communion dresses and other classic heirloom garments are as strong a pull as they ever were--maybe more now that more people know about gorgeous family heirlooms for special occasions. We now include more casual clothing in Sew Beautiful for a more casual lifestyle but in many churches the heirloom clothing is stil prevalent on Sunday mornings. I see smocked dresses every Sunday morning. Nearly every wedding in the south has an heirloom dress for the flower girl and most have an heirloom pillow for the ring bearer pillow. Many have an heirloom suit for the ring bearer. Heirloom sewing is still prevalent for certain occasions. I guess most kids don’t wear smocked dresses to school anymore since jeans and shorts seem to be the usual school uniform if actual school uniforms aren’t worn.

Personally, I cannot wait for Prince William and Princess Kate to have children. My guess is that they will wear classically styled clothing and that heirloom sewing will be stronger than ever. Princess Diana certainly dressed her little boys in elegant clothing. Some of the top designers have started a children’s clothing line; it is all classic with a lot of smocking. The royal children of Holland wear smocked clothing. Special occasion clothing is still heirloom. At my grandchildren’s pre-school, the children wear cute clothing a lot—lots of smocking.

SB:  You have written books, founded a magazine, established a retail shop and catalog business. You teach, you inspire. What has been/is the most rewarding part of your career?

MP:  Sharing the love of sewing with YOU my sewing family. Getting to know YOU, our friends who love to sew. Getting to introduce someone to heirloom sewing for the first time and her/him saying, “This is so easy!"

Getting pictures and letters about a special garment that someone has made for someone that she/he loves so much. 

Hearing about how sewing has truly helped someone to weather a major storm in her/his life. 

Feeling the love which surrounds heirloom sewing the the precious ones who love this art.  It is truly the people’s reaction to our beloved art that is the very best. I love sewing ladies. I love sharing this joy.

SB:  If you had unlimited time and any materials you desire to sew your dream creation, what would it be?

MP:  I’m glad you asked that question! As many of you know, I have older grandchildren—the oldest are 20 years old and just this summer one asked me, “Nannie, you are going to make my children beautiful clothes aren’t you?”  I have an urge now to start baby daygowns and maybe a christening gown or two. To put away in my great-grandmother’s hope chest. With 18 grandchildren I will probably have many great-grandchildren and I simply cannot wait to make baby clothes again!!! That is my favorite part of heirloom sewing—baby clothes! My dream creations would be batiste and French lace or silk dupioni and French lace and lots of machine embroidery including putting the family data on the slips and on the hems of smocked dresses.

A big thanks to Martha for taking the time to answer our questions!  She also provided some pictures of her childhood to share with you.

Also, in honor of it being Martha Pullen week, we want to give away a copy of Martha's book, 
Precious Baby Daygowns: Round Yoke Collection.

We are going to do another 
DIY (Design-It-Yourself) Challenge with the
Heavenly Bliss Daygown pictured.  
Tell us in the comments below, what supplies from the 
you would use to make this beautiful daygown!
One winner will be chosen to receive all the materials they listed as well as a copy of the book!

*Total not to exceed $200*


  1. If money were no object, I'd choose some white handkerchief linen or maybe some pink silk batiste, then I would spend at least a day and a half choosing some luscious laces. Would be wonderful not to have to worry about how much it cost! Would love to win a copy of Martha's book. I love sewing for babies.

  2. Great interview, thanks!

    Oh, what a wonderful gown I could make! I don't know the yardages, so:
    enough white silk batiste for the gown
    enough white cotton batiste (Martha's) for the slip
    white baby entredeux
    French lace insertion (L-2/639)
    French lace edging (L-2/632)
    It looks like there's some beading on the hem of the slip, with ribbon in? I can't tell how it's done, but whatever that is!
    silk ribbon, color #10, in 4mm and 7mm
    mother of pearl buttons

  3. I love the idea of a great-grandmother's Hope Chest! I have teenagers so I have been sewing some things for my grandmother's Hope Chest. I have also been stashing gorgeous fabrics and laces for these 'dream' clothes. I would love to make that lovely ensemble some day! If I could have anything I wanted, I would like: 4 yards of the Swiss Cotton Sateen in white, 2 yards of Victorian Batiste,7 yards of L-2/893 lace,5 yards of L-2/898 lace, 5 yards of L-2/891, 10 yards of S-800129 entredeux, 4 yards 1 inch wide N-RIBI/Heirloom Pink ribbon, 2 yards N-RIB3/8/ Heirloom Pink ribbon, and 1 spool Madeira white thread. This was fun! Thank you for the opportunity to win such a fabulous prize!

  4. A dear friend from church is expecting her first grandchild, and not knowing if it will be a boy or a girl, I would use Martha's Heirloom Bastiste in Ivory using the Bulk Ivory Buttons down the front. My friend's son loves the country, so I would love to embroider designs from the Precious Baby Embroidery Designs CD - particularly the frog on the lily pad, the man in the moon, and word BeBe. Thank you so much this opportunity.

  5. Loretta H. September 4, 2012, 10:17 pm

    I would start with Martha's favorite white handkerchief linen and choose the lovely Victorian bridging, edging and Entredeux; I would include designs from Vintage Baby Disk One; and trim with decorative double faced satin ribbon, and I'm sure I would use some tatting. Not sure about buttons, so would need the bulk buttons in ivory. I have an infant grandson, not yet a week old, and would love to sew an heirloom day gown for him.

  6. Silk Batiste White SKU F-SILK/BAT/WH
    Swiss Entredeux - White SKU S-ENT/W
    French Lace - Beading (L-2/6208) 5/8" SKU L-2/6208
    French Lace - Edging (L-2/773) 7/8" SKU L-2/773
    Heirloom Classics III SKU CD-CLASSICS3
    Gingher 8'' Emily Dressmaker Shears SKU N-G2205-P
    Havel's Embroidery Scissors - Curved Tips SKU N-H30140
    Schmetz Sewing Machine Needles (size 60) SKU N-UNIV/60
    Needles - Sharps SKU N-HAND/
    Glass Head Pins SKU N-GHP
    Floriani Wet N Gone - 20" x 12" Yards SKU N-FGONE20
    Mettler Thread (large)White SKU N-MET/LG/
    5/8 wide white satin ribbon
    Martha's white batiste for a slip

    Thanks for the chance to win this fabulous prize
    Lorraine B

  7. Baby daygowns are something I do not often get to make; so I am thrilled to plan this one!

    I would use the Imported Handkerchief Linen(for the gown and Martha's Favorite Batiste in white for the slip.
    Laces would be in the white L-2/77X family;
    L-2/772 edging, L-2/778 insertion
    Beading in white L-2/6207
    Machine embroideries in lieu of handwork--Bonnets and Booties CD using the blue,pink and green motifs.
    Heirloom Pink silk satin ribbon in the appropriate widths for the shoulder bows(5/8") and for running the beading at the hem(3/8").
    Madeira Tanne 80 wt thread in white
    Swiss Entredeux in white S-800129
    Floriani Wet N Gone N-FGONE20
    Mettler's Favorite 40 Color Polysheen Thread Organizer for a bevy of luscious machine embroidery colors from which to choose.
    Mother of Pearl buttons-shank type N-B6
    Gingher 8'' Emily Dressmaker Shears N-G2205-P
    Longer Double Curved Embroidery Scissors N-HEMB/DBL/CUR

    Thank you for the chance to dream!
    Alicia Flint

  8. Wow! This is like letting me loose in the candy store - I think you've created a monster because I am drooling over just the thought of being able to purchase EXACTLY what I would use without concern for cost. Phew! Well, here it goes:
    1. Silk Batiste - White for the gown (F-Silk/Bat/Wh
    2. Martha's Heirloom Batiste - White for the slip (F-HBAT)
    3. Metler Cotton Thread - White (N-MET/LG)
    4. Precious Baby embroidery designs for those lucious ribbons & flowers
    5. Metler Color Polysheen embroidery thread to coordinate.
    (sigh - this is just so wonderful even to dream about it!)
    6. White pearl buttons - whatever size the pattern calls for.
    7. French insertion lace - white (L-2/639 5/8")
    8. French Lace Beading - White (L2/6218 5/8")
    9. French Lace Eding - White (L-2/632 3/4")
    10. Tatting (T-26)
    11. Baby Swiss Entredeux - White (S-800129)
    12. Silk Satin Ribbon - Blue - 1/8", 3/8" and 5/8"
    13. Glass head silk pins
    14. Stitch & Ditch Stabilizer
    15. Floriani wet N Gone
    16. Water Erasable Marker (N-Water/Fine)
    17. Longer Curved Embroider Scissors (N-HEMB/DBL/CUR)
    18. Havel's Small Multi-Angled Lace Trimming Scissors (N-HLACE)
    19. Heritage Cutlery - Heirloom Scissors (N-HC/HEIRLOOM)
    Geez, I sound really greedy but Oh, would I love to create this beautiful garment! We even have a beautiful new baby in our family (Olivia Madison) that I could gift it to after I experienced the joy of creating it! Perhaps I should be praying for forgiveness of my greed rather than praying that I win this contest (or maybe both?? lol)! God Bless you all and good luck to everyone!

  9. My goodness--this is like a fairytale!! In a perfect world I would love:
    1) The Precious Baby Daygowns Book
    2) Martha's Creative Monograms software
    3) Baby Pink Elegance fabric
    4) French Lace white (L-15/2022)
    5) Floriani Heat N Sta Light Fusible Tearaway Stabilizer
    6) Sulky Thread Box-Classic I
    7) Madiera Thread--ecru
    8) Sewline Gift Set
    9) Havel Snip Eze
    10) Combo Brass Threader needle case

    Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity!!


    1. You are our winner! Please email your full name, mailing address & phone number to blog@sewbeautifulmag.com! Congrats!

  10. It is so fun to dream about the 'perfect' girl's daygown. Here in the Northwest little boys wouldn't be caught dead in one!!! I've had three grandsons recently and I'm holding my breath waiting for a granddaughter.
    I'd start with Cotton Swiss Flannel; add some baby piping and bias with ribbons, of course. Decorations would come from le Petit Oiseau Bleu and the Ultimate Baby Layette Embroidery. With some trims thrown in - S19885 or S-23787, s-23110, S-23748, S-19919 are my innital thoughts.
    I would love to try the Floriani Stabilizers to match the project. Sewline glue pen, Sewline marking trio, Small Whimsy Sticks, Baby piping cord would round out the project. Notions are often the hardest things to find here in MT.
    This is a great idea. It was fun to stop and dream for a few minutes this morning. Thank you

  11. I'd LOVE to win this, I had a beautiful christening gown that my grandma bought when I was a young girl, she gave it to me at my baby shower and both of my boys wore it!

    I've never sewn something so delicate, so I'm not 100% sure as to what all I'd need, so I might have to adjust a bit,

    All in white or ecru,
    white silk batiste, white heirloom batiste for slip, different laces and some mother of pearl buttons, mettler thread to match, embroidery pen/pencils to do transfers, embroidery needles and thread, heirloom tissue paper to store it for my sister's children, glass head pins (so I don't melt them when ironing!)padded satin hanger to display, Omnigrid rotary cutter and refill blades (28 MM), double curved embroidery scissors, beauty pin #13, scallop rulers, threader and needle case in silver, silver stilleto, wash away thread

    I hope I win, but either way it was a lot of fun to go through and "window shop" at Marth Pullen!! Thanks so much!

  12. I would make the Heavenly Bliss Daygown from:

    The Precious Baby Daygowns book
    White handkerchief linen
    Cotton batiste for slip
    L-124/14426 lace for bottom of gown (flat)
    L-124/14425 lace for bottom of gown (gathered)
    L-124/14428 lace for bottom of slip (gathered)
    Swiss entredeux
    Floriani Wet and Gone
    The Vintage Collection Vol 3, CD 2 for machine embroidery (flowers similar to lace pattern)
    Mother of pearl buttons
    Beauty pin #10 (a garment this magnificent should be worn for a Christening)
    Madiera cotton thread for embroidery (ecru)
    Madiera cotton thread for assembly (white)
    Silk satin ribbon (ecru)
    Sewline Gift Set
    Schmetz needles size 65 and 80
    Shape 'n Press board

    Thank you so much for the opportunity to win this fabulous prize...and for the fun of dreaming about making something with no budget constraints.

  13. I would love to win this book! I think it is one of very few from Martha that I don't own!
    Swiss Nelona in ecru for both slip and gown.
    Swiss entredeux in ecru
    French cotton laces 2" edging L-2/15016 and 5/8" insertion L-2/15018 (will be tea dyed)
    madeira cotton thread for construction -- ecru
    1" wide ecru silk satin ribbon
    I would machine embroider using the 2011 embroidery club christening gown designs -- in various shades of ivory through tan.

    Pick me -- and I will make it for a future SB!

  14. I would so love to win this, almost as much as I want to win the other ones too!
    I would make it out of these:

    Believe Fairy Toss Pink-gown
    white cotton batiste-slip
    Baby Piping - Gingham Pink
    Swiss Edging 2 5/8" - Pink Flowers
    YLI Pearl Crown Rayon-Pink
    Mettler Quilting Cotton Thread-White
    Glass Head Pins
    Gingher Designer Scissors - Sonia
    Havel's Embroidery Scissors - Curved Tips
    Clover Magnetic Pin Caddy - Purple
    Universal Mixed 70 & 80
    Omnigrid - Fold-Away Cutting & Pressing Station
    Omnigrid 6.5 x 24" ruler
    Sewline Trio and Sewline Storage Box
    Seam Ripper
    Clover Thread Tweezer
    Grosgrain Ribbon 1-1/2" Pink/Green
    Double Faced Satin Ribbon Pink
    To cover buttons: Believe Blossom Swirl Pink
    I-TOP Topper Templates
    Button Daddies - Small (16 mm)
    Button Daddies - Medium (22mm)
    Fairytale Finery by Kari Mecca
    Tear-a-way stabilizer

  15. Swiss Voile White for dress
    Silk Ribbon 4mm-8 for bows
    Silk Ribbon 2mm-8 for lace insertion around bottom
    Swiss Edging 1/2" for around the bottom S-65797
    French Lace - Edging (L-2/9974) 1-3/8" for bottom
    Mettler Thread (60wt)white
    Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood (disk 2)
    Tear-a-way stabilizer
    Sewline Trio and Sewline Storage Box
    Button Daddies - Small (16 mm)i-top
    I-TOP Topper Templates
    Hot Rocks Compact - Glitter
    I-ROCK Tool
    YLI Pearl Crown Rayon-pink
    Thank you for the fun give away

  16. Dotted Swiss Cotton White (Gown)
    Martha's Heirloom Batiste in White (Slip)
    Swiss Edging 2 3/8" S-12113
    Swiss Edging 7/8" S-12111
    Swiss Edging 1 1/2" S-1100002
    Swiss Entredeux - White S-800129
    5/16" Button 6 per pkg N-B6
    Spaghetti Bias - Solid White T-SPPK/WH
    Silk Satin Ribbon 1/4" White
    Wing Needle - 120
    Glass Head Pins
    Water Erasable Marker - Fine
    Sulky KK 2000 Temporary Spray Adhesive
    Madeira Thread (Tanne 80 wt.)White
    Sulky Tear Easy
    12" combination hanger N-12HANGERCOMB
    Floriani Stitch N Wash Tearaway N-FWASH
    Scallop Rulers - 1", 1-1/2", 2" N-SP

    This was so much fun. Thank You, M

  17. all stylish images are really wonderful.

  18. I am very afraid of the situation in the country. Due to the fact that the "home mode" is turned on, this greatly affects not only everyone’s pocket, but also the global economy. Not all areas of business can afford to work from home, many companies still have to feed and dress the population. But all the same, you can slightly influence this situation, I want to say that someone still has to work from home. For example, delivery. This sphere of business was also greatly affected by the current crisis: delayed supplies, the borders of some countries are being closed, not all people can afford extra costs and much more. But all the same, delivery is the best way to boost your business if, for example, you have your own cafe. It is clear that this is not a global business and incomes will decrease slightly, but you can still stay afloat. I recently came across an article https://dinarys.com/blog/build-successful-retail-website-for-your-business and decided that it was a cool idea to create your website and sell your hand made things there. It’s clear that now you need to study for yourself online marketing and all these online things to attract customers and receive orders, but this is better than completely losing your business. Indeed, when you deliver food prepared with love to hungry customers and see their happy faces, is it not a joy for me, as the owner of a cafe! Therefore, it is very important now not to lose heart, but to learn something new! There are so many things available online. And a variety of courses, books, trainings. Therefore, I will act and I advise you not to give up, but to start doing something! Health to all!