Studio Tour: Brett Bara

by Grace Bonney

Photos by Maxwell Tielman

One of the best parts about our neighborhood (Greenpoint, Brooklyn) becoming slightly more popular is that some truly awesome people from Manhattan have been inspired to make the move here. One of those amazing people is crafter, knitter and all-around talented designer extraordinaire, Brett Bara. Brett has been blogging, crafting and writing for a long time, and we’ve been fortunate to have her at the helm of our Sewing 101 column for the past three years. Yesterday we had the pleasure of visiting her new apartment in Greenpoint to check out her incredible crafting studio and her adorable cat, Fifi, and to interview her about her upcoming craft camp and what she’s been working on lately. From her toolbox favorites to what inspires her these days, Brett’s answers are full of great ideas and tips for crafters and craft-fans alike. I hope you’ll enjoy reading the interview as much as we enjoyed writing it. Thanks so much to Brett for having us all in her home yesterday! xo, grace

*Brett is hosting an amazing Brooklyn Craft Camp on March 16th. Be sure to check it out and sign up! It’s a full day of DIY workshops (knitting, terrariums, embroidery, macrame, print-making, nail art and more). We’ll definitely be there.

Design*Sponge: What are your craft room essentials? What sort of creative objects can you not live without?

Brett Bara: Fabric, yarn, embroidery floss, thread, paper, paint. When it comes to things I couldn’t live without, it’s all about my tools — my sewing machine, collection of knitting needles, power drill, paint brushes, good scissors. As long as you have tools, you can make something out of anything!

Design*Sponge: What do you do to make your workspace an enriching and inspiring place to be?

Brett Bara: I feel the most creative potential when there is space to work and when I have easy access to my supplies. So I try to keep my work surfaces clear (which definitely doesn’t always happen, but I try!), and it really helps to have a lot of shallow drawers where I can stash tools and materials. Nothing kills my creative mojo like the dread of having to dig for things or fight for space to spread out.

Image above: I use a picture frame ledge to hold spools of thread. It’s the perfect shallow shelf for keeping all the colors visible and easy to grab.

More of Brett’s studio after the jump . . .

Image above: Crochet-covered rocks designed by Margaret Oomen. These were a leftover sample from my previous day job as editor of a crochet magazine.

Design*Sponge: What sorts of things are inspiring you right now? Where do you look for inspiration?

Brett Bara: I get inspired by whatever is happening in my life, so it really changes all the time, depending on what I’m up to. For the past year and a half, I’ve been fixing up my apartment, so I’ve been really inspired to learn how to install light fixtures and restore furniture. In general, I really just like to look at the world around me for inspiration. Whenever I’m out in the city, I constantly see things in stores and think, “I could make that myself,” and then I get obsessed with the idea of a new project, and I’m off!

Design*Sponge: When do you feel the most creative?

Brett Bara: When I have a very particular need for something specific. Whether my goal is to fix up a spot in my home or to finally have the perfect winter coat, when there’s something that I want, and I want it to be just right, I usually get fired up to try to make it myself.

Design*Sponge: What do you do to keep yourself, your space and your time organized?

Brett Bara: I have given up on the idea of ever being completely organized, I think! And I try not to beat myself up about it. I try to keep my things loosely grouped by categories, but I don’t get too crazy about it. I’ve learned to let go of trying to get it all perfect and be okay with good enough.

Image above: I made the woven paper basket for one of my Sewing 101 columns on Design*Sponge, and I use it all the time to hold my knitting! That accordion-like structure is a yarn swift, used to wind hanks of yarn into balls. It’s a handy tool, but I think it’s quite beautiful in a sculptural way, too.

Image above: One side of my sewing table plus my shelves of (way too many) craft books . . . including my book, Sewing in a Straight Line (Potter Craft, 2011)!

Image above: Specialty presser feet for my sewing machine, paintbrushes, more knitting needles in a whiskey box, paint and glitter!

Image above: My dad picks up vintage knitting needles for me whenever he sees them at flea markets; a defunct vintage birdcage music box; washi tape.

Image above: Happy little plant and a plush bird sewn by my mom. (Put a bird on it!)

Image above: The Ikea Alex unit is seriously the best thing ever for crafters; those drawers are the best! Mine has an ever-rotating group of supplies and objects on top.

Image above: Logo mockups for my next project, which I’m very excited about: Brooklyn Craft Camp! It’s a full-day event I’m organizing in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, this coming March, where you can take lots of different craft classes (learn to knit, make terrariums, make jewelry, do macrame, embroider, do print-making, nail art and more!), plus eat good local food, socialize and just have a day to get away and be crafty!

Image above: My jam-packed bookcase, including a crochet afghan in progress, a basket of vintage frames I’ve been meaning to do something with and several handbags (on the doorknob) that I made for an online class I teach (How to Design Your Own Handbags) on Craftsy.

Above image: My sewing machines are among my most treasured possessions. On the left is a Baby Lock serger and the right is my beloved Bernina 440.

Design*Sponge: How to you combat creative blocks?

Brett Bara: This is a tough one. Usually the surefire way for me to break through a creative block is to have a deadline — if I need to get it done, I will! In cases where deadlines aren’t applicable, I try not to force it; if I’m feeling blocked in any particular area, I try to recognize the block and just walk away. A day when I’m not feeling creative in sewing can turn out to be a great day for, say, baking an amazing cake . . . but chances are if I try to force myself to sit there and sew, nothing will come. So I try to just go with the flow, when my schedule allows!

Design*Sponge: What are your go-to sources for craft supplies?

Brett Bara: I love the NYC garment district, especially Mood Fabrics and Pacific Trimming. Purl SoHo and City Quilter are also favorites.

Design*Sponge: We live in such a mass-produced, buy-it-now society where everything is either a click or a short drive away. Why should people continue to make things by hand?

Brett Bara: For me, there are two reasons. The first is very much about the process of making things, not the end result. Sure, you can buy a scarf for next to nothing. But the process of picking out a scrumptious yarn, holding it in your hands and knitting with it for hours or days — that’s a whole different experience. There’s nothing like being quiet with yourself and doing a creative project with your own hands. It just feels good, and I truly believe it’s something that we all need as humans. The second reason IS about the end result. I love being able to make things that are exactly the way I want them to be. Whether it’s the perfect little floating nightstands for my tiny bedroom, wall art that’s just the right size for that weird wall or fingerless gloves that are the perfect length for my 3/4-sleeve winter coat — you usually just can’t find super-specific things in ready-made. So why settle for something that’s not quite right when you can make the perfect thing yourself?

Above image: That furry little muppet is my kitty, Fifi. Behind us is my Marimekko-papered entryway, and to the right is a peek of my pink living room walls.

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  • A beautiful interview! But so many “looks into someone’s craft room” are mostly all photos of *objects* in the craft room. Photos of plants, a group of spools, a jar with knitting needles. Pretty, but does not give much into on the room. I’d love a few long shots in order to see different views of the entire room. It helps to see how things are set up and how that helps her work flow and creativity. Thanks for this though. I enjoyed it!

  • Eeeeee! I loooove Fifi! Brett’s blog picts of her are hilarious. That face! Also love her book, the fact that you don’t need a pattern for the projects (including clothes! in any size!) makes it so approachable! So glad to see Brett highlighted!

  • Please, please, please, will you say where you got your groovy sewing table chair? I have considered a lucite chair for some time, but the ones I’ve seen that are reasonable have looked very flimsy. Lovely interview!

  • the little box that holds her sewing feet is awesome. where did it come from? looks like it’d be great for holding dremel attachments too :) great interview and space!

  • Yay for Brett! I love her book, her blog, and how easy and accessible her projects are. And Fifi. Love me some Catlady Fridays!

  • I think studio tours are quickly becoming my favorite column, it is so inspiring to see other people’s workspaces and the tools they use. Keep up the great work!

  • Please ask her where she picked up that box for holding presser feet – must have. Great space, nice interview.

  • Brett, can you tell us where you hide (and how you organize!) your fabric? I’m only a beginner sewer, but already I feel like I’m drowning in fabric and scraps that I can’t bear to throw away (surely I will make a quilt with it all someday, right?).

  • Great post. I agree with Caroline above, though, a long shot or two would have helped us see how it all fits together. Especially in cities, we know it’s all about how the total square footage is organized. Cheers.

  • The box is made by Bernina specifically for Bernina feet. I believe it comes with some machines, but it might be an additional accessory for purchase.

  • hi all!

    Thanks so much for the nice words, I have a big smile reading your comments. :) Here are a few answers:

    -My clear acrylic chair is a Calligaris Alchemia.
    -The box holding my presser feet came with my Bernina sewing machine. You can probably buy the boxes alone from Bernina, but I’m not sure!
    -Most of my fabric lives in closets in this room — crammed onto shelves. I don’t have a fancy system, I just stack it up!

    I’ll try to post some long shots of the full room on my blog in the next couple of weeks, so check brettbara.com for that. :)

    Fifi sends her love to all!


  • How do you deal with time alone and time with others? How does that affect your creativity and your time to carry out your ideas? So: do you ever get lonely and what do you do about it?

  • I love the idea of using a picture ledge for spools of thread. I’ve so many, I just stick them, tangled threads, and all into plastic boxes. Not the greatest storage, but I do like the idea of making a statement with them on a wall. They are colorful, much like skeins of yarn. I wish my sewing space were as pretty as Brett’s. I’m going to have to work at it in my new space TK.

  • I am lucky to be Brett’s friend and neighbor, and a frequent guest in her studio– even more inviting and inspiring in real life. This is a lovely feature for an awesome talent!

  • Just starting my own space again after being in a relationship where there was no room for my craftings.You enspire me to get on it and make it my own.I love your visual ideas and hope you keep it up,as I can see me checking in from time to time.

  • Seeing that cute “Barbie wardrobe” for presser feet always makes me smile! Good for you for keeping them in it! It’s so easy to just toss them into a jumble in your pin bowl when you are in a hurry! I have a couple of those picture shelves that I’v been meaning to put up over my machine table just like you did. Thanks for sharing your space!

  • love brett! met her in person once in anthropologie. she’s so creative and crafty yet also just real and very nice. thanks for sharing this tour!

  • I just loved this interview!! Oh my I’ve been watching You on PBS… I learned so much. I had no idea of your sewing until I saw the class on Craftsy. I quickly signed up. I’m making handbags based on your inspiring lessons. I hope you have another Brooklyn crafts day…. I will be following you closely. It’s great to see you have a love for various art forms, as do I.