what's in your toolbox

What’s In Your Toolbox: Jasika Nicole

by Annie Werbler

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Jasika Nicole may be best-known as an actor (or perhaps as the owner of a lovely craftsman home), but her proudest achievements happen in the parts of her life between film and TV projects. Filling up the empty periods after filming Fringe and Scandal, Jasika taught herself how to build furniture for the home she and her wife recently purchased. After succeeding with these rougher tasks, Jasika committed herself to sewing most of their personal wardrobe when she learned about the concept of “slow fashion” — an idea that promotes a more thoughtful, economical, and eco-friendly approach to style and clothing. She then combined the making of soft and hard goods by taking an upholstery class and learning the trade, instead of paying someone else to finish her projects.

Jasika loves developing characters, but her “ability to transform a space with her ideas, to wear items that she makes with her own hands, and to write and illustrate her own stories on her own terms” has given her new confidence and purpose beyond a career. She feels inspired to keep learning and broadening her views on what it means to be creative. Jasika documents her DIY endeavors over at the Try Curious Blog, and if you’re a beginner within close proximity, she might even lend you a sewing machine along with her advice. —Annie

Photography by Claire J. Savage

What’s in your toolbox?

Enough patience for three people. Three sewing machines in constant rotation (a Janome serger, a vintage Singer, and a Bernina 350), plus the first sewing machine I ever owned, a 12-year-old Brother, that I keep on hand to lend to beginning sewers. I’ve also got an arsenal of thread, patterns, fabric, yarn, and needles, and a great iron and ironing board (which I made by upholstering an old IKEA butcher block with batting and fabric).

What's In Your Toolbox: Jasika Nicole, on Design*Sponge

Fill in the blank, “When I am in my studio, I feel ____________.”


What's In Your Toolbox: Jasika Nicole, on Design*Sponge

What’s on the top shelves of your inspiration library right now?

There is a French pattern company called Republique du Chiffon that just released several of their patterns in English, so I am excited to delve into a few of those soon. How To Make Your Own Shoes by Mary Wales Loomis is a book that I have read cover to cover more than once, and I have been experimenting with the process of making my own shoes for about a year. Finding the right lasts is the trickiest part, so each time I find a new pair in my size to work with, I get excited to dive in again.

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How do you keep yourself organized?

Pinterest is probably my most effective tool for keeping my ideas organized. I have boards for crafts that I want to try, patterns I want to make, fabrics I want to buy, and tutorials I want to follow, and I love having access to it anywhere I go. In terms of organizing my physical space, I implemented one simple rule for my craft room: I have to clean up after each big project. Before I can start anything new, I vacuum the floor, pick up the stray pins, put all my pattern pieces back in their proper bins and put all my fabric away. I get really distracted when my workspace is cluttered, but thankfully everything in the craft room has its proper place, so cleaning up is quick and easy.

One of my bureaus has lots of small, mismatched drawers that are perfect for holding all my sewing notions like zippers, needles, buckles, and interfacing. I dedicated a huge bin to discarded paper and packing materials, which I repurpose for wrapping paper (I usually stamp or paint on the paper to make it decorative). Someone gifted me an old vintage bureau a while back, which I spruced up with paint and use to hide the bulk of my fabric stash. I also built some (embarrassingly shoddy) shelves for one of the walls in my craft room where I house my books and random items like tin cans, old drawings, and pieces of styrofoam.

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If you could have one superhero or magical power, what would it be and why?

To have a body that never gets tired. Standing up for long periods of time at a cutting table starts to wreak havoc on my back the older I get, and I can only imagine the amount of sewing and cooking and building I would be able to churn out if the wellbeing of my body were never a concern!

What's In Your Toolbox: Jasika Nicole, on Design*Sponge

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and what is the one piece of advice you would offer to a young artist, maker, or designer?

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” My mother used to say this to me all the time when I was little, whether I was working on a drawing or trying out for the cheerleading squad. Hearing that phrase used to annoy me to no end; it just seemed like an uninspired slogan an adult would say to a child if they were frustrated about something. But the words must have penetrated my psyche over the years because when it comes to making things, I am unusually focused and imperturbable — I don’t give up easily. That’s not to say that I don’t feel defeated at times, but I give myself a lot of room for messing up and doing things “wrong.” My best advice to others would have to be exactly what my mom taught me! I often tell people that I am not equipped with any special talent or aptitude for making things — I just learned early on how to be kind to myself when I made mistakes. When you stop beating yourself up for not getting something right the first time, starting over seems a lot less daunting, and the process ends up being more fun.

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How do you combat creative blocks?

I usually switch to a different project when I feel stuck or unmotivated. Every once in a while, sewing starts to feel like a chore, and when that happens I pull out my sketchbook and start writing and drawing a new chapter of my comic, or I start working on plans for a new piece of furniture that I have been wanting to build, or sometimes I just clean the house. Switching my attention to something else usually reinvigorates me and allows me to go back to what I was initially working on.

But once in a blue moon I get to a place where there isn’t ANYTHING on my list that I want to accomplish and I feel completely uninspired. I have learned that in these moments, my body and my brain are telling me that they are tired and want to spend some time doing nothing at all. I like to keep busy as much as possible, so sitting down to relax with no agenda can be really difficult for me (I can’t even watch TV without a knitting project in my lap). But I make myself slow down and recharge, and after a day or two I usually feel ready to start working again.

What's In Your Toolbox: Jasika Nicole, on Design*Sponge

Where do you like to look or shop for inspiration?

I follow a lot of sewing blogs and Instagram accounts for pattern designers and fabric stores, so I am never at a loss for what to work on next — I probably have more sewing projects in my queue than I could make in a lifetime. I have become very fond of going to estate sales in the past few years and I find that experience really inspiring, too. My favorite homes are ones that have been kept in pristine condition for several decades, with shag carpets and beautiful mid-century modern furniture and architecture. I also love going to estate sales in homes where a crafter or sewer used to live. I have found some of the most amazing vintage notions, patterns, trims, ribbons, and fabric, and I get so thrilled when I am able to use them on my own projects.

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If you could peek inside the studio or toolbox of any artist, maker, designer, or craftsperson, whose would it be and why?

Probably Heather Lou of the pattern brand Closet Case Files. I was introduced to Heather Lou’s blog a couple of years ago and I immediately became a fan. From what I have read on her site and heard from interviews, she used to be an interior designer for a large company and found herself disillusioned with her job and the environment she was working in, so she decided to dedicate herself full-time to being a pattern designer. Not only is she an intrepid seeker of knowledge and endlessly committed to her craft, but she also shares a lot of the bits and pieces she has picked up in the process of starting her own business in hopes of providing encouragement to other women with similar interests.

I am fascinated by the intersection of her two worlds (interior design and clothing design) and how good she is at what she does. She made a pattern for skinny jeans that turned a lot of people’s worlds upside down (in a good way) by convincing all her readers that tackling something as seemingly difficult as jeans was totally in our wheelhouse. And she was right. Heather Lou is smart, inspiring and passionate, and the sewing community is lucky to have her.

What's In Your Toolbox: Jasika Nicole, on Design*Sponge

What’s on your inspirational playlist at the moment?

I have been a fan of Hiatus Kaiyote since our local radio station KCRW started playing their music several years ago on their after-midnight shows. Recently, my wife won us tickets to see them record live in a private studio for an audience of about 100 people, and we were seven feet from the stage — never have I been so close to a band that I loved this much! I have been playing their last album, Choose Your Weapon, nonstop ever since, and it’s probably going to be my inspirational playlist for the foreseeable future!


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  • This is great advice: “When you stop beating yourself up for not getting something right the first time, starting over seems a lot less daunting, and the process ends up being more fun.”
    Can you tell me where the white dresser with the multi-size and -color drawers is from?

    • Hi, Eileen! Thanks so much for your kind words! The cool dresser with all the different drawers comes from a Canadian furniture store called Nood that unfortunately closed it’s doors several years ago; I bought this at their going-out-of-business sale. It wasn’t really at a going-out-of-business price, but I splurged on it cause I had never seen anything quite like it before, and it has proven itself to be an essential item for my craft room.

  • You are my clone! I love that bureau–perfect for organizing all the oddly shaped craft room dwellers. And the creative rotation is KEY to preventing burnout. Right now I’m super into building, but a few months ago it was sewing, and a few months before that it was cross-stitch. I still love all my hobbies but when it becomes daunting you gotta do what you said–try something else!

  • Thanks for bringing this series back, D*S! I loved hearing about Jasika’s approach to her work, so inspiring! (BTW commenter Eileen, I think IKEA carries similar dressers to one you’d asked about)