From the Sewing Table, Historical Fashion
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An Interview with Beth Shaw of Historical Designs

Historical Designs

I am so excited about today’s post, as it introduces you to someone in the historical sewing world I have longed admired!  

Beth Shaw of Historical Designs  graciously accepted my request to interview her and share her work and knowledge with all of you.  Beth is someone, who once you learn more about her and her determined spirit, instantly inspires you!  Focusing on authentic historical reproduction items, Beth offers a wide range (I’m talking Renaissance to Edwardian and everything in-between) of historical garments both inner and outer.  Her attention to detail and passion for the art of historical sewing is truly admiring!

 I hope you enjoy learning more about this incredible woman and her love of all things historical and furry! 🙂

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Beth and her adorable cat!

The Interview

1.Your Etsy Shop and website Historical Designs has been a top choice for many men and women interested in historical reenactment and historical fashion. Can you share with us the journey that led you to historical sewing and owning your own business?

I actually started this whole expedition in theatrical costuming after realizing I was never going to cut it as an actor; acting made me super neurotic and just weird! In college I was performing in a large cast play at a small college so everyone had to work a technical job as well. I was afraid of power tools, so I went to the costume shop to find work that was more my speed. My first job was working on my own costume but I discovered I really liked sewing and was sort of good at it. Over time I found I preferred historical plays and was really quite interested in solving the mystery of what was going on under those layers. I moved on to being the Costume Designer for the New York Renaissance Faire, which I did for 3 seasons. During that steep learning curve I decided to really pursue truly historical Renaissance clothing but I could only do it with the Royal characters; everyone else had to be Faire-wear peasants which were certainly fun to build but not authentic. So I outgrew that position and decided that, since I now lived near Gettysburg, I would branch out into the Civil War.

I tried working for another clothing business but was frustrated at the utter lack of organization, the overpriced wares, then they stopped paying me but still wanted me to work. Major management problems! I just knew I could do a better job on my own so I leaped and opened my Etsy shop! The first few years were hard, it takes a while to build a following, I was living in a camper in my parents driveway so I could use my old room as a sewing room, and I still had a staggering amount to learn. I’m still learning now, you never stop learning or you stagnate and that’s a sad place to be. Etsy was a good avenue for selling what I’d built because I could sell a little bit at a time and fill in the gaps over time to create a complete line of items. Now I have a nice, ever growing following and product line. I am so grateful to all my clients who have helped build that following through word of mouth! I also have 2 wonderful employees who help keep me sane and pointed in the right direction. I really couldn’t be where I am now without them all!

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2. Your shop features a wide range of historical time periods. Do you have a personal favorite and, if so, how do you gather inspiration for that period?

Oh my favorite time period changes every year or so. I’m that way with favorite colors too. Right now, my favorites are Renaissance and the color purple. Before that is was Regency and blue. I feel Edwardian and dusty pink coming on soon though! Change is good. My inspiration comes from fashion plates, vintage clothing, movies/television, and my brain! I’ve been building historical pieces (and fantasy pieces) long enough to be able to take it off the page and still remain historical.

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3. Which time period is the most challenging to recreate and do you have any tips to share with us?

The Late Victorian bustle era is the most challenging for me. I’ve had the least experience with this time period so there are still foggy question marks in my mind regarding construction. So I guess it was pretty risky for me to choose 1870 as the time period for my Wedding gown! It was a bit of a hail Mary but I love a challenge. And it worked out!

Tip- 1. Research! There’s no need to reinvent the wheel with historical costuming. Even if you’re doing a cosplay rendition that takes history off the page like say Lord of the Rings or Cinderella, the work is done, it exists somewhere. Find it and go for it!
Tip-2. Make sure you have the right tools for the job. Your sewing machine should be heavy, fast, and precise. Always use a heavy duty machine, whether you’re building corsetry, billowy skirts, or Men’s tailored jackets. Lightweight home use machines are too light, you’ll pull them right off the table. They have baby small motors which make them slow and weak; they won’t punch through thick fabrics or many layers of fabric. Useless! They’re also usually more expensive than their heavy duty or commercial grade counterparts. Boo…

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4. What is your favorite part of the sewing process?
Seeing the final product! Or rather seeing my client’s reaction to the final product. While seeing my design in my mind is nice and I can enjoy it up there, there is really no comparison to seeing the finished piece and knowing it’s going to make my client so very happy! It’s truly gratifying to get those little messages from my clients telling me how much they love their clothes! I know I done good! 🙂

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5. What is the most challenging aspect of running your own online business?

Multitasking is the single most difficult part of running an online business! I think that rings true for brick and mortar businesses as well. Instead of having a single full time job as a designer or stitcher, I am full time designer, stitcher, secretary, book keeper, web content manager, employee manager, and a general maid-of-all-work. It’s hard to keep it all together and have time for family and friends. But the work is more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done and my friends and family are supportive and help me stay positive when I get bogged down. My husband especially gives me pep talks and helps me work through complicated situations. He’s a total pro at making sense of my hysterical blathering when I get overwhelmed!

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6. Do you have any advice to my readers who might be interested in starting a creative business of their own?
Do it! Running your own business is a lot of work to be sure but it’s completely worth it! Instead of working a job your don’t care for and playing with your hobbies in your spare time, your hobbies ARE your job. At the end of the day you feel tired in a good way because you spent all day doing what you love rather than listening to tiresome folks drone on about stuff you don’t care about and feel exhausted at the effort of keeping your true feelings on the inside. If you think you might like to start your own business, I strongly recommend reading Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The author interviewed a collection of people who became millionaires during the Great Depression about how they did it when everyone else couldn’t find work. It’s a truly great read, very inspiring. I have no interest in becoming a millionaire but the book really helped me develop a clear path for Historical Designs and turn it into a career!

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I love the advice that Beth gives about being determined and doing what you love!  She truly is a model for all of us looking to turn our passion into a career.  I hope you have enjoyed meeting and learning more about Beth.  To see and learn more about what Beth offers, please visit her Etsy Shop and her website Historical Designs.

With a big thank you to Beth, I hope you all have a wonderful day!

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