Michelle Morris is the creator of SEWN Magazine, a fashion-forward inclusive publication full of gorgeously photographed clothes and accessories, interviews with designers and sewing tips and pattern resources.
When long time sewist Michelle Morris looked through a dozen sewing magazines and found only two people who looked like her – a person of color – “I was blown away.” “I knew there was a community (of us),” says Morris, whose award-winning blog, ThatBlackChic, proved her point. “I knew we were out there, so why weren’t we in the magazines?” she wondered. Instead of wondering, Morris became proactive and created SEWN Magazine, a glossy fashion-forward, inclusive publication that was conceived and launched in about nine months. SEWN is full of gorgeously photographed clothes and accessories, interviews with designers, and oh, yes, sewing tips and pattern resources.
“I wanted a sewing magazine that represented not some, but all the makers out there, especially those who look like me,” says Morris. But SEWN, she adds, “is more a fashion magazine than a sewing magazine. I want it filled with things that are amazing to look at.”
Which makes sense, since she studied fashion design, tailoring, and pattern making, worked in the fashion industry, and definitely has an eye for pairing bright colors and bold patterns to create knock-out looks. Her clothes, often modeled by her daughter Mori, have been featured in magazines and blogs. She has penned monthly posts for Fabric Mart Fabrics, and has been a pattern tester for Closet Case, Straight Stitch, Blue Dot, Style Sew Me, and Nina Ramel patterns. Morris was a brand ambassador for Bernina and since 2018 has done the same for Husqvarna®Viking®.
“Her creative vision and extensive knowledge of garment sewing showcase our products’ features in a way that delights and educates our consumers,” says Dean Brindle, CMO of SVP Worldwide, which also includes the Singer® and Pfaff® brands.
Morris’s blog, which she started in 2013, was the precursor and catalyst for her magazine adventure. The blog began as a DIY/fashion/sewing site, but she found that her sewing posts were getting the most hits, so those became her focus. She began to be noticed. In 2015, ThatBlackChic was one of Burda Styles’ 50 Best of Blogging sites and she won the inaugural Rippin’ Ain’t Easy sewing contest at prettygirlssew.
Morris studied fashion design, tailoring, and pattern making, worked in the fashion industry, and has an eye for pairing bright colors and bold patterns to create knock-out looks.
The idea for SEWN began percolating in 2016, and by early 2017 she was researching the idea in earnest. She investigated printers, explored mailing costs, talked to graphic designers, met with sewists, chatted with pattern makers, found editors, and “picked the brains of a lot of people.”
“I knew that starting this business was going to be me doing a whole lot of the work,” says Morris. “I’m an artist. My main focus is on the art, so I knew I needed people to edit (content), contributors to create projects, and seamstresses, because I can’t sew everything.”
But she has high standards, and before sewing for Morris, applicants had to pass a test. “I gave them a blazer and fabric and had them sew something. I didn’t want anyone who I had to micromanage or (whose work I had to) re-do.”
Morris financed the magazine herself, with the support of her husband, “my biggest booster. He’s an entrepreneur at heart, so he was excited that I was starting this venture. He’s so proud of me.” She had enough money to pay for two issues and hoped the third issue would pay for itself, which it now does, “plus a little bit extra.”
Finding the right price point was a struggle, she says. She looked at prices of other high-end magazines and knew the price had to be high enough to cover expenses, plus some extra, “but I was concerned people wouldn’t pay that. At first, she offered a one year, six-issue subscription, but found it hard to make those funds last an entire year. Today, she prints to order, plus a few extras. Issues cost $14.99 plus $5 postage to U.S. addresses. This plan also makes it easier to control the international shipping fees.
Morris wanted a magazine that was tangible since people spend so much time on computers every day. Having something to hold in your hands gives you the chance to take a break from your screen.
Starting a print magazine when so many publications are folding seems like a fool’s errand, and Morris considered going digital. “But I don’t like digital magazines,” she explains. “People are on their computers all day; sometimes you need a break. I want a magazine I can put in my hands. A physical magazine is tangible.” Also, she says, she feels it is easier to control the income stream with a tangible product that readers purchase up front. The biggest hiccup in the enterprise, she notes, was mailing costs. She was unable to get a bulk mail discount, and she had more international orders than anticipated, which meant shipping costs for the first issues were more than she had budgeted.
SEWN’s first issue, which came out December 2017, sold 714 copies, her highest to date, with her August 2020 men’s issue coming close at 600. Some issues have themes, such as August’s male designers issue, or a Valentine theme. Morris, who also works full time as a trainer for a medical transcription company, does most of the magazine’s design and layout herself, working from the family room of her Philadelphia home.
Morris started her creative journey young and “from necessity — we were dirt poor” and often re-made clothing found in thrift stores. A seventh-grade home economics class was life-changing. While other students made basic items such as totes and skirts, Morris’ first project was a pair of pleated pants. Yes, she had mad skills even then. Her schooling in fashion design, pattern making, and tailoring led to work in the fashion industry, including wedding gowns. She found the work so demanding, especially with a family, that “I started to dislike sewing” and took a “sewing sabbatical.” In 2013 she discovered sewing blogs, saw what people were making, thought, “I can do that,” and started stitching again. Morris loves creating, but rarely sews for herself these days, using daughter Mori as her muse and model.
“Clothes are like art to me. The clothes I sew are art pieces, not conducive to being worn every day. I’m into the wow factor.”
There certainly is a wow factor in the award-winning piece she created for the Rippin’ Ain’t Easy challenge, in which she wove black garbage bags into a “fabric,” sewed it into a dress from her own pattern, and sprayed it gold. Wow, indeed. “I learned a lot about trash bags,” she says with a laugh. And that’s how Michelle Morris got her “sew-jo” back.
Support Morris’ work and treat yourself to a copy of SEWN Magazine.
Roberta G. Wax
Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com