Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Dana Willard, of MADE and MADE Everyday. Image via MADE


I’m super excited to introduce you to a new friend I met at Alt Summit back in January. Dana Willard was a speaker on one of the panels I helped out with and did a fabulous job as the moderator. She’s a firecracker of wit, exuberance, intelligence, and enthusiasm. I loved meeting her in Salt Lake City and I’ve been following her site, MADE, and her new video project, MADE Everyday, ever since. Dana has a knack for creating stylish, modern projects that are also totally approachable and beginner friendly, something I find incredibly valuable. My sewing machine and I aren’t quite BFFs yet — we’re still in the “getting to know you” phase, and every once in a while, we freak out at each other. Dana’s projects are building my confidence and boosting our daughter’s stockpile of adorable clothes along the way. Made + Remade, meet Dana Willard!

1. Tell us a little about yourself and your site.

Hello, DIY friends! I’m Dana from the creative site MADE and I’m a 37 year-old mom living in Austin, TX with my husband Casey and our 3 kids.  I love to sew, make, photograph, write, share, and then do it all again. So blogging really is the perfect marriage of tricks for me. My site offers a slew of tutorials and Webisodes to help even a beginner sewer learn to sew clothing and fun crafts … without leaving out any of the details. I think it’s important to share all those little tips so that you feel like I’m sitting right there next you, cheering you on! My goal with MADE is to help you realize that YOU CAN DO IT using everyday items from around the house, with or without patterns, and with crazy make-it-work moments. 

Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Image via MADE

2. How long have you had your site, and how did you transition from hobby to full time blogger?

I started MADE 6 years ago as a creative way to share projects with family and friends. I’d recently left my full-time career in the film industry to be a full-time mom and decided to start sewing clothes for my kids. And I loved it! Well, I actually loved the presentation of it even more. Trying to make clothing look beautiful through photography and writing made my creative spirit thrive. So I started a blog, shared my projects, and just kept on sewing/sharing. It was the perfect outlet from everyday mom life.  

About a year into the blogging adventure some of my tutorials caught momentum and people really started passing links around and sharing their versions of my projects. It was exciting! My traffic was growing. And suddenly I became “a Blogger.” So I produced more content, shared more tutorials, and started making and selling patterns. I had the cool opportunity to write a book called Fabrics A to Z, which is a fabulous resource for any sewer and fabric enthusiast. Then this past year, we launched a new sewing show called MADE Everyday which really combines everything I love into one medium. So to answer your question … somewhere along those blurry lines, blogging became a full-time job for me but only because I wanted it to be. And I think that’s the important element for anyone who wants to start a blog. Don’t go into it just to make money. But do it because you’re passionate about making, writing, and sharing. Because that is the drive that keeps me up till 2 a.m., tweaking things on my site or scheming new project ideas. I really love what I do. And I’m thankful for that.

Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Image via MADE

3. When did you start sewing? I just started this past year, and I’m always so envious of those who learned earlier on! 

My grandma taught me to sew when I was 10 years old. And we started by sewing straight lines on a paper bag, without any thread. When I was 13 my mom taught me to sew using store-bought patterns and I made a whole wardrobe of elastic waist-banded pants with matching scrunchies in floral cotton prints (Yep. It was the 80s). But it wasn’t until I started sewing for my kids that I had an ah-ha moment and realized that you don’t need a store-bought pattern and fancy instructions to sew! And just like Phil Conners in Groundhog Dog I declared, “I’m not playing by their rules anymore.” And I started making it up as I went. I deconstructed my kids clothes, taking them apart and figuring out how clothing was really put together. I studied clothing at the store to figure out a new sewing technique. And then I started making my own patterns for clothing and learned to draft and grade them into different sizes. It was so freeing! And it made me love sewing even more.

Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Image via MADE

4. Where do you get the ideas for your projects — necessity or midnight brainstorm? 

Maybe this is too much info … but my best ideas come to me in the shower! Maybe it’s the warm water, or the fact that my kids — for the most part — can’t find me, but I often write out blog posts in my head or hash out new projects in those precious quiet times. I should start showering three times a day …

5. From idea to completed piece, how long does a project typically take you? 

Oh wow, you’re starting to sound like my husband! He’s always asking me to calculate how much time I dedicate to a particular project so he can analyze the monetary value (he’s a statistician). But like most creative people, my process is not always a straight linear path. And often I think about projects backwards. I think about the photo set-up of the finished project first. Where will I take the pictures? What color will the background be? Do I want any props in the shot? As I drive around my town, I’m always on the lookout for interesting photo locations. And then I think about the fabrics I’ll use and will there be multiple versions of the project? If so, those two fabrics should coordinate for the photos. And if my children will be modeling for the photos I need to work around school schedules, their enthusiasm, and the weather. There are so many factors involved!  

So. How much time does it take? For a quick craft project … probably 2 days: a few hours one day taking step-by-step photographs and then a few hours the next day editing photos and writing a blog post. For most of my sewing tutorials … more like a week (working on it a few hours every day) since there are many different elements involved.

Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Image via MADE

6.What’s the one sewing technique that caused you the most headaches to master?

Hmmm. You know, I can’t really think of one because mostly, I stick with simple stuff! Haah. I’m just a sucker for quick satisfaction. Probably the most frustration has come from PDF pattern making and getting every little detail from page to page to match up just perfectly. I’ve stayed up late way too many nights fixing Illustrator problems. But what I hear most often from people is that they’re scared to sewing with knit fabrics, which is always funny since most of wardrobes are made up of knits! My first response to that is: Never fear the fabric. Sewing is an adventure and you can always make it work. And if you are scared to sew with knits then you’re in luck … I have a detailed post about sewing with knits here with helpful tips and encouragement. 

Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Image via MADE

7. Of your own wardrobe (or your children’s) what’s the ratio of bought vs. made? How often do you find yourself “remaking” bought clothes to upgrade them?

I love to sew for my kids but it’s impossible and impractical to make it all. So I pick and choose my projects based on “wow” factor and simplicity. I enjoy projects that are fairly simple to make and allow a lot of room for my own style, such as a cute shirt that stands out. I avoid projects that are time-consuming and show little returns, such as a pair of jeans or a simple white T-shirt. Why slave over it when I can buy a cute kid’s pair at Target for $10?? I also mix our handmade clothing with thrifted items and repurposed looks. Just a touch of handmade here and there will give your clothing originality and save you money. But my advice to others about sewing a handmade wardrobe is to do what works for you and your family. If you only have time to make one skirt the entire year, then embrace it. Don’t sweat over it and enjoy that special skirt!  We should never feel guilty about the amount of “handmade” we infuse in our lives. The fact that we even want to sew is wonderful in itself.

Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Image via MADE

8. What are some of your favorite projects of all time and why?

Though I love to share tutorials about basic clothing items like How to sew a T-shirt in a 5 steps or Kid Shorts or a Simple Skirt… probably my favorite projects are the ones where I just free-sew, without thinking about taking photos along the way or turning into a pattern.  

For Christmas one year I sewed a wardrobe for my daughter’s teddy bear and had a blast! I couldn’t stop making items, they were just so cute and tiny. And readers seemed to enjoy it as well.  

I also love projects that make my kids happy. I sewed Lucy a dress for the first day of school and she couldn’t stop twirling around. It made me wish I was a kid again!

And the Goodnight Moon Jammies for my son Owen might be one of my all-time favorite photo set-ups. My patient husband helped me load our son’s bed into his truck and drive across town to a blue building where I could recreate a bedroom scenario like you see in the book. The things we do for the things we love.

Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Image via MADE

9. You have GREAT video tutorials — are you working on more for upcoming projects? Teasers or hints welcome!

Thank you! Yes!  My new show MADE Everyday is a fresh approach to sewing that teaches you to create new, simple things using everyday items from around the house. We shot 9 episodes in the first season and we’ve shared 4 episodes so far, so there are 5 more to come throughout the spring! And there’s a little something for everyone. Some are simple sewing, some projects are no-sew, some episodes are for parties, some are for babies, and one episode involves making a lamp! Does that tease you enough? In a nutshell, the show is colorful and easy-to-follow, with really fun music. Just hit play!

Creative Genius: Dana Willard of MADE

Image via MADE

10. You have a ton of great DIY wearable projects for kids, babies, women, even bags, but you also have a huge catalog of projects for the home, for fun, for holidays, etc. Which are your FAVORITE projects to work on and why? 

I love to create things that I think other people will want to make.  And I like to keep it simple so there’s tons of room for you to add your own twist and style on it. Just because a project is called “Basic Shorts” doesn’t make it boring. There are so many ways to mix it up! And I love to see other people’s take on my patterns and ideas. It’s a huge compliment and creatively inspiring.

Creative Genius: Dana Willard

Image via MADE

Thanks so much, Dana! My “must make” list just grew exponentially — not only is Dana insanely talented with a needle and thread, check out those photos! Dana is a pro at seemingly everything she touches, and I count myself lucky to have run into her at Alt Summit. And seriously, go check out Dana’s MADE Everyday videos. She’s hilarious, adorable, and just as self-deprecating on film as she is in print.  P.S. Anyone who knows me cracked up laughing when Dana said I sound like her husband, who’s a statistician. If only I were so logical and methodical as that …

The Creative Genius series on Made + Remade features fabulous DIYers and makers who inspire us. Meet more Creative Geniuses and help us share the spirit of DIY!

5 Responses

  1. Kyle says:

    I just discovered her blog in the last 6 months or so and it's great! Love seeing all of her tutorials!

  2. cucicucicoo says:

    Great interview! I've been following Dana for years and just love her projects, patterns and even just looking at her beautiful photos. :) Lisa

  3. Hayley says:

    Yay! I've been following Dana on MADE for 3 years now. Although I grew up with a mom and Grandma that were expert seamstresses, the "learning" seemed to have skipped over me. When I found Dana's blog, I poured over her tutorials. They were so fresh, beautiful, and inspiring. As a "newbie" I gained a skill each time I read through one of her posts. After a solid month of sewing, I looked up one day and told my husband, "I feel like I've gone back to school…but this time, it's so exciting!" I'm happy to see her featured here, and so glad to have found a new creative blog,

  4. Nancy says:

    Dana does have a great blog and I really enjoying seeing all the awesome things she makes and gathering lots of inspiration as well.

  5. [...] Plus I get to share the DIY homepage with Vanilla Ice for the day? Quick to the point, to the point no faking….cooking MCs like a pound of bacon. Check out the complete interview HERE. [...]

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About Ellen Foord 

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As the founder, designer, and one-woman workforce behind Minnow + Co, a tight budget has never stopped this DIY-girl-at-heart from creating a beautiful, modern, creative home and treating every ...

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