an interview with Marie-Michelle Melotte, part 1

Every few months a photo pops up in the Oliver + S Flickr group that causes everyone in the studio to stop working and stare in amazement at their computer screens. It wasn’t until last week, after this Bubble Dress appeared (the description on the photo says it is a “butter coloured paisley motif on ecru Oscar de la Renta silk matelassé, cream cotton poplin lining”), that we put the pieces together. All these swoon-inducing garments are being sewn by the same person.

Bubble Dress

Once we realized this, we had to know more. And we thought you might like to know more too.

Marie-Michelle Melotte, the person making all these beautiful pieces, agreed to answer some questions about her sewing projects and her approach to finding and selecting such wonderful fabrics.

Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself.

Marie-MichelleI was born and raised in the Canadian prairies at the foot of the Rockies in Calgary. My parents were francophone Mauritian immigrants (thus the French name) and I spent the better part of my childhood, when not sliding down snowy slopes or indulging in a pony obsession, amongst the pots and pans of the family restaurant.

With adulthood came the thirst for new geography, and I’ve spent the last couple of years gallivanting through Europe, a young boy cub of five years named Félix, in tow. Our little family has relocated back to Canada for the next few years, although the heart quietly yearns for a swift return to French life. When I’m not sewing, I can usually be found writing scathing short stories in French, baking pies, making seasonal jellies, and slaughtering magazines for collage work.

You’ve made some astonishingly beautiful garments from Oliver + S patterns. We were smitten by the Bubble Dress you made recently. Tell us about it.

That Bubble Dress is constructed from a beautiful piece of Oscar de la Renta silk matelassé. The fabric was substantial which allowed for first-rate draping and proportions at the bubble hem and reminded me of a pair of cotton brocade curtains I had in my room as a child but without the dreadful weight–which got me thinking about The Sound of Music and the scene where the Julie Andrews character transforms bedroom curtains into the Von Trapp children’s play clothes. (Yes, inspiration is strange, wonderful and musical!)

The subtle, raised, butter-colored paisley pattern on an ecru background provided good visual and tactile interest and it got lined in a plain cream cotton poplin so as not to detract from the main theme of the dress. The only modification brought to the pattern were snap button closures covered with Belgian flat cotton mouliné buttons.

What about your Sunday Brunch jacket?

This is made from chunky Italian wool covered with a fake cable knit crisscross. Since the fabric is quite bulky, although malleable enough to be a pleasure to work with, I chose to do the inside pieces with plain cream cotton poplin to keep the Michelin Man effect out of the picture. The rough-hewn buttons are from the good folks at Wildwood Buttons in British Columbia who use salvaged tree cuts to great effect.

Sunday Brunch Jacket

I’ve long been infatuated with one of my mother’s wool coats from the sixties she had bought in England before crossing the Atlantic thinking that her tailored European woolies would be tough enough for a Canadian winter! The ample cut of the Sunday Brunch Jacket combined with its Mao collar were dead ringers for the vintage coat, and I added the yew wood buttons to shake up the classical look and add a touch of pure Canadiana. I also enjoy how the faux cable knit acts as a throwback reminder to the strong checkered pattern of the über-Canadian lumberjack jacket.

You’re not timid about using high-end fabrics and taking on a serious sewing project. When and how did you start sewing?

I used to be deathly scared of sewing machines. In junior high I avoided the Home Ec room like the plague. I would’ve preferred being strapped down to a chair making toothpicks all day in the Industrial Arts lab with big, brawny boys! A combination of temporary psychosomatic aichmophobia and past frustration at being unable to thread a machine made me tell myself that I just couldn’t sew worth a damn and never would. The years went by careless and needle-free.

In university, as a lit major minoring in drama, a compulsory design course and too much time spent in wardrobe storage rekindled an old love for drawing and moreover, drawing costume. So much so, that I was soon spending more time doing character sketches (like these Madwoman of Chaillot costumes) than Saussurean semiotics.

Costumes

Pursuing costume design would have meant relocating to the other side of the country or across seas and unfortunately, I’ve always been a bit of a lackadaisical stay-at-home. As luck would have it, I got married to a Frenchman, moved to France then to Cyprus and back to France, had a baby, usual story.

It’s funny how children make you confront things you thought were once done and over with. My former sewing terror got turned into a passion. With the help of my mother-in-law’s patience and her forty-year-old cast iron dependable clunker of a Singer I was making cushion covers and bunting flags for my little boy’s room and soon enough real pants with real pockets, real coats with piping, and real shirts with buttonholes! I soon realized that not having to shell out ten euros every time something needed hemming was pretty cool too!

All of my sewing is that of a dilettante. I’ve learned as I’ve gone along, bungling things, seam ripping, screaming, groaning, hair pulling and generally lacking poise. But the finished result has always led to dominant equilibrium. And a little cherub face saying, “My mommy made it” is the best sort of heart tugging gratification I can get!

In the next post: a Bubble Dress inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and where else Marie-Michelle finds her inspiration. Until then, you can see more of her projects in her Flickr photostream and visit her blog, Rastaquouère.

10 Comments

  1. Great interview! I’ve been drooling over her creations for awhile now and have been curious about her. Sadly, I don’t read French — I did ask my husband to translate her blog once (he’s fluent in French) but he wasn’t very interested in the task. Looking forward to Part 2!

  2. Sewer

    Shasta: I do read French, but Google Translator works reasonably well. I tested a paragraph on the home page of the blog, which was about baking, and it did a good job.

    Lovely stuff.

  3. justswatchme

    Just fascinating and so inspiring. Thank you for this interview, and please, post lots of pictures.

  4. Karen

    This was wonderful to read. I’ve gone back to “visit” that matelasse dress so many times. How fun to meet the creator.

  5. So pleased to read this and learn more about this very clever artisan.

  6. Yay Marie-Michelle! I found the blog through another link and have been trying to read it with the help of one semester of ninth-grade French plus whatever Greek or Latin roots I can puzzle out. Needless to say I haven’t gotten very far. Folks, if you haven’t seen her baking and her shoe photos (sounds weird, but trust me!) you should check them out, she’s a real artist!

  7. elise

    this was a lovely interview and her garments are so beautiful!
    we’re actually watching the Sound of Music right now, so i got quite the chuckle out of that:O)

  8. Stefanie

    I had so much fun reading this interview, Marie-Michelle is not only an incredibal sewer but a fantastic writer! Her senteces are like art combined with music – it was just such a pleasure to read the interview. Thank you for sharing, Marie-Michelle!

    Warmest wishes fromm Sydney, Stef

    1. Louise Saxton

      I totally agree with your comment!!

  9. Thanks y’all! It’s all very heartwarming!!!!

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