(Images courtesy of Oonaballoona.com)
Actress, singer, sewer and all around Renaissance woman, Marcy Harriell is the magic behind Oonaballona.com. Part sewing blog, part online party, Oonaballoona began when Marcy and her husband (known as Ruggy on the blog) moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 2008. Advised to get a hobby when she moved to West Hollywood, Marcy picked up sewing and hasn’t looked back. Now back in New York City, Marcy continues sewing and keeping her followers inspired. Find out how the blog got its unique name, how fabrics inspire her and why she considers her style insane.
Where did the name for the blog come from? That’s from my parents. They had a bunch of nicknames for me as a kid and Oonaballoona was one of the main ones and it was always Oonaballoona from Kalkatroona. They didn’t go for short nicknames. So when I started the blog it was because my husband, Rob, and I had moved out to Los Angeles. I started to blog so my parents could see what we were doing out there and I named it Oonaballoona in honor of them.
How did you get into sewing? Actually that was because of L.A. too. I did a play with Judith Light (two time Tony® award winner and also known as the mom from the 1980’s television show ‘Who’s The Boss’) in New York City and she found out that we were going to try L.A. out for a few years. She said ‘You have to get a hobby immediately. You have to get a hobby you enjoy that has nothing to do with the business because everything out there is about the business.’ I took it with a grain of salt and thought ‘everyone out there can’t be involved in the business’. Then we’re out there and even the postman is trying to get people to look at his screenplays. Everybody out there is in the business! At least where we were living.
So I picked up sewing because I always wanted to know how. Right before we moved, my parents and my in-laws both surprised me with sewing equipment – a dress form and a featherweight sewing machine. So I really got into it and unlike my other hobbies, this one stuck. I fell in love with it.
What type of fabric is your favorite to work with? That’s hard to say. I told my dad the other day that I don’t like to work with cottons, and said it with a turned up nose. It turns out I was working in three different cottons that very week.
I think it’s the print on the fabric that really gets me. I’ve been finding all these linens with all these fantastic colors and prints. Before that it was rayon and I got into silk crepe de chine. It’s really about the look and the feel of the fabric now for me.
When I started out it was all about getting $2/yard fabric with crazy prints on it. Then I’d get it home and realize it was terrible to sew on because it was . . . I don’t want to say cheap because there are some great polys out there. Poorly made polys – that’s a better description. I’m glad I’ve graduated from those!
Do you always follow a pattern when you sew? I was just talking about this with a friend the other night. Normally if I decide on a pattern there’s a 100% chance that I will go in the complete opposite direction. If I’m working with a pattern then I’ll start with the pattern but I’ll probably veer off at some point. If I’m testing a pattern I’ll stick to it but I like to go off the rails and see what happens.
What inspires you when you decide to sew something? The fabric. It’s always the fabric that inspires me. I’m usually not inspired by a specific pattern or a look I see on the street. That’s part of it. But when I got to the fabric store and see all this beautiful yardage in front of me, I take it home not knowing what I’m going to do with it. The inspiration hits when I see some other things on different blogs or on the runway shows I like to look at online. Then it will influence the fabric but the fabric is the first thing that gets me.
How would you describe your style? I have no idea! (laughs) Hmmm. I’d like to say that I’m classy with a side of insanity. Rob would probably agree with that. He’s been the best at defining my style so far. (Last) winter we were watching the Netflix show Marco Polo. They have all these great costumes with about 8,000 different textures and that are heavy brocaded – just craziness. I got really into that and he told me my style that winter was ‘Mongolian chic’. So I think my style fluctuates on the season or what’s happening in our lives. But there’s always a side order of insanity.
How has your sewing style changed since you began sewing? I think at first, and I think that everyone goes through this when they’re sewing garments – I wanted to sew everything and I wanted to have immediate satisfaction. I wanted to get the materials for a dress, sew it up in a day and wear it out that night. And I expected that to happen every time I sewed something. But with that expectation, there was definitely some sloppy sewing going on there. So I think it’s changed and I really love the process of it and I don’t want to rush the process. There are definitely times when I want the dress right now but I want it to look as good on the inside as it does on the outside. It’s more of a thoughtful process now than it used to be.
What’s the perfect soundtrack for you to listen to while you’re sewing? I love jazz. That would probably be my go-to for sewing. I’m talking about McCoy Tyner, The Bad Plus, Thelonious Monk – jazz that makes you think but there are no vocals. I get distracted by the words because I’m a singer and I’ll start listening to the words and my brain wanders. The other music I can really listen to is Brazilian because although there are words, I have no idea what they’re saying!
As an actress, do you have a favorite movie or play? Oh man, a favorite. That’s super hard. I’ve always loved ‘The Fisher King’. That’s been a favorite of mine for years. Favorite play . . . I don’t think I can answer that one.
I might be able to pick a favorite book – Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins. It’s such a gorgeous book.
As a sewer, do you have a favorite designer? I have two favorite designers – Alexander McQueen and Christian Dior, from the new look era. If I could mix those two styles, that would be my perfect designer. I love that they both love and celebrate women and do it in such extremely different ways. Alexander McQueen was so dangerous and stealthy with his designs for women. Over the top really in that you were seeing a lot more of the woman than you might expect. Christian Dior had such a great respect for the female figure and the proper way of adorning it and exaggerating the shapes a woman had. One is such a classic style and one is so off the wall. That’s what I love about them.
You recently started using an OttLite. Can you describe how OttLite makes a difference in your sewing? I sew in a New York City apartment. That means I get about 3 hours of good light to sew by. We have 5 lights in our apartment and none of them provide light that can help me sew and see the stitches. But the OttLite I have (the Vero Floor Lamp) extends the length of my ironing board. My ironing board is my cutting board and my workstation because it is a New York City apartment and I don’t have room for a cutting board. So it’s perfect because I can actually see the stitches and see what I’m doing. And it’s a good clear light instead of that yellowy light so I can actually see the colors.
What is the one basic tool you think that ever sewer should own? A good seam ripper. You use your seam ripper so much. I think people are afraid to use it or think they’re not good if they have to use a seam ripper. But I use my seam ripper constantly.
If someone wants to get into sewing and has never sewn before, what advice would you give them? I would tell them to try out new things. Find the cheap fabric and just go for it. You can go get more fabric. You can find now inexpensive fabric in a lot of places – those JoAnn’s coupons multiply like rabbits! Just try it. It’s fabric you can always go out and get more. Hammer away on that fabric until you move on to that special silk you want to try out. And even if you try the silk out and it doesn’t work, just go get more fabric. And examine ready-to-wear stuff. Once you start examining you’ll see that this absolute perfection that we strive for doesn’t exist. I went to the Charles James exhibit at the Met earlier in the summer and there were some lines of stitching on those gowns where I thought ‘Wait a minute; that’s kind of a bubbly seam right there’. So if Charles James can be okay with that, we can probably give ourselves a little bit more of a pass on the pursuit of perfection.
You’re an actress and a wife so you are busy. What advice do you have to someone who thinks they don’t have time to sew? This advice comes from Lladybird Lauren – she’s great. She put up a post about how she sets a timer. That way she knows she has a 20-minute break and she can sew for 15 minutes, clean up for 5 and then get out the door. Then she doesn’t have to worry about checking the clock, which eats up time anyway.
I also pick and choose what I can do in a limited amount of time. If I have some early morning time and setting up the embroidery unit isn’t going to be the best choice then I’ll use that time to cut out a pattern.
What do you like to do in your spare time? It’s definitely sewing! I also love the summer when the city is a little quieter - we love to take walks to the river, eat outdoors and go to the park. But really sewing is so much of my spare time (laughs).
To learn more about Marcy and her sewing creations visit her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, and Bloglovin’.
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