A Seamless Transition with Emily Engel
Emily Engel is a seamstress who has taken social media by storm with her handcrafted replicas of The Muppets! Earlier this month, she celebrated the grand opening of her own shop, Sew Special Wilbraham in Massachusetts. The store was previously known as Sew Special by Joan where Emily had worked as an assistant.
“In a lot of ways it feels like a homecoming,” Engel explained. “I worked for Joan pre-pandemic as her assistant and loved the job. Unfortunately, due to the shut down, I had to be laid off in early 2020 but we always kept in touch. When she contacted me in July to say she was retiring and wanted to offer me the business, I jumped at the opportunity. Because I was already so familiar and comfortable in that space, it made the transition fairly easy. The biggest changes have been aesthetics but nothing too extreme. I’m happy to be back.”
Speaking of aesthetics, Emily is currently looking for art to cover the walls, which will also help to promote the creativity of others. Artists will be able to hang and sell their work without any fees or charges and hopefully “generate a little income” for themselves. “If folks are interested in sending me prints or photos or paintings, they can message me via Twitter or Instagram!”
Both accounts have caught the attention of many people in the entertainment industry from Christopher Lloyd to the actual Muppet performers! Engel posted a Back to the Future themed photo of Bunsen and Beaker which Lloyd retweeted/shared on Twitter. As Emily recalled, it was a full-circle moment: “Back to the Future is the first movie I ever remember seeing and it is my favourite of all time. It was truly humbling. Other than that, I’m not really one for name dropping, but I’ll say that any celebrity or person of note I’ve worked with has been incredibly kind, generous and complimentary of my work. I’m beyond appreciative of their attention and sharing my art.”
To add to the excitement, Emily was also commissioned by Matt Vogel (Kermit the Frog, Big Bird, Floyd Pepper and more) to create replicas of The Muppets’ band, The Electric Mayhem for each of the performers. One of the recipients was Dave Goelz, who is best known as Gonzo and Zoot.(You can see a photo here and buy your own replica here.)
“It was a ridiculous ‘WTF?’ moment. Matt Vogel messaged me at 2 AM (he’s on the west coast) and asked if I was interested in this project and I was absolutely bowled over. There was no higher honour and I really never expected to get the opportunity to put The Electric Mayhem into the hands of the actual Electric Mayhem.”
Regardless of who sees her work, Emily places importance on how it makes others feel. “….Whenever I look at a piece of art, my mind doesn’t automatically jump to ‘who made this?’ but rather, ‘wow, this makes me think/feel this way.’ If it fails to invoke any feeling, they’re not going to care who I am anyway.”
When asked to pick a favourite Muppet, Engel chose Sweetums because he is, “big, scary, gruff, but sensitive and kind inside.”
Prior to 2009, however, Emily said she never considered herself to be a “Muppet super fan”. A friend challenged her to recreate the eclectic band-leader, Dr. Teeth and her love grew from there: “….I hadn’t considered making Muppets before then. The first was quite a success and sort of launched my curiosity when it came to how they were built…. It wasn’t until I began to study structure and materials that I discovered the true genius of Jim Henson and his collaborators. Now it’s truly an honour to replicate master art.”
In order to do so, Emily uses various tools as a seamstress, but her go-to is the X-ACTO knife: “People think seam rippers are the seamstress tool, but I haven’t used one in a decade. They’re clunky, dull and tend to ruin more seams than they cut. X-ACTOs give you great precision and clean cuts.”
Although Emily loves what she does, it is not easy work. She jokingly advised people wishing to follow in her footsteps to “pick a strong liquor and say adios to your social life”, but she admitted that this sentiment is “kind of true”.
“You really have to devote your whole self to your work. You can’t have a ‘money-making job’ on the side. You can’t split your focus. You have to be broke, frustrated, fail, fail and fail again in order to succeed. It took me more than ten years to get where I am now. An old friend of mine told me back then, ‘just do what you love and the money will follow’. I of course thought she was nuts, but in turn, she was wholly correct. Nothing happens overnight. Embrace the struggle and keep going.”
Finally, with Sew Special Wilbraham now open and ready to grow, Emily Engel said that she is looking forward to the fall and being able to work in a space that is not part of her living room. She also hinted that her boyfriend, Tyler should “put a damn ring on it already!”
For more information, please visit: www.sewspecialwilbraham.com.
Photo courtesy of Emily Engel and Tyler Young.
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