BLUE HILL — Ellen Best always looks her best in apparel she’s sewn, looking a cut above the rest.
Forgive the rhyme but the Blue Hill attorney and selectman has an eye for color and fit. Perhaps you’ve seen her strolling around downtown in a charcoal swingy coat emblazoned with fuschia swirls one of these past winter days.
Pair that flair with sewing skills honed since childhood and you get Best’s wardrobe full of blouses, dresses, jackets and slacks that, frankly, would be beyond one’s means to purchase.
A polka dot blouse with balloon sleeves, linen shift dresses with jackets to match, embroidered organza wraps, chiffons and more fill Best’s closet.
“My mom and my sisters and I — everyone sewed,” Best said. “My mom would take us into Los Angeles to shop for fabric.”
Those shopping trips instilled a love and appreciation for fabric and all kinds of fine textiles as evidenced by the amassed cloth in the sewing room of her South Blue Hill home.
Piles of fabric lie in wait while various projects are mid-sew.
“I’m more of a texture and color person than pattern,” related the lawyer, who specializes in real estate, estate planning and administration, conservation law and small businesses.
When the California native was older, she discovered the fabric district in Los Angeles.
“Whenever I get to L.A., I go there,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place to find inspiration.”
Best also has been to New York’s fabric district, where rents are high so the cost is reflected in prices for shoppers.
Best’s sister chides her about her taste in fabrics, which tends to be pricier and used for haute couture.
Consider an elegant gossamer swath of textile with feathers. She’s trying to figure out where that might fit into her wardrobe living and working in Downeast Maine.
“I just loved it and I couldn’t leave it there,” she said. “I’m a crow, I just can’t help myself.”
Best is going on vacation with her sister next month to Mexico — a trip the sisters have done before. Last time, she packed linen tops and capris that she had sewn.
“It was so nice to have things that went together and looked great,” she recalled.
Best learned how to sew on a Singer treadle machine, which had been motorized. Her mother, Louise Best, taught her.
Best remembered her mother as someone who taught herself to do many things, including building a fence around their pool in California, complete with sinking the fence in cement.
“You just get interested and teach yourself to do it,” she said.
Louise also collected seaweed, some of which Best has framed in a display in her sewing room. There are still more fragments in a scrapbook.
“She took the time to be meticulous about things and I’m the same way,” Best said. “I like things to be well finished.”
So that might mean taking pains to create a “Hong Kong” seam or a French seam on a jacket’s interior.
“There’s labor there — but it’s pleasant labor,” she added.
Today Best sews on a Bernina that she bought used 20 years ago.
Another benefit of sewing your own fashions is custom sizing, Best said.
“If you’re not a size 8, you can get things to fit perfectly,” said Best.
However, one challenge is pants.
“I’ve never made a pair of pairs that fit right,” Best conceded. Pants are difficult because they are “three-dimensional.”
While Best sewed growing up and into adulthood, she took a 20-year break and resumed around 2014.
The internet and its accompanying sewing blogs and websites are a huge source of inspiration. Among her favorite sites is www.sewingreport.com.
“I hardly ever meet anybody who sews clothes,” she said. “It’s nice to have that community and that access to the ideas and information.”
“That’s pretty fun, I have to say, to see what people are doing,” she said.
Also, sewing blogs and online sewing forums are sources of independent pattern companies.
“They may have things a little more current or modern than the big four,” she said, referring to Vogue, Butterick, Simplicity and McCall’s.
Tapping the experience of others who have used a particular pattern is invaluable.
“People give you tips on fit,” she said. Other sewers can pave the way for you about the intricacies of a certain pattern.
And then there’s the fabric that beckons online.
“Internet shopping for fabric is a bad rabbit hole,” Best quipped.