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Interview with Michelle Levy, Lead Designer, Project DIY

by Rain Blanken, DIY Fashion Expert for About.com

MJ Trimming NYC
M&J Trimming in NYC

Stopping by M&J Trimming in NYC was big trouble for me. Being incredibly adept at hoarding interesting buttons and beads, this building wasn't going to be good for my budget.

MJ Trimming Store in NYC
The Project DIY counter at M&J Trimming, headed by guy-who-is-cool-but-I-can't-remember-his-name, and the beautiful Oksana.

Luckily, I was greeted by my beautiful contacts, Oksana and Hallie, who whisked me upstairs for a crafting session and interview with Michelle Levy, Lead Designer at M&J Trimming's Project DIY.

MJ Trimming NYC
Michelle Levy and Rain Blanken; ready to get our craft on.

Project DIY encapsulates everything you need for a themed project, all in one gorgeous box. These kits are available by subscription service, ensuring that you've got a new craft and new inspiration arriving at your door each month. Past box themes include Joan of Arc and Baroque & Roll, both of which I fell in love with. But I had so many questions about the designs while crafting, and so did you, so I just had to come to NYC to find the answers.

We met Michelle in a small room decked out in the Project DIY brand. Michelle is young, funny, and incredibly creative. Together, we worked on the Film Noir Project DIY box while chatting, and our afternoon reminded me of spending time in a relaxed jewelry-making workshop.

Project DIY
Michelle points out some of the variations on the Film Noir set made in their in-house workshops.

Rain Blanken: I like to work from a limited palette so that I don’t have too many materials to choose from. I think this is a problem for a lot of crafters that Project DIY helps with...

Michelle Levy: Project DIY came about because people came to the M & J store and they wanted to make stuff, but they didn’t know what to buy, and they didn’t know where to start. So we thought, that’s what we’ll do, we’ll put it in a box, we’ll send it to your house, and you have everything you need, you don’t have to worry about it.

Project DIY
Inspiration board for the Autumn in New York collection.

Rain Blanken: Each theme is so different. How do you decide what to do for your designs?

Michelle Levy: From my perspective, how I come up with the designs, it’s specifically runway inspired. We are fashion and trend based. So I do a lot of research on the recent runway shows. I basically pore through all of the runway shows and see all of the hottest accessories for the upcoming year and the colors of the upcoming year. We do a lot of research on blogs and see what people love to make and see what is really trending right now. Then, I make a collection based on what I feel is trending. I will come up with a theme and a mood board. Then we make a huge collection and whittle it down into what we think are the best 2 or 3 projects that are not only stand-alone pieces, but can be reworked into something interesting.

Project DIY
Inspiration board for the Film Noir collection.

RB: What do you do with the reject projects?

ML: There are a lot of reject projects. Sometimes we use them for DIY projects on the M&J Trimming blog. We will use them for the workshop and post them on the web. It’s usually similar materials, so it fits in the same family, so if you need inspiration, you can learn from those other projects.

RB: Why did you decide to put the instructions for Project DIY kits online instead of in the box?

ML: I think it’s for two reasons. One, it is because we wanted to have the best quality of instructions. We wanted the best photos and the most in-depth instructions. We also wanted to cross-reference those kinds of instructions against guides. General guides. Like, one of the things I try to teach people when they come into our workshops is how to how to use a jump ring, how to use pliers, how to bend wire, how to let glue dry… it’s just that one little step that you need to make a good piece vs. a piece that will fall apart. So, we felt that the best forum for having all of that information was on the web. Because that way, you can click through multiple photos and load videos. It has become a library of information that people can draw from in order to make our projects.

Secondly, it creates a place where people could share within a nice 'community feeling' so people could feel that they were not only doing a project in their house, but also that they were involved in something larger.

Project DIY
Michelle and Hallie patiently avoid being hit as my hands do most of the talking for me at M&J Trimming.

RB: With Fashion Week here, what were some of your inspirations that came down the runways last fall.

ML: Everything is a derivative of these major trends that come off of the runway. For example, our Cold as Ice collection in February are crystalline textures and stones. These are directly based off of what you saw in fall and winter. We wanted to take those trends and make them into fun and wearable in these jewelry pieces. So, what our subscribers will be getting in February is an acrylic bib-like necklace that they can accentuate with various gems. We’ve actually tried to bring in the colors of this year, which is Radiant Orchid, that’s the Pantone color of the year. So, we’ve got a lot of tones of this kind of orchid color here, and the drusy stones that are really popular now. We wanted to get just as much of that trend in a bead, and we found a vintage Swarovski crystal that embodied that. It’s about taking a major trend and kind of finding the little components that fit it.

This is a really exciting collection because some people are going to follow the template exactly. Some will put on one stone, and some will take everything they have in their house and glue it on it. They could paint the back, paint the front, do whatever.

All of the stones came separately this month. Previously, they’ve been glue-ins, and that’s a good thing to know too, but now we’re going to take it to the next level. We’ll show them how to bend the prongs over and give them a new technique to know.

RB: It’s nice to know that it’s not just gluing and putting jump rings together.

ML: We try to make a variation from month-to-month. Like in our Baroque project, we introduced sewing. In January we learned a weaving technique with satin. And now we’re going to be doing a little bit of prong setting. Coming up in the future, we’ll be doing some wire wrapping, as well, which is going to be exciting. I think people will be really excited to learn that skill.

We encourage people to hashtag us #MJProjectDIY on social media. We have hundreds of posts and they will feed into the Project DIY website.

Project DIY
Michelle and I dig into the Film Noir collection.

RB: My readers love to hear about how people got started. How did you find yourself as the lead designer of Project DIY?

ML: I’ve always been a very creative person. From my childhood, I always like to put things together, mostly beads, when I was a kid. I actually started a company when I was in 5th grade and we would sell to our other classmates.

RB: Makes me think of the girl on Napoleon Dynamite that went door to door.

ML: Yeah, that was me, I was the inspiration for that! (laughs)

I actually brought a briefcase to school and would sell little necklaces and anklets and stuff. Best seller ever!

When I went to university, I didn’t study a creative field and felt like something was missing. So I started doing creative classes on the side, like in vocational kids of schools learning specific techniques like textiles of metal, wire wrapping, silver smithing. I did an apprenticeship during the summer one year with a silver smith. So I just piece mailed things together out of curiosity.

Once I learned one skill, I wanted to know the next skill, and once I knew that one, I wanted to learn how to connect it to another one. And that just kind of kept me going. And that lead to a lot of jewelry design, accessory design positions and product development, and that lead me here. I’ve been given a really exciting opportunity to do research, development, product development, design, meet a lot of interesting people, and I continue to learn and be inspired here.

I don’t think there is a specific one way to get to a place. There are a million paths to get somewhere. Some people may go to art school for four years, and graduate and become a designer, and that’s not the route I took, but I still got to where I am by being diligent, being curious and taking every opportunity.

Project DIY
Crafting while recording... that's my kind of interview.

RB: What does the future look like for Project DIY?

ML: We are doing more and more exciting kinds of accessories over the next six months; different kinds of projects that we haven’t seen before. We’re going to do different accessories and see what people like. We’re also trying to encourage craft parties, as well as the workshops in store. We’re trying to build a community both locally and through the mail service. Maybe we will partner up with different companies for sponsored projects.

Many thanks to the beautiful Michelle Levy for sitting down to craft with me and answer a few questions! See more photos of our craft session on the DIY Fashion blog. Project DIY has regular crafting workshops at the M&J Trimming store in NYC. Take my advice and spend an afternoon here. Keep your eye on the Project DIY blog for workshop dates.

More about Project DIY:

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Materials were provided for review
Fast DIY Jewelry:
Milk Tab Bracelet . Pop Tab Bracelet . Make Paper Jewelry . Toothbrush Bracelet . Microchip Earrings . Hemp Necklace . Pressed Penny Bracelet

Easy Bags, Hats, Scarves and More:
4 Ways to Tie a Tie . Make Glittery Heels . 5 Placemat Purses . Cassette Tape Wallet . Duct Tape Wallet . How-To Bags . Finger Knit a Scarf . Gloves and Wristbands . Easy Zippered Change Purse

Clothes you can Make:
T-Shirt Surgery . Make PantsSkirt Tutorials . Dye Your Clothes . Recycle Your Clothes . 10 Clothing Repairs You Should Know . Beginner Sewing Projects

Please Note: Photographs, patterns and illustrations contained in this article are copyrighted ©Rain Blanken, and licensed to About.com, Inc. Do not redistribute these photographs or illustrations in any form.

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