what goes into making an oliver + s sewing pattern

As we’re nearing the release of our new spring and summer styles (Oh, wait, we haven’t told you yet that they are going to start shipping on March 1, have we? Well, I guess we have now. More on that later.), I’ve been thinking about everything that goes into producing a new pattern. I thought you might like a little peek behind the scenes at how we do it.

 

Pinwheel Tunic + Slip Dress Sewing Pattern

 

We couldn’t make Oliver + S patterns without an incredible team. When I started this company, about five years ago, it was just me. That didn’t last long. There are quite a few people who work with us to make sure you get the very best products we can make. I thought you might like to learn a little bit about our process and the team that works together to put Oliver + S patterns into your hands.

First of all, there’s Giulia, who uses her costume design background to help develop the sewing patterns and the instructions. We’ve worked together so intimately for such a long time now that it’s almost like we know what the other person is thinking before anyone says a word. We started working together when I had developed all the projects in Little Things to Sew and was starting to do the writing. Now we’ve worked together for so long that when we get really busy, Giulia sometimes takes my sketches and works up first patterns and muslins with just a few discussions about construction and silhouette, which saves my sanity when there are 18 other things on my To Do list. Giulia is a fount of information and skills, and she’s the nicest and gentlest person on the planet. And she’s extremely talented. She’s worked in costume design workshops for some of the world’s best opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera here in New York, and on a wide variety of films. The Countess of Grantham even wore one of Giulia’s dresses in an episode of Downton Abbey!

Then there’s our wonderful technical editor, Chris, who works closely with me to improve my writing. I’m pretty good at explaining steps, but Chris makes sure that things make sense grammatically, and she helps to improve sections where I’m struggling to organize a lot of information. She’s fantastic, with years of technical sewing and editorial experience behind her. We go back and forth at least twice on almost every pattern,with me answering her queries and the two of us making sure everything is clear.

I also have a couple of people who I can go to for help if I get stuck with grading the various sizes of the patterns. Grading can be so challenging, and Giulia and I don’t make our lives easy in that regard. On a number of occasions we’ve developed very complicated pattern pieces with the full knowledge that they would be a huge headache to grade. (The Firefly Jacket and Hula Hoop Skirt were great examples of that. They took forever to grade and to get right, but they’re fun to sew because they’re so unusual!) As soon as we start getting creative with the pattern pieces it can get to be a real challenge to grade those patterns to all the different sizes. So it’s nice to know that I can pick up the phone and get some advice when I really work myself into a corner. I use expensive professional grading software, but there’s an art and a science to grading, and even the software can be limited. It’s complicated.

We also have a terrific group of testers. Back when I was working on my fashion design degree, I met the woman who makes sure the runway shows during Fashion Week run smoothly. She told me that she never lets her dressers work as volunteers (even though plenty of them would be happy to do so) because she wants her dressers to feel dedicated to their work in a way that sometimes a volunteer doesn’t. I feel the same way. We ask a lot of our testers. They don’t simply sew through a pattern; they answer lengthy questionnaires detailing the many issues they might find as they’re working through a pattern. We don’t pay a lot, but I think it’s important to show our testers that we value their input, and it helps them to feel good about spending all that extra time with our testing process.

We also have Andrea, our fantastic ultra-detailed proofreader who catches those issues that everyone else up the line misses. She cross-checks pattern pieces against the instructions, and her eagle eye catches the smallest details that might have been disregarded otherwise. We rely heavily on her to help us make absolutely sure everything is correct before a pattern goes to the printer.

To this point, I’ve focused just on product development. But none of this would happen if the business wasn’t operating efficiently. That’s Todd. He plays all sorts of roles, some of which you see the results of, some of which you don’t. There would be no structure to our business without him. Or I’d get a lot less done and the structure would still stink. Either way, we’ve been a much better business since he joined me. Sometimes we say that I’m Lean and he’s Mean. But he’s not really. (And here in the middle of winter I’m not feeling especially lean, either.)

One of the things Todd does is oversee what we do with our website, which is the primary way that most of you know and interact with us. He works with our website designer and developer, Justin, to turn ideas into functional web pages. Last March we launched a completely redesigned website. That was the culmination of several months of work for these two, and it was just announced that their hard work is being rewarded! The site is a finalist for a prestigious award for best new e-commerce feature of 2012 for two things included in the redesign: the Play section of the site and the responsive design framework used for the site. (I don’t really get all the details about that, but it’s basically the stuff that allows the site to automatically determine what sort of device you are using to access it and then re-draw itself in an optimal manner for the size of your screen.) Todd will be going to San Diego in March for the awards ceremony.

And then there are all our business partners and others who play a role along the way from idea to finished pattern arriving in your mailbox: our pattern printers (we have two printers who each produce different parts of our patterns), our logistics provider who makes sure trucks arrive at the right place at the right time to move pallets of patterns around the country, our website hosting company, and our warehouse and fulfillment center. Sometimes, when there’s simply too much on my plate, my sister chips in to help with the illustrations on the instructions. And then there’s our illustrator, Dan Andreasen, who paints those wonderful paper dolls, and our photographers at BDP Studios in Salt Lake City. (Thank you, Skype for making relationships like this possible!) And I can’t neglect to mention Brooke, who designed all the Oliver + S branding and visual identity.

And that’s our team for just the Oliver + S patterns. There are many other business partners and people who help us to produce the Lisette and Straight Stitch Society patterns and fabric.

So you can see that even though there are often only a few of us in the studio on any given day, it’s a detailed, multi-step, multi-person operation to produce our patterns. We love everyone we work with and feel so fortunate to have our team. Now that you know a little bit about our process and team, you know a bit about what goes into these patterns. Does it surprise you to learn that there are so many people involved in the making of these patterns? Our reputation as a very well-produced line of patterns isn’t a coincidence!

Whew. I need a nap.

22 Comments

  1. Jennifer McCann

    Well isn’t THAT picture a horrible tease! 🙂

    1. I know! Isn’t that mean?

  2. Love it!
    I reckon you already knew you have a fantastic team, Liesl!
    You really can’t built a fantastic brand (and reputation) without all those amazing people supporting your work. It’s great to learn a bit more about Oliver+S Team.
    Now, if only you could share a bit more about the upcoming collection … (I love what I see so far)

  3. Sarah

    Love the new pattern! Can’t wait to see more!!

  4. Jennifer McCann

    Wo, that is fascinating as well!

  5. Very! How gorgeous will that be in a large-scale Liberty print?!

  6. I love the peek behind the scenes of Oliver + S and hearing about the process of getting a new pattern developed. Thanks so much for sharing! ‘

    btw, I adore that dress!

  7. Fiona

    I second Cindy; it’s very generous of you Liesl to describe all the people and their talents that contribute to the glory of O + S. It must mean a huge amount of communication work between all of you! The new dress looks intriguing; pinwheel is a very clever name. Can’t wait to see the detailed sketches; although I have a sinking feeling that the dress closes with a zip. My least favourite thing. I may be imagining it but does the ‘paper doll’ look older/different?

    Hurry up March 1!!

  8. That was a really interesting «behind the scenes» to read! Oliver + S patterns are very special: every time I sew one of them, I am always wondering who is the genius behind this or that detail. The care put behind each pattern is amazing, this is not the norm with patterns I used.

  9. So interesting and so exciting!

  10. The upcoming pattern looks like another must-have! So interesting to hear about all the people involved in getting the adorable Oliver+S patterns ready!

  11. Tamara

    They say that behind a successful business is a strong team and I think you definitely have that Liesl! Thank you so much for sharing just how many people are involved in making these patterns happen. You are all wonderful! The the dress is fascinating and I can’t wait to see more! Roll on March 1!

  12. Patricia Hersl

    Better than Project Runway! Loved the peek inside but I would also love some pics. I know I’ll never be able to do this but just seeing the workings is fascinating. Thanks.

  13. Shelley

    Thanks for introducing us to the Oliver + S family. It sounds like a great team and that’s beautifully represented in the patterns and the web presence. You’ll need one more staff member to conduct the tours as I think we’re all starting to feel like we could drop in and visit if we were in town! 🙂

  14. Deb

    I have been sewing for longer than I care to admit and during those ‘dark’ years most patterns I used rarely turned out well. Sometimes the instructions were vague other times the measurements were off and most of the time the designs lacking. When I stumbled across your line of patterns about 4 years ago it was like a rebirth. The instructions are not only clear but informative, measurements spot on and the designs so imaginative. I am more than pleased with the outcome of every pattern I’ve made thus far. Kudos to you Liesl for your vision, and to your clever team for delivering such an excellent product. And thanks too for your outstanding website that is such a great place for sewing support, information and friendship. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see the new spring/summer patterns.

    ~Deb~

  15. Wow, so many talented people; no wonder the patterns are so lovely. I’m very intrigued by Pinwheel – I suspect a little girl of mine might just love it.

  16. Alex

    Such a great insight into the work behind creating these fantastic patterns! I’ve only discovered this website a few days ago and already I’m hooked! Just wondering if the new patterns will be available as digital patterns?
    Thanks for all your hard work

    1. Alex, yes they will be.

  17. Sarah_G

    Yay, for more patterns in March! I’ve been waiting for the yellow and green tunic on the Cape Ann fabric to turn up as a pattern! Hope this means some of your other sketches might eventually make it into paper patterns.

  18. Reeni

    It does take a village, even a virtual one!
    And already making plans for an Easter Pinwheel for my daughter, because that skirt is just amazeballs.

  19. That was an Amazing little peek inside the business end of Oliver + S. Thank you for sharing that! As someone who has enjoyed sewing for my little girl from your patterns, I am grateful to the whole team for putting together such wonderful patterns.

  20. Jenn

    SO glad March 1 will be here soon! I’m trying to plan Easter dresses for my girls; I’m pretty set on using the Fairytale Dress pattern, but I just can’t resist seeing what else you have coming out!

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