When it comes to questions about our patterns, we love it that so many of you have connected via our discussion forums. It’s been really amazing to watch such a supportive community develop there, answering each others’ questions and sharing ideas and information. I know many of you have developed friendships with other members through the forums. You aren’t just talking about sewing; virtually any topic is fair game! We’ll be launching some additional resources on the forums in coming months, so I hope you’ll become a member if you haven’t already.
But what about other questions, like questions that can’t be answered on the forums or other topics you’re just wondering about? Maybe you’re coming to New York and want to know where to go fabric shopping during your upcoming visit? (I need to write that blog post soon!) Or maybe you’re just wondering something about me? Let’s get to know each other better, shall we?
When Kristin and I were talking the other day, she proposed some interview-style questions for me to answer. So here are some of Kristin’s questions and my answers. We’ll give you a chance to ask questions, too! See the end of the post for details.
KT: Where did you grow up, and how did you learn to sew?
LG: I was born in Seattle, Washington, when my dad was doing his graduate work at the University of Washington. After that we lived in a few other places before settling in Madison, Wisconsin, where I grew up. My parents still live in Madison.
My mom always did crafts, and she sewed for me and my four sisters. As kids we were always making with paper or fabric or whatever was on hand. Mom and I spent a lot of time hanging out on the living room rug when she was layout out and cutting a pattern.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I went to the fabric store on my own to pick out fabric and a sewing pattern for a jumper and just sewed it up! I had absorbed all that information by watching my mom, and it was relatively easy to put it into practice. I didn’t take any formal sewing lessons until I took my degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology in my late 20’s and was required to take a sewing class for the curriculum. But I read a lot of books and spent a lot of time experimenting with various projects to teach myself. And you can learn a lot from examining other clothing.
Photo by Linda Winski
KT: Were you interested in fashion from a young age? Any “I made clothes for my Barbies” or “I sewed my own homecoming dress” stories, or did you discover your talent for design later?
LG: Yes, my best friend and I, in third grade, designed a collection of clothes that we wanted to wear. I drew the clothes in a little spiral-bound notebook, and I specifically remember a sailor dress we both loved and wanted to make. I really wish I still had that notebook! Then when I was in middle school and high school and really started to be interested in fashion, my mom and I would pick out fabrics and patterns together. Mom always entertained my special requests. She would change the sleeves on a dress, or add an embellishment when I requested something special. So I got to exercise my design muscles at an early age, even though I didn’t start sewing until later.
KT: What did you do before Oliver + S? What did you like/dislike about it?
LG: I graduated from college with a degree in art with a focus on graphic design, but I started my career as a developmental and acquisitions editor for science trade publishing (in other words, books for people who read about science for fun). I worked in the publishing industry for about three years and then moved to Wall Street, where I did equity research–crunching numbers and talking to CEOs and giving investment advice to big investment firms. After I burned out on the financial industry I went back to school and took a degree in apparel design from the Fashion Institute of Technology here in New York. Before I started developing sewing patterns, I worked as a designer and a technical designer for companies like Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. I was able to get a lot of great experience that way, with some wonderful and talented colleagues. It really was a great opportunity to develop my skills, and now I realize that my diverse work experiences have benefited me in ways I never could have imagined when it comes to running a company and making business decisions.
KT: How did you learn to design and produce patterns (technical stuff like grading, digitizing, etc.)?
LG: I had done some free-lance work as a technical designer after graduating from school, so I knew a decent amount about garment specs, and of course I knew how to draft and fit a pattern. Fitting was sort of my specialty as a designer, in addition to being able to design complicated, technical outerwear.
But grading and developing grading specs were new, very challenging skills that I had to develop when I started Oliver + S. There are no standard industry grading specs for clothing, especially for children’s wear, which is far more challenging to grade than women’s wear. So I worked with a colleague who teaches patternmaking at FIT to develop our grading specs, and I still tweak the grading specs a bit every season, trying to find the perfect grade rules (if such a thing exists).
When we’re developing a new style, we create our first versions on paper, and then I use a digitizing service to convert the paper patterns to digital format. Once I have them digitized, I use professional-grade, industrial patternmaking software to grade the different sizes and to determine yardage estimates and cutting layouts. (Whenever I hear people say they grade patterns in Illustrator I cringe for all sorts of reasons that I won’t go into here….) The software helps with accuracy and with speeding up the grading process a bit, and it gives me more control over the details of our patterns. But it’s still a big, time-consuming job to grade the patterns and make them look the way they do when they’re finished.
Now it’s your turn! Drop me a line and I’ll answer as many of your questions and topics as I’m able. I can’t promise individual responses to all emails, but I’ll try to answer most of your questions here on the blog. Nothing is too silly or trivial. I want to know what you’re wondering!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can’t wait to hear from you!