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!
Two questions: who are some of your favorite artists? I’m thinking of photographers, painters, sculptors — but if who comes to mind is a musician or designer or architect I’d love to hear about that too.
If I’m visiting New York and want to buy something for my daughter, what’s something that I can only find locally there? I love being able to find so much online but I also love find little things (sometimes edible!) that are unique to a specific locale.
And a general request: I always love, love, love the nerd posts. Like: What do you have to think about when making grading rules? What does it cost to develop a pattern (I know you’ve written about this one before)? So many things in life are opaque — I have no idea what making a laptop entails, or a coffee mug, or what have you, but I know there must be a whole world in each object and it’s always so interesting to get a peek into the ‘manufacturing’ process — whether of object or ideas.
Interesting to learn you grew up in Madison – I’ve lived in Madison since 1996! (Eep! Almost two decades now… )
I’m curious about your sewing habits – what is your favorite thing to sew? Do you ever do bags, quilts, crafty things, or do you stick mostly to clothes? What is your favorite type of fabric to sew with?
Do you have a favorite pattern or fabric you’ve designed?
first of all: You do an amazing Job! I bought the hopscotch pattern a few weeks ago and I loved the sewing progress and the result. So I did a little shopping tour and bought 6 Patterns and can’t wait to sew them all.
My questions are:
1. I always need to by the patterns twice. I have a 5 Year old daughter and my little girl is 6 Month old. That is really expensive. Is there any other way, some sort of Discount, a set of pattern or anything like this for moms like me?
2. I’m from Germany. When ever I do a posting with things I sewed with an english pattern I think of all my readers who have problems to understand english patterns. Is there a chance to get your patterns in different languages? I truly believe there are a lot of sewing people who would buy them.
3. Last question: I love love love your Hopscotch pattern! And I really love knits. Is there a chance for another pattern for knits?
What a great idea. Thank you, Liesl.
How do you find time for all of your sewing projects that you want to make? My list and projects are a mile high long. So, I’m curious how you fit all of your projects in.
What is your sewing setup at home like?
Any sewing books that you recommend for ones who are wanting to go from and advanced beginner sewist to advanced?
I just love, love this post!
I second Nicole’s question, what is your favorite pattern that you designed?
First, I just want to say that I love your patterns. I started really sewing after I moved back to India (three years ago from New York) and while your patterns are expensive (what with the dollar-rupee exchange rate) for me they are well worth the price, and they have taught me more than I can say. I like the nerdy parts of your interview, especially that about grading, and I realise increasingly that I spend time thinking about things like shoulder slope, the curve of the arm hole (where the sleeve is attached etc.) thanks to your patterns. While my mother did sew for me, mine is not a generation (at least in India) that sews. And although we have a incredible tradition and culture of textiles and there is an interest to learn to sew, a lot of people like me don’t know where to turn to. Moreover, we are also a country where women regularly get clothes made to order, so find someone to teach from patterns is even harder:-) All in all, this is to say, you are doing the most wonderful job, teaching me!
And so now my question: would you ever consider coming to India? To teach? To explore with fabric? Something else? I would love to host you….to do something….
What is the most popular Oliver + S pattern of all time? 🙂
I know that you started sewing for your daughter when she was quite young and that you began drafting your own designs for her when you couldn’t find what you wanted, so my question is: Did you ever have in mind or dream of starting a pattern or clothing design company or was that something that just kind of grew out of designing your daughters clothes?
YES to everything everyone’s said already! You’ve also taught me to how sew from the one scissor patterns on up! You’re such a talented and giving person and I think this post is such fun. I can’t wait to hear the answers!
But here’s my totally non-sewing related question- Any favorite tried-and true favorite dinner recipe?
This is a really interesting post – I’m very curious to read the answers on all these questions.
My question is if you plan to upgrade some of your older patterns for bigger children – I would really love to sew the puppet show ensemble for my 9 year old daughter, or the sunday brunch jacket or the birthday party dress for my 11 years old girl…
I’m really interested in the evolution of a design through the pattern making process. Do you have any examples of how a design changed while you were developing it? Any “aha” moments where a new detail was added, or a new technique was included? I find your designs so clever, I can’t help but wonder how the came to be!
Ok, here is one.
I have noticed that the quality of the Lisette fabric is better than most other Jo-Ann fabric. While you design the patterns and color ways, do you also have a say in the quality of the fabric?
This is a terrific series debut Liesl! I love hearing about the design process, your process and life journey, and new things on the horizon as well. I have to second Cherie’s questions. Also I wonder if you will do more teaching. I know about some of you NYC and online classes, but what about us on the West Coast, particularly northern CA?
I am always to interested in what you wear, choices you make for S’s clothing and fabric/pattern selections you find praiseworthy. How did you develop your own esthetic? What guides it? Sometimes I think yours is influenced by a French sensibility for children’s clothing . Am I right?
Love this post too! Great to see some of the questions coming back 🙂
Love this question idea, thanks for giving us this opportunity!
I would also love to know what the most popular Oliver & S pattern of all time?
Where do you draw inspiration for new patterns from?
How much of your families wardrobe is made by you?
What is a day in the life of Liesl?
There were such good ones above that it took me a few days to come up with one: why did your parents choose Liesl? Or are you actually Elizabeth?
wow! way awesome that you grew up in Madison. I live near La Crosse! yay! And I love all your answers, it’s great to hear more about your background. 🙂