Well, the spring patterns have all gone out for testing, so I’ll finally get a chance to catch my breath and get going with the next group of Liesl + Co. patterns. But in the meantime, here are a few more of your easy questions. Next week I hope to start tackling some of your more in-depth technique- and sewing-related topics, so stay tuned!
What is your sewing setup at home like?
We have a large-ish (by New York standards) closet that we originally converted into a teeny-tiny nursery when S was born. When she outgrew it we transformed the closet into a teeny-tiny sewing room that also serves as S’s closet, storage for my sketchbooks and important files, and as a place where I keep projects I haven’t had time to finish. (You have a room like that at your house, too, right? Or maybe a basement?) Here is a photo.
Tiny, right? Needless to say, I don’t cut out fabric in my workroom. But I can be surprisingly efficient when I’m in there! I plan to use it quite a bit this weekend to catch up on some personal sewing projects. That’s a Pinwheel Dress for S at my sewing machine, and I just cut out an Everyday Skirt for a holiday party next week.
Any sewing books that you recommend for ones who are wanting to go from an advanced beginner sewist to advanced?
Oh, I should make a list for you! I’ll do that soon. But in the meantime, if you want to improve your sewing skills I recommend reading the old Reader’s Digest sewing book (the older the better–I’ve found that the oldest issues include more information than the newer editions). Anything by Claire Shaeffer is terrific. I read her books over and over again, just for fun. And as you gain skills and confidence I really love Threads magazine, if you’re willing to be patient. Much of the content might be over your head initially, but you can still learn a lot from it. The magazine can sometimes be a bit too persnickety for my tastes: in-depth super-technical discussions of techniques tend to bore me a bit. But worse, they can overwhelm a beginner, so don’t let that happen to you. Sewing doesn’t have to be complicated unless you want it to be. My mom gave me a subscription when I graduated from college, and I learned a lot about sewing by reading it, long before I went to school or took any classes.
Do you have a favorite pattern or fabric you’ve designed?
Usually my favorite pattern is the one I just finished! (And maybe that’s because it’s finally finished?) Honestly, it’s hard to have a favorite. They’re all my babies, and I love them all. I’m probably especially proud of some of our more technical patterns: the Jump Rope Dress, Secret Agent Trench Coat, School Photo Dress. I always love a new challenge, and developing and writing patterns and teaching techniques through patterns is the best challenge of all.
What is your favorite thing to sew?
I love to sew clothing. Love, love, love it. And I especially love tailored details: plackets, darts, notched collars, collar stands. All that stuff. Like I said, I adore a good challenge! I also love a good fast project as long as it’s really good. I’m opposed to anything that just gets worn once.
Do you ever do bags, quilts, crafty things, or do you stick mostly to clothes?
I’ve designed a lot of bags and quilts, and it’s fun and much easier than designing and grading clothing. But I feel like clothing offers the most variety and challenge (in a good way), and it continues to hold my interest more than all the other things that can be sewn. To me, the least interesting things to sew are home dec items like curtains and slipcovers. Yawn. (And that’s why our beat-up chair still doesn’t have a slipcover.)
What is your favorite type of fabric to sew with?
It completely depends on what I’m making. But I do love wool crepe for its lovely drape and hand! Also on my list of favorites: chambray, lawn, canvas, wool suiting, silk faille, silk matka, and linen of any sort.
Does S ever offer design suggestions?
Oh yes. In fact, here are some sketches from S and her friends a little while ago. I get regular submissions from the third-grade set.
Since S gets to “sample” before a pattern is released, has she ever made any comments or suggestions about fit, comfort, etc that have lead to a last minute design change?
I try very hard to avoid any last-minute changes because it opens opportunity for errors. So although they do arise once in a while, most changes are due to feedback from our testers. But S has strong opinions about what she likes, and at present she’s not fond of an empire waist. I still design them, but she’s not required to wear them or anything I make, for that matter. I run ideas past her before sewing for her because I want her to have a say in what she wears.
S was your inspiration for starting Oliver + S. Will you continue to design for children once she has outgrown Oliver + S designs?
I think so! I must say that children’s clothing patterns are much, much more challenging to develop than women’s. The grading is incredibly demanding. I enjoy a good challenge, and now that we’re doing some women’s clothing patterns I really enjoy the diversity of the work. And I’d like to squeeze in another fabric collection or two in the near future, as well!
Why on many patterns do we sew a 1/2″ seam allowance only to trim it to 1/4″ after the seam has been sewn? Why don’t patterns just use a 1/4″ seam to start with? (This one has always bothered me.)
In the industry, seam allowances are rarely trimmed and are sewn to whatever the final width is right from the start. In the home sewing world, not everyone reads the instructions closely. Also, it’s sometimes easier to handle a wider seam allowance and offers less chance of error when you have a little extra seam allowance. Thus, a standard seam allowance that gets trimmed down as necessary.
So you are a mom and a business owner and a designer, what do you do that you enjoy for fun?
Sleep? Just kidding. Honestly, I love to read, I do a lot of different crafts (sewing, knitting, making a wide variety of things with my kid), and we really try to take advantage of all that our city offers: museums, restaurants, ice skating, the library, playgrounds, exploring our great city. I hope to have time for more hobbies like weaving when I’m in a later stage of life and don’t have quite so many demands on my time. But I do love what I do, and I feel fortunate that I can do what I love for work! And I really do love to sew.