Greetings from extra-cold northern Michigan (it was -29 degrees Fahrenheit when we work up this morning!), where we’re spending a few days with family and celebrating S’s 10th birthday tomorrow. Can you believe S is 10 years old already! S has pretty much grown up within this company. I started Oliver + S when she was 2 1/2, so I suppose we should celebrate a company birthday party sometime soon, too, since our first collection of patterns was released in March 2008. That’s seven years ago already!
In any case, I thought it was time for another installment from our ask me series. You’re continuing to write in with questions, so here are a few answers for you.
Which patterns surprised you with their popularity or unpopularity? And which pattern has resulted in incredible interpretations which have changed your vision of what the pattern was in the first place?
I’d like to say that I’m never surprised by the popularity or lack of popularity of a pattern, but that just wouldn’t be true.
I think that I’ve been most surprised by how popular some of our easiest patterns have been. The Ice Cream Dress, the Roller Skate Dress, and the Playtime Dress have all been unexpected hits. I know some of you clamor for more challenging patterns. But those are the patterns that are really difficult for us to sell, so I try to maintain a balance between the more challenging and easier patterns. The Fairy Tale Dress, as much as many of you love it, intimidated a lot of new sewists. Yes, you learn a lot from sewing it, but I think it still frightens people. The School Days Jacket and the Secret Agent Trenchcoat didn’t sell as well as I had hoped, and I think it’s because they look difficult to many sewists and have a lot of pattern pieces. Todd adds that he’s been surprised by how the Croquet Dress has been a weak seller. It has such a cute silhouette, but for some reason it’s never really caught on with our customer base.
Lately I’ve been working on developing some more approachable patterns that look really cute but have fewer pattern pieces and fewer details that might look overwhelming to someone with less experience. I’d love to develop the more elaborate patterns that some of you have requested, but I also need to think about which patterns will sell. (We tie up a lot of money in paper patterns, not just in the cost of printing them–which is substantial–but also in the cost to warehouse them so we can keep the patterns in stock for a long time.)
On the other hand, I can predict the popularity of our women’s patterns very easily. I know that a dress with a fitted waist will sell extremely well, and if I wanted I could design those dresses all day long. But I think it’s my job as a designer to challenge our customers a bit and to get you thinking about clothing in new ways. I’ll be talking about that more in the near future. To be perfectly frank, I get bored with the classic dress with a fitted waist. There are so many other interesting ways to wear clothing and so many different silhouettes to play with, and so many ways to flatter a woman’s figure! I’m hoping that some of the styles we offer will give you an opportunity to discover new ways to dress. And I feel strongly enough about it that I’m willing to forgo higher sales in exchange for more interesting styles. But I’ll talk a lot more about that in the months to come. It’s sort of a passion of mine.
Do 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-year-old girl.
I’ve refrained from re-visiting existing patterns so far, in part because I have so many ideas for new styles and I prefer to work on new styles. But we are considering re-releasing some of those older styles in a larger size range. The Puppet Show Shorts would be a good candidate, as would the Sailboat Top. It takes a lot of time to grade and format a pattern so it’s just right, so I’ve been holding off on this.
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!
You know, I need to do a better job of documenting my design process! So much of the time I’m alone in the studio working on new styles, and I don’t take the time to stop and photograph muslins or scan my sketches. I’ll try to do this more going forward. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been showing muslins and original sketches from the Lisette collection on Instagram, but my design process for that collection is quite different because I’m working with design partners and I need to communicate with a large team of people at Butterick. Those designs need to be clearly formed before we even begin the patternmaking process. For Oliver + S and Liesl + Co., I’m a team of one when it comes to pattern development, and that conversation is largely internal and not as well documented. I allow myself a lot more time to experiment and to add or change details as I’m working. I’ll try to do a better job of showing you when we release our new patterns this spring!
If you have a question, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add it to my list!