Grace is one of our pattern testers. Whenever we open her feedback we know we are going to get THE GOODS. Not only does she send photos and videos, but she also always goes above and beyond with her notes and careful sewing. She is a Technical Designer in the fashion industry in NYC for a manufacturer of RTW sportswear, so it shouldn’t be surprising she knows how to put together a garment. With 30 years of experience sewing clothes, we thought we would pick her brain for some insider tips for the home sewist from an industry expert.
How often do you spend time do you spend on your sewing practice a week (including planning, researching, sewing etc).
I don’t think it is possible to calculate the hours of planning and research, but it is a lot! I tend to google, check pattern review and Instagram before committing to a pattern or project and since I work in the garment district I often pop out at lunch to shop for fabric, trims and notions. In the mornings I try to spend a few minutes either sewing, prepping for sewing, or talking about my projects on Instagram stories (I’m very active on stories!). If my husband is making dinner I can usually squeeze in an hour or two in the evenings during the week, and of course the weekends are great for blocking out longer chunks of time.
What is your home sewing set-up like?
I live in a 2 bedroom apartment, and the 2nd bedroom is my sewing room. There is a small closet, 2 windows and a bunch of ikea furniture hold my fabric stash, reference books, machines and whatnot. There are piles of shame everywhere! I like to do a thorough tidying up after big projects and several times I year I cull the fabric and pattern stash. I would love to give the sewing room a serious make over, but I can’t imagine stopping using it long enough to accomplish that.
Did you have a gateway person or experience that brought you to sewing?
My Grandmother Betty taught me to sew, or rather to sew a quilt. After that, I was allowed to use my mother’s sewing machine whenever I wanted (and she wasn’t using it). I used Big Four patterns on occasion, and then in graduate school I learned pattern drafting, draping and took my first actual sewing class.
What was the first thing you remember wanting to sew?
Back in high school, my sister had a really cute denim sheath dress from Delia’s that I coveted. So, I found a Big Four pattern with the same style lines and found some (way too heavy) denim at Joann’s and attempted to copy it, right down to the embroidered flowers on the neckline. I didn’t try it on until it was completely done and was dismayed to realize it was too big.
How would you define your style?
Lindsay of Inside the Hem once defined my style as “90’s Revival Comfort Chic” which I think pretty much nails my taste.
What is your favourite thing you’ve made?
It’s always changing, but my most recent favorite is a royal blue linen dress with princess seams made from a 90’s Vogue Calvin Klein pattern.
You always give us such insightful testing feedback because of your background working in the fashion industry. Do you care to share anything about that, and what you’ve learned that’s relevant to sewing?
I’m so glad my feedback is useful! That is such a good question…. I learned most of what I know about fitting on the job from my peers and mentors. Technical things that are relevant to sewing are my understanding of how grading works across size ranges and how to spec out (measure) garments correctly. Home sewists should get into the habit of measuring pattern pieces for the major POMs (Points of Measurement), such as chest, waist and sweep and walking all seams to check that they match the way they are supposed to is a good habit to get into and can help to avoid or clarify fit and construction issues.
Something I find maddening about the RTW industry is how important adhering to the production calendar is. We only have time for a maximum of 3 samples (1st and 2nd fits, 1 Pre-production) before we reach our cut date and a style must be approved or cancelled. In home sewing, we have the luxury of being able to take our time and make as many muslins as we want to get the fit just right. We also have the right to make design decisions (fabric/trim/construction) based on what we want, rather than what will maintain a profit margin. The freedom that we have as home sewists is something I never take for granted!
What is your favourite Closet Case Pattern?
Usually it’s the Morgan Jeans but lately it’s the Amy Jumpsuit. It is so perfect to wear in the hot summer months.
How does sewing affect your relationship to shopping and RTW?
You know, I walk through H&M and Urban Outfitters once in while just to remind myself what garbage the sizing and quality is. I still like to shop for style and construction inspiration at higher end department stores but I almost never buy anything except lingerie any more.
How does sewing relate to your body image?
Sewing to fit my body is an act of defiance and self-love. I’m a size 14/16 in RTW and am very often sized out of RTW, which is incredibly frustrating on many levels. Even though I think I would sew if this was not the case, sewing removes anxiety about not finding anything in the stores to try on. It’s very freeing.
What are your go-to fabric stores?
I like to shop the garment district as much as possible. It’s an incredible resource. 36th street through
What are the tools you can’t live without?
Measuring tape and clear rulers.
What pattern release would you not be able to resist (aka what type of garment would automatically jump your queue).
A classic vintage style slip. I hate shape wear and find linings to be a bore to sew.
What are your sewing goals? What would you like to learn how to do to push your practice forward?
I want to make more lingerie. I’ve only made one bra and I have a ridiculous stash of lingerie fabrics and notions.
What makers or sewists in our community do you find inspiring?
Sooooooo many people!!! Right now I especially enjoy watching all the people sewing historically inspired garments, especially those using historical methods. Bernadette Banner and the Virtuous Courtesan are two favorites.
Where else do you turn when you need inspiration?
The Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit at the met is always inspiring. I also get inspiration from movies and TV.
What experiences have come out of your interaction with the online sewing community?
Because of social media and the sewing community I have developed an amazing set of friends, both online and in real life. One of the IRL experiences that have come about because of the online community is #NYSewcialHour. It is a monthly happy hour I co-host with my friend Carol for sewists to meet up at a bar in the garment district and it’s been going on strong for over 2 years now! One of the weirdest /coolest things to happen to me because of the sewing community is the fact that my cat came into my life via a sewing friend from that happy hour.