I’m pleased to bring you an interview with another pattern designer and blogger whom I find inspiring. Peggy Mead has been online with her indie patterns for 18 months and already making an impact. She manages to combine her full time job, being a mum and wife with her pattern making. I’m sure you’ll love her stories and I encourage you to visit her website at Sewhouse7.com and checkout the gorgeous patterns.
For our readers who haven’t yet heard of you, can you tell us about yourself?
I’m Peggy Mead, owner and pattern designer for Sew House Seven – a small, independent pattern company.
I have a long history in the apparel industry as a pattern maker, designer and surface designer. I’ve worked and freelanced for many companies but my first real substantial job was as a pattern maker and later a designer for Jantzen swimwear.
As a pattern maker at Jantzen, I sometimes travelled to the Miss America pageants to fit swimwear on the contestants. I also customized the pattern of a best selling Jantzen suit to fit Princess Diana. I didn’t actually get to meet her – I was given notes as to what adjustments to make. I would have taken about 3” of fabric out of the back derriere had I actually seen the suit on her (I later saw photos of her in it at the beach ). I was so tempted to write a message to her on the label but I refrained.
I left Jantzen to freelance as a pattern maker and designer for several small companies and also had a short stint teaching draping at the Art Institute of Portland. More recently, I have been working for Pendleton Woolen Mills as a surface designer.
Last summer 2014, I launched my own sewing pattern business – Sew House Seven. I felt a need to return to my original passion of sewing and creating and a desire to leave the world of fast fashion behind me. I also have a mission to encourage more people to sew their own clothes by inspiring them and teaching them through my patterns.
What is your location?
I live in Portland, Oregon in a fixer house that we bought last November. I am currently working out of my home in a not yet fixed up office that is a bit of a challenge. I tend to take over our dining room as it’s the nicest room in the house as of yet.
How long have you been sewing? How did you get interested in sewing?
I’ve been sewing since I was about 7 or 8. My then best friend Anne’s mother was a professor at the University of Idaho who taught pattern making and apparel design. She had a large weaving loom in their living room and was always weaving or doing some amazing sewing project. I was fascinated by her and her projects. She taught Anne to sew at about age 7 or 8 and so I too wanted to learn. And so…. my mother taught me and I was hooked!
What was your best sewing-related experience?
I have many great sewing experiences but here are just a few. The first was in Kindergarten when my best friend Anne and I decided we wanted to make outfits for each other. We weren’t old enough to use the sewing machine however, we found some lime green cotton fabric – kind of heavy gauze if I remember correctly. We traced around our bodies to make dresses, cut them out and then told my mom where to sew the seams (the shoulders and side seams with raw edge hems, armholes and neck). We then appliquéd undecipherable dogs onto the front of the dresses. We made matching sandals by tracing our feet on card board to make soles and then taping strips of the green fabric to them for straps. Our mothers let us wear our outfits to school and I remember the sandals coming apart on the play ground and having a change of shoes.
Other great sewing memories were in high school. I was given a clothing allowance of about $100. That money had to last me the entire school year and that’s where sewing really came in handy helping stretch my budget. My hometown was very small and there wasn’t much to choose from in the way of clothes and everyone wore pretty much the same items. I loved that sewing allowed me to have a unique wardrobe. I remember one prom where I made dresses for eight girlfriends. I felt like a magician making clothes for friends who really appreciated it. I didn’t charge or make any money – I just loved doing it.
What was your worst experience?
I was in my friend’s wedding and the bride asked me to make the bridesmaid dresses. One of the gals wouldn’t be able to try on her dress until the day of the wedding so I had to just go by her measurements. Luckily, her measurements were the same as mine so I just made a dress to fit myself. Unfortunately, she planned on loosing weight before the wedding so gave me small measurements. Well… she didn’t loose weight and we couldn’t get her dress zipped up. We finally stuffed her in the dress with the seams popping at the sides and the wedding went on.
Who inspires you?
I can’t think of any famous people but I’m constantly inspired by my friends. I have amazing friends. I really admire people who pursue their passions without worrying about what others think about them – whether it’s a career, a hobby or their personal style – whatever. I’m at a loss for a famous inspiration however, I am also inspired by other independent pattern designers who have paved the path for me.
What fashion style do you personally identify with?
I’ve always loved bohemian style although I wouldn’t say I dress that way. I have to tone it down for my day job and I’ve gotten used to wearing comfort clothes at home. If I were in the public eye I probably would dress a bit more bohemian than I do.
As more indie designers sell on-line, how do you keep an edge?
Ha Ha – I don’t. I’m still trying to figure it all out. When I launched Sew House Seven last summer, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that this isn’t a cut-throat industry. Everyone helps each other out rather than competing.
And, I didn’t have to feel like a door to door salesman pushing my goods – shops and individuals welcome them. I also worried that my web site would be buried in a sea of other sites and nobody would find me. I think what saved me from sinking in the beginning was coughing up a huge chunk of change to invest in printing my patterns. I was then able to get my patterns into some shops and word of mouth spread. I’m still pretty unknown however.
But back to your question, I’m trying to keep a balance of designs that are current yet not so trendy that they will be outdated in a few seasons yet, I like to add simple details that are special and different.
I also think there is room for many indie designers – the sewing community seems to be hungry for new designs. In my experience, it’s the bonding with other indie designers in events such as pattern bundle sales and guest tutorials and interviews that really brings more traffic to my web site so I see the competition not as competition at all but rather help and support.
How long have you been drafting patterns, both for yourself and for sale?
Well…. in high school I altered patterns without any technical research – just by trial and error. I may have also created a few simple garments without a pattern however, it wasn’t until I went to design school years ago and learned to pattern draft that I made my own patterns. I’ve been drafting my own patterns ever since. I didn’t draft, grade and write instructions for my patterns to sell until 2014 when I started Sew House Seven.
What made you decide to release your very first sewing pattern? Was there a specific ah-ha moment?
I’ve kind of dreamed about designing my own patterns for about 20 years or more. I just never thought it was a reality until recently. I guess the idea flame sparked when I started as a pattern maker for Jantzen swimwear many years ago however, I didn’t know how to go about it. I had been mulling it over for years until I bought a book on how to start your own pattern business about 10 years ago. I read it however, I was discouraged as the author said she never made much money at it. Then a handful of years later when I was at Powell’s bookstore on my lunch break, I spotted a Colette pattern for sale and I realized that someone else was out there making independent patterns and that really inspired me. I continued to mull it over and research a bit more until I took the plunge a year and a half ago.
I didn’t realize there have been successful independent designers out there for a while. I hadn’t really been sewing much for myself with my busy schedule and so hadn’t frequented the fabric shops in a while and wasn’t aware of the on-line sewing community. I feel like such a late comer – all of this great stuff was going on and I didn’t even know it!
What made you decide to start your own business/brand? Did it coincide with your first sewing pattern, come earlier or later?
I think the seed was planted after landing my first job in the apparel industry.
I’ve always needed to be creating something however, I’m wasn’t satisfied designing for other companies as there are too many restrictions and you can’t do what you want. You have to worry too much about cost, and accommodate too many other opinions – your sales team, your merchandiser, what your factory is capable of, etc. When I started at Jantzen, our factory was right next door and I could communicate with them easily. When that changed, I became disheartened by all of the production waste, cheap labor, overseas shipping and difficult communication. Feeling so restricted in my career working for others, I knew that I needed to do my own thing however, I didn’t want to make clothing for sale. I also missed sewing and I realized that making patterns would allow me to design yet also help others to be creative (taking my patterns and making the design their own). I also love that I’m not contributing to the mass production of clothing.
How long (on average) do you spend creating a pattern for sale? From initial idea to when it’s available for sale.
Boy that’s really hard to say. It takes me so much longer than I thought it would. I still have my day job and I also have a husband and an 8 year old son so I don’t have large amounts of time to devote to the business – yet. I stay up late and I do have Fridays and every other Monday off so I often work on my patterns on those days when my boy is at school.
I’m continually gathering concepts and sketching ideas and every once in a while I review them and weed through what ideas are viable or relevant. The actual pattern drafting doesn’t take me that long. I usually do that in one to four hours depending on how involved the pattern is. I then have to sew it up and then make adjustments to the pattern at least two but probably more times.
The most time consuming part of the process is writing up the instructions and drawing the images and diagrams. That takes me about two to three entire days and I don’t usually have two to three entire days so it’s spread out over time. Grading is another long process as it takes me about 9 full hours on average and that’s uninterrupted time. If I have to stop in the middle of grading, I usually have to start all over again. I really have to concentrate on that task. Then there’s a lot of back and forth with the pattern testers and updating the instructions or the pattern. Also the photo shoot and package design, website update – there’s so much involved in even the simplest pattern.
I forgot about formatting the pattern for pdf downloads, copy shop files and then a different size for the printed version.
The printed instructions are a different size and format than the pdf downloaded ones and that takes me an entire day or two just reorganizing, re sizing and formatting. Oh another time consuming task is figuring out the fabric usage for each size. That also takes me a full day or two. And then the pattern takes about three to four weeks to print and ship. This all doesn’t sound like much if you add up the days – it should just take a week or two huh? Well…. my last pattern – (The Rose City Halter Dress) was supposed to be quick as I had already made the pattern however, I started the process in mid-February and just got the final patterns back from the printer in late July. I did have pneumonia for 3 1/2 weeks that took up some of that time and I was working on two other patterns at the same time. I’m sorry I didn’t give you a more definitive answer but I haven’t actually logged my time. I’m just going to say that every task always takes me much longer than it seems like it should.
It takes me many months to complete a pattern however, I hope that changes if I’m able to make this a full time endeavour.
Is pattern drafting a full-time career ? Do you have another occupation?
I am currently working for Pendleton Woolen Mills. I guess you would call me a surface designer. I was hired to create the artwork for sweaters (intarsia, jacquards, stripes, embroideries, prints and anything else that makes a sweater novel).
I sometimes create designs for printed fabrics or woven plaids and screen printed tees as well but mostly sweaters.
What was the hardest part about setting up a business/brand and working for yourself?
The hardest part was making the commitment to do it. I had been mulling it over for so long that I finally just decided to do it even though I hadn’t thoroughly researched everything. I just knew if I didn’t jump in, it was never going to happen. I was also afraid of the marketing and the website upkeep. My husband helps me with all of that tech stuff when I get stuck. I’m still working on the marketing – that doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to say that time management is another difficulty for me.
What’s the most enjoyable thing about running your own sewing business/brand? What’s the worst experience?
The most enjoyable part about this business is the sewing community. I mean it! I was preparing myself for all of the hateful feedback but I’ve had nothing but uplifting support from customers and other designers and shops. I still get excited every time I get a sale although, those first few sales were probably the most exciting. I just love getting messages from customers too.
I’m happy to say I haven’t had anything really bad happen yet. I’m bracing for it but as of yet, it’s just been a few people not understanding that their downloaded pattern has gone to their original Pay Pal email address and not their current one. I will say that my biggest frustration is my lack of time. I need to be patient and know that one day I’ll be able to blog and create more than I can now. I just have this need to crank out patterns!
Some designers have a cause that has motivated them to design or support. For example making sexy lingerie for women who have mastectomies. Do you have a special motivation?
I would say that my motivation is to get more women (I don’t have any patterns for men yet) interested in sewing hence the focus on easy patterns. After working in the apparel industry, I have become more and more frustrated with all of the waste, pollution with production and shipping, cheap labor and fast fashion.I aim to encourage people to take up sewing by making my patterns quick, easy to understand, teach the customer something and have them left with a satisfying garment that doesn’t leave them discouraged from trying again but rather encouraged to continue sewing.
I’m sure that there is still waste and pollution involved with printing fabrics and patterns however, sewing is more than just making something to wear. The maker also has an experience making the garment and therefore it feels more special when it’s worn not to mention it’s one of a kind and often tailored to the maker. I also think people who sew have more of an appreciation for the work that goes into a garment even if we do break down and buy a $7 blouse every once in a while.
Do you think formal qualifications (university degree) are needed/necessary for drafting and selling patterns? Do you have a formal qualification? Either sewing related or not.
Absolutely not – if you are tenacious and really research how to do it yourself, you don’t need a degree UNLESS you are trying to get a job with a company. I did go to school for apparel design and pattern drafting however, it’s been a while since I have worked as a pattern maker in the industry. I’ve been doing my current job as a surface/sweater designer for around 10 years so I was a bit rusty before I started Sew House Seven. The knowledge is all there however,sometimes I need to look things up to refresh my memory. I do know a lot about pattern making and a lot of it is intuitive – it comes naturally to me as I’ve been doing it for so long.
However, I’m still continually learning and I think there are many independent, self taught pattern designers out there who probably know more than I do. There’s so much information out there on the internet, blogs and books that if one takes the time, they can learn for themselves.
School was great for me because I probably wouldn’t have found the time to do all the research myself. I also have to say that in my first job as a swimwear pattern maker, I had to throw a lot of the rules I’d learned in school right out the window. Knitwear and swimwear are a whole other can of worms when it comes to pattern making and fitting.
Do you design patterns for plus sizes? Is there a reason why or why not?
I don’t currently design for plus sizes but not because I don’t want to. My patterns range from size 0 to 20 which accommodates a 47” bust. I’d like to make plus patterns in the future if I get to a point where I can do this full time. Plus sizes grade differently which makes nesting the pattern pieces with the other sizes very messy. I would need to have 2 separate patterns printed which gets expensive for me at this stage.
Do you design patterns for different levels of sewing experience and skills?
Well….. my premise is to focus on beginning sewists but with designs that would still appeal to sewists of all levels. I’m finding that I would like to branch out and do more intricate and difficult patterns in the near future. I will be doing a range of patterns however, the existing patterns are mainly for beginners. My latest pattern the Rose City Halter Dress is a little more difficult. I think an advanced beginner could handle it as the instructions are very detailed and made simple however, the bodice is fitted which probably means some pattern adjusting and there is an invisible side zipper.
Would you encourage other’s to draft patterns for sale? Why or why not?
I would definitely encourage others to do so if they love pattern drafting and sewing. There is a lot more work involved than I expected however. I wish I could spend the majority of my time making the patterns but it’s really just a small part of the process so one should be aware of that. I also think it’s for someone who loves to blog. Blogging is a necessary part of the business (a part I need to turn my focus onto). The best parts of the business are connecting with the sewing community, the sense of accomplishment, creativity and being my own boss.
What advice would you give to someone interested in being a fashion designer?
I have been a designer in the apparel industry and I’ll say that it’s not as creative and rewarding as I thought it would be. As I said earlier, you don’t usually get to do whatever you want. There are many people to please – everyone is throwing there 2 cents in until your original design has been so watered down that it’s not really yours anymore. It is probably different if you make it big time which is possible however, you have to really want it and be extremely dedicated for that. This is why I love being an independent pattern designer – I can design what I want. That being said, I’m not making a living at it yet – I still need my day job.
What advice would you give to someone just starting to sew their own clothes?
Start with something simple and choose a design that isn’t too fitted – preferably a woven as opposed to a knit. Be sure to follow the directions as there is much to learn from them. If your first project doesn’t turn out well, please don’t give up – try again and choose another company or designer’s pattern. There are so many tutorials and advice on line if you get stuck.
If you could tell your customers anything, what would it be?
I’m new to all of this so I love to hear your feedback. I’m trying to evolve my company by offering more pattern variations and options in the near future – it just takes time so be patient with me. I’d like to know what you’re all looking for so send me a message if you’re so inclined. I’m also slow to really get my blog up to speed so please keep checking in and don’t give up on me. Sew House Seven is only going to get better and better with time.
What plans do you have for the future?
I definitely want to offer more tutorials and sew a longs along with a more diverse pattern offering. I would eventually like to print my own fabrics for sale as I love surface design but that will be a little while if it happens. I have to be patient as it all takes longer than I want it to but I know I’ll get there.
Where can you be found online?
My web site is www.sewhouse7.com and I’m also on Facebook and Instagram. I would love to join the party and join up with other designers. I love meeting new people – especially if we can talk about sewing. I also think bonding together only helps our businesses and makes us stronger.
Collaborating with other designers has been huge for me.