Friday, May 9, 2014

Pattern Designer Interview - Lynn of Handmaiden's Cottage


1. When did you start designing patterns and how did it come about?
My love for sewing and all sorts of needlework began as a child.   I vividly remember sitting next to my Mother as she made clothing for my Barbie dolls without patterns, draping fabric scraps over the plastic "mannequin" and stitching them up!  At that time I was way too young to operate machinery,  so I started out sewing by hand and it wasn't long before I was making my own doll clothes.  When I went to high school,  sewing was offered as part of the Home Economics curriculum, not as a precursor to a career in design, but basically as a "homemaking" skill.  I can still remember the fabric I used for my "runway" project (we had to design, sew and model our perfectly-fitting creations!)  As my interest in handiwork grew, so did my library of  sewing and craft books but it had never occurred to me to pursue a career in design, let alone patternmaking, so I went in another direction that seemed more practical and entered a business program at a local vocational school.  I was pretty good in math and my goals were simple and limited to getting an office job, marriage and babies!  Of course,  life is never simple and long story short,  I had to support my family, found an entry level position in a government agency and developed a successful career by "climbing the ladder", spent ten years in night school earning my bachelor's degree, worked on my MBA,  raised my twins, left my day job and decided to open my Etsy shop five years ago and sell handmade!  When I started receiving requests for patterns and as I found myself sewing around the clock and enjoying it less and less, I knew it was time for a change.  I resisted the idea at first (technical writing and computer work are not my favorite things to do!), but I wanted to remain in the creative marketplace.  Then I thought about my Mother and what an excellent cook she was, but never wrote down her recipes, so thinking about my own granddaughters and passing something on to them was the motivation I needed to get through my first pattern.  Now here I am, making doll clothes again!
2. What training do you have or how did you learn?  
Without formal training, I did what I normally do when I want to learn something new, I searched out books on the subject and purchased "How to Publish your Patterns"  by Nancy Restuccia and began to study!   I had already been designing my own clothing to sell and had previously acquired some tools including the book "Children's Clothing...designing, selecting fabrics, patternmaking, sewing" by Selma Rosen complete with a set of slopers in perfect condition!   I had also purchased a professional children's dress form in a size 6 and had saved all of my notes and measurements from  children I had dressed over the years.   Because I had a "vision" of walking into a quilt shop and seeing my patterns hanging there, I started out with printed patterns.  My husband-to-be, Brad, a custom home designer, is proficient in CAD (computer-aided drafting) and other design programs offered to help,  so together we managed to release our first pattern to see if this was something I wanted to pursue.  I still consider myself  "in training" and just recently purchased a book  on patternmaking with blocks and some new tools so I can standardize my sizing and refine the fit of my designs.
3. What is the process of designing a new pattern like?
I start out by hand drawing my pattern pieces and then Brad scans and digitizes them.  I take photographs and write the instructions while I make the items in the sizes I want to offer and then create a rough draft.   After a few more steps, the pattern goes out for testing to ensure accuracy and fit.  Necessary edits are made and the pattern is finalized. 
I've only recently decided to stop selling handmade and fabric to focus on our pattern  business.  I already have a library of designs from years of selling on Etsy and I'm basically writing those up for now, but I am definitely looking forward to some new designs in the future. 
4. What is the hardest part about designing a pattern in pdf form?
First of all, I don't think there is any easy part in patternmaking!  Since we started out with professionally printed patterns with strict layout guidelines and pricing based on the size of the pattern, I think the hardest part (and possibly the best part) of publishing patterns in PDF form is how much detail you can provide in one pattern.  Sometimes I don't know when to quit!
5. What is the favorite of your patterns and why? 
My Swing Dress!  When I started receiving requests for a pattern for this dress, I really struggled with it!  I so wanted to share the design because I knew it was a favorite of  my handmade customers' little girls, but also knew it was going to be challenging because the techniques I used when I made it to sell, would not easily translate to a pattern.   I had to completely redesign it!   Now, when I look at the pattern, I think it looks fairly easy and I'm really proud of it!

6. Do you sew for your own family or for sale? What do you prefer more, sewing or pattern design, and why?
I just recently stopped sewing to sell and am looking forward to concentrating on sewing for our home.  I have a long list of projects, including an awning for the front porch!  Since I prefer the sewing machine over the computer,  sewing is more appealing to me, but patternmaking gives me the flexibility in my life so that I can spend more time away with my grandchildren. 
I've always sewn for my extended family and have fulfilled requests ranging from baby bibs to reupholstering the complete interior of an antique car! 
7. Have you learned anything from feedback from customers that you would like to share with other designers or wanna-be designers?
I'm not sure I've reached the level of  expertise of giving advice to other pattern designers, but I do know that good customer service is imperative if you want a successful business of any type.   I really try to be accessible and help out whenever I can and I actually enjoy the one-on-one interaction. The best feedback for me is when I get a photo of a little girl in a dress handmade by someone special to them and it's from my pattern!
8. Best time and place to design?
I'm not really sure I have a best time or place, it's more about when I feel inspired.   When I'm working on a project or trying to figure out a technique, it isn't unusual for me to wake up at five in the morning with the solution, spring out of bed and get to work testing my theory!
9. Favorite fabric of all time?
Years ago, Joann Fabric was having a closeout on Dupioni (I hadn't sewn with silk before) but it was ridiculously inexpensive, so I bought it all up, went to my sewing room and fell in LOVE! 

10. Favorite thing to do for fun?
For me,  there is nothing more enjoyable than playing with the grandkids and being silly.  Since  they live in Florida and the cottage is in Ohio, that fun comes in spurts!  Antiquing, gardening, playing with the dogs,  and (most recently) kayaking are the things we enjoy in the meantime!

Note: I am a member of  Lynn's pattern design team because her patterns are so fabulously beautiful!  I never recommend anything not extremely well done.  These patterns are great!  

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