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I've been sewing a long time. But I never tire of learning. And I've worked with some amazing companies and people along the way.
Here is a bit about my journey and career.
1991: I graduated from F.I.D.M. (The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising), Los Angeles, CA in Fashion Design with a Production Emphasis.
I began in children's wear as a pattern drafter and sample line coordinator and eventually as a designer for B.U.M. Equipment and other children's wear brands like Forever Children. I learned about garment dyeing, managing a sample crew, adding shrinkage, working with fit models, creating all first patterns and manufacturing in
California. We designed and manufactured everything on site. I worked with vendors, graphic artists, sewists, sales people and so many others. I made all first patterns for the entire line in three size ranges (Infant, Toddler and Kids). I can't say enough about my experience here. It was rich in fast paced learning and gave me a great foundation. My boss was well connected and I met some pretty iconic folks at this time. We did that whole typical fashion thing, shopping on Rodeo Drive , going to shows in Las Vegas, and other things I'm not really the type to do. But I soaked it up.
From there I worked in teen's and women's wear working at a variety of places that all added to my experience and eventually led me to the outer wear industry.
I stumbled in to a design position at Kokatat Water Sportswear and really found a niche I loved. It had everything I enjoyed, technical pattern making, sizing obsession, enough time to work on a pattern to make it the best, and exploring challenges like articulation and engineering you rarely see in the fashion world. They were also more conscious of the environment and aware of the impact the garment industry had on the environment. We designed, manufactured and waterproofed everything on site!
There I won a design award, the Apex Award, for a woman's drop seat liner. Enabling women to use the restroom while in a sea kayak at sea and away from the shore while wearing a gasketed dry suit over it. This helped women immensely in the sport as their male counterparts rarely had to slow down to use the facilities. At Kokatat, we pushed getting more styles in women's specific sizing. We had some very clever and convincing tools to do this! At that time, inclusive sizing meant Women's options. It was hard just to get something made in women's in any size!
It was at Kokatat I got the opportunity to learn C.A.D. for the first time. We first used TukaTech, then ScanVec. We utilized their pattern software and marker making software. I like traditional style drafting on a table, but I'll admit, grading and marker making was a lot faster with CAD.
From Kokatat I went Freelance where I had the largest variety of projects I've ever had in my life! If you want to get good at something, do it freelance and
say yes to everything. Websites were a new thing and while I didn't nab Master Pattern, I did get one even better: patterndrafter.com. I worked with little start ups like Munki Munki (Heather Ross' original company, she was local and a friend at the time. She was super funny and so creative!) and large companies like Malcolm Smith Racing. I did it all and I had to do it on time and accurately. I made patterns for patented garments and secret prototypes for government contractors. I created size charts and got super nitty gritty with sizing. I made patterns for clothes for just about every size range, market, all genders, able-bodied and differently able-bodied, outdoor folks, the fashion market and even the non-human. I made patterns for everything- not just clothes. And I had to make samples that looked factory made for their contractors. My goal at Master Pattern for clients who were new to the garment industry was to be able to get their foot in the door of a factory. They need professional industry style patterns and prototypes.
Factory and Production
And I love production. Boy do I love production. It's honestly what set me apart from others in my field. I sewed, I loved to sew, I am curious about sewing, and I only want the sewing to be smooth and straight forward for anyone using my patterns. I've almost 100% worked with companies who produced in the United States. I excel at streamlining and discovering new ways to make things or figuring out how someone else made it. One of my weird quirks is that I have great spatial sense- and I can parallel park any car in any spot ;) Thinking about how a garment goes together inside out is no problem for me.
Inspirations and Other Work
Along the way I worked for five years mentoring teens at the local high school in a unique program called Arcata Arts Institute for their program, Flow. I wrote and won a grant almost every year as their Industry Professional Mentor. This program has become a state wide inspiration to many schools looking to keep the students who don't thrive in a public school setting or who want to learn differently. They're smart, creative and think outside the box. In their Fashion Program, Flow, they had to design three looks that could be on the runway for a full blown professional runway event. Hundreds came to the event each year. It was truly a huge effort and the students were pushed to get their whole project complete, with models, photo shoot, hair, makeup, etc all for five minutes on the runway. It was grueling and the best experience of all of our lives! This experience inspired me and helped me learn how to teach in a particular way that allowed creativity without limits. The students here reminded me why I got in to this industry and I started to think about my own little line. But even that didn't happen how I thought it would.
I received calls often for employed positions designing and making patterns but didn't consider many of them until I had an offer at Hind, Fitness Apparel under Saucony Shoes. It was different than most places I'd worked as it didn't have an onsite factory (but the patterns that I drafted there were used solely at their domestic factories). This was a fast paced work load- 300 patterns in a couple months time as their only pattern drafter. I handled all first, production and graded patterns, fit tests with athletes, and production issues with patterns and managing the samples. I didn't get to stay here for long at all! As I became a mother. Surprise! I went straight back to Master Pattern much to the relief of my clients.
My own Line and Factory
After 11 years of freelance design and pattern drafting, I had finally started thinking about doing it for myself. Originally I had planned to create a line of sewing patterns that would be offered in a wide size range. They would be basic silhouettes but teach the sewist how to make the style they exactly wanted. But I got sidetracked! I had been designing functional items for me and my knitting friends to use while knitting. Zippered needle cases, Project Bags with dividers or appropriate pockets that stayed open and upright. And Chicken Boots was born.
Chicken Boots took off quickly and grew steadily. I was 100% committed to it being made entirely in the U.S. I hired help, sub-contracted out some of the easy items to sew and still we made about 10,000 items in house each year. My skills enabled me to manage the entire line from top to bottom (vertical manufacturing in actual!). We loved making colorful items and limited edition runs for special projects. Making everything in house gave us so much flexibility. We did very few shows since the online business kept us very busy but when we did they were so much fun! One time we even brought two machines to the trade show floor and custom built bags for attendees. Rayann was such an incredible sewist! She really busted out a lot of bags in front of people during this three day event. Our booth was picked clean by the end.
A series of unfortunate events...
After eight years we were at the top of our game, sales hit an annual high of 200k, I employed 2-3 others but in the last two years of Chicken Boots, we had a few successive ill-timed things happen:
The first three happened two months before our two big shows.
No matter. We always rallied. We were getting a lead on a bias vendor. We found new fabric vendors (but these take time to sort out- months and months!). We decided to pare the line down so we could make everything in house as we didn't have a back up factory to lighten the load for us.
Then the Camp Fire happened in November 2018. My immediate family lost their homes. My #1 helper- almost my partner- lost her home and the sewing studio she had just set up. It was a devastating and overwhelming amount in a short period of time. I decided to focus on my family and I obviously didn't expect my assistant to come to work anytime soon. I could have continued Chicken Boots in some fashion but it didn't feel right and I didn't feel like it was where I was at anymore. And I certainly couldn't sew 10,000 items alone each year. Even pared down, it would have been such a sudden change that picking what stayed and what went was impossible.
A few months before the Camp Fire, I had started live streaming occasionally as a way to help sewists and connect with other production sewing people- my original intention also to help other small manufacturers. I had fallen in love with the idea of live streams and watched many of them for gaming. It took a couple years for the idea of sewing and live streaming to enter my head. But I finally made it happen.
I decided to close Chicken Boots shortly after the fire. I had one more show (Then named Madrona Fiber Arts) to do and even doing that show alone was hard considering the environment around me. I really wanted to be focused on helping my family and my community but I had to get through one more show- and I had to make everything on my own. In the end I'm glad I had that last show to be able to say farewell for the time being.
It was a sudden vacuum of spare time once I closed and sold everything. It was a shock. I really like to work and be busy. I decided to keep live streaming to stay busy and have a routine. And here we are today.
Three times each week we cut and sew and laugh together, and pull out the seam ripper, iron and rotary knife to get our projects done. It's better than I could have ever thought and I'm glad folks get it. It's different than almost any other sewing video out there but I also hope it's more helpful compared to most videos, and also supportive to all sewists!
Eventually I added uploaded videos to the mix, plus off-beat videos having to do with the sewing world, honest pattern reviews, and now Skill Building Sessions for my online community, Sew Sew Guild.
Hope you'll come by sometime!
Here's a little intro that tells about my career...