Careers in Sewing: Running an Indie Pattern Company
Have you ever considered a Career in Sewing? Do you dream of ditching the 9-5 and pursuing your creative dreams? In this blog series we will be posting interviews for a range of different sewing jobs to give you a taste of what possibilities are out there. Today we interview Emily from pattern company In The Foldswho is based in Australia. She is fairly new to the indie pattern world and has just released her second pattern, the Acton dress. Hear about her creative journey and the realities of owning your own small business!
What is your background and how have you ended up working where you are?
I started sewing when I was about nine years old. My mum was trying to find something to occupy me during the school holidays one year, and jut happened to enrol me in a sewing class in a little sewing studio down the road. And I guess the rest is history. Within no time I had recruited a handful of my friends to join after school sewing classes with me, and was making sun dresses and scrunchies (yes, it was the nineties) in my spare time.
I can’t even remember making the decision to study fashion design. It just felt like the natural next step for me after high school. I started my bachelor of Design of Fashion and Textiles at Sydney’s UTS, with the dreams of becoming a costume designer, but within a year or two, I had realised my love was for pattern making and construction. I became totally enchanted by the notion that something two dimensional can be cut and sewn to become three dimensional and can then be worn on the body.
I graduated in 2011 and decided to head to London soon after, for a change of scenery and pace, and to get some experience in the industry. I quickly realised that the mainstream fashion industry was not for me. Through university I had realised that it was really important to me to create garments that were considered, from beginning to end, and would be loved and cared for for years to come – far away from the fast-fashion machine that churns out garments as quickly as possible and disposes of them soon after. While in London, I interned at The Good Wardrobe (an online sustainable fashion hub) and suddenly the whole online business thing became more appealing to me. I realised that with the skills I already had, and very little capital, I could start a business from my bedroom! At around the same time, I had returned to my roots of home sewing and was excited to find that there was a whole group of like-minded people celebrating sewing online. I felt much more comfortable in this space, with the knowledge that people were investing their time into making beautiful garments that fit well and were loved for years and years.
I moved back to Sydney in 2015 and decided it was the perfect time to start a business. And that’s when In the Folds was born.
Can you tell us about your job and where you work?
I am the creator of indie sewing pattern company In the Folds. Which basically means that I do every little job that’s necessary to keep my business alive and growing! I had imagined a life in which I wold be sewing and pattern making every day, but alas that’s not really the reality of running a pattern business. On the plus side though, at least my business hasn’t killed my desire to sew as a hobby (although it has consumed the majority of my spare time)!
I work in a creative space, Buswick South, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, which is really great. I share a space with one of my sewing gal pals, as well as seven other creatives (at this point we have five painters, one sculptor and a print maker). I love that I have somewhere outside of my home to come to every day and have people around me that are inspiring and can keep me accountable. We take tea breaks to chat about what we’re working on, what we are listening to or reading, as well as to provide each other with pep talks (which are are daily necessity when trying to survive the creative life!) I have a beautiful space, with a lovely big desk, nice big windows and everything I could possibly need to create the patterns I make.
What do you do in a typical day?
A typical day (if there ever is one) involves an early morning walk along the beach front. I’m not really a morning person, but I find that forcing myself up and down to the beach really helps me get focussed and motivated for the day. I try hard not to check my phone before I head out, otherwise I risk starting my work day at 6.30am! I aim to get to the studio by 9am, and the first thing I do is check my Trello board (my number one organisational tool). I plan out my week on a Monday morning using Trello, and I love that once it’s done, I don’t have to think about it again. This works really well for me, as it means I don’t have to remember what to do next, it’s all there in front of me and it means far less procrastinating between tasks. I try to do my most important work first thing in the morning, while I’m feeling fresh, and leave the easy stuff (or the stuff that I love no matter the time of day or my state of mind – i.e. sewing and pattern making) until after lunch when my batteries are fading. I normally get another rush of energy around 3 or 4pm, so try to get a few more things checked off the list before heading home. I try to work normal working hours (as I have a workaholic tendencies that I need to keep in check), so generally head home around 6pm.
I’d love to say that a typical day includes sewing, but it generally doesn’t. I feel that most days are spent at the computer – whether I’m writing emails, digitising patterns, writing instructions or creating a tutorial for the blog.
What are the best and worst bits?
The best bit is that I am my own boss. I don’t have to check in if I want to do something and can have full creative control over all that I do. I get to create patterns for a truly awesome group pf people and get to be part of a really inclusive, supportive and inspiring community. Due to the nature of creating sewing patterns, no week is ever the same. Every week or two my focus changes, as I progress through the process – from initial design, sampling, pattern creation, pattern testing etc. I think this is one of the best bits about my job. I am definitely never bored!
The worst bit is that I have to do everything! My to-do list seems to be ever expanding and I find that it’s really difficult to switch off, even when I leave the studio (the joys of running a business that never sleeps), but I’m really working on that – so watch this space!
Did you always want a creative career?
Definitely! There was even a time (many many years ago) when I would have told you I wanted to be a dancer! Thankfully I realised that my talents were better suited to sewing and decided to hang up the dancing shoes. I have just always known that I am happiest when I am creating something. The small business tendencies also started early, during high school I started making bags, singlets and skirts to sell on the school yard, and even tried my hand at a few market days.
What qualifications, skills or experience did you need to get your job? Have you continued to train since starting?
Well seeing as though I gave myself this job, I really didn’t have to show anyone my qualifications! But in terms of relevant qualifications, I would say that my fashion degree has come in handy, but nowhere near as much as I had hoped. It probably only accounts for about 10% of the skills I need for this job! It definitely gave me a head start and gave me a thorough understanding of pattern making and sewing, but the rest I have had to learn on the job. My degree did give me faith in my work ethic though, so I knew that if I put my mind to it, I would have a good shot at creating a viable business. From university life, I also knew I was good at wearing many hats and surviving with little money or sleep – two prerequisites if you’re thinking of starting a creative business!
As for training since getting started, I feel like I never stop training! This isn’t a bad thing though. I love learning new things and I think my enthusiasm for learning has been my greatest asset during this start-up phase. I did a small business course when I first got started and now I am constantly devouring information (reading, listening to podcasts, doing online courses, asking people for advice) and feel so lucky to live in a time when almost anything can be learned online. The business world changes so quickly due to the internet, so I think it’s really important to be nimble and ready to learn what you need when you need it.
Do you have any tips for someone looking to get into the same area as you?
Just do it! I think that if you really want to become a pattern designer, you just need to get started and be prepared to keep learning every single day. Go and do a pattern making course. Learn as much as you possibly can. Use indie patterns from all different designers – take note of the things you like and don’t like. Don’t just make patterns of things you’d like to wear – think hard about who will actually buy it and how long the pattern will be relevant (for this reason I really try and steer clear of trends when I’m designing). Patterns take a really long time to create and get out into the world, so you really want to make something that people are going to love and want to wear too. Consume as much information as you possibly can. You’re reading this, so I guess that’s a good start!
Don’t worry if you don’t have the skills to handle every step in the process. There are so many people out there offering the skills and experience you need, so take advantage of that.
If you could do anything else what would it be?
I know it sounds incredibly cheesy, but I really can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing than this. My business still has a very long way to go, but it makes me really happy. It’s pretty much all I think about at the moment, which I think is a sign that I’m on the right track!
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m working on a new pattern. I’m really excited about this one, as it’s more beginner friendly than my previous patterns. I just got the pattern back from the grader and I’m about to start writing the instructions. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m planning on it being ready early in the new year!
What are you sewing right now/will be your next project?
Unfortunately I am not sewing anything at the moment, but I do have a long list of summer sewing plans. I really need some skirts and trousers, as I have so many tops and nothing to wear them with! Although I must say I am easily wooed by dresses and have a couple of Acton versions circulating my brain as we speak!