September has arrived and Sewing Indie Month is upon us! That means insightful interviews, helpful tutorials and an amazing pattern bundle offer. We fully recommend you head to the Sew Independent website to find out more.
As part of this year’s Sewing Indie Month, organised by Mari from Seamster Patterns, we’ve had the privilege to get to know lots of other independent pattern designers. We have loved chatting to these amazing ladies and finding all about how running a sewing pattern business works for them.
Recently we had the pleasure of talking to the lovely Kat from Muse Patterns, who has a awesome range of PDF sewing patterns. (They’re seriously great – every pattern has loads of variations!) We love the story of how she came to start Muse and her pattern-making process is a fascinating read.
Welcome to the Sew Over It blog! First thing’s first, introduce yourself to our readers!
Hi everyone! My name’s Kat, and I design and create vintage-inspired patterns for Muse Patterns. I live way down in the bottom of the world in Wellington, New Zealand, in an old lop-sided cottage, with three cats, two small boys, my partner, and a ridiculously large stash of fabric.
How did you come to start your indie pattern business? What led up to this point? Did you have a pattern cutting background?
I’ve been sewing on-and-off all my life, ever since I was a small child making doll clothes and scrunchie hair ties. When I was in university, I did a series of pattern-cutting courses through the design school at the Otago Polytechnic. I had an amazing instructor who had years of garment industry experience (and designed and made the most amazing, gorgeous special-occasion lingerie!).
After that, for about 8 years I had a small independent womenswear clothing label, which I sold through some little boutiques around New Zealand. I closed that down a few years ago though and went back for sewing for myself, including delving into sewing with a lot of vintage patterns (which led to a bit of a love affair with vintage styles, especially the 1930’s and 1940’s.)
About three years ago, I wanted to get back into designing, only without getting back into making garments for sale. That’s when the idea of Muse Patterns was born – a way for me to get back into designing and creating patterns, which is something I’ve always loved.
And then I had my first child, and it all got put on hold. (Funnily enough, there just wasn’t time!) The idea never went away though, and last year, when I was pregnant with my second child, I decided that it was now-or-never. And so, Muse Patterns was born, and the Jenna Cardi was the first release!
Behind the scenes the amount of work required to create a pattern is immense. What does the process look like for you?
For me, it starts several months ahead of time, with the formation of the idea for a new design. I’ll come up with an idea, and do a lot of drawing it out, both in my head and on paper. I think up several variations for the design to make sure it’s as versatile as possible. Once I’ve got all the details nailed down, I start the process of actually creating the pattern. I prefer to work with pencil and paper – I have a large table with a pegboard on the wall next to it where I keep several of my tools, such as various sized rulers and curves. I’ll start with one of my basic blocks, then manipulate it in various ways until I’ve created the first iteration of the design. At which point, I’ll sew it up, and draw lines all over it to identify things such as the best placement for pockets, sleeve lengths, etc, etc. (The type of things I find easier to visualise on a body to ensure they’re in proportion with the design once it’s being worn.) After that, there’s a whole cycle of changing the pattern, sewing it up, seeing what to modify, then repeating it all over again. When I’m finally happy with the design, I’ll start working on the variations – different sleeves, skirt lengths, etc, etc. I write the sewing instructions as I make the pattern, and test those when I stitch up the samples as well.
Once that’s all finished, it’s time for digitising and grading. I get my patterns digitised (converted from large sheets of paper to Illustrator files) and graded by a New Zealand based company who specialises in doing this for the garment industry – they have all the equipment for this already, and are great to work with. I send them the final physical pattern, and instructions on how I want it graded, and they return a file to me.
After I get the file back, I convert it to one that’s easy to use for the home sewist – adding pattern markings, text, different line formats to make it easy to pick the right size. I then create A0 size formats, ready for printing at copyshops, and print-at-home sizes too, and convert both to PDF.
Then it’s time to format the instructions – adding illustrations, fabric layouts, garment measurements, etc, etc. It’s crazy how long that part of the process takes – there’s a lot of detail that needs to be included.
Once the instructions and the pattern are all ready and thoroughly checked over, I’ll sew it up again to test both. And then it goes out to a group of amazing women I know who test-sew it, and give me feedback – they’re looking for things such as whether all the instructions make sense, if there are any printing issues with the pattern (such as a missing grainline marking), that type of thing – the things that can be hard to spot once you’ve spent hours and hours looking at the same document.
While the pattern is being tested, I’ll be making up sample garments for website photos, and working with my lovely models to get them photographed, edited and ready to show. The pattern product page will be getting created, and the launch post and newsletter being written.
Once testing has been finished, I’ll review all the feedback and make a bunch of changes as a result. Then it’ll be one final test-sew, and then – time to launch!
So yes, there’s quite a lot of work, and less than half of it is the creation of the actual pattern. 😉
What has been your favourite pattern to design so far?
Oooh gosh, I’ve loved them all, for different reasons!
I think my favourite so far has been the Melissa dress, top and skirt. I had a lot of fun coming up with the idea for that one, and figuring out how to make it work, especially with the v-shaped pockets. There were a lot of pattern pieces involved, that’s for sure!
The whole team at Sew Over It has learned so much since the business began. What new skills have you learned along the way?
Heaps! And I keep learning more all the time – it’s great! I’m always challenging myself on how I can do things better for customers, by looking at how people are using patterns and instructions, what’s working well, and where I can make changes to make things easier. So far, every pattern I’ve released has had some changes from the one before – for example, my last pattern, the Sophie cardigan, included a layers feature so people can print off only the size they need.) It challenges me to learn to do new things with every pattern release in order to make the overall experience better for people. A lot of my learning has been using technology – I was taught to create patterns using physical tools such as paper, and hadn’t used Illustrator before. I spent a lot of time learning how to use it in order to convert my patterns into print-at-home PDF patterns, and there are new tricks I’m learning with it all the time.
One thing that I’m really excited to be learning about is packaging design – I’m currently working with an amazing designer to explore making physical patterns for sale. There’s so much to consider, and we’ve only just started, so I expect I’ll be learning a heck of a lot over the next few months!
What dreams do you have for your business?
Oooh, gosh, there are a few!
I have designs for about 12 more patterns all planned out and waiting to be created, so I day-dream quite a bit of all the details involved in bringing those to life. 😉
I’d love to release my designs in paper patterns – I’m actually working on this at the moment, which is super exciting!
Eventually I’d like to grow the business enough to employ a couple of staff – it can be hard to get a foot in the door of your first job, and I’d like to be able to give a couple of people some solid work experience this way.
What’s your favourite social media channel at the moment? Are you as addicted to Pinterest as we are?
I’m a huge fan of Instagram at the moment. I follow a lot of sewing people, and it’s always a lot of fun seeing what everyone is making. Lots of little snippets of inspiration and fun appear on there all the time!
Running your own business usually means very long working days. How do you relax after work?
Haha well, crazy though it may sound, I actually have a full-time job as well. So I run Muse Patterns in my “spare time”. I also have two young children (a nearly-three year old and a 9 month old), so it’s quite a juggling act! I’m one of those annoying people who always has to be doing something – so mad though it may be, creating patterns is actually what I do in my down time, after work and after the kids are in bed. It gives me enjoyable self-set challenges, and incorporates my main way of relaxing – sewing. (I have been finding that’s not enough time to do all the things I want to do with the business though, so I’ve started taking a day off work each month to spend entirely on Muse.)
We’re podcast fiends here at Sew Over It and are always on the hunt for new ones to get stuck into. Do you have any recommendations?
Oh gosh, I must admit that I don’t actually listen to podcasts! I have a whole lot that I always want to listen to, but it just never happens. My day job involves talking to people a lot and being in lots of meetings, so the only chance I get to listen to things is once my little ones are in bed at night. And quite frankly, by that stage I’ve had so much noise around me all day that I just want things to be quiet! 😉
And finally what are you working on at the moment? Are there any beans you can spill?
I’m currently in the middle of the next Muse pattern. It’s a two-piece pattern, with two garments that can work well together to make an outfit. Both of them incorporate 1940’s design inspirations, but in a way that’s still very wearable today. Like all the other Muse patterns, there are several variations included in it. Depending on how it goes, I’m hoping it’ll get released mid-late September.
Thanks so much Kat! We cannot wait to feast our eyes on the next Muse pattern, and we now MUST squeeze a Melissa Skirt into our sewing queue. Those pockets!