A few months ago I stumbled across a photo of a dress named Chelsea and read that author and dress designer, Christine Haynes, was developing that dress as part of a new range of dressmaking patterns to be released this year. I'd rather fallen in love with this prototype so I wrote to Christine on Twitter asking when her new patterns might be available. Happily, we quickly dispensed with limiting ourselves to conversing in 140 characters and began chatting on email and Christine offered me the chance to give away one of her patterns as soon as they were released. Hurrah!
The way that these patterns came about is slightly unusual and I thought, if you don't already read Christine's blog, that you may enjoy learning a little more about Christine and her dressmaking, so, to accompany the giveaway, I asked if she might answer a few of my questions. I was so delighted by Christine's answers - which I found inspiring and full of warmth - and I hope that you enjoy reading them just as much as I did when they first landed in my inbox!
To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment at the bottom of this post saying which pattern you'd most like to win and Christine will post a copy out to the randomly chosen winner. I'll give details of where you can buy the patterns at the end of the post.
Firstly, thank you so much for offering up your patterns as a give-away for my readers. As soon as I saw these patterns I fell in love with them and I've enjoyed doing a little research and discovering how they came about - so here are my questions:
|The Chelsea Dress|
1. I know that you produced a sewing book of garment patterns published by Random House a few years ago, but this leap into producing your own clothing patterns independently is a little different and came about in an unusual way which showed a huge amount of ingenuity and determination on your part (not to mention handmade thank you's). For those that don't know the background, could you share a little about how you've got to the point of these dress patterns being a happy reality?
Sure! After my first book was published I thought I’d do another one immediately. Fortunately that fell through, because in hindsight, I was not ready to do another book right then. At the time I was disappointed, but in the end it was the best thing that happened to me. I started teaching and getting more and more writing offers from magazines as my book was being published. The ready to wear collections dwindled as the teaching and writing took over and before I knew it I was teaching all the time.
In teaching I came to realize that what I really wanted to do next was a line of patterns, not a second book. But I didn’t quite know how to do that. I had a couple of conversations with one of the big four companies and considered going through them as other designers have done. And while it never seemed quite right, I knew that I couldn’t do it all on my own. I am a one-woman business without a spouse income to help support everything, and I just didn’t have extra to do something this big.
Then one day I heard about Kickstarter and it changed everything. For those readers not familiar with it, Kickstarter is an online fundraising site for creative projects. People like me are very unappealing for banks, especially these days. I also don’t have any credit cards to do it that way, and I don’t come from money, so borrowing it all was out of the question. But I did think that I knew enough people to pool a tiny bit from each person to raise enough funds to print the first two patterns, and I was right! My friends, family, students, and complete strangers donated over $6,500, which is just under what it cost me to print the patterns, instructions, envelopes, pay my illustrator/designer, buy the fabric for the samples, and pay everyone involved for the photo shoot. I did have to kick in some of my own money too, but their support nearly covered it all!
It was an amazing and very challenging experience. While it takes a ton of diligence and marketing, it can really work. I know of others that have used Kickstarter too for their creative projects. It’s a pretty amazing invention.
2. How do these patterns differ from those in your book, Chic & Simple Sewing?
When I wrote my book, I was focusing entirely on a seamstress who had possibly never sewn before, or at least had never sewn garments before. I kept running into friends who were really good at sewing accessories or quilts but were afraid to try to make clothing and I found out that it was due to the fears of fitting. So when I designed the outfits, I wanted to strip the garments down to the most basic and simple shapes possible: rectangles, squares, circle skirts and such.
It is not an all-inclusive guide to sewing, but rather a way to make modern outfits with minimal sewing experience. I received some negative reviews from readers who wanted much more from my book than it was meant to be, but it was never meant to be a sewing bible. In hindsight, I’d do many things differently, but you live and learn and move on.
For the patterns, I am coming from both the knowledge of what I did right and what I did wrong on the book, as well as 5 years of sewing teaching under my belt. I have really learned what my students want and need from their patterns. Unlike my book, these first two patterns are not for someone who has never sewn before, but they aren’t terribly difficult either. I wanted to find that sweet spot where the seamstresses are experienced enough to not need super basic instruction, but had enough of a foundation to not need extreme explanation.
|The Chelsea Dress|
3. Could you tell us a little about what's been involved over the last year as you've launched your pattern company?
It’s been such a learning experience! Since I wanted to begin with my two most popular designs from my ready to wear days, I already knew I wanted to start with the Derby Dress and the Chelsea Dress, but I didn’t really start changing them into the sewing patterns until after the Kickstarter campaign ended. I didn’t want to jinx anything!
Once the funding was secure I began redesigning the original patterns to be more body-friendly and started to design the alternate views. After I was pretty sure what the changes would be, I started making various versions and then eventually the final samples. I then did casting for the photo shoot and secured all the details for that day. In the midst of all this, my illustrator/designer finalized the cover design so that would inform how the photographs needed to be done. Once the shoot was over, it was onto the final designs for the envelope, writing and finishing all the instructions, and sending everything to print!
4. Your aesthetic completely appeals to me - I love the gathered yolks, empire lines, Peter Pan collars and ruffles that are sprinkled over your vast catalogue of work [Christine has produced many ready-to-wear collections in the past] - where do you gather inspiration from and how much alteration and re-jigging goes into taking a first pattern draft into a final wearable garment?
First off, thank you! I’m so glad you find the designs appealing! There are a few bloggers I hoped would like the patterns, and you were on that list. I’m glad I was right about that!
If there is one time and place that informs my designs the most, it’s France in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I love the intersection of prim and proper and naughty like how a Peter Pan collar can add an element of sauce to a dress. But I never want to look like I’m wearing a costume and I am not a fan of the word “retro”. I’m not into kitchy, rather I like classic and timeless vintage-inspired outfits.
For me, some designs can be right from the get go, and others I really have to work at. And some just need to go away! Not every idea works. When I was doing ready to wear, I didn’t have to worry too much about how anyone else would put the garments together since I was doing all the sewing myself. Once I started designing for others to sew I found there to be a lot more re-jigging. I can always hear my students in my head while finalizing designs!
|The Derby Dress|
5. You initially chose to develop the Chelsea and Derby dresses into sewing patterns. The Chelsea dress looks like it's changed quite a lot along the way since your initial concept - what processes did you go through to come up with the final designs.
Both designs went through a lot of changes, and all of those were in order to make the patterns more body-friendly for a wider range of body types, and to offer more mixing and matching between elements. There are two views for each pattern, one that is closest to the original design and one variation.
|The original Chelsea Dress|
For the Chelsea Dress, the original design was changed in very small ways for view A. The ready to wear version had an overlapping seam in the front of the yoke. I added a Peter Pan collar and finished it off with a 3-button closure. It also had elastic at the hem of both the long and short sleeve versions, which I took off and replaced with a simple folded hem. View B of the Chelsea Dress was designed with a V-neck and bow on the yoke, and a band at the hem, which I thought gave lots of options for mixing and matching. This way you could do view A yoke with view B 3/4 sleeves and hem band, etc. to make it totally custom.
The Derby Dress went through the most changes. The original version had a straight neckline with a full ruffle that was gathered with elastic inside a casing across the bust. The ties were sewn into the casing and tied into bows at the shoulder.
|The Chelsea Dress|
I knew I wanted the dress to be more body-friendly and more flattering to ladies that wanted to define their waists. So I changed the front of the dress into three panels with princess seams and changed the back into four panels so the drape was still fluid but not just a gathered rectangle. I also changed the neckline to a curve and added a smaller ruffle to the curve for view B. That way the ruffle didn’t interfere with the bust or waist. I also changed the straps to go into the back of the dress since I personally found it annoying to wear the ties under a cardigan, which is key for layering for cool summer nights.
View B has the ruffle, is longer for more modesty, and has a self-tie for waist definition. For view A, I added a Peter Pan collar at the neck and a gathered ruffle at the hem. Again, this provides mixing and matching options. You could do view A’s Peter Pan collar, but make it the length of view B and add the belt at the waist. It’s yours to customize!
6. I love your pattern images - each look is individual and distinct while remaining a cohesive group - how did you decide on the fabrics to be used for these flagship dresses and will this aesthetic run through future pattern releases?
Thank you for the compliments on the photos! I tried really hard to make them cohesive, yet individual. It is super challenging! I had the hardest time selecting fabric for the covers. Originally I wanted to design and print my own fabric, but I started to really stress out about time and it was getting in the way of my creative brain moving forward with the designs. I was very leery of using another designer’s fabrics on my covers, and yet I didn’t want to choose something totally generic like solids and polka dots. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those! I just wanted more personality, especially for the first patterns since this was setting the tone for all that will follow.
So after a lot of debate, I decided to use Liberty of London lawn fabrics. They are my absolute favorite to work with and I knew they’d strike the right balance of sweet and girly, while still remaining classic. The only fabric on the cover that isn’t Liberty of London is the pink and white stripe used on the contrast of view B of the Chelsea Dress, which I used because I wanted it to be clear how the grain went on each of those elements since some are straight and some are on the bias. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to use Liberty of London for future patterns, it all depends on the design of the garment, but there will be a relationship aesthetically between all the pattern covers.
|The Derby Dress|
7. Can you tell us about the photo shoot day - that must have been a big day for you?
It was an awesome day because I had a fantastic team! My pal Bob Lake who is a professional photographer agreed to do the photos, but the only catch is that he lives in San Francisco and I live in Los Angeles, so I had to plan everything from afar and trust that it all would work out when I got there. Thankfully, it did!
I booked three models on a totally open casting call and they were all amazing. Sometimes models aren’t what they advertise themselves to be, but all of my ladies were great. I also booked Shana Astrachan of Fox & Doll who did the hair and makeup for me. She does a lot of brides but also did the recent Mod Cloth campaign, so I knew she’d be perfect for what I needed.
The day of the shoot always goes by like a flash. The girls show up, the hair and makeup artist arrives, and we start fitting and preparing the ladies. All the while, Bob and his amazing wife Jenifer were getting the lighting set up, which was entirely done in the back of their house. They are renovating their home so we had the back of the house to make into a giant light box.
For the look of the photos, I wanted a white backdrop because of the design of the envelope covers. I also really like the look of Japanese sewing books and how minimal they are, so that was the look I was going after. The shoot went super smooth and afterwards Bob, Jenifer, and I celebrated with beers and a trip to the thrift store!
|The Derby Dress|
7. Any realistic dressmaker anticipates that most patterns may need a little adjustment to fit perfectly, but what kind of body shape and stature of person is likely to get the best fit first time around with your patterns? Are your patterns graded and cut to a standard manufacturer's specifications (such as Simplicity) or are they particular to your own company (as with Colette Patterns which cater for curves)?
My sizing is pretty much my own, but they are closer to Colette Patterns or Sewaholic than say the big four (Vogue, Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick). The patterns are designed with curves in mind, but not quite as curvy as Colette Patterns.
I would say that the best body type to get good fit out of the envelope is someone that is proportionate, but not too curvy. But that largely depends on the design of the garment, as some have more give due to the shape than others. I design with a B cup and with some consideration for hips, so it’s best for an hourglass figure, but if you’re very top or bottom heavy, there might need to be adjustments made. To accommodate for more curves, I increased the ease in the designs from size 10 to 18 so there is more give in the garment the larger the woman.
|The Derby Dress|
8. Many of my readers, myself included, dip into pattern drafting themselves as well as using patterns created by others, so I know some will hopefully be as interested as I am in the nitty gritty of your work - do you prefer draping on a dress stand or flat pattern cutting when it comes to drafting a pattern?
I am not formally trained in patternmaking or fashion. Instead I went to art school and studied studio art, so I come from a very organic and free form place when doing anything creative. That being said, I’m also realistic that there needs to be a balance between the technical and the creative or else you won’t have straight seams and such.
When designing a new garment, I always first start on the dress form. I’ll do some draping, do some rough cutting, stand back, and tweak and mess with it for a while. Then I go back and forth and back and forth a lot. It’s like a dance! Once I’m feeling pretty good about where it’s going, then I draft a paper version of it as close to how I think it will be. That’s where body measurements start to come to play to make sure I’m consistent. I then cut a muslin from that pattern and baste it together. From there I do that same drafting and muslin cutting over and over until I’m 100% happy with it. In the middle of all the tweaking, I try it on a model friend to make sure I’m getting close and to get her feedback. Then I make a final pattern in oak tag and make the final garments for the photo shoot.
When it comes to sizing, I don’t think that grading is something to do in a casual way since it’s really mathematical. It needs to be precise! So once I’m totally done with the pattern, I hand it to a company that traces it digitally and does all the grading for me based on my specs. They give me a printout of each size so I can cut them out and make sure all the pieces are still lined up. They then email me the files and I do some tweaking and send them off to print. Phew!
|The Derby Dress|
9. What's next for you? I'm already eager to see what you might release next, so hearing about anything in the pipeline would be most exciting.
The most immediate plan I have is a vacation! After all this work I’m taking a break to recuperate, rest, and get inspired for all that awaits me this summer and fall. I’ve hardly had a day off since Christmas! I have a friend taking care of shipping, and I’ll have technology with me, so all will carry on as normal, even though I’ll be hiding away in France for a spell.
This is already up, but the other big thing I’m in the middle of is my new Craftsy class! I had the pleasure of working with them on my class The Sassy Librarian Blouse, which are two variations of a 1950’s inspired top. If your readers don’t know about Craftsy, it’s an awesome online site for craft video classes of all kinds. You buy the class and then the video is yours to watch anytime, forever. The pattern is exclusive to the site and is a downloadable PDF. So you print the pattern, and then follow along with me on the videos as I guide you through making the tops. The students have access to me and can ask me questions along the way and I’m there to help them, no matter where in the world they are. It’s pretty amazing! I suspect you’ll like the pattern, as there are things like cute collars and bows!
I am also already in the midst of a dress pattern for the fall. I probably will only release one pattern this fall. I’d love to do another Craftsy class as well and I found that this spring doing six patterns (two variations for Craftsy, and two variations of two dresses for the patterns), was just way too much for me to do in addition to teaching and all the other work things I have going on, so I’m going to make sure I get a day off each week!
10. The pink shoes that the models in your images are wearing: I adore them! Would you be able to share who makes these beauties so that the entire Christine Haynes patterns look can be replicated?
Those shoes were one of the best happy accidents! I knew that using my friends Bob & Jenifer Lake’s home as our shoot site would provide me with great prop options, as Jenifer has awesome style and their home is filled with all kinds of vintage goodies. When I arrived for the shoot, I was still somewhat undecided on the shoes the models were going to wear, but I had brought some basic heels that I hoped would just more or less go unnoticed in the shot so the dresses would be the focus. But then I scoured Jenifer’s shoe collection and I had two other directions to go in: clogs or cute rain boots. Being in San Francisco and in their vintage home, I almost went with the rain boots and a more rustic backdrop. But then I had the models try on the dresses with the clogs and I was smitten.
The pink shoes were a find that Jenifer got while in Sweden last summer. My first question upon seeing them was not “who made them?” but rather, “you did get me a pair too, right?” Nope! But luckily enough they worked perfect for the shoot. The pink shoes are by Eurostep Fegen and the dark blue clogs are by Troentorp. As far as I can see by searching the web, the pink Eurostep Fegan clogs are not available online, but the Troentorp are and they have a cute pair of sandals that are close to the pink ones I used by Eurostep Fegen. There are also other similar shoes out there, so you can probably get really close to completing the whole look without getting those exact ones!
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Christine, and for kindly offering my readers the chance to win your patterns. Your patterns are beautiful and I'm so excited to watch their inevitable success and see how they will be sewn up by others. They will certainly be appearing in my own wardrobe!
Thank you for allowing me to tell your readers about my patterns! And I look forward to seeing what you do with them. I know your creations will be adorable!
Christine's patterns are available in America here where they're on offer with free domestic shipping until May 31st. If you're anywhere in Europe, I'm excited to tell you that Alice of Backstitch will soon have the patterns in stock and you can find them in her shop here - if you register your interest Alice will send you an email as soon as they arrive with her.
And don't forget to leave a comment here if you'd like to have the chance to win one of the patterns - just let me know which one. This give-away is open internationally.