A Review of Sewing Patterns I’ve Traced

Last week, I wrote about tracing patterns (see “Tips on Tracing Sewing Patterns“). In that post I was going to include some of my thoughts on the sewing patterns I’ve traced over the past few months but it got too long. So here’s my brief review, which covers patterns from three books: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin; Shape Shape: Sewing Clothing Patterns to Wear Multiple Ways by Natsuno Hiraiwa; and BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern by Jamie Lau as well as a PDF, the Sassy Librarian Blouse by Christine Hayes from her Craftsy class. Here’s the rundown:

Alabama Studio Sewing + DesignI really liked the clothes in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design so I bought it last fall. (See “Book Review: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.”) This was my first experience with patterns that you had to trace, not cut out. The patterns were printed on both sides of the paper and some of them overlapped each other. Granted this saves paper and space but I was used to buying traditional patterns printed on tissue paper that you cut out. But I was game – this was a chance for me to use that Swedish tracing paper that had been sitting around for a couple years. (For more on the book seeBook Review: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.”)

Alabama Studio Sewing + Design - pattern
Patterns from the book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin

The patterns were very easy to trace because each size has very distinct lines and seam allowances are included. So all you needed to do was trace and cut (no darts!). I just traced these patterns freehand. All the garments use jersey fabric and are rather fitted because you’re using fabric that stretches.

I made a hand-sewn tunic, skirt, and bolero jacket from this book as well as an embroidered wrap, which I’ve posted about a few months ago (see “The Embroidered Wrap“). I haven’t written about the outfit yet but here’s a preview.

hand sewn tunic, skirt and bolero all made from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design patterns (photo by Emily Loftis).

Shape Shape by Natsuno HiraiwaAbout a month after I bought Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, I ordered a copy of Shape Shape: Sewing Clothing Patterns to Wear Multiple Ways by Natsuno Hiraiwa, a graphic designer turned fashion designer. This was a bit of an impulse purchase. I liked the photos of the garments, lots of asymmetric cuts and of course, interesting shapes.

The patterns in this book are also printed on both sides but they are not that easy to trace – not only do many pattern lines overlap but the lines are all of the same skinny weight. It’s difficult to be sure you’re following the correct line for a particular piece and there is no differentiation among the pattern lines designated for each size. This means that the line is exactly the same for size small, medium and large. (Note: This pattern doesn’t include seam allowances so you must add them.)

The lines in the Shape Shape patterns are hard to trace - see all that overlapping? And no differentiation between the different sizes!
The lines in the Shape Shape patterns are hard to trace – see all that overlapping of pattern pieces? And no differentiation between the lines for different sizes either!

I made one garment from the book (the Free-Style Curved Stole) but it was a little small (and I didn’t forget to add the seam allowance either!). I think I’ll give it to one my sisters who’s about 4 inches shorter. The garments in the book are sized for petite Japanese women, which means that at 5 feet 7 inches I’m a giantess for these clothes. There are only three sizes (S, M, and L) but I must be an XL or larger – something to bear in mind if you make anything from this book. (Of course, if I had read the reviews on Amazon, I would have realized that the sizes run pretty small, large is more like a medium.)

If you want to see what some of the clothes from the book look like, check out the review of Shape Shape by Handmade by Carolyn. She’s made some of the clothes from the book.

BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern book coverFor my next adventure in pattern tracing, I turned to the dresses in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern. With this book, I got more serious about tracing and finally bought a few French curves. (See my post “Tips on Tracing Sewing Patterns” for more on the tools I use.)

The patterns in this book are very easy to trace — even when many pattern pieces overlap — because some pieces are printed in black ink and others in red, plus the lines for different sizes are very clear. Seam allowances are not included, which makes it easier to adjust and/or modify the patterns. For many of the garments in the book, you need to take one of the base patterns and modify it to create a new pattern.

Let me tell you, after Shape Shape, it was a relief to trace patterns from this book!

If you want to see the dress I made from this book, check out my post “My First Fashion Photo Shoot for a Dress” or see the dress posted on my BurdaStyle page “Tea-Length 1950s Dress – BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern.” It was a finalist in BurdaStyle’s sewing contest earlier this year.

Patterns in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern are printed in red and black ink.
Patterns in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern are printed in red and black ink.

Sassy Librarian BlouseLast but not least, is the pattern I traced from a PDF. I few months ago, I bought Christine Haynes Sassy Librarian Blouse on Craftsy, which uses a PDF pattern that you download and print on letter-sized paper. The pattern uses more than 35 pieces of paper, which you then need to tape together, overlapping the edges to match the lines. By the time you’re done taping all the pieces together, the pattern is a bit bulky in some areas.

So I decided not to cut the PDF pattern and instead, trace my size on to pattern tracing paper. I’m used to those tissue-weight patterns. Seam allowances are included in this pattern. None of the pattern pieces overlap (yay!) and the sizes are clearly delineated.

Taped together PDF pattern for the Sassy Librarian Blouse by Christine Haynes
Taped together PDF pattern for the Sassy Librarian Blouse by Christine Haynes

I’m still working on this top. I traced the pattern pieces and cut the fabric and my woven interfacing. When I finish it, I’ll be sure to post about it! What have been your experiences tracing patterns?

Making a Dress from the Book: BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern

Construction Details A
Clockwise from top left: Muslin of bodice, pinning darts in fashion fabric and lining, pinning fashion fabric and lining at neckline, attaching neck and armhole facings to lining

In December I bought the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern at a sewing event at Britex Fabrics and I had also interviewed the author, Jamie Lau. Naturally, I had to make something from the book! And when BurdaStyle announced a sewing contest using a pattern from the book, I had some incentive to get going. But first I had to think about what to make and wrote here about my initial criteria and what I was considering. After I looked over the fabric in my stash, I knew that making a dress from the book would be my best option.

At first I thought I would use the pattern for the Jamie Shift Dress because I had some great wool crepe that I could color block. But it would have taken me a lot more time (and muslins!) to adjust the pattern so it would be more flattering to my curvy figure.

So I finally decided to use the master pattern for the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress. It’s from the chapter that features fashions from the 1950s, an era when dresses had full skirts and women wore crinolines.

Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film Funny Face

This pattern has a square neckline but I decided to give it more of a boat neck, which is a style I really like. That neckline always makes me think of Audrey Hepburn and the dress she wore in the 1957 film Funny Face, which also stars Fred Astaire who plays a fashion photographer.

To change the neckline of the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress, I traced the neckline of the Jamie Shift Dress but made it wider at the shoulders.

I made one muslin of the bodice but once I tried it on I realized I made it too wide. It didn’t look right and my bra straps showed. So I traced out another pattern but only made it about an inch wider than the Jamie neckline — much better!

My other adjustment to the bodice was that I decided to line it. The pattern uses facings. So using my muslin, I cut out the bodice twice – once from my fashion fabric, which I got from Discount Fabrics in San Francisco, and a second time from my lining fabric (a lovely Bemberg rayon lining from Britex).

I pinned and sewed the front and back darts on all the pieces and then I pinned the neck and armhole facings to my lining front and back. My fashion fabric has a soft hand and I wanted it to give it a little more stiffness around the sleeves. I used a very lightweight interfacing on the facings.

Next I attached front and back at the shoulders of the lining version and the fashion fabric. To put the two pieces together, I followed the clear instructions in the tutorial “How to Line a Sleeveless Dress,” which I found on the blog Blithe Stitches. Though my dress wasn’t exactly sleeveless and it also had a side zipper, the directions still worked for me.

Tomorrow I’ll be writing more about how I finished lining the bodice, dealing with the side invisible zipper, and additional construction details.

In the meantime, you can see more photos of the dress on my BurdaStyle project page and you can vote for my dress here. My  dress is one of 20 finalists in the contest! So please check out the contest entries and if you’re a member you can cast your vote. It’s free to join!


Sewing Contests – Updated 2/18/2013

I’ve never entered any sewing contests before but I hope to enter my first one this year – the BurdaStyle Vintage Modern Sewing Contest. It’ll help me keep to my sewing resolution – to make, not buy clothes this year.

I decided that if I’m going to make something for a contest, it needed to meet the following criteria: 1. I would be making something I would wear; 2. the garment would use fabric from my stash; and 3.  I would gain more sewing skills.

To help me decide, I flipped through the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern, looking at the designs and the recommended fabrics. I wanted something that would be relatively easy to make, allow for some creativity, and use my stash. (When the contest was first announced last month, the deadline was in early February so I needed to make sure I’d have enough time to make something. The deadline is now February 15 – yay more time!)

Clockwise from top left: cotton voile, cotton sateen, wool crepe, denim
Clockwise from top left: a pretty cotton voile, cotton sateen, “plaid” wool crepe, denim (really a dark denim, not grey)

I saw that some dresses used silk charmeuse so I crossed those off my list (only silk I have on hand is velvet or sheer, no charmeuse). But there were a few garments that would use some of my stash: a top (cotton voile), a 1950s dress (cotton sateen), 1960s dress (wool crepe), and a cool pair of bell-bottom pants (cotton denim).

At first I thought I would tackle the pretty top, which has a really nice lace detail. But it does require some pattern making. You use the bodice from a dress pattern in the book and then make several adjustments, following the step-by-step instructions, to make the pattern. (To read more about the book, check out my interview with its author Jamie Lau.)

I did start drafting it but then I decided I didn’t have enough time to complete that pattern, make a muslin to check the fit, etc. I don’t have any experience with pattern drafting – the most I’ve done with a pattern is take a vintage pattern and grade it up a size.

So decided to switch to the Jamie Shift Dress – a 1960s style dress with simple lines. I went to Loehmann’s and tried on a couple sleeveless shift dresses to see if that style would suit my figure. (The store is a block from my office and they have plenty of designer duds.) Most of them looked OK but the necklines on some of them didn’t look so great because of my broad shoulders. But I thought I could make it work.

I traced the pattern for the Jamie Shift Dress a couple weeks ago. Before I cut the muslin, I adjusted the waist a size smaller, which is what I usually need to do with patterns. (Depending on my mood, I view that as: A. my waist is too small for my hips or B. my hips are too big for my waist – at least according to so-called standard sizes.)

I have this very nice wool crepe with a black-and-white plaid pattern on it (see photo above). And I got very excited about making the dress half plaid and half solid black. I also decided that I would line it instead of using a facing. I would just use the pattern from the dress to make the lining.

Though I already have some black wool crepe it seemed like it was of a lesser weight than the plaid so I splurged and went to Britex Fabrics and bought a remnant of solid black imported from Italy (with imported prices too!).

MuslinLast weekend I put together a muslin – complete with invisible zipper and lining. However when I tried my muslin on, I was kinda swimming in it and it dawned on me that it’s really a style more suited to a thin person with no hips (uh, so not me). Some of the dresses I tried on at Loehmann’s had darts in them, which I should have remembered. (sigh) this dress only has bust darts, no curves.

Nevertheless, I really like the idea of color blocking so I want to make it work. I’m in the midst of adjusting the pattern to make it curve more to my body instead of being so straight up and down.

I also used some of the black wool crepe (not the expensive Italian remnant from Britex) in my stash to make a second muslin with an adjusted neckline – more of a boatneck showing all of my collarbone. I also wanted to practice sewing the invisible zipper and see what problems I could have with lining it. I’ve only lined vests and a jacket. I tried bemberg lining and no facing to see how that would work.

The problem is that I can’t understitch all the way around the neckline and because wool crepe has such a drape to it, you can tell where the understitching ends. I’ve been contemplating using a facing and lining, using a lining that’s closer in weight to the crepe, or using the facing pattern to cut out some interfacing and attach that to the lining.

On Twitter, @bydaiyami of Sisters Are Making It For Themselves told me “Facing+lining probably the official way. Lining has to drape similarly, but no need for same weight, IMO.” @Tantisis  of Tanit-Isis Sews agreed and added “Although I far prefer sewing a heavier lining. Facing will keep the lining from showing at the arms, too.”

@bydaiyami also suggested that I check out a Threads article on quick lining, which you can find here. After reading that article I think I’ll go with facing and lining – just sew the facing on the lining.

Now I need to draft a pattern that curves more and has back and front darts.

Napkin sketchI made these sketches on a napkin at dinner last night – trying to keep the ’60s flavor but make it curve more.  If it doesn’t work out, my backup plan is to make the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress, which is more suited to my body.

Have you ever entered any sewing contests? What was that experience like? Did you like it? Love it Hate it?

UPDATE 2/18/2013 — I decided I didn’t have enough time to make modifications to the Jamie Shift Dress in order to finish a garment by my deadline of February 9. I gave myself that deadline because I found a photographer willing to photograph me in exchange for a garment I would make for her. I did make the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress, which worked out really well. I made a few modification, which you can read about in my contest entry here.

Sewing Resolutions

My handsewn tunic with black ruffle.
My handsewn tunic with cretan stitch along the neckline and armholes.

This year I resolve to sew more clothes instead of buying them and sew down my fabric stash. I’m not sure how successful I’ll be at this endeavor but I think it’ll give me more incentive to make time to sew. This is also the first time I’ve made any sewing resolutions.

When you have a full-time job, it can be a challenge to find enough time to complete something (and my husband wants to spend time with me so I can’t spend all my free time sewing!).

So far I’ve made a handsewn skirt from red knit jersey and I just finished a tunic in the same fabric. I got the patterns from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin (reviewed here). I learned a couple stretch stitches from this book – a herringbone stitch and the cretan stitch. Until I read this book, I had no idea you could hand sew stretch stitches! Pretty cool.

Then to complete the outfit, I’ll use black jersey to make a short bolero jacket. I just cut out the pieces last weekend. I’ll start sewing it this week.

BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern book coverAnd to give myself some incentive to get going, I’m contemplating entering the BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern contest – make an outfit from the new book and post your results by February 8. I bought the book last month at a great launch party at San Francisco’s Britex Fabrics, which was attended by the author and designer Jamie Lau. (For more on the book, see my interview with Jamie.)

I flipped through the book looking at the recommended fabrics listed to see if I had any fabric in my stash that would work, which also makes it easier to decide what to make. I immediately see three things from my stash that could work, whether I have the skills to make all of them is another story.

Shape Shape book coverIn addition, I recently got a copy of Shape Shape: Sewing Clothing Patterns to Wear Multiple Ways by Natsuno Hiraiwa, which has patterns for some unique and versatile clothes. The author was a graphic designer, which no doubt has influenced the cool clothes she designs. There’s an interesting vest that I think I’ll make. I bought some red gingham over the summer and haven’t done anything with it so now I can use it!

What are your sewing resolutions this year?


How Jamie Lau Launched Her Fashion Career

Jamie Lau in one of her designs, and a dress featured in the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern
Jamie Lau in one of her designs, and a dress featured in the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern

Jamie Lau, co-author of the new book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern, learned to sew on a sewing machine in 2007. Back then the self-described public policy wonk was working full-time for California’s judicial branch as a senior research analyst in San Francisco. (For more on the book, read my interview “Q&A with Jamie Lau….”)

“I worked primarily in family law doing research on child support and all the other things associated with that,” Jamie explains. “There was a federal program to provide services to self-represented litigants throughout the state.” She launched and implemented a statewide database to collect statistics on people who used the program.

After a friend gave her a sewing machine for her birthday in 2008, Jamie eventually began making reversible tote bags, which she made for friends and soon began selling bags and reusable fabric covered notebooks, yoga mat totes, and checkbook and passport covers at Indie Mart and Renegade Craft Fair.

In January 2010 Jamie began squeezing in as many fashion and textile classes as she could, beginning with courses at City College of San Francisco and Apparel Arts, and spending nearly every night and weekend in class or doing homework. “It was really hard doing that and working full-time,” says Jamie. Sometimes she’d spend her lunch breaks at the main library in San Francisco doing her pattern-making homework or gathering fabric swatches for a textile class.

In addition, whenever she traveled for vacation, Jamie took more classes and made a point of visiting local fabric stores. She took a textile design class in Portland called Summer of Making, at Pacific Northwest College of Art with Heather Ross.During one vacation, she participated in a week-long intensive fashion class at the London College of Fashion. All told she took about eight different classes at multiple schools that year.

After immersing herself in fashion classes, Jamie soon realized that she seriously wanted a career change but she didn’t want to go back to school full-time. After all, she already had a master’s degree in social work and public policy from Columbia University in New York and she didn’t want to invest more money into being a student again. So she decided to take a leave of absence from her job and find an apprenticeship to get more design experience. Clearly she’s an extraordinarily focused and talented individual. But her success didn’t happen overnight. Here’s what happened after she left San Francisco to embark on her fashion adventure. 

Chuleenan Svetvilas: How did you end up interning at BurdaStyle?

Jamie Lau: I learned about BurdaStyle through my friend Karen, who’s an architect in San Francisco. She came to my booth at Renegade Craft Fair one year and was wearing this dress with a nice sweetheart neckline and a gathered waist. I said, “Oh wow, where did you get that dress?” Karen told me she made it and I didn’t even know Karen sewed! She said it was a free member pattern on BurdaStyle and that I totally needed to check out the site. I probably went on the website that same night after the event.

I found their contact information online and submitted a very professional cover letter to talk about my transferable skills. [I mentioned that] I didn’t go to school for fashion traditionally, but that I had all these other great skills and knew how to sew. Someone wrote back to me about scheduling an interview and I was then offered an unpaid internship doing creative and editorial work. I took a leave of absence from my job and began my apprenticeship in November 2010. I learned how to sew in September 2007 and just kept teaching myself, but only started taking formal classes on a regular basis in January 2010, and then I started working at BurdaStyle. I was really excited to go back to New York and I knew that it would be really hard to find more opportunities like this in San Francisco. I thought, well time’s ticking and I just need to know if this is for me.

At BurdaStyle, I had to tile a pattern together on my very first day and start sewing a pinafore dress. It was another member pattern and within a week it was featured on the website’s homepage, which was really cool.

CS: You were a full-time volunteer intern?

JL: Yes, I was doing it full-time. I was like, I just have to do this, and saved up since I wasn’t getting a paycheck. I started teaching sewing and draping classes at the Textile Art Center a couple months later, which came naturally to me.

CS:How long were you interning at BurdaStyle?

JL: I interned from November 2010 to early May 2011 when the book project, BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern, began and started working as a freelancer for BurdaStyle. I then came on full-time in February 2012 as the site’s editorial and e-commerce manager. Everything just kept evolving and I ended up with basically every single responsibility imaginable for this book. It was a super DIY effort. Everything from administrative stuff to casting the models to writing the instructions and picking out the fabric and designing the looks. (For more about the book, read my interview with Jamie here.)

CS: What do your parents think about your career change?

JL: I think they were shocked at first. They were like, “You have such a great job, you work for the state. Why? Why would you want to leave?” I was only 27 years old at the time and wanted to pursue my creative passion, so I decided to take a risk.

Then, when I was mentioned in the New York Times last year, they said, “Oh, you got into the New York Times! Twice in one year! That’s amazing.”

CS: Did you ever think you would end up in fashion?

JL: I always liked to shop. Even when I was in middle school, I didn’t want to wear a uniform. I wanted disposable income in high school so I could shop and buy things that were unique in order to express myself, which is why I always had a part-time job.

Even when I was working in public policy, I loved to shop. It was retail therapy, but that starts to get expensive after a while.

I had never really tried to do fashion illustrations. I didn’t study fashion in college. But then everything just kind of happened and I realized that I could be good at this even though I didn’t go to school for it. All you really have to do is be diligent and serious about it, work hard, but also have fun with it.

I sew almost every day. Except now during the holidays when I’m not quite near a sewing machine. It’s just part of my life – whether I’m teaching or writing this book or I’m writing about fashion.

CS: How do you find the time these days to design and sew for Jamie Lau Designs?

JL: Most of my friends know that I don’t really sleep very much. I don’t even drink coffee, I’m a tea drinker. I’ve just always been an energetic workaholic. Even in high school I was working while being a student with all these extracurricular activities. I even graduated from college a year early. I’m just always going, going, going.

I work full-time at BurdaStyle, but I also teach at 3rd Ward and Textile Arts Center. My design stuff happens as soon as I get home. On the weekends I’m basically sewing – whether it’s sewing a project that I’m making for BurdaStyle or doing a custom order for somebody or getting ready for a show.

The fabric selection process is my favorite part of sewing. I really like Japanese textiles because the prints are very interesting to me. I’m really into metallic brocades right now. I made a dress to wear to every single book launch event and I was sewing down to the last minute. I had my Brooklyn book launch party on a Thursday and was flying out at 7:30 a.m the next day to come to San Francisco for Renegade Craft Fair and more book promo events. I basically stayed up all night sewing because I had to finish one last dress for the San Francisco book launch party. My mom has a machine, but she doesn’t have a serger and I also didn’t want to have to bring my whole sewing kit with me. So I finished everything except for the hem right before my flight and when I did my book signing in Santa Cruz the day before the Britex event, I borrowed their machine (and even brought my thread and bobbin pre-wound) to put on the finishing touches.

CS: How would you describe your style?

JL: My style is very clean and minimal. I like very geometric, architectural things. For example, I like the work of ’60s designers such as Pierre Cardin and Courrèges, as well as ‘50s Balenciaga. It’s all very clean and I like that you can see the lines.

CS: Very distinct shapes.

JL: Yes, but even if it appears to be just a simple silhouette, you can still do it in a really interesting fabric or make some minor changes and treat it like a palette – like an art piece. I also really love color and  prints. I don’t really wear too much black, but if it’s something black then I would like it to have a little bit of texture.

There’s also a nice elegance to a lot of the ’50s cuts. While researching the ’30s and the ’40s for BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern, I discovered some amazing stuff and found some really cool silhouettes, too. Like the peplum – it’s totally back now, you see it everywhere.



Q&A with Jamie Lau, author of BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern

Jamie Lau at Britex Fabrics for book launch party (photo by Sarah Deragon)
Jamie Lau at Britex Fabrics for book launch party (photo by Sarah Deragon)

Fashion designer, sewing instructor, and BurdaStyle editorial and e-commerce manager, Jamie Lau is also the author of the new book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern: Mastering Iconic Looks from the 1920s to 1980s (Potter Craft). The book includes five master patterns from which you can create 19 different garments – including several dresses, tops, and two pairs of pants – that evoke the various styles of the decades. There are even a couple patterns for men.

From what I’ve flipped through so far, the book has very clear step-by-step instructions and plenty of nice technical illustrations to go along with nearly every step. After I’ve spent more time with it and made at least one garment, I’ll write about it in a separate post. BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern book cover

Jamie, who’s based in Brooklyn, was in San Francisco last month for the Renegade Craft Fair and to attend the book launch party for Sewing Vintage Modern at Britex Fabrics (she also visited her family). While she was in town, she graciously agreed to meet with me at a cafe to discuss her book and her sewing experience. We chatted for nearly an hour so I’m breaking up the interview into two parts. This article will focus on the book and next week’s post will reveal how Jamie went from working full-time as a senior research analyst for the judicial branch in California to her fashion career in New York. —Chuleenan Svetvilas

Chuleenan Svetvilas: I noticed that you wore many hats for this book – co-author, lead designer, technical writer, art director –

Jamie Lau: Photo shoot producer. [Laughs]

CS: So can you tell me a little about each of those roles as you were putting the book together, how that worked out?

JL: Sure – starting with project manager, it was kind of like assembling your crew. We didn’t have a very large budget to work with, so a lot of my previous job experience came in handy. I had experience doing contract negotiations, understanding contracts and business, how to hire people, how to interview people and build a project management chart for a timeline and goals…

I was doing everything from finding a fashion illustrator, a technical illustrator, to handling the budget. It was like, “OK, this is how much we have left in the budget so let’s find a fabric partner to work with. B&J Fabrics, which is also very amazing just like Britex [Fabrics], was the primary fabric sponsor we worked with.

Jamie at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
Jamie at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

Sure – starting with project manager, it was kind of like assembling your crew. We didn’t have a very large budget to work with, so a lot of my previous job experience came in handy. I had experience doing contract negotiations, understanding contracts and business, how to hire people, how to interview people and build a project management chart for a timeline and goals…

I was doing everything from finding a fashion illustrator, a technical illustrator, to handling the budget. It was like, “OK, this is how much we have left in the budget so let’s find a fabric partner to work with. B&J Fabrics, which is also very amazing just like Britex [Fabrics], was the primary fabric sponsor we worked with.

As lead designer, a lot of my job was doing the research on what styles to include, so I spent a lot of time at the public library looking at image archives. They have stuff on everything including pets, airplanes and transportation, and then there are costumes. The costumes are broken into different time periods. What I liked best about it was that the collection didn’t only include couture fashions. There were actually a lot of clippings from old magazines and catalogs, so it gave a more realistic view of what people wore on a day-to-day basis. It wasn’t just editorial, it was also everyday wear.

I also looked at old patterns. Most vintage patterns featured fashion illustrations on the cover – no photography – and they mainly included flats, so you could really see the garment details. A lot of my design process was spent gathering information and editing what looks would fill up this book and what was the best of the best from these different time periods.

From there I then had to consider what would be the five patterns that come with the book. What five garments can give us another garment? That was the major challenge because we can want all these things like a cool asymmetrical blazer dress for the ‘80s. But you also have to think about which pattern will it come from and how much work will the reader have to do to change that from point A to point B.

CS: That’s how you eliminated some designs as well, right?

'50s dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern on display at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
’50s dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

JL: Yes. And I did a survey [of BurdaStyle members] for this book to find out what time periods people were most interested in and what garment types people were most likely to sew. Dresses and tops were the top two answers. Then we also asked, “Are you interested in men’s projects?” because we have male sewers on the site, too. We also have women who sew men’s garments, so we didn’t want to exclude that population.

The first BurdaStyle book [The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook] didn’t have any men’s projects. It had a unisex bag. So the results from the survey also informed the final decision. I also looked at member projects because there’s new content every day that’s posted on BurdaStyle. I looked at what patterns people were buying, too. Dresses, of course, are super popular.

Then it was on to level of difficulty and having a good range of things. A shift dress is great. I use a lot of shift dresses in my collection. I think it’s comfortable and easy to sew and you can wear it all year round in different fabric ways. So I was looking at different [skill] levels, but I also didn’t want to alienate people who are experienced sewers with excellent tailoring skills who may want a challenge.

CS: Did you pick all the fabrics of all the garments?

JL: Yes. David Leon Morgan assisted with some of the male designs, too. He used to be BurdaStyle’s community manager. I primarily worked on the looks from the ’20s to the ’60s and ‘80s and focused a lot on the dresses. This was the fun part. And then there was the photo shoot, and I held model castings with many different agencies.

We looked for diversity in body types and were looking for “real” people. We also had a girl who was a fuller model. Model casting took a really long time in order to get the look we were going for. We also wanted to find someone who had a good personality to work with.

Jackie Dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
Jackie Dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

CS: And then you had to make the clothes to fit the models.

JL: Right. We had a sample maker help us who had worked with BurdaStyle before. She’s an experienced seamstress who’s very talented. Getting the fabric and sample garments done was the fun part about working on the book and I really wanted to have a good photo shoot. And then came the writing of the book…

I had already drafted some of the sewing and patternmaking instructions by the time of the photo shoot, but there was so much emphasis on getting the photo shoot done by deadline that it was really hard to do all of these tasks at the same time. Once the shoot was finished, I was finally able to focus on the instructions again. And I’m very detailed oriented, so I was checking everything down to what direction people needed to press.

Our technical illustrator, Rachel Rymar, is amazing. She and I worked very closely together and she was with me until the very end. The writing of the instructions was extremely laborious, and there were certain points in the process where I just felt so alone. We checked everything together closely, like if an illustration had to be serged because the garment was already serged in a previous step. There had to be consistency and I had a lot of project management experience from other jobs and was accustomed to being detailed and analytical, so I was noticing everything.

I decided to add more technical illustrations compared to the first book because a beginner, for instance, may not even know what a certain term is when reading the written description. I think it’s important not to intimidate the reader. So I wanted more pictures, more visuals.

We also had a fashion illustrator, Sarah Jung. We were brainstorming some initial ideas around the time of the photo shoot. I made a lot of mood boards in the beginning, too, as part of the lead designer role. I wanted to give her a feel for the mood of the book so we could really nail down the right illustration style.

CS: So what was the biggest challenge in putting the book together?

A spread from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
A spread from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

JL: I held all the responsibilities and oftentimes felt like I was being tugged in multiple directions for various tasks though I’m only one person. I honestly think the hardest part was writing the instructions. The creative fun stuff happened early on in the process (picking the fabric, selecting the designs, and producing the photo shoot). But no one can make a project unless there’s a good set of instructions. It was getting that part down and perfect and making sure that things were consistent throughout the book. For instance, if I’m saying you sew a zipper one way that it’s the same in another chapter.

CS: Do you think that this book would be good for people who have never drafted a pattern themselves? You’re giving people a basic set of patterns and then you’re telling them where to make adjustments in the shoulders or whether to adjust the patterns for different designs.

JL: Absolutely. I’ve looked through many patternmaking books before, obviously, and sometimes I just want to give up when I get lost and wish there were more pictures. Sometimes you don’t have another visual until five steps later, and you couldn’t even complete the previous steps to get you to that point.

This book is so visual and a lot of the adjustments are pretty subtle, such as changing a neckline, lengthening or shortening a hem, or adding a button placket.

I think the pattern manipulations are pretty easy for some of the projects while others may be a little more challenging, like the tuxedo shirt for men because there’s a lot of stuff going on such as the ruffled layers. The geometric top is easy to adjust because you’re just adding style lines on the bodice. You’re basically making a big X to color block!

CS: What would be your advice to somebody who wants to start designing their own patterns?

JL: Well, definitely have a dedicated workspace for yourself and try to be as organized as possible. Ergonomics are very important especially when you’re drafting and sewing. Also, do a little research and look into what your personal style is. Think about who you are dressing.

A lot of people say, “I can’t draw, I can’t sketch.” I was one of those people. You don’t have to be a fantastic illustrator necessarily. You can also collage images together. You can compose mood boards and gather fabric swatches. Do little naive sketches so you can at least document what your idea was.

Fashion inspiration for me isn’t just in clothing or literal fashion objects.  I really like color photography like William Eggleston, for instance. The bold colors in his work really inspire me. When I’m planning a photo shoot, I’m not just thinking about the garment but also the mood I want to convey.

Visit C Sews next week for more of my interview with Jamie Lau.