More Thoughts from Sarah Veblen

We began an interview with sewing educator, author and custom clothier Sarah Veblen on the ASG Chicago Blog in September. ASG Chicago has arranged a Fit Workshop with Sarah at the end of April 2012. You can find all the details and registration form on the ASG Chicago web site. To give you an opportunity to become better acquainted with Sarah before working with her in person, here are some more thoughts from her about her approach to teaching, the creative process and some valuable advice to help us through the frustrations that so often accompany our efforts.

What are the sources of your inspiration?

I draw my inspiration from many things:

  • Clothes that people are wearing or are in stores.
  • Photographs from runway shows, particularly the Collezioni magazines, which are photos from the runway shows of designers.
  • Fashion exhibits.
  • Books from fashion exhibits, books on designers, and books on historic costumes and clothing.        
  • Clothing catalogs, which I find especially good for details.
  • Magazines and catalogs on other topics, especially jewelry and ceramics – these are great for studying line, form, and color, which are the basis for design.
  • Nature.
  • Fabric and notions.

For me, it’s really important to keep idea books, and I actually keep quite a few different ones. I like to use 11”x14” spiral bound sketch books, because they are large enough for photos from Women’s Wear Daily and other magazines and publications. An inexpensive format for an idea book that I also use is simply a 3-ring binder and copy paper (all you need is a hole punch and double-sided tape or glue). I use these for knit garment details, interesting color combinations, or any category that I want to be able to access quickly without having to look through the pages of a large-format idea book.

Idea books are very useful to me when I’m thinking about making a garment but don’t have a garment concept worked out. Paging through my idea books invariably gets my creative juices flowing, and sometimes I see specific details or general concepts that help me define what I want to make.

An additional bonus of keeping an idea book is that it trains your eye. I’ll explain what I mean. When I’m flipping through a magazine and a picture catches my eye for any reason at all, I tear the page out. I usually collect the pictures in a folder, and every few months, I take a small amount of time to cut out and organize the pictures, and then tape them into my idea books. So in addition to the initial time that the picture caught my eye, as I cut out and tape the pictures into my idea books, I once again notice and think about what caught my eye. The process may be passive, but I am slowly building a compendium of what I find interesting and what pleases my eye – in other words, I’m slowing defining my own sense of design.

What made you decide to add teaching to your repertoire?

Initially, I was asked by a handful of sewers who knew that I did custom work if I would help them select patterns for fabric they wanted to sew, or help them select the right fabric for a pattern they liked, as well as help them with fitting. I found that I quite enjoyed working with these women because my help made their sewing more successful. Then, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was asked by my local PACC chapter (then the Professional Association of Custom Clothiers, which is now the Association for Sewing and Design Professionals) to teach a few short classes. Again, I really enjoyed developing class ideas and teaching, which led me to apply to teach at PACC’s yearly national educational conferences.

Around this time, a small group of professional custom clothiers asked me if I would teach an in-depth design class. Reaching out to others who enjoyed garment sewing and helping them develop their skills was a very rewarding experience for me. So I then offered a few other classes, which developed into my Intensive Study Program in Fashion Design.

The short answer is that I started teaching because I was asked to. But because I enjoyed teaching from the very beginning, it was important to me to be a really effective teacher – so I have always spent time honing my teaching skills. In addition, I found that teaching provided income when I didn’t have a lot of custom work, and this made earning a living at what I do a little easier.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I thoroughly enjoy helping sewers be successful in their endeavors, particularly garment sewing.

While garment sewing might seem simple on one level, in fact it is quite complicated. It requires skills and knowledge in so many different areas: fabric, interfacing, structure, pattern work, fit, design, and embellishment – not to mention sitting at the machine and sewing. What I really want to share is how much fun it is to create a unique garment that fits, and to do so takes pulling together all of these different areas of knowledge. I still find that making a garment out of a flat piece of fabric is magical. And I hope that my teaching helps others find a similar joy and satisfaction from this creative process.

What advice do you have for home sewers who get frustrated and are tempted to throw in the towel? (Note to Reader: If you think this question was a personal one for the interviewer, you know me very well.)

Don’t give up! Recognize how complicated what you are doing is. Break down the process of garment sewing – as I did in my previous answer. Think about sewing from each of these vantage points. If there is an area that really causes you problems, get aggressive and study it. As you do, the inter-relationship between these areas will start to make more and more sense. Each time you have an ah-ha moment, give yourself a pat on the back. Take a few moments to appreciate what you did well with every mock-up, trial run, and garment you make. Then think about what you could have done better.

I think our culture today promotes “instant results” to a fault. Not only can we access a vast amount of information instantaneously, but we also are expected to process huge amounts of information on a daily basis. So when we encounter something that takes years of practice to conquer, it’s not surprising that we become frustrated when we approach it from our “instantaneous” mind-set. From this standpoint, my biggest piece of advice is to take pleasure in the process – both in the process of learning and in the process of sewing. And give yourself credit for each advancement you make, even if it’s a baby step.

(I’m printing out that answer and hanging it on my sewing area bulletin board!)

You are doing a great job with long-distance learning. What made you decide to give it a try?

I was first approached by PatternReview.com to write a few articles. As we discussed what I would write, the owner, Deepika Prakash, got a better sense of what I did and what my areas of expertise were. She immediately asked me to consider developing a class for PatternReview.com after I wrote the articles.

I will admit that at first glance, I was a bit dubious of how well the on-line format would work. But once I understood the platform for the classes – written lessons that could incorporate lots of photos and illustrations in PDF-file format, a class discussion board where students could ask questions at any time, and real-time chats where discussion could be more interactive – it seemed very well thought out. Now, most of my classes also include optional short video segments that show techniques that are better described in action rather than by the still photographs that are in the lessons.

After trying my first class, Understanding Knit Fabrics, I was delighted with how well the PR platform worked. And the popularity of the PR website put me in the visibility of thousands of people who otherwise would not know about me or have easy access to me. Although the majority of my PR students live in the United States, I have had students from all corners of the world and dozens of different countries. PatternReview.com is what makes it possible for me to pass along what I know about sewing to such a wide audience.

Does writing come naturally to you, or is it something you’ve had to master out of necessity?

I have a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in German Literature. I’ve never done anything with German literature other than enjoy it, but I’ll be forever thankful to my mandatory, year-long freshman writing class. We wrote, and wrote, and wrote – and were constructively critiqued at every turn. This certainly honed my writing skills, and I also learned that good writing needs excellent organization of what you want to say.

Prior to college, I enjoyed writing assignments and always kept up a number of active correspondences (pre-email days). So I would say that to some extent, writing has always come naturally to me. However, that being said, I work at it, too. For instance, it takes me about a month to a month-and-a-half of full-time work to write my typical 12- to 15-lesson Pattern Review class, which involves lots of re-writing in order to make my material as clear as possible.

We hear there is a book on the horizon. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes, there is! The book is The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting, which is being published by Creative Publishing as part of their “Complete Photo Guide” series. Its release date is January 1, 2012 and is available for pre-order through most on-line bookstores. When I’m in Chicago in the spring, I’ll have copies for sale, and of course I’d be happy to autograph anyone’s copy.

I’m happy to tell you a little bit about the book. Creative Publishing contacted me and asked me if I’d be interested in revising a book that is part of the Singer Sewing Reference Library called The Perfect Fit, to which they own the rights. Going through this book from the late 1980s, I felt that it was similar to fitting books from that time: descriptions of body types, basic changes for very typical fitting issues, and instructions for making these fitting changes to the pattern. Because I have been studying and teaching fitting for many years, I proposed to Creative Publishing a new book, one that was a comprehensive look at the complicated, inter-related topics of fitting and pattern work.

My book is based on fitting test garments (not tissue fitting) on a number of different models with common body types, and I selected my models for not having “perfect” figures. I have tried to make the book as comprehensive as possible. In addition to fitting, I also describe general patternmaking principals and provide specific pattern manipulations so that you can effectuate the fitting changes to a pattern.

In order to understand the process of fitting, I describe my approach and theory of fitting, which gives you, the fitter, firm reference lines around which to manipulate the fabric. The core of the book has three components: the fitting process on a model from start to finish for a straight skirt, a darted bodice, an armscye princess line tunic, a shoulder princess line blouse, a side panel jacket, a raglan sleeve blouse, set-in sleeves, and pants that have a slack fit; fitting solutions for each of these garments for a number of body types; and fitting pants from start-to-finish on one model as well as a number of fitting solutions for different body types.

I also provide plenty of information on fitting yourself as well as fitting others; the equipment that you need to effectively fit and do pattern work; and how to creatively use the concepts provided in the book to add interest to your garments. In summary, I wrote the book that I wished I’d had in my library when I was first learning to fit and do pattern work.

What else would you like sewers in Chicago to know about you?

How excited I am that I have this opportunity to come to Chicago and work with people who are interested in garment sewing! I think that the one single thing that prevents most sewers from making garments is when they don’t have a pattern that fits. Once you have patterns that fit, sewing is such a joy. And then it’s easy to go to the next level of including your own creative ideas into the clothes that you make. I so look forward to helping anyone interested in garment sewing be able to create the kinds of garments they dream of.

And Yours Truly looks forward to experiencing the joy of sewing and knowing that the end product will actually fit.

2 thoughts on “More Thoughts from Sarah Veblen

  1. Pingback: Interview with Sarah Veblen, Part Two « ASG Chicago

  2. Brilliant articles, I love Sarah’s work and have purchased her book. Her teaching techniques and advice to me when working with knits has been invaluable, so much so that I have my own online boutique. Thanks Sarah.

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