Heather Lou is a Montreal based sewing pattern designer. She writes a blog called Closet Case Files and I love her Sunday “What’s Doing” posts where she rounds up what’s going on in the garment sewing world that week and recommends things she’s enjoyed reading, sewing, and listening to. It’s super.
Heather loves fashion and describes the patterns she designs as “chic, modern, necessary luxuries: the items in your wardrobe you never knew were missing but reach for again and again.” Her first pattern release, Bombshell Swimsuit, took the indie sewing community by a storm and she’s since released a range of other patterns as well.
I’m thrilled to have Heather visiting the blog today to share the pattern that changed her life.
In my sewing practice there have been a number of game-changing patterns, each one marking shifts in my evolution as a maker. There was Butterick 3407, the first vintage pattern I ever made; my world basically expanded like the big bang when I realized I’d never be heartbroken by a too-small dress in a vintage store again. There were the patterns I’ve designed for my business, each one a challenge and education in and of itself. Every pattern I’ve ever sewn has taught me something about my craft, and a lot about myself; how do I respond when something is challenging? What do I do when I make a mistake, or something doesn’t fit, or I choose the wrong fabric? In short, how does sewing challenge me and help me grow, both as a maker and as a person?
When Abby asked me to contribute to this series, I took a hard look at my archives and tried to isolate the projects that really marked a turning point for me. In the end, it wasn’t the first thing I made when I rediscovered sewing, or even the first pattern I designed. It was well into my sewing love affair, and I was deep down the rabbit hole.
I remember this period very clearly; I was bored and unfulfilled at my day job and sewing had become a thrilling outlet for all my stifled creative energy. A formerly ambitious home cook, I was now trying to feed myself in the shortest amount of time possible so that I could get back to my machine. I ate ramen, happily, on more than one occasion if it meant an extra 30 minutes of sewing per night.
I think I have always been fairly ambitious with my sewing but I turned a corner with Vogue 8776, a semifitted cape. Outerwear is really A Thing. Like making your own bras or jeans, tackling outerwear makes your friend’s eyebrows lift right off their faces; just the supplies gathering stage can feel overwhelming enough to quit as you search for weft interfacing, tailor’s clappers and the proper separating zipper. Even the simplest coat projects require patience, precision and attention to detail; too many of us just avoid the challenge all together.
See Heather’s original blog post about this project from October 2012, “Tripping the World Capetastic.”
This time I had a vision, and no amount of supply scariness or construction newness was going to stay my hand; I wanted a leopard cape and I would make a leopard cape, come hell or high water. I remember hunting for weeks to find the right fabric, and visualizing what I wanted the final garment to look like. Vogue 8776 was a notable pattern for me because I looked at it with a designer’s eyes; how can I elevate this pattern into something special and unique? What new techniques can I push myself to learn with this project? How can I make this cape something that I’ll want to hand down? The answer was bound buttonholes, welt pockets, a self drafted lining, hours of labour, lots of hand sewing, and my first foray into couture sewing techniques.
The result is still one of my favorite garments of all time. With a leather jacket layered underneath, this kasha-lined leopard baby is warm enough to take me almost all the way through a harrowing Montreal winter. While it is one of the most time and labour intensive projects I’ve ever worked on, I will have it and wear it forever. Every time I do, I’ll be reminded of how much love and care went into its construction.
In hindsight, I can see how much this project changed me. It made me realize fully that nothing is too hard or too scary to attempt. It showed me that if I set my mind to something and just sat down and did the work, I would be rewarded; even if the work was imperfect, the effort and evolution were reward enough.
Too often we doom ourselves to failure before we even get started because we convince ourselves we’re not skilled or talented or experienced enough for the challenge. We get in our own way. I’ve fought this self-defeating negativity in my own sewing practice, and it’s something I strive to share with my customers and my readers: We can make anything. We are capable and smart and resourceful and we’ll figure it out. It may not be perfect, but it will always get better with practice. In the end, the most valuable lesson sewing (and Vogue 8776) taught me is:
“I CAN DO THIS. I CAN DO ANYTHING”.
Sewing teaches us to be fearless, brave and patient with ourselves. Those lessons carried me so far I ended up in a place I never imagined I’d be: running a business designing my own sewing patterns, many of them challenging and rewarding sews for the people who make them. Right this minute, I am working on my own outerwear pattern; with any luck, someone will sew it one day and receive that same bolt of courage and confidence that Vogue 8776 gave me.
Vogue 8776 is the pattern that changed Heather Lou’s life.