With only a few days to go until our big reveal (um, haven’t actually finished my project yet, I’m not panicking at all) I thought I’d avoid my own deadline by interviewing Melissa of Fehr Trade.
I first met Melissa when I began sewing blogging several years ago. I’ve even gone out running with the fastest woman in London. (I died on my backside.) So I know firsthand what an accomplished Sewist Melissa is, as well as being a totally inspiring runner. I really shouldn’t have been surprised when she turned her exceptional hand to pattern drafting in what must be a very challenging arena – sportswear.
Melissa has done a fantastic job of launching her own pattern line of sportswear, passionately supported by people who are seriously active. She’s also currently hosting her own Spring Race Challenge, with the same deadline as the Sporty Summer Sewathon. Two giveaways for the price of one!
I was intrigued to learn all about the trials and tribulations of drafting patterns to sweat in and what Melissa thought to… Oh, I’m not going to share any spoilers here. Why not read for yourselves?
I absolutely love the unusual design elements you bring to your sportswear (especially the latest VNA top with its intriguing back treatment). Could you give us a short run down of the key factors that contribute to your design choices?
M: All my designs so far have started with me noticing a hole in my running wardrobe and wanting to make something to fill it! For instance, I thought Ooh, I’d really like a close-fitting pair of shorts that won’t chafe when I run. So I went off and developed my Duathlon Shorts pattern. I also try to pay attention to the northern hemisphere seasons, too, so early on in the year I plotted out a plan for 2014’s pattern releases and I’m working through those now. There’s definitely wiggle room built in, though. With the pattern I’m developing right now, I ended up straying quite far from my initial idea but in a better direction, I hope!
How long does it take from concept through to finished pattern, ready to sell?
M: Well, for my first two patterns it was a good three months of work, but I’ve been getting better with practice so the bits that used to take me the most time (digitising, grading, and illustration drawing) are now down to a day or two. But I also design my patterns in amongst all my other work for clients, so the elapsed time is probably closer to two months now, with two weeks of that set aside for user testing. I’m fully aware that my testers are enthusiastic fitness and sewing geeks just like me, with real lives and other commitments, so I always make sure they get at least two weekends to test, and there’s never any expectations around posting or promoting what they’ve made.
Obviously, you’ve bravely entered brand new territory with the launch of your pattern line. What lessons have you learnt? Would you do anything differently, if you had your time over again?
M: Hoo boy, I’ve learned a LOT over the past 6-9 months! It doesn’t matter how much you sew, nothing really prepares you for making the leap to doing this for a living. I guess a few highlights were:
- Be your own tester, but don’t be the sloper (ie: I learned I have freakishly long thighs)
- You can never do too much measuring, remeasuring, and checking of the pattern
- Do it yourself where you can, but know when outsourcing will save you time (and ultimately money)
- Trust your instincts and your testers
- Don’t procrastinate, but remember to take rest days (just like in exercise!)
What are the unique considerations for sewing sportswear?
M: Most sewing patterns are concerned primarily with fit, but body movement is an afterthought – how many photos have we seen on blogs where people are standing oddly just so that wrinkles don’t appear? With sportswear, movement is absolutely paramount. If a garment shifts around while you’re working out, it’s going to definitely annoy you, and it may end up causing chafing, too. So I make sure I take each of my designs out running a few times during development, and I ask my pattern testers about how the garments worked for them while exercising, too. I stand behind my patterns so much that I’ve run races in all of my designs so far (except the latest – yet!), including running London marathon this year in a pair of my Duathlon shorts.
I’ve often noticed the limited range of sportswear for women on the high street, both in terms of style choice and size choice. Where do you think these limitations come from?
M: I think some of it comes from consumers thinking that somehow wearing all black will help them look slimmer or somehow render themselves invisible in the gym or out on the street, but I also think sportswear companies have a lot to blame, too. The phrase “shrink it and pink it” is said as a joke, but it’s depressing how much exercise clothing out there only comes in black or pink, and it gets even worse in the larger sizes, too, which are almost totally overlooked by RTW. When developing my first patterns, I felt so strongly about including larger sizes that I actually overlooked some of the smaller ladies and had to go back and add a size XXS in later (what was that about learning lessons, again?).
The great thing about sewing any clothing for yourself is that you get to choose the styles, colours, and prints that appeal to you, rather than what’s on offer in the shops, and exercise clothing is no different. With digital printing in particular, there are so many options out there for for colours and prints, there’s really no excuse for sewists NOT to sweat in something they enjoy wearing.
You’re a huge advocate of health and fitness, without lecturing people! If you could give one piece of inspirational advice to someone with a sedentary lifestyle, who is flirting with the idea of getting active, what would your advice be?
M: Thank you! I think my main advice is to just get out there are start being active, and make it a habit, whether it’s cycling to work, or going for a quick jog in the evenings to unwind, or going to yoga every Saturday. Don’t compare yourself to other people, because we all started out slower, heavier, and more out of breath than the people you see now!
I was recently given a running top by some friends who had chosen to add the message “Beat yesterday, today” onto it for me, and I think that’s a great one to remember. You can only aim to be better at any given moment than you were before.
What a great interview – thank you, Melissa. The phrase “shrink it and pink it” makes my blood run cold, so I’m really glad Melissa has launched her own patterns to cock a snoot to that nonsense. I can’t wait to see the latest pattern!
Now, friends. Any recommendations for sportswear fabric?