A passion, not a job
I never meant to become a sewing patterns designer, and I would never have thought of launching French Poetry. It is not my job, and I do have a job that I like. I’m a consultant in a consulting cabinet (one of the Big 4) and basically I help large companies define their strategies to stay leaders in their fields or launch new businesses. My weeks are long and full, I’m often on the plane, and I like that. When I was very little I would look at planes in the night sky. I would envy the passengers and think one day that would be me, with my cabin suitcase, flying to far away cities for business.
But I need creativity too. It’s like a necessary breathing for my brain and hands. I find this creativity time in writing and sewing. Writing, because it frees my mind. Sewing, because I don’t think anymore. I make. The very posture of my body, eyes down on my work, helps me focus on something so concrete that all other thoughts go away. As I am unable to do one thing at a time (I have ADHD but don’t always think of it as a disadvantage) I listen to podcasts while sewing. Sometimes it’s audio books. At the moment I’m listening to Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday. When I’m sewing I’m not thinking, but I’m in the best posture to receive thoughts.
In ten years I saw the decline of sewing at home
I’ve always sewn, for as long as I can remember. When I was little I would look at my grandma, a draping and sewing teacher, while she was making garments for herself. I would pick up the scraps and make little things. With scraps of brown fabric she used for a coat, I made toy squirrels (squirrels were my favorite animals). I just tried and learnt. She didn’t properly teach me since I was so little (only 5 or 6) but I would look at her and take in all her knowledge without realizing it. How many times, in these past years, have I rediscovered a technique with a sudden epiphany: ‘but of course, she was doing this!’. My grandma never used sewing patterns: it was her job to make them. I don’t know if this is how I got the habit of making mine too, or if it just came from my unruliness. When I grew up and kept making things with her scraps without any pattern or techniques, she would always say, ‘You are not learning! You are so stubborn!’. She wanted to teach me techniques but I wanted to figure things by myself as if I was the only sewing person in the world. I guess I was an arrogant kid :). Also, back in the time, sewing patterns by Burda, Simplicity etc were not modern at all. Nothing like the clothes you could find in retail stores.
Then I saw fabric stores close one after another. Large fabric stores in Toulouse (my grandma’s city) and Paris, and all these small town shops: l’Art du fil, le Bonheur des dames… Ready-to-wear was king, mass consumption was at its fullest, and no one learnt sewing at school anymore. The knowledge had been lost.
Instagram, the rebirth of sewing with a worldwide community
3-5 years ago I saw sewing coffee shops open in Paris: you could take lessons and rent a machine for a few hours. There were a few sewing blogs too, but the makes were still basic, not very well finished : sewing had to be learnt all over again by a generation that didn’t have sewing classes at school. Also, the very limited choice of fabrics available made them scream ‘homemade’ in a bad way. Then I saw fabric stores open online, one after another. I would purchase fabric from abroad: my favorite was Tessuti in Australia, and there was also Mood fabrics in the USA.
Then a few months ago I discovered sewists on Instagram. I was amazed: their makes looked so well-made, the fit was so good, the details so professional! It had all changed thanks to the Internet. New online fabric stores were opening every week, offering more and more choice, more refined prints, looking more like ready-to-wear (why on earth did they make different fabrics for crafts to begin with? All these crappy prints and textures?). The sewists were equipped like professionals (such impressive sewing machines and sergers!). And they were no longer sticking to classic pattern brands but looking for unusual cuts. For challenge. And thus I discovered indie pattern designers and their fresh, contemporary designs.
My own little Instagram success story
So I opened an Instagram account for myself, just to share pictures of my own makes. I would take blurry selfies in front of my mirror. I even remember going to Ikea with a friend (an expedition that took us a day) to ‘find a better mirror for selfies’. But I had likes, more and more each day! This was amazing. Until one day I woke up and had 700 likes on a picture (the most I would usually get was 100 likes or so). It was the first version of what would become the Pleiades dress sewing pattern.
People asked me where my sewing patterns came from. So I noticed other sewists were always linking to the pattern they were using, mentioning the sewing pattern designer’s name and indicating where the fabric came from. Like fashion influencers, sewing influencers gave all indications to allow their followers to recreate their outfits. This is logical but it didn’t occur to me. I was discovering a worldwide community and its customs and habits. American, Australian, Japanese, Russian sewists, all so talented.
How my Instagram followers made me start French Poetry
I was receiving messages that contained a bit of frustration. As I was making my own sewing patterns and not selling them, people couldn’t reproduce the outfits they liked in my feed. I was sorry about it, but kept repeating that I had never created any sewing pattern for another than myself: while I knew my own shape and measurements by heart, I also knew how much different we all are. My garments were not any existing RTW size, they were just me. But the messages wouldn’t stop, coming from all parts of the globe.
I knew pattern drafting was a skill that couldn’t be improvised. I also knew I would have to learn size grading, but also to master rather complex and costly softwares. Then I discovered I would have to digitize patterns then transform them into printable files in A0 and A4 (with tiling for the A4 so people could reconstruct the patterns at home). In addition, I would have to make drawings for the instructions. My weeks were already more than 40h long. But the more I was thinking about it, the more I knew how much I love to have several projects at the same time. I felt that if I didn’t do it, at least to try, I would regret it. So one day, I went for it.
Some paperwork, a lot of learning…
I had to register my brand. I won’t tell you what a nightmare it is to find a brand name, and how much paperwork there is. Thankfully I have a good lawyer!
Then there was a lot of trial and error, some expensive software that didn’t work for me, and a first version of the website on Prestashop that didn’t fit the bill at all. I had paid expensive plugins and template, and yet I couldn’t find a reasonably easy way to automate the PDF distribution. I had to send them manually at night, and in the meantime I would get a ton of customer emails asking me how they could get access to the sewing patterns they had purchased. Thankfully I knew how to deal with that: as a student job, I used to design websites for clients after teaching myself how to code. So I know how to make a website, even though my skills needed a good update (things change fast in that field).
The longest part was to create my very first French Poetry pattern. It was the one the instagrammers were asking about after seeing it on me many times: the Pleiades dress. Over the past few months I had been carefully crafting this dress sewing pattern which now is the cornerstone of my closet, in winter as well as summer. But I was far from imagining how successful it would be with others. Even now I’m amazed at how popular it is on Instagram and how well it sells compared to my other patterns. I will tell you more in a next post!
French Poetry has to remain a hobby and a passion for me
Given the early success and the demands I get, the question crossed my mind sometimes when thinking of the future. Would French Poetry one day become my full-time job? As of today, the answer is definitely no. As I told you, I really love my job. Also, I always heard people tell me ‘you should follow your passions and make a job out of it!’ and it always annoyed me. First, I don’t like being told what to do, and second, maybe this works for some people but not for me. When I turn a passion into a job (I did it in the past, with web developing) it suddenly stops being a passion to become… a job.
French Poetry isn’t a full time activity with a team and likely never will be. I have to make choices, for example not printing patterns on paper because it takes so much time to wrap them and post them. Sometimes I don’t post on Instagram for one or two weeks because I am busy with work and life. This is how I want it to be: taking breaks from one activity to focus on others helps me keep my interest going. But as long as I enjoy it, have no fear, I have so many new designs ideas they keep me up at night!