Pati Palmer – The Julia Child of the Sewing Industry!

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Pati Palmer getting fit with Melissa Watson, Pati’s daughter.

Pati Palmer getting fit with Melissa Watson, Pati’s daughter.

Pati Palmer is to home seamstresses what Julia Child is to home cooks.  Julia elevated our cooking and made us believe we could be gourmet chefs in our own kitchens.  Pati developed and simplified sewing techniques that made us believe we could not only sew our own clothes, but we were designers, and what we created could be original and better fitting than anything we could buy off the rack.

Pati considers herself as an educator and has been teaching sewing for nearly 40 years.  For 15 years, she traveled 26 weeks per year before establishing the Palmer/Pletsch International School of Sewing in Portland, OR, where she now trains consumers and sewing educators. She is the co-author of ten sewing books and editor/publisher of 16 more books, 16 how-to videos. She also created eight unique Palmer/Pletsch sewing notions products.

From 1980 to the present Pati has designed and written instructions for more than 220 patterns for The McCall Pattern Co. Known as McCall’s “fit expert,” she remains a top-selling designer including a new pattern that includes how to use The Palmer/Pletsch Tissue-Fitting Method.

In recognition of her contribution to the sewing industry, in 2008 Pati Palmer was inducted into the American Sewing Guild Hall of Fame.  In 2011 she was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association of Sewing & Design Professionals.

Sew a Beaut. Wedding coverGail Brown Quigg worked with Pati Palmer and wrote many books for Palmer/Pletsch.  According to Gail, “in the early 80’s, Pati and her then partner, Susan Pletsch (now Foster), took a big risk in asking me to coauthor a book on bridal sewing, Sew a Beautiful Wedding. When I look back, I marvel at their willingness to invest in a relative newcomer to book publishing. Contrary to the short publishing cycles practiced by most publishers in the sewing/craft industry, Pati continues to publish an updated version of this and my other Palmer/Pletsch titles, now 30+ years later.   

When we would be writing a book, her constant questions were, ‘How will that make a difference to our reader? Can they understand it easily and quickly from what we have written or illustrated on this page? Is the information new enough?’”

Gail credits Pati Palmer with bringing realism to the sewing industry.  “She was determined to provide a path to real fashion for real people and to create patterns and clothes that would flatter real women’s figures not the stick figures depicted on magazine covers. Pati is always long on ideas and short on time. The magic to that conundrum is that she translates it into respect for her customers’ time. She and the creatives around her are on the search for shortcuts that don’t compromise outcomes.”

Palmer/Pletsch was not driven by the model of book publishing at the time.  They developed their own system, devoting time and energy to writing books that would stand the test of time, and last longer than one publishing cycle.  As they sent teachers out into the field, they created handbooks and pamphlets that dealt with specific sewing issues and techniques.  Every page was scrutinized, every word mattered.  If an illustration could make the point better than two paragraphs of text, Pati would drop the text and go with the illustration.

When photography came into book publishing, Pati immediately recognized the value of using photos.  So, she did what she always does.  She learned how to do it herself, and Palmer/Pletsch photography became the gold standard in the sewing industry.  She created her own flexibility because she DID IT HERSELF.

Melissa Watson, Pati’s daughter, takes over the McCall’s Vogue, Butterick Fashion Show in 2015 after 25 years of commentary. “Time for the next generation.”

Melissa Watson, Pati’s daughter, takes over the McCall’s Vogue, Butterick Fashion Show in 2015 after 25 years of commentary.
“Time for the next generation.”

Pati was always willing to share information and connect people for their mutual benefit.  In 1984, Joanne Ross, a Home Economist for Pierce County, Washington, was contemplating starting a consumer sewing show in Tacoma, Washington.  The first person she called for advice was Pati Palmer.  Joanne and Pati were both home economists in the Pacific Northwest and had been friends for years.  At the time, Pati was managing a small sewing show in Portland, Oregon.  Joanne and Pati met for a cup of coffee, and they discussed the possibility of starting a show in Tacoma.  At the end of that meeting, Pati said, “It’s a great idea, you have the population to grow a show, you have an excellent base of volunteers, and I’ll help any way I can.”  And she did.  The Sewing & Stitchery Expo has become the biggest consumer sewing show in America, and Joanne credits the encouragement and good advice she received from Pati Palmer.

Since the first year of the Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Pati has been a vendor and a teacher.  In 1984, her seminars were among the first to sell out — and that is still true today.  Joanne says, “Pati is a hard worker, and she puts together a fantastic professional style show every year, using her McCall’s patterns.  Her style show is a highlight of Sew Expo — entertaining and beautifully presented.  Our audience appreciates her focus on FASHION FOR REAL PEOPLE, and the importance of good fit.”

Joanne says, “Pati Palmer has been instrumental in helping a lot of people get started in the industry.  She is a talented teacher and an astute business woman.  She feels very strongly helping somebody get started is paying it forward.  Pati never felt competitive with other teachers or designers or book publishers, because she feels we are all on the same team.  Whatever brings interest and enthusiasm for sewing should be encouraged.  Pati is right, which is why I don’t worry about other sewing shows.  It’s about building interest and inspiring home sewing.  This is how you pay it forward — with advice and encouragement to newcomers.”

Gail says, “Look through the Palmer/Pletsch book and video catalog, and you will see a wide range of topics and authors, all introduced to the sewing world by Pati.   Her products survive and thrive because of who she is:  a force. More than anything, she identifies with, and cares for her customers. Her goal is to help them celebrate sewing, fashion, their homes, and really, themselves. When she started in the business, the fashion sewing statement was created in New York; Pati brought a fresh, less urban and practical approach to style and construction. She knew the consumer, because she was the consumer, and coincidentally and conveniently, she loved to sew.’’

Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, and Pati Palmer on set of CreativeLive.com.

Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, and Pati Palmer on set of CreativeLive.com.

For example,  Marta Alto (who has been with Palmer/Pletsch for 30 years) and Pati are famous for their tissue-fitting classes.  They have developed an 11- hour in-depth tissue-fitting online class for www.CreativeLive.com.  When asked when, how, and why they started tissue-fitting, Marta and Pati had different recollections, and only vague memories of how they began. They realized that they simply took the concept of trying on tissue, but instead of making a muslin, they made the tissue their muslin and adapted slash and spread to the tissue.  Up to the 1970s, everyone did muslins and altered them. College textbooks showed women trying on tissue to compare body proportions, but went directly to muslin after that.  Pati and Marta developed their tissue-fitting system to avoid that extra step.  Of course, along the way, they also developed a special alteration tissue that is the same weight of pattern tissue so as to not overpower it.

In the sewing world, Pati Palmer’s reputation is that she is a hard worker and a big thinker, with an infectious, confident can-do, Johnny-bar-the-door optimism.  Whether she is designing a new pattern, developing a seminar or creating a new sewing product, Pati is always looking for a better path, an easier way to teach, a more efficient way to deliver information.  This drive has played out in her willingness to learn photography (to a professional level), set up her own video studio, be among the first to embrace the internet, create a website, then social media, teach Craftsy classes and countless other ventures most would deem undo-able.

Melissa Watson fits Pati Palmer on the set of Craftsy.

Melissa fits Pati on the set of Craftsy.

Pati Palmer has seen many changes in sewing over the last 40 years.  When asked where she saw it going in the next 30 years — she said, “I never thought I’d see so many young people loving sewing. They will be the ones in charge! And, I have great confidence in them. There is so much talent and enthusiasm. And, I can’t believe my own luck with my daughter having worked in ready-to-wear and finding it less creative than she had imagined now wanting to be a part of Palmer/Pletsch. Her current task is re-doing our website, adding a Palmer/Pletsch Blog, and representing us doing Craftsy classes on the Palmer/Pletsch Tissue-Fitting Method. She has really learned how to fit and loves it.”  Pati has designed for McCall’s since 1980 and Melissa Watson since 2008.

“I am still inspired every day by all of the teachers we have trained and seeing them succeed, especially those in charge of our additional 4-day workshop locations: Pamela Leggett in Philadelphia; Janet Dapson in Michigan; and Nancy Seifert in Seattle. I get most excited during a fit workshop, especially when the full-busted ladies get into the right size and do their full bust adjustment and everything fits! Most of all, seeing so many people of all ages learning to or returning to fashion sewing, especially all of the talented young women and bloggers. They share what they love to do with total enthusiasm. I have always said that I will not retire until there are as many fashion sewers as quilters!!”

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