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!!”

Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Part 1 – How It All Began

Sewing & Stitchery LogoThe Sewing & Stitchery Expo: How It All Began

The largest consumer sewing show in the United States happens every year in a little town outside of Seattle, Washington called Puyallup. Nearly 30,000 sewing enthusiasts come from all over the world to attend the show. They come because the Sewing and Stitchery Expo (Sew Expo) has more than 450 booths of carefully curated sewing merchandise — including fabric, sewing machines, patterns, books and notions. They come because they will have up close and personal access to the biggest stars in the sewing industry. Over the years, the headliners have included Martha Pullen, Nancy Zieman, Sandra Betzina, Eleanor Burns, Alex Anderson, Pati Palmer, Sue Hausmann and Mark Lipinski — just to name a few!!

No matter what your area of interest is — Sew Expo will have a class for you. With over 500 lectures and workshops to choose from, you can learn garment construction, quilt making, home dec or quick gifts. For over 30 years, the Sewing and Stitchery Expo has been gathering the best and the brightest in the industry for FOUR DAYS ONLY.

March 1-4, 2018, Sew Expo will celebrate it’s 34rd year. So — what’s the story? How did Sew Expo become the biggest and most exciting consumer sewing show in America?

Joanne Ross had a dream . . .

Joanne Ross had a dream . . .

Like anything of value, Sew Expo started as one woman’s dream. In 1984, Joanne Ross was a home economist working at Pierce County Extension. She attended a consumer sewing show in Portland, Oregon and thought the concept might work in Tacoma. She discussed it with Pati Palmer, Chair of the Portland show.

(Top) — Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, Pati Palmer (Bottom) —The Tilton Sisters - Katherine, Marcy

(Top) — Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, Pati Palmer
(Bottom) —The Tilton Sisters – Katherine, Marcy

As part of her job with Pierce County Extension, Joanne had already developed a program called the Clothing and Textile Advisors (CTA). To become a CTA, a volunteer attended classes to learn about textiles and sewing, with the emphasis on garment construction. The goal of the program was to send volunteers out into the community to share and teach sewing as a life skill. During the 1980’s, the CTA membership had grown to hundreds of women, with chapters in and around the Pacific Northwest. The CTA’s began asking Joanne to bring in big name sewing teachers so they could learn about the latest techniques, sewing notions and patterns. Joanne knew the CTA’s could become an important element in a consumer show. But it would require a lot of planning.

Joanne Ross developed a business model and presented the plans to the Washington State University (WSU) Conference Office. At that time, the Extension Office, and therefore, the CTA program, fell under the umbrella of WSU, so having WSU handle the management of this new consumer sewing show would be a good fit.

(Top) — Washington State Fairgrounds. (Bottom) — Friday Night Live.

(Top) — Washington State Fairgrounds.
(Bottom) — Friday Night Live.

That first show in 1984 was a complete leap of faith. No other university in the country had attempted anything of this scope. Like Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, Joanne Ross felt, “if we build it — they will come.”

The first Sewing and Stitchery Expo took place at the Tacoma Dome Convention Center. It was a two-day show with 56 exhibitors. Nobody knew what to expect — so they were blown away by 3,200 eager attendees. The second year attendance doubled. After only three years the show was too big for the Tacoma Dome. It was a hard decision to move the show to the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, Washington. Although the new location could accommodate hundreds of vendors and thousands more attendees, it would be a much larger financial risk.

Because of the growth of the show, it was expanded to three days, and by 1995, it was a four day show with over 30,000 attendees. The 2017 show (March 2-5) will have sewing and quilting enthusiasts from all over the world coming to celebrate Sew Expo’s 33rd year with 450 booths, over 500 classes and workshops, five daily free style shows, $50,000 worth of door prizes and two spectacular special evening events.

Joanne Ross says, “The Sewing and Stitchery Expo is the realization of a sewing dream — a place where the best experts in the industry come to share their expertise. Our attendees come to the show to meet the Sewing Stars they’ve seen on television, or to try the latest technology, attend lectures or hands-on workshops. For four days, they can shop to their heart’s content…and share their love of sewing and quilting with like-minded individuals.

Barbara Bitetto drawing lucky winners for daily door prizes.

Barbara Bitetto drawing lucky winners for daily door prizes.

The unexpected benefit of Sew Expo is that it has become THE PLACE to launch new product, try out new technology or introduce new techniques. Our vendors come to Sew Expo to sell their merchandise, of course, but they also set up meetings with the biggest players in the industry. The sewing machine companies sponsor our hands-on sewing studios, special events, and give away bags. They send their educators to Sew Expo, as well as their executives. They have meetings with new designers and the creative juices just seem to FLOW at Sew Expo. We’ll hear rumors of a new product or machine one year — and it will be a manufactured reality being launched at the next show. Many of our attendees also come to Sew Expo with a sewing related business idea. They come to the show because they want to network and find resource suppliers.”

Sewing and Stitchery Expo has been so successful because of its volunteers and staff. The Expo is managed by more than 150 volunteers and a staff of more than 25 persons. It is their dedication all year long that gives the Sewing and Stitchery Expo its national prominence within the sewing industry. It is their customer service ethic that provides a wonderful experience for all who attend.

Next week, Part 2:  Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Meet the Leadership and Clothing & Textile Advisors

www.sewexpo.com

Questions & Answers with Pati Palmer

This is a follow-up to the last blog, Pati Palmer – The Julia Child of the Sewing Industry!

Pati Palmer

What do you consider to be your best personality trait?  
Patience. I am extremely patient and that has been a good thing for my career teaching sewing and fit.

 

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Besides Portland, what is your favorite city to visit?
Probably NYC as I have gone there every year, some more than once, since my twenties. I went as a department store buyer and special events coordinator, as a member of the board for the former Home Sewing Association, McCall’s, and to see Melissa who moved there seven years ago. My favorite trip to NYC was when Melissa was 11 and I’d been teaching workshops every day for 3 weeks. The last day of the workshops wanting to spend time with me, she said, “Mommy, can we go to NYC?”  I thought I’d put her off by saying “Sure, but let’s use miles. You call United and see if you can get free tickets and use points to get a hotel or hotel upgrade.”  Three hours later, she came to me and said, “We have a flight at 11 pm tonight and we are staying at the Plaza.” So we took the red eye and had a ball. We bought our first Designer Barbie at FAO while waiting to get into our room. Also, I wanted to show her this doll-house store. I remember her saying, “Mom, if you really want a doll-house, just buy one.” (How did she know I wanted one as a child, but my parents couldn’t afford one!)

 

pp5

Can you remember the BEST thing you ever sewed?
Yes, a three-piece steel blue Ultrasuede suit for my late husband. He proudly wore it to the Atlantic City gift show and it was stolen from his room.  It was a beautifully tailored blazer, vest and pants. It was also hot fashion in the day!

 

pp1

What’s your idea of a vacation?
Doing nothing but being in a sunny place with about five non-fiction books. What often happens though, is that I take a manuscript to edit. But it is a very relaxing way to do technical editing with no other distractions.

 

Melissa Watson and Pati Palmer

What advice did you give to Melissa?
Nothing is a risk if you can live with the worst consequences.

 

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What do you do on your DAY OFF?  
Because I am in charge of my own schedule, I work when I want and usually that is a little bit every day, so I don’t really do “days off.”  However, recently one of my authors Nancy Nix-Rice and her husband Rob stayed with us for a week. Nancy had stayed with me close to a dozen times over the 4 years we were producing the Looking Good Everyday book, but we had to check off long lists every day, so we did nothing but work when she was here. This time we played. Took the Mt. Hood Railroad from Hood River, OR to Mount Hood. We even sat on the front veranda of our house which she had never done before. We also walked all over Portland. Had several true days off–in between keeping up with email!

 

Pai Palmer with her daughter, Melissa Watson

What was the best advice your mother ever gave you?
If you think you can’t win, then you don’t deserve to win.

 

Pati Palmer

What is your best sewing machine needle advice or tip?
In order to remember what needle I have in the machine, I keep the package out until I put in a different needle. When we were testing needles for knits we found that with ponte knits we could stick with a universal needle most of the time. But when spandex was added to the mix, a ball point needle was better. For ITY poly/spandex knits, the stretch needle was usually best in preventing skipped stitches.

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Pamela Leggett

Pamela Leggett

Pamela Leggett, owner and designer of Pamela’s Patterns built her career around sewing and fashion.  She never imagined doing anything else.  Born and raised in Michigan, her first memories are of sewing with her Grandmother on a treadle sewing machine. By the time she was twelve, she could put a garment together without help.  By age 14, she was sewing for others, mostly doing alterations. She has become a designer, teacher and author with a national reputation.  She is also the coordinator/ instructor for the Palmer/Pletsch East School of Sewing.

Pamela says, “My first job as a teenager was in a shoe repair shop. I was just supposed to be a cashier, but every chance I got I was back in the workroom trying out the really amazing machines. Through school, I worked for sewing machine dealers and fabric stores.  My senior year was spent apprenticing with a Japanese tailor as part of a work/study program.”

In 1978 with the optimism of youth and a huge collection of vintage clothing, Pamela opened a boutique in the resort town of Saugatuck, Michigan. She soon realized her shop needed another source of revenue.  She brought in retail fashion and her own designs. She also did alterations, custom clothing, stage clothing for rock bands, home dec and bridal, which she continued to do long after the boutique closed.

blog-4Pamela and her first husband moved to Connecticut in 1980 to start a family.  Her most prized possession was her Viking sewing machine. When it broke down, she rushed it to the nearest sewing machine dealer. When the owner of Manchester Sewing Center quoted a price for the repair, she was shocked.  Since she had always worked for dealers, she’d never had to “pay” for a repair.  She couldn’t afford to have it fixed.  The owner could see how upset she was.  He said, “I’m going to fix your sewing machine and you can pay me when you’re able.” She cried all the way home because he had been so kind.

A year later, that man — Aaron Cheerman — called her out of the blue. He was expanding his store and wanted her to teach classes. She told him she had never done anything like that.  He said he was not worried, she could do it. As a matter of fact, he believed she would be great. Pamela says, “To this day, I have no idea why he even remembered me.  But that phone call was a turning point. Mr. Cheerman became my employer, business teacher, mentor, and biggest supporter.” Pamela managed the store for 22 years. Manchester Sewing Center spawned an amazing number of sewing educators and pattern designers. J Stern Designs, Gail Patrice Design and Anna Mazur, (Pattern Review Editor for Threads Magazine) all started teaching at Manchester Sewing.

Teaching became a new focus in her life.  She loved to develop sewing classes about sewing machines, fashion, tailoring and proper fit. For several years in the late 80’s, Pamela and two of her sewing students started a fashion company called Tuesday’s Original Wardrobes. Their target market was the entertainment industry in the Hartford CT area, and they sold their line to the likes of Gayle King (Oprah’s best friend!).

In 1985, Pamela got her first serger, but she was not impressed.  It seemed like there were so many things it could NOT do. The seams on knit fabric would stretch out, inside curves puckered, and serged seams weren’t strong enough for woven fabrics.

Frustrated, she took a serger class from Patsy Shields at a Sulky conference. “I could not believe the things she did with a serger!  Patsy turned the knobs, she fiddled with tensions, and I realized this machine required a different set of rules.  It was an epiphany for me and I was hooked. I was determined to find out exactly how a serger worked.  I wanted to understand every element of this wonderful machine so I could explain it and teach people.”

Pamela Leggett's Serer Tips
Gaining confidence about sergers became Pamela’s new mission. The development of differential feed rocked her world!  Pamela enjoyed learning about and mastering each new improvement in the technology, and she cannot imagine sewing without a serger!! She does almost all of her seaming with a serger — and all her finishing work with a sewing machine.

Pamela became fascinated with the possibilities of decorative work with a serger. She loves flatlock and calls it the “two-for-one stitch” because you get ladders on one side, and loops on the other — both beautiful stitches. She developed new concepts which became the basis for her very popular series of flatlock serger classes.

In 2000, Pamela started writing serger articles for Threads Magazine based on her popular class, The Serger Workshop.

In 2005, Pamela moved to the Philadelphia area with her second husband, Bill, and became the manager of Steve’s Sewing in King of Prussia.  Pamela says, “Steve’s is an amazing store with a talented staff and very loyal customers.  I am blessed to have a store of this caliber to call my home.”  She teaches garment, fit and serger classes at least two days a week, unless she is traveling.  She also enjoys purchasing and displaying the fashion fabrics (which are selling very well!)  She organizes and presents a Serger Club event every other month.

 

Pamela Leggett's Serger Patterns

Some of Pamela’s Patterns.

 

Pamela created her first patterns to use in her classes.   Although she never intended the patterns to become a business, after Threads Magazine did a feature on Pamela’s Patterns, she learned how to run a pattern business — super fast!

The tag line on Pamela’s Patterns is “Designed to fit and flatter women with REAL figures!”  Her patterns are made for women with curves and fluff and scallops — all the things that happen as our bodies mature.  As a Palmer/Pletsch Fit Specialist, Pamela is able to assess the most common alterations needed for a mature figure and put them into her patterns.  They have a much more realistic fit than commercial sewing patterns.

A peek into Pamela Leggett’s sewing studio.

A peek into Pamela’s studio.

Pamela’s sewing studio and warehouse are attached to her home.  This is a good and bad thing.  It is very convenient, but bad for a workaholic! Her studio was featured in Threads Magazine a couple years ago, and is very functional.  It contains her office, shipping center, design and workroom.  Pamela’s Patterns are sold internet retail, wholesale and to distributors.  She has an assistant who does most of the shipping and website work.

Melissa Watson, Pati Palmer & Pamela Leggett

Melissa Watson, Pati Palmer & Pamela

Like she’s not busy enough — Pamela is also the instructor and coordinator for the East Coast branch of Palmer/Pletsch.   Steve Chubin, owner of Steve’s, hosts the Palmer/Pletsch School of Sewing four times a year. People from all over the country come to Philadelphia to attend Pamela’s classes in Fit, Pant and Knits. The April and May 2015 workshops sold out very quickly.

Pamela says, “Sewing has brought wonderful people into my life. Outside of my family, teaching sewing is my greatest joy. It is such a blessing to be involved in the lives of women who sew.  They are the most generous, giving, thoughtful, funny and creative people on earth.”

Pamela’s favorite sites:

www.pamelaspatterns.com
www.palmerpletsch.com
www.stevessewandvac.com