The Blue Gardenia

Sewing spaces: Oliver + S + Liesl = one enviable studio. Indeed. September 23, 2010 19:41 5 Comments

Liesl_gibson_ssNot all of us have two sewing spaces. Not all of us are talented designers. Not all of us have our own pattern line. But that does not mean that the rest of us cannot learn a thing or two from those who do. Because we can. Certainly. And we will. Won't we?

Today, let's enjoy vicarious thrills as we ogle the sewing room of Liesl Gibson. Liesl is the chief designer of the totally fun children's pattern line, Oliver + S. She also authors the firm's tutorial-packed, lovely-to-look-at blog. Need I add that I am a fan? Of course not. You know I am.

Do you have a dedicated sewing space?

When I started Oliver + S several years ago, sewing became my business. I realized early on that I couldn’t run the business from my small New York City apartment and that I needed to rent a workspace. I’m fortunate now to have two dedicated sewing spaces: a tiny one in our home in Manhattan and a larger studio in Brooklyn where we run the business. They are about 20 minutes apart on the subway.

At home, we converted a closet into a space that doubles as a sewing room and a small closet for our daughter. It’s just large enough that I can keep my machine set up to pop in when I have a few minutes.

Liesl_storage_ssAt the studio, I have a large cutting table as well as a long counter where the machines are lined up, ready to go. And lots of shelves for storage. That’s crucial, in my opinion.

What do you like best about your sewing area?

I like it that I can sew conveniently either at work or at home. And, given the size of our apartment, I’m just happy to have a dedicated space at all!


What would you change about your space?

Well, the closet could be bigger. But so could the entire apartment! Both spaces suit me fine, though. I can’t complain.

How is your space organized?

Almost everything is kept at the studio; all my fabric and materials are stored there. I keep just a small sewing machine, a sleeve board (which serves as a mini-ironing board), and an iron at home with a small set of sewing tools.

Liesl_gibson_books_ssAt the studio, I have shelves for fabric and books, and each project is kept in an individual box on the shelves. So when I’m developing a pattern, all the materials for that pattern are stored in one box. It makes it easier to keep everything together. I keep a lot of tear sheets, too, and I sort them into boxes according to theme: clothing inspiration, print inspiration, styling inspiration, etc.

Liesl_stash_ssIf you have a fabric stash, how do you impose order?

I really try not to keep much of a stash, but I do need fabrics to draw from when I’m developing a pattern, and I always have a wish list of fabrics I purchased for things I want to make when I have the time. Most of the fabric is folded uniformly and stacked according to color, so it’s easy to find something, and it looks neat.

Liesl_patternsHow are your patterns organized?

I keep all my patterns (both vintage patterns and current Oliver + S patterns) in wood crates on the studio shelves. I don’t really sew from the vintage patterns much, but I’ve been known to read sewing pattern instructions in my free time. (Weird, I know.)

Are your patterns archived? How are they stored?

We archive the Oliver + S patterns in both paper and digital formats, but I keep my own sewing patterns in plastic sheet protectors inside three-ring binders. It makes them easy to find.

Do you have a mannequin made to measure? If so, do you find it helpful?

I do. I purchased Betty, my adult mannequin, secondhand after I graduated from FIT. She is larger than I am (especially on top!) but sometimes helps out. Petal (actually, “Pedal,” named by my daughter for the pedal that raises and lowers the form) is a size 3T children’s mannequin who helps a lot when I’m developing new patterns. She sometimes poses for photo shoots, too.

Liesl_cutting_ssWhat do you cut out your patterns on?

I cut almost everything at the big cutting table in the studio. At home, I use the dining-room table or the floor. I sometime use a rotary blade and cutting mat, and sometimes use giant dressmaking shears, depending on my mood and the project.

What is your most helpful tool? Why?

That’s tough. My favorite tool ever is a mechanical pencil. I’m very picky about pens and pencils, and I prefer one particular brand. I’m lost without it.

What tools do you recommend for the beginning sewer?

In addition to a reliable sewing machine, I recommend a really good iron (good doesn’t mean expensive ­– just quick to heat up and gives lots of steam), good quality shears, plenty of pins and a measuring tape. You can certainly buy lots of additional tools to make life easier, but it’s difficult to sew anything without these basic tools.

Liesl_machines_ssWhat kind of machine do you use?

I’m partial to Janome. They make a terrific machine, and I love all of their machines that I own and use.

What do you like about it?

The bobbin is exceptionally easy to load, and the machines are reliable and easy to use. I used my inexpensive travel Janome (the one I keep at home) to make a winter coat for my daughter last year. It didn’t have any trouble with the bulk and kept up me without complaining at all. It’s a terrific beginner machine and can be taken anywhere for classes, etc.

Do you use a serger? If so, why do you like it?

I recently got my first serger (a Janome), and it’s really wonderful because it’s fast and finishes seams beautifully.

When I don’t have access to a serger, though, I’m perfectly happy with a zigzag stitch. And I prefer to use a French seam when it’s appropriate to the fabric and item that I’m making.

How long did it take you to develop your sewing space?

Being as busy as I am, both spaces have evolved over time. I make improvements when there is time. I just added bulletin-board doors to the shelving in the studio, and I always have ideas for the next improvement.

The closet at home has had many lives: as a closet, as our daughter’s first tiny bedroom, and now, as my little workroom. It gets ignored when I’m not using it to sew — I just try to keep it neat so it’s ready when I am.

Do not miss our next Sewing Space adventure. Yes. I'm being bossy. But it's for your own good. Monday, we'll travel to the Portland studio of Sarai, owner and designer of Colette patterns. It's so luscious. Really. You won't be disappointed.