Sew Indie Month Interview with Heather Lou of Closet Case Files September 27 2015
Today I’m so excited to be interviewing Heather Lou of Closet Case Files blog and Closet Case Patterns based in Montreal Canada. Heather Lou’s blog is a go-to read for me - especially when I need to keep up with what’s happening in the sewing community but only have a limited time for reading. Closet Case Files is a mix of sewing tutorials, sew a longs, insight into Heather's world of pattern designing, along with links to other interesting blogs and artists all written in a manner that showcases her brilliant wit and talent. Heather recently quit her dream job as an interior designer to turn her pattern designing and blogging into a full time career. I’ve been dying to ask her how it’s all going.
HEATHER IN ONE OF HER MAKES
Hi there! I am so excited to be interviewing you! I just love your blog and your patterns.
I also love that you are so open and transparent on your blog. I’ve been following your Make Boss series on starting your on-line business/ how you transitioned to a full time career. I too am hoping to do this full time someday soon so I am interested in what works and doesn’t so... thank you. I am very curious to hear more about it but first.....
P: When did you know that this was what you wanted to do as a career?
H: It was January of 2014… I was supremely fed up at work and knew I had to make a big change. I had what I thought was a “dream job” as a commercial interior designer, but I started having a hard time following orders; I just didn’t have enough autonomy at my job. I released Nettie as an experiment; it sold well enough that I realized that I might have a future as pattern designer. I haven’t regretted it for a moment.
P: When did you know it was time to quit your day job and start pattern designing/blogging full time? And... how is it going?
H: It was a downward spiral at my office job and by the end, I just wasn’t emotionally or intellectually present at all. I would work all week on a great design for something and show it to my boss and have her strike it down after looking at it for 10 seconds. I hated how subjective those decisions were; I wanted to be the Decider! It became more and more clear that I wasn’t going to be happy working for someone else. I needed to be my own boss.
Overall it’s going well. I’m much more creatively engaged and inspired day to day, but I also work All. The. Time. Even when I’m supposed to be relaxing I’m thinking about the business and how I can improve things. It’s a bit of a disease, to be honest. I am hoping there will be a day in the future where things are more established and I can take it easy a little, but most of the entrepreneurs in my life tell me this doesn’t really ever happen. Financially I’m doing okay; I’m still not at my former income level, but my living expenses are simpler, and Montreal is a really affordable city to live in.
P: What came first for you - the blogging or the pattern making and when did you start?
H: I started blogging first. I never intended to design patterns when I started, because I was still very much at the start of my sewing journey. I released the Bombshell only because people had seen the one I drafted for myself and really wanted the pattern. It wasn’t ever a master plan. Because I never had formal training (well, I’ve had tons of training in design and technical drawing, just not in relation to clothing drafting) it’s been a steep, intense learning curve for me. I am teaching myself as I go along, and I find it’s a good way to stay motivated and engaged in my work.
P: I had been focusing on cranking out patterns however, I’m starting to realize how important it is to nurture each design and spend some time doing tutorials and sew a longs and connecting with the community. I am just now getting more comfortable blogging however, I have to say that your blog and site are very inspirational for me. I only hope I can find the time to really put that much research, interesting content and attention into my blog someday soon. How much time do you spend blogging and how important is that component of the pattern business?
H: I really, really love blogging. I started the blog quite naively, and realized how much I loved writing (and as I got better at it), telling a visual story or trying to find ways to explain things in clear, precise ways. It’s a really important creative outlet for me, in addition to being the main way I connect with my readers and customers. I probably spend at least a full day a week working on the blog. I’d spend more time if I could, but I make so little income from it that I have to be careful to manage my time in ways that will actually pay the rent each month.
Q: Do you come from a family of seamstresses/sewists who passed on the tradition or is it something that you took up yourself?
H: My mom used to sew her own clothes, and we always had a sewing machine in the house, but I didn’t use it for much more than making Barbie clothes or taking in my school uniform when I was in high school. I really regret not getting started much, much earlier, but I don’t think there were many Vogue patterns that would have appealed to my grunge/alternative self as a teenager ;)
P: How would you describe your personal style?
H: This is such a hard question for me! It really changes all the time. Right now I am gravitating more towards monochromatic colour and simple silhouettes, but 6 months from now I might be swaddled in technicolour party dresses again. Regardless, I think at its fundamental core, my style is feminine and eclectic with slightly glamorous aspirations.
P: You have such a warm and open manner when you’re blogging - I feel like I already know you. I’m guessing you have made many friends in the on-line sewing community - is this the case? Can you tell us a little about your relationship with the sewing community and how often you interact with other designers and bloggers?
H: Thank you! I’m a pretty hyper, talkative, excitable person so I think that does translate into my writing. I’m lucky to have lots of friends in the community. I’ve been at it for almost 5 years, and I’ve travelled a lot to meet people and have reached out and formed relationships with other bloggers and designers over the years. We tend to be a pretty kind, welcoming group of people so it isn’t hard to do.
P: You just released the amazing Sallie jumpsuit and maxi dress pattern. That really rounds out your collection and offers a nice range of pattern choices. How do you choose what to work on next/what patterns to design?
H: The first 5 patterns were things that I had looked for and couldn’t find in the pattern world. I have my next 5 or 6 releases planned, but it may change over time. I’m trying to design by the season, and create patterns that work together within a cohesive wardrobe. While I love dresses, these days I’m more drawn to chic and easy to wear separates.
I find that the entire process of designing a pattern takes much longer than I had expected and I haven’t gotten the timing down. Do you worry about timing when launching a new pattern? For instance - a summer garment released at the end of summer. Or is the internet the great equalizer - it’s always summer somewhere?
H: Everything takes twice as long as you think it will - I am currently a month behind on my fall pattern! I think I’m getting better at working out the schedule and get less stressed when I miss deadlines (I do make them, after all) but I am realizing that seasonality is important. I would not want to release a swimsuit pattern in August - the majority of the sewing community is gearing up for fall! Poor Australia – our pattern releases are all out of wack for them, although I guess they have more time to really plan their wardrobes.
P: Long ago, I had a small internet business where I worked from home - my own boss. With my new found freedom, I found it difficult to manage my time. I would go for a long run, take my dog on a long walk, enjoy eating my breakfast and then start working just before lunch. Just when I hit my rhythm around 4, or 5, my husband would come home ready to relax or play. Even now that I’ve cut out the long run and the dog walking, and I get to work early, I still find that my day gets away from me quickly. How do you manage your day? And... what does a typical work day entail for you?
H: I’m pretty disciplined to be totally honest. My boyfriend is French and has a much more European/laid back attitude about work and thinks I’m a little crazy for being so rigid and workaholic even though I’m technically “free”. I just find it really crucial for me to follow a routine and stick to it. I have so much to do that if I’m not totally on top of things and working at my full capacity every day, I’d be crippled with anxiety.
Day to day is pretty consistent. I get up fairly late every day, around 8-8:30. Some days I go swimming before I put my nose to the grindstone. Either way, my morning starts with a big smoothie and an hour reading blogs and checking emails. I’ve started trying to focus on specific tasks each day, so depending on the day of the week, I’ll be blogging, doing admin or pattern development. I take a short lunch and work straight till 7 or 8 unless my brain is fried. I try to go for a short walk to refresh in the afternoon. I also really try to take proper weekends but when I’m in pattern development, I’ll probably work half days on Saturday and Sunday just so I’m not panicking the entire time about everything I have to do.
P: What is your favorite part of the process?
H: Seeing what other people make! That’s the absolute best thing about this job. I also really like the moment when you finally nail the sample and your brain goes from “You’re a worthless idiot fraud” to “Wow, this is actually kind of awesome!”
P: Great answer!
P: Your Ginger Jeans are amazing! I’ve made them but have to confess that I messed up the waistband and need to go back and fix them. They did fit pretty well out of the gate though. I can’t imagine how much work went into that pattern. I can’t imaging resewing them every time you made a pattern alteration - that must have taken forever! How fast can you sew a pair of Ginger Jeans now?
H: I’m not a super fast sewer in general. I can probably make a pair in 7-8 hours. I once heard Kenneth King say he made jeans in 4 hours and was in total awe.
I love the What’s Doing section of your blog where you feature highlights from other bloggers and sewing news and then add non sewing related news such as music, books and art among other topics. I have been introduced to so many new sites and artists via your blog - I love it! So on that note, I’m going to ask a few non sewing related questions and then I’ll let you go.
P: What are your favorite hobbies or past times aside from sewing?
H: I love cooking, but only for other people. I just got a new pressure cooker and I’m obsessed with making tacos and pulled pork in like, 20 minutes. I read a lot and try to get through 2-3 books a month; I like a mix of fiction, non-fiction and lately have been reading more business-centric stuff since I’m so new to entrepreneursip. I love going for long bike rides around the city and having dinner parties since I don’t go out too much anymore. I also do a little volunteer work at a women’s shelter cooking Sunday dinners every other week.
P: You say you love cooking - what's your signature dish?
H: I don’t know if I have a signature dish! I’m constantly trying new stuff, but my favourite things to make are gnocci, tacos, fried chicken and pasta. I also do a lot of canning and can generally be counted on to have a pantry full of tomatoes and jam.
HEATHERS CANNED TOMATOES
P: What are you currently obsessed with?
H: Gretchen Jones’ Instagram. Bunka drafting books. The new Tame Impala record. Unreal (a soapy drama about a Bachelor-esque show). Wet Hot American Summer First Day of Camp. Mad Max Fury Road. The costumes from The Man from UNCLE.
P: Can you tell us some of your favorite haunts in Montreal?
H: Fabric/notions: Globetext, Tissus de Marina, Fisher & Sons
Drinks: Alexanderplatz, Big in Tokyo bar, Huis Clos
Eats: Thanjai (CRAZY GOOD INDIAN!), Hotel Herman, Salle a Manger, L’express, Au Pied du Cuchon Sugar shack, Iris for pupusas, Kazu, Bouillon Bilk
Thanks for chatting Heather - it’s been a pleasure!
For a good read, check out Heather's blog - it's very entertaining. Her patterns are very well drafted and the instructions are very thorough and clear so check them out as well if you haven't already.