Dear ASDP Board
Excelsior Sewing – the parent company of LightHeart Gear is located in the beautiful Southern Appalachian Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. We have a “brick and mortar” factory of 2400 square feet, but we’re searching for a location with two to three times more room that we can purchase. I also have a wonderful sewing room/studio at home, but I almost never go there anymore. After 8 hours in the factory, I don’t want to sew at home. What I like the most about my home studio, is that when I turn off the light switch as I’m leaving the room – it turns off all the machines and the iron, so I never have to worry about having left the iron on.
Excelsior Sewing does small batch contract / production sewing, primarily outdoor gear, as well as all the manufacturing for LightHeart Gear, my own backpacking gear company. I personally do all the design and pattern work. I do all the cutting, and have several employees that do the sewing. We sew things such as ponchos, tarps, chair backs, bicycle bags, tents, and rain gear. Our goal in the contract sewing is to help other small businesses keep their products “Made in the USA”. Small batch production helps small business keep their revenue stream fluid.
The space works. What that means is that the organization and layout provides the right setting for the work that is done. And of course, I love all the different specialized machines. A funny story is that when I was in design school, thinking of going into business doing bridal, I had some of the top of the line home sewing machines (Bernina and Viking). I remember telling my instructor at school that I didn’t want to work on the industrial sewing machines they had – because I had fancy machines that could do everything. Now, I own about 15 or so industrial machines. Each does just one specific thing, but it does it perfectly. I do keep one of my old Berninas at the shop to repair window netting on the tents. I use the 3-step zigzag stitch as I don’t have an industrial zigzag machine.
I have several employees that do most of the sewing. My time is spent designing, cutting, planning, and running a business (QuickBooks is my nemesis) but not in that order. My attitude is that I work for my employees, so anything I can do to facilitate their work is my job. I do the little things to keep them sewing. I do pitch in on sewing when we are in a rush to get an order out, or when I decide to practice avoidance. It’s a real treat for me to get to sit at a sewing machine, but I find that if I’m spending a lot of time sewing, it’s probably time to hire a new employee.
Workflow is very important, and must go in an organized manner. Machines are grouped by task and frequency of use. We also have to have large work space/surface area around all of the machines because we often work on very large pieces of fabric. We have lots of tables between, and around all of the machines that can be shifted as needed for specific jobs. Each machine or station has its own small stack of drawers that contain all the different types and colors of thread, needles in several sizes, different presser feet for the machine, snips, screw drivers, labels, and any other items needed at that location. This duplication allows employees to move from station to station and not worry about bringing items with her/him. Problems with the set up only arise when we get in new equipment. Trying to figure out the best place to put it can entail shifting a bunch of heavy machines around. Most of the machines plug into outlets in the (high) ceiling, so moving machines means getting a big ladder out to unplug machines, hope that the cords reach from the new location, and shift again if they don’t. Floor space has become a premium as the shop gets more and more machines in.
My clients are usually companies looking to have items sewn for them. Often, they are surprised by how much we can produce with such a small staff. They may never have seen a sewing factory before, and are amazed at the different equipment. We occasionally get a customer for LightHeart Gear that comes to visit. They are usually amazed at just being in a sewing factory, the amount of specialized equipment, the piles of partially constructed items that are mounded in buckets and hampers. My space is not “pretty,” it’s industrial.
I don’t know that there is anything truly unique about Excelsior Sewing. We do have places in the shop to set up tents – Occasionally because we have customers interested in seeing and buying tents, but mostly because they have to be inspected, and seam sealed. The fabric we use cannot be ‘taped’ as the fabric has a silicone coating on it to make it waterproof. Seam sealing is done with a liquid silicone mixture. Each tent has to be individually set up to seam seal. Once the items for LightHeart Gear and finished and packed, they leave the shop and go to our distribution center (my basement at home). From there, they are packed and shipped to customers that order on our website www.lightheartgear.com.
It’s a valid question. I could have joined a number of other associations. In fact, it was easier to find those other associations in the first place! About two years after starting my business, I went looking for a sewing group to join. Of course, as a 26-year-old, the first thing I did was Google it. My search for “Indianapolis sewing group” led me to the American Sewing Guild. I went to my local chapter meeting, and realized that it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. ASG seemed to be more of a fun casual craft setting, but I wanted something that would talk about sewing as a business. That would have been the end of my search, had ASDP member Cathy Runion not introduced herself to me after the meeting, and told me about a few other sewing groups to try.
I took her advice, and the next sewing group that I visited started off better. They were even having a guest speaker who was talking about her sewing business! Perfect! But as we asked questions, I realized that this woman, who had been working on her business for years and years, did not actually pay herself for this work. Now, I definitely struggle with undervaluing my work, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. But even I could see that for the work this woman put into her business, it was really just a hobby in the end, because she never got paid for her time, and didn’t even expect to. I realized that if I’m going to succeed in my business, I need to surround myself with people who are going to really lift me up, and challenge me to ask for a fair wage for my work. So, I moved on to try out the third group. During the very first meeting I attended, I overheard one member telling another, “You need to charge more. Your work is worth more than that!” and I thought to myself: this is exactly the kind of kick in the butt I need to hear, from people who know and understand my profession. This is ASDP.
Thinking about my own journey to find ASDP has helped me to pinpoint what it is that I really want out of this organization. Realization #1: I want a sewing organization where I can meet real people in real life, in a local setting. Hence my Google searches for “Indiana Sewing Group”, which got me nowhere. Realization #2: I want a sewing group that focuses on sewing as a profession, unlike ASG. Realization #3 I want an organization that surrounds me with people who I aspire to be like, who can support me and help me to overcome my insecurities and challenges as a business owner in the sewing industry. That’s really it. In the end, it’s not about the discounts, or the helpful links (although I won’t ever turn those down!). What I really want is the business advice, the inspiration, the encouragement, a group of people who challenge me to be my best possible self, the open discussion, the friendship, the shared knowledge, and the education. And I think I’ve found it in ASDP. These are all things that I have glimpsed during my short time as a part of this organization. And I hope to see so much more of it. This group has an incredible amount of potential. There is so much that I don’t know about being a sewing and design professional, and there are so many opportunities for ASDP to evolve to help younger members like me learn all that we need to know. I would love to see live streams of the conference and more resources that encompass a wider range of professions within sewing and
designing. I would also like to see an easier way to find and participate in the discuss list, more ways to connect with other members, and a lot more focus on the business side of our industry. There is so much collective knowledge in our organization and I think we need a clearer way to share that knowledge with each other, especially new members. We have a good thing going here in our association, but a lot of what we have simply needs to be updated, organized, and simplified (the website in particular). But back to the original question: Why did I join ASDP? It’s a question that I think needs to be asked more often, and asked of more members. We each need to ask ourselves what it is that we individually want to get out of an association that we join. Without knowing this, how can we know if we are joining the right group? We need to ask each new member what it is they are looking for in ASDP. This would do three things: first, it would help us get to know the new members, second, it would help the new members to feel welcomed and included, and third, that new member could then be guided by a more senior member towards the tools and benefits of our association that would be most helpful to that individual. I also think that we must ask this question of our senior members as well. How can we grow and evolve as an association without knowing what our members value most? These answers could help guide us as an association, to become the best that we can be for each other.
One of the things I love the most about ASDP is the never-ending information sharing among our members. I recently received an email from a member who was curious about Fit for Art’s licensing seminar for Eureka! Pants that Fit. In my response, I was able to share with her how valuable this tool, created by three ASDP members (Rae Cumbie, Carrie Emerson, and Sarah Veblen), has been to my business and my skill set. And then I thought it might be helpful to reach out to some other licensees so we could share our experiences with the greater ASDP membership.
Unlike other pants patterns, the Eureka! pattern comes in a range of sizes AND has three different backs for each size. This starting point, with extensive horizontal balance lines (HBLs), allows each sewist to create a mock-up that that is the key to a great-fitting pant. At the licensing seminar, attendees have the opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of fitting for themselves and for their clients of various shapes and sizes, “All on real bodies, [with] volunteers daily!” said licensee Cari Loschen of CariKim Couturier.
Barbie McCormick of Sew Good already had extensive experience with patterns and fitting before attending the Eureka! licensing seminar. But after spending five days with the Fit for Art team she, “learned SO much- So many nuances and tricks with adjusting and truing up pattern lines, as well as so many ‘Aha!’ moments with fitting different bodies, proper and improper pinning and pattern adjustments.” She went on to say, “The Eureka! pants fitting pattern has so many attributes that I have never seen before (And I've been to many other pants fitting classes, studied and used many pant drafting books) but make SO much sense! The seminar brought my understanding of pants and patterns to a whole new level!” I couldn’t agree more. I’d never been able to get my fit, “just right.” There just always seemed to be something I wasn’t happy with. Now, I not only have an excellent wardrobe of comfortable, flattering pants, in a variety of styles, but I’m also able to bring that to my clients.
Whether it’s a great fit in the crotch and hips (the key to the Eureka! method), selecting a waist treatment, or placing darts, this licensing seminar has you covered – all in a professional-but-fun environment. And speaking of the environment, Rae, Carrie, and Sarah always make sure the licensing seminar is held in a wonderful space. There’s plenty of room to work with lots of light. All meals are provided and there’s even an on-site housing option for attendees who come from out of town. Carrie aptly summed up this great opportunity saying, “Since attending the Eureka! Pants seminar, I finally wear pants that fit!! I've honed my pant fitting skills, but most importantly I've been able to bring an innovative pattern and fitting technique to my area.
Sign up. Go. Get fearless about pant fitting too! You'll be glad you did! It's a fantastic hands-on learning experience!” To learn more about Eureka! Pants that Fit and the licensing seminar that will be offered in September 2017, visit fitforartpatterns.com
The ASDP Charitable Foundation ended 2016 just shy of doubling the figure from the previous year. Both the number of member donors and the amount of donations increased by almost 50% over last year. Member support is a strong part of the equation looked at by potential industry donors, so we hope to make significant strides in this area during 2017. In keeping with this theme, we hope to end 2017 with a balance exceeding $25,000.
As you proceed through the new year, we ask that you keep the foundation in the front of your giving plans. Donations can be made at any time during the year through the ASDP website. Another way easy way to contribute is to do all of your Amazon shopping by participating in Amazon Smile.
Go to www. smile.amazon.com to sign up and then just start shopping. Amazon will do the rest. We appreciate your support and will continue to keep you informed of our progress throughout the year.
My name is Madeline Stage and my business, Goheen Designs is located in Indianapolis, Indiana. I work out of my one bedroom apartment in downtown Indy.
I specialize in digital sewing patterns, as well as creating accessories, home décor and sewing kits from rescued fabrics.
My favorite part of my sewing space is all of the sunlight! I’ve worked in places with no windows before, and I know just how much it can affect my work ethic and general happiness to be without fresh air and sunshine. Plus, the natural light is a big plus for taking photos.
I work alone, but I do share my sewing space with my husband, because my sewing “room” is actually just a part of the living room/dining room. But this is a huge improvement from our last apartment, where I had to keep my sewing desk in the bedroom. As an early riser, I like to be able to sew before my husband wakes up!
My layout is mostly dictated by what fits. I did make sure that I can reach all of my sewing machines by simply turning in a single chair and all of my sewing notions are kept on one shelf, right next to my desk. The patterns, products, and fabrics are more spread out around the apartment. I’ve learned to optimize every little space in our home. Under the bed, under the couch, and most of the walls, are all used as extra storage. I also have a folding table that only comes out when I need it. I try to keep things tidy, and use cute storage solutions, because there is no option to just close the door on my workspace if it looks like a disaster.
I don’t get many clients in my sewing space, but the ones who do see it always notice the wall of fabric. My dad built me a wooden rack that holds several rolls of fabric so that they can be within easy reach without taking up any floor space.
I’ve recently dedicated a section of my sewing space to be my recycling center. I have a series of baskets where I separate out large and small scraps in order to pass them along to other people like teachers and quilters. Whatever is leftover that can’t be used by other people has its own basket. I donate these scraps to Goodwill, who sends them on to a fabric recycler.
Members shall, at all times, consider the health, safety and welfare of the public in their conduct of business.
*Whether the area where you interact with customers (not necessarily your work space) is a room in your home or a brick and mortar shop, it should always be clean, well-lit, and comfortable. The area should not smell like your lunch. It is a good idea to have hand sanitizer and tissues available for public use.
*Be aware of any carpet that may be frayed or worn. If it cannot be replaced, tape it down to prevent someone from tripping.
*Be aware of possible allergies. The space should be as dust free as possible and be careful when using air fresheners.
*When the customer is changing clothes, their privacy is paramount. Always ask before you enter the dressing room to help them with a zipper or other closure.
*You, as the business owner, are liable if the customer were to fall, trip, or slip. In legal terms, your customers are invitees on your property, whether you operate in your home or rent a space. You are responsible for their well-being while they are in your studio. You should carry liability insurance to cover those potential mishaps.
*Customer garments are your responsibility also. They legally become your property when they are dropped off. This is called bailment. Those items must be secured, protected and kept clean while in your care. Any item, when returned to the customer, must be in as good if not better condition than when it was placed in your custody.
As part of our annual sewing workshop, we invited national fit expert/educator Sarah Veblen to teach her 2-day pants fitting class. Due to the small class size, we could observe each person’s fitting and ask a lot of questions! Our group includes some challenging body shapes and sizes, and everyone came out of class with a lot of new knowledge, a new master pants pattern, and a great fitting pair of pants! The rest of the 3-day workshop weekend, which was our 11th annual event, had its focus on Sewing, Sharing and Fun. The only rule was no client sewing. This concept came from the reality that we often have little to no time to sew for ourselves, and even less opportunity to have a professional fitting done on our own bodies. The workshop was originally called a retreat, but over time we changed it to “workshop” as so much knowledge was gained over the weekend together - a lot more learning occurred than expected. Those in attendance were WI members Katherine Merkel, Sue Tenney, Joan Kuhry, Linda McCoy, and Chris Kazmerzak, as well as other ASDP members Tina Colombo and Robin Kunzer.
Sarah Veblen fits Sue Tenney
Sarah Veblen fits Linda McCoy
Sarah Veblen fits Chris Kazmerzak
Photos by Katherine Merkel
Ten New England Chapter members gathered on a cold and snowy January 8 at Maxwell Silverman's Restaurant in Worcester, Massachusetts to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the chapter's founding. Among the attendees were three of the chapter's founding members: Janee Connor, Mirjana Freilich, and Astrid Gallet, all three also past presidents. vFrom the summer of 1991, beginning as Massachusetts PACC, our group was an early chapter of the fledgling Professional Association of Custom Clothiers, also founded in 1991. We later expanded our geographic reach and became the New England chapter of PACC and continue today as the New England chapter of ASDP.
Opening the event, current President Sue Bennett proposed a toast to past and present members, to our friendship, and to the next 25 years. Following a luncheon buffet, we continued a tradition of going around the group with each saying what we are currently doing. Everyone agreed that the encouragement we receive from each other has been valuable beyond words and that our association transcends professional and business connections, to deep and lasting friendship. We have been with each other during illnesses and loss, personal achievements, business ups and downs, and much more.
The celebration also included a recent tradition, a fabric exchange. The pieces that each person brought were passed around the table, examined and then spoken for. Despite audible murmurs about "downsizing", "too much of a stash", "no need for more fabric", and the like, everyone seemed to leave happy with a "new" piece for a new year.
At the end of the party, members received a silver colored gift bag which held a pair of ballpoint pens personalized with the chapter name and website (we're always marketing!), an article on the early chapter history written in 2002 by Janee Connor, a package of basting needles, a handmade silk organza press cloth, some chocolates and a rose. Amid laughter and hugs, we headed out in our different directions once again on the snowy roads of New England - until the next gathering!
This event was organized by the current chapter officers: Sue Bennett, Joyce DeLoca, Cathie Ryan, and Maureen Egan.
The ASDP New England Chapter web address is: www.newenglandsewingpros.org
A Top Secret Commission
In late November I began conversations with Karen Pence to create gowns for her and her daughters and daughter-in-law for the presidential inauguration. Even now that I am retired, it was obvious to me that I could not handle this job on my own. I immediately thought of the members in my chapter and all the talents they have. With them at my side I was confident we would succeed.
I estimated we would need 6 people who could dedicate at least one whole day a week to working on the gowns and maybe more. I called Sarah Knochel first because she now owns my business, Something Wonderful. One of the first things I told her is that I wanted ASDP to be mentioned whenever possible and that I wanted the Something Wonderful label to be in all the gowns. She was told, as were all the other recruits, that this was a top-secret project to protect the Pence family’s privacy.
Sarah shares, “I started out in this business in a workroom, but have spent the last 12 years at home by myself. I didn't realize how much I missed the camaraderie of being together with other sewers on a daily basis. There wasn't a single day that I didn't learn something new, from techniques, to design, to business practices. The cumulative years of experience in the room for that project was staggering and I think we pooled everyone's skills beautifully. For people used to working on their own, it was amazing and humbling to see everyone come together to help with open hearts and zero ego.”
All the other dressmakers were called and asked if they could work on special project that would require at least one full day per week from late November to mid January. They were told it was a secret and they would find out what I needed them to do when they came to the first work day. I just went down the list of chapter members. Some were too busy, some were too far away to make the commute regularly, and others had obligations that did not allow them to participate. When I had 4 more people who could take part, I stopped calling. This was the beginning to a great adventure for us all.
Cathy Runion comments “Receiving a call from my friend, Joyce, left me feeling humbled that she would call me to help her with a sewing project. She was unable to tell me what I would be sewing until I showed up for my first Wednesday sewing date. After arriving the first day, I was sworn to secrecy. I arrived every Wednesday at Sarah Knochel’s home to be one of Cinderella’s mice in her basement creating the most beautiful eight gowns for the Pence family. Through this, I feel a stronger bond with five of my sewing friends from ASDP.”
Whitney Luckenbill comments “The field of dressmaking tends to be a somewhat solitary business. Most of us work alone with the only interruptions being client appointments. I, for the most part, have worked my sewing business alone and have never had the opportunity to work in a work room setting. This, however, all changed when I had the enormous privilege of working alongside 5 other talented members of our ASDP chapter. This was my first time working in a work room setting and, despite the stressful conditions, I had an amazing time."
"Many times, during that 8 weeks, I would comment how much I was learning from these other 5 women. We respected each other and everyone’s individual skills and specialties. The four of us who helped gladly accepted Joyce and Sarah’s direction because we understood that they were ultimately responsible for the success of the project.”
Ellen Blacketer adds “I think we considered ourselves “worker bees” and were happy to have Sarah and Joyce make the tough, final decisions on different challenges that would pop up. But, they were very open to any and all ideas from everyone else when we were working through some of the difficult situations. The bottom line was that we respected each other and that worked very well to establish a very cooperative work environment”.
Ellen continues, “It also worked well because Joyce and Sarah were great at orchestrating the work schedules, fitting schedules, timing of deadlines, etc. They were always on top of what had to be done next to keep things moving forward efficiently. This is where teamwork is so important. We were all ready to do whatever needed to be done, at any certain time, to keep all 8 dresses on schedule. This was not an easy task because of the Pence family’s erratic schedules. We needed to be flexible and jump from one project to another as directed even if we didn’t get something completed that we had started. It seemed strange from our normal work practices but we knew someone else would step in and finish it at a later time. We truly felt like a team working toward a common goal. I think we all were well aware of what an honor this was. We were determined to do our very best and help Joyce and Sarah in any way.”
Donna Christian adds her thoughts, “It was an honor to be asked to help. Ellen and I were happy to help a friend when asked, and were even more so when we got there and found out it was something so important. Each time we arrived they had different parts of the gowns that needed work done, the beads sewn on, hemming a dress by hand, or ruching for bodice pieces. Each aspect of the work was very organized and planned. We all get along so well that there was never a concern of stepping on each other’s toes, just a good time with friends. The last day Sarah had a nice lunch for all of us to enjoy together, which was very thoughtful of her and Joyce. The whole experience was one that none of us will ever forget.”
Whitney comments, “While the project itself was a once in a lifetime opportunity, it was the time spent in the workroom that I will cherish forever.”
Sarah comments, “It also came at a pivotal point in my business helping me make decisions about expanding and hiring my first employees. This was like a mini course on running a workroom with a total dream team of talent. It was a joy to be together and the experience of creating with my friends will be what I remember about this in years to come.
Donna adds, “It was a thrill of a life time to get to meet Karen Pence, and to know her a bit.”
Best of all, we grew in our friendship and I was thankful every day that I knew these talented women and that they were members of this great organization. It was very easy to work together since we have known each other through our membership in ASDP.
The Colorado Chapter of the ASDP continues to meet monthly with a business meeting followed by a sewing presentation or activity. In October we pieced together quilt blocks for the Quilts of Valor and the Flights for Veterans programs. The Quilts of Valor program donates completed quilts to injured service men and women, and Flights for Veterans gives lap quilts (for wheelchair use) to World War II veterans when they travel to see sites important to their service. Our quilt making was led by former ASDP member Sandy Harmon. We had three groups working the tasks of sewing, ironing, and trimming. This year’s quilt was quite dramatic, with solid blocks of navy blue and blocks that were half navy blue and half stripes of red and white.
We almost finished the quilt top during our four-hour session with just a few rows remaining to be sewn together. After the November business meeting we were scheduled to hear a formal presentation about doing business plans. Unfortunately the SBA (Small Business Association) representative had to cancel at the last minute. The group then decided to have the more experienced members share their expertise. They encouraged the newer members to do a business plan because the process of doing a plan helps clarify thoughts about the development of the business. At our annual potluck Holiday brunch in December the usual business meeting included a discussion of activities planned for 2017. One of the new activities being considered is a series of Couture Building Blocks sessions to be taught by Clara Dittle. (She taught the Couture Skirt classes in 2016.) These classes will focus on learning techniques and making. We expect these classes will be held on three Saturdays in the spring and three in the fall. In January our featured presentation was on the Chanel Jacket. Melanie Knoblauch started with info on available patterns, books, and websites for us to examine. The presentation included samples of completed jackets and jackets in progress. Among the ideas that differ from the average jacket included horizontal quilting in addition to or instead of vertical quilting in the body of the jacket and using hooks and eyes for a hidden front closure.
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