Meet the Maker : Vanessa Hansen (@vanessahansenstudio)
This week we are meeting Vanessa Hansen who runs the London-based indie pattern label Vanessa Hansen Studio. Her second pattern, the Lynn Pinafore and Skirts, is released on the 19th April.
Before starting your own label, you were a Senior Creative Pattern Cutter at Topshop. What’s been the biggest challenge making patterns for home sewists rather than the fashion industry?
The biggest challenge, for sure, is that you have to do the work of eleven different people on your own. In the pattern room at Topshop I would only do the first draft of each pattern, so the work was very creative and fast paced.
Now, I am the designer, pattern cutter, sample cutter, machinist, product developer, garment tech, and model for fitting and photo shooting my garments. I also do the graphic design, the marketing, the quality control and the fabric sourcing to determine which fabrics work for a particular style. It’s quite overwhelming at times and cutting the pattern is only a small part of the whole process.
What made you take the plunge to start your own label?
The way I view the world and the way the fashion industry works are fundamentally different. That the clothes we buy on the high street are so cheap really comes down to low wages for factory workers. And fast fashion is detrimental for the environment.
It takes its toll working with something you don’t fully believe in. But loving the craft, pattern cutting is not something I can let go of.
In the industry you work with a designer to develop a new idea and then it’s on to the next thing without you really seeing the final product. You get a bit alienated from the clothes you’re making. But then I had my son just as the pandemic started, and being on maternity leave and then coming back to being furloughed, I re-evaluated what I wanted to do.
I decided I wanted to put my skills to work in a smaller, more genuine context. After all, sewing from Burda and Vogue patterns is how my love for sewing and patterns began.
What is your best tip for home sewists?
Iron, iron, iron! I can’t stress enough how important it is to press each seam to get a professional-looking result. I think many sewists get a bit impatient and don’t realise how important it is to press the garment properly while sewing. Investing in a continuous steam generator iron also really upped my home sewing game.
When it comes to pattern cutting, grading makes me really confused. What is it and how do you do it?
Grading is what you do when you have a pattern in one size and want to make it one size bigger or one size smaller. Essentially, you grow certain key points in your pattern by following a set of defined rules.
Grading can be really simple or super challenging. It’s all about slashing and spreading: the standard industry method is to add or take out three millimetres through the neck and the shoulder in each quarter; six millimetres through the side into the armhole per quarter; plus adding six millimetres in the length of the bodice.
The thing is that patterns rarely look like a basic bodice block. There are pleats, drapes and seams that complicate things. And if you’re grading more than a few sizes, the pattern is quickly thrown out of proportion. I think many of us are used to finding ill-fitting clothes on the high street, especially if you’re curvy, and that often comes down to this way of grading.
Finally, your second pattern is coming out next week. What inspired the design?
The new pattern is a pinafore that actually started out as a skirt. I love an asymmetric hemline, and thinking about spring, life after lockdown and my new white trainers, I couldn’t resist adding a split and lots of drama in the asymmetric seams with gathering. When I had made the first prototype, I loved the skirt so much that I also wanted to wear it as a dress. And that’s how the pinafore bodice with the crossed back straps was born.
I really think of the pattern as this summer’s it-dress. I can’t wait to wear all the different versions I’ve made for myself. I hope you’ll love it as much as I do!
The Lynn Pinafore and Skirts is available for purchase in paper or as PDF download at https://www.vanessahansenstudio.com/ from Monday 19 April 2021.