Today I’m excited to feature an interview with Kennis Wong, the women’s clothing pattern designer behind Itch to Stitch.
I’ve been dying to sew up a Marbella dress, it has the shape that tends to suit me but I still haven’t mastered fitting my body… aka FBA. I need to do that pronto! (I really love this Marbella hack too!). Also on my to-sew list of her patterns are the Jacqueline hoodie and the FREE Lindy petal skirt. Technically, of the three I should do the hoodie first since I live in them during the winter… but enough about me, read on to learn more about Kennis.
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Tell us a little about yourself and where you live.
Hi, I am Kennis Wong. I spent my childhood and part of my teenage years in Hong Kong, where my family still lives. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Information Systems (Pennsylvania) and my Master’s degree in business administration (California). It has always been my and my husband’s dream to live in Costa Rica, so after visiting the country for a dozen years, we decided we were too tired of corporate America and moved to a small town in Costa Rica in 2014. We now live by the largest lake in the country, and are about 15 minutes away from a town of 14,000 people. There are four fabric stores in town, but unfortunately I usually don’t find what I need. I do most of my fabric shopping when I visit my friends and family in Los Angeles.
Where do you find your inspiration? Who or what inspires you?
I find my sewing pattern design inspiration from ready-to-wear clothing. I observe what people wear on the street, clothing sold in the stores and even clothing that I keep reaching out for in my own closet. I also get my inspiration from Pinterest. I like to design patterns with wearability in mind. While sweet-looking, colorful dresses with puffy sleeves are pleasing to the eye, if I can’t picture people wearing the dress in the grocery store, movie theater or at work, then it’s not sometime I like to design.
How long have you been doing your art/craft? Where did you first learn it? Who taught you? Or, how did you first become interested in this craft? What sparked your interest?
I learned to sew when I was 13 years old. Home economics, needlework and typing were mandatory classes for the girls in my school at the time. I liked all of these classes, but I also liked the boys’ mandatory classes, which were technical drawing, woodworking and metalwork. Unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to take those. When I first learned sewing, I learned it on a treadle sewing machine. (No, I am not that old; they had already discovered electricity and invented electric sewing machines, but my school wasn’t that well funded.) Since then I have been sewing. And about ten years ago, I decided to take a draping class from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandizing in Los Angeles as a hobby, where I got my first taste of fashion design outside of modifying sewing patterns. I’d say that my background in sewing put me a step ahead of my classmates at the time, since most of them had no experience with clothing constructions.
What are your favourite books or resources?
I love learning new sewing techniques and observe details of patterns and clothing constructions. I personally think that fitting is the most difficult part of sewing. Hardly anyone has a “standard” figure and can wear a garment sewn right out of the envelope. I found that I reached out to my fitting books quite a bit. And of course I use my drafting books a lot too. Some titles are:
- Pants for Real People* by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto
- The Perfect Fit* by Creative Publishing International
- Cool Couture* by Kenneth D. King
- Shirtmaking* by David Page Coffin
- Building Patterns: The Architecture of Women’s Clothing* by Suzy Furrer
- More Fabric Savvy* by Sandra Betzina
Threads magazine is also an excellent resource; I think that it’s the best sewing magazine in the market by a large margin. Recently, Japanese style sewing has intrigued me; they apparently do not use sewing patterns as we know them, but rather build slopers based on individuals’ measurements. The “sewing patterns” are then just instructions on how to modify the standard slopers. Even though American and European sewists also use slopers, but not everyone does and there’s a disconnection between the slopers and the sewing patterns. I think the Japanese method by theory should produce well-fitting garments every time. Anyway, I am very interested in learning about that method at the moment.
Do you remember the first thing you ever created? Any pictures to share?
My first official garment was a baby dress. I wish I had a photo of it now, but I don’t. I remember it was baby blue and had puffy short sleeves and a gathered skirt. But actually before that, I remember hand sewing a tube dress using some white jersey scrap for my Barbie. A relative was entertaining me by saying that he didn’t believe that dress wasn’t store-bought. Of course it was very much homemade by a 6-year-old girl, but I was so thrilled then.
Can you describe your workspace?
I create my sewing patterns on my 27-inch iMac. I am very spoiled by the large screen. The “desk” my computer sits on is a 90-year old, self-refurbished Singer 99 sewing table. I love the contrast of the modern computer on an antique table. Against another wall of my studio/sewing room is a narrow bench with my Brother Innovis Duetta 4500D sewing/embroidery machine and my Baby Lock Imagine serger. My fabric stash and books sit across in the closet and on the bookshelf.
What made you decide to start your business? Was there any one pivotal moment that made you finally take that leap?
It wasn’t apparent to me that I could turn my life-long passion from a hobby to a business. My past careers were in technology, product management, project management and marketing. Before and after we moved to Costa Rica, I did a lot of soul searching of where I should head in my next career, but naturally I looked in the technology and web direction. I wouldn’t say that it’s a pivotal moment; I found that there were several interesting online classes on pattern creation. I was fully absorbed in the drafting classes that Suzy Furrer taught on Craftsy*. I watched the videos and did every exercise multiple times, and then I realized that this was something I could explore. I ended up taking all Suzy Furrer’s classes. I liked that Suzy started a fashion school in San Francisco in the 80s and has prepared thousands of students in the ready-to-wear fashion industry. I didn’t want to learn drafting sewing patterns for home sewists; I wanted to learn how they do it in the fashion industry. Then I also found out about another online class, Pattern Workshop by Lauren Dahl, where I could turn my hand-drafted patterns into digital patterns. One thing leads to another, I am knee-deep in creating sewing patterns.
Have you needed to overcome any challenges while running your business?
There are certainly challenges. I didn’t learn fashion design in a traditional way, but I am grateful that technology has allowed me to learn at a distance. Many people think that you have to gain your “chops” through the traditional schooling and training – get your bachelor’s degree in fashion design, work as an apprentice for a designer and so on. I think that is one traditional way, but I believe that there are other ways too. (Do you know that even Google has recently changed their hiring policy and doesn’t require applicants to have a degree anymore?) But because of that, I do have to prove to people that my patterns are of the highest quality. Another challenge is to be seen in the crowded sewing pattern world. There are lots of designers and aspiring designers. To stand out, just being good at pattern drafting is insufficient. Producing great designs, understanding the market, establishing a pleasing and consistent brand as well as leveraging technologies are as important. These are the challenges that I am overcoming head-on.
Is there anything else you would have asked? Let me know in the comments below!
I recently saw some tester pics of the Liana Stretch Jeans pattern that went into testing a few weeks back, and they looked amazing! Keep an eye out for their release which should be pretty soon.
P.S. Check out my ‘Featured Interviews‘ page to find even more interviews with some of my favourite bloggers and pattern designers! You can also see my mini review of Threads Magazine here if you want to find out more about them. Long story short, I ♥ Threads Magazine too.