Spotlight: Linda Lee and The Sewing Workshop
Linda Lee is Founder and Creative Director of The Sewing Workshop, a premier multifaceted sewing business and website specializing in education and products for the home sewist. The Sewing Workshop designs avant-garde sewing patterns for women’s clothing. They carry a curated collection of fashion fabrics, which are available online, or in the store in Topeka, Kansas. They teach the creative art of sewing and do so all across the country (and now internationally!), as well as in their home studio. They also offer the Sew Confident! Class in a Flash, an easy-to-follow step-by-step series of monthly sewing tutorials accessible online.
Linda Lee started The Sewing Workshop after purchasing a sewing school of the same name in San Francisco. Up to that point she indulged her love of textiles through her career as an interior designer. She has always been interested in garment sewing and jumped at the chance to get involved in the sewing industry. Today, Linda has also produced nine Craftsy classes and written13 sewing books. She wrote her first book, Sewing Beautiful Pillows, in 1991, and as she says “I was so proud to see it in print.”
The Sewing Workshop has a strong focus on teaching. As Linda Lee says, “I think our strong education focus differentiates us from other companies in the industry. I started this company when I purchased The Sewing Workshop school in San Francisco and really have built the business on a foundation of education. I believe sewing can be really liberating for a women’s self-confidence. Very few women are built for ready-made garments – every woman’s body is just different. I’ve seen women who have felt poorly about themselves for years have a total confidence turn-around after they learned to make themselves beautiful, well-fitting clothing. Seeing that first-hand really inspires me to keep teaching.”
“In the same vein, our patterns are designed to flatter a wide range of body shapes. We work hard to design styles that are unexpected but classic. I am constantly surprised by how many of our patterns that I designed 20 years ago still look fresh today.”
The Sewing Workshop offers a number of different educational experiences for sewists. At the studio in Topeka, Kansas , they host three-day Sew Kansas workshops. As Linda Lee describes it, “This workshop is really meant for sewists of all levels. Last month we had a number of women who have sewn their whole lives as well as a few women who were just starting out. Putting all the different experience levels in one class together works because at Sew Kansas, each student can choose the project they want to sew. Then, they can work with our staff on their own needs – it is a very personalized experience. During the workshop, I will have them break to come watch a demonstration, say on setting a sleeve, or making a full bust adjustment, or whatever technique they request.
Fitting is a big focus of these workshops, I work with each student to make them understand how to adjust the patterns to fit their shape. Aside from the workshops we host, I also travel to around the country teaching.”
Along with the Sew Kansas classes, The Sewing Workshop offers classes in Eureka Springs, Arkansas as well as the South of France. Linda is very excited about the location and content of both offerings As she says, “We are very excited about the 2018 Arkansas and Chateau Dumas workshops! Sew Arkansas is a workshop that we have hosted for years at the beautiful Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, which is an incredibly charming little town. This year we are changing the script for that workshop, as we will be bringing in my incredibly talented friend Nancy Scriber to work with us.
The goal for the workshop is to make a complete ensemble with jacket, tank and pants. Nancy, who is a textile artist, is going to teach us how to dye silk, which we will use to line the jacket or to make a tank. Meanwhile we will also learn techniques such as mitered corners, bindings, creating a lining for an unlined garment and of course, I will be helping each student find their perfect garment fit.
We were so excited about this new class concept that we decided to take it to France with us, not once but twice! This will be the second year that I have taught at the incredible Chateau Dumas, which is located in the south of France. The Chateau hosts different sewing and craft workshops throughout the year and there is no better place to spend a week sewing. It is an experience you never forget, and I am so excited to teach two classes there next summer.”
We asked Linda Lee what differences there are between the Craftsy classes and her other offerings. She told us, “Well, my goal with the Craftsy classes, and I think it is what makes my classes different from the other sewing classes, is that I really focus on techniques that you can use to create a professional looking garment. I am always learning new and better ways to work with knits, or use a new tool that has just come out, and that is what I want to share with my students.”
In fact, I started my Sew Confident! tutorial series so I can teach in real time as I continue learning. Sew Confident! started in 2012 as a monthly series of tutorials. That first year really covers a wide swath of basic knowledge, from sewing knits and silks to bias bindings and fitting. In the years since we have started teaching more focused techniques as well as how to manipulate Sewing Workshop patterns to create new designs.”
The patterns produced at The Sewing Workshop are a collaborative effort. As Linda Lee says, “We will start with one garment idea and sample-by-sample everyone shares her opinion until we get it right. The fashion world is my inspiration; I keep up on trends by reading magazines and shopping ready-to-wear lines. Often our designs are made from a number of details I’ve seen on different garments. For instance, our new Frankie shirt incorporates details I found on three different ready-to-wear shirts!”
There are several very creative and dynamic women behind The Sewing Workshop, along with Linda Lee.
Erin Snethen has been with the company now for almost 15 years and, as Linda says, “ is the driving force for getting the patterns designed and published. Erin came to us out of college; she studied fashion design at Kansas State. She has an amazing eye for detail and really understands garment instruction.”
Erin describes her path to join The Sewing Workshop: “Since I was young, I’ve always liked to create and use my imagination. I did everything from drawing to music to dance. Whenever I would visit my grandma, she would always have a new project for me to learn from sewing, crocheting, needlepoint and even rug hooking. But, as I grew older, sports took over my time – but I always had something creative brewing on the side. It wasn’t until college that I realized I wanted to go back to my roots and do something in a creative industry. Enter fashion design and eventually, the sewing industry.”
Betsy Blodgett is a newer addition to The Sewing Workshop. Linda Lee first met Betsy when she owned her fabric store in Kansas City. The store was called bon bon atelier and focused on modern fabrics and garment sewing. When she closed the store, Betsy went to work with the pattern company Indygo Junction. After leaving Indygo, she joined The Sewing Workshop team to work on marketing – as Linda Lee says “she writes most of our blog posts and emails. When she isn’t working for us, she hosts a podcast called Hello Atelier, where she interviews designers like Kaffe Fassett and Tula Pink.”
Betsy describes her history this way: “For as long as I can remember I’ve been interested in fashion, and while others dallied around trying to decide on a college major, I knew fashion merchandising was for me. I’ve also always loved textiles, and after an internship at Liberty of London, I started becoming more interested in fabric and sewing, which led to my fabric store. Suddenly I was more interested in the process of creating a garment than just the final piece.”
Linda tells us about another contributor at The Sewing Workshop : “While Alex Woodbury is a newer addition to our team, I’ve known her her whole life – she is my daughter! Alex has grown up with The Sewing Workshop, and had worked elsewhere in the sewing industry before she came back to work with us. Alex has a knack for combining fabric and patterns that I would never think of, and they always look great! Right now she is balancing working on some social media and blogs for us while she goes to school at The London College of Fashion.”
The Sewing Workshop offers an extensive selection of carefully chosen fabrics. We asked Linda how they decide which fabrics to merchandise. She said “We choose a lot of our fabric based on what works with our patterns. We love working with knits, so we keep a steady stock of our favorite Ponte knits. Of course, we look at the fabrics seasonally as well; when fall rolls around we order in our favorite English Boucle. But we also like to experiment: for instance we recently ordered some mesh fabric, which we didn’t really know what to do with. I ended up using some to line a pair of linen pants and it worked perfectly!”
The Sewing Workshop features a unique fabric collection called Alabama Chanin. We wanted to learn more about this specialty, and Linda explained, “Natalie Chanin, who is the designer behind the brand Alabama Chanin, had been a fashion designer in New York before leaving her job and moving back to her hometown in Alabama. She had been inspired to create a line of organic knit fabric that she used to create handmade t-shirts. That line of shirts has now ballooned to a much larger collection of her beautiful designs, all of which are hand-stitched at her headquarters in Alabama.
Alabama Chanin garments often feature heavy reverse appliqué, appliqué and beaded designs. A few years ago she started writing books on how to create her reverse appliqué designs and I loved the process, as well as the finished project. I’ve taken many classes with Natalie and after working with her knits knew that my customers would love it. We are now one of the few fabric retailers who carry the Alabama Chanin organic knits, which are also by the way, completely grown and manufactured in America”
We asked Linda Lee what advice she would you give to someone starting out making a career from sewing or pattern design. She replied, “Take your time. It takes a lot of time to create a pattern to sell. For each design we spend many hours perfecting the pattern, construction method and editing. While it takes longer to produce a pattern, it is worth spending the time to make sure that the pattern is as thorough and easy to understand as possible. If a customer has trouble with your pattern, they may not come back for a second one, so spend the time it takes to create a quality product.”
Linda Lee has been recognized for her accomplishments by her alma mater, Kansas State University. She was awarded the Distinguished Fellow award in 2008 and the College of Human Ecology Entrepreneurial award in 2004.
We asked Linda to share with us what has been the most challenging hurdle on her way to building a successful business. She said, “Owning my own businesses since 1973 has always come with the perpetual need to change with the times and the whim of the customer, to introduce fresh ideas, not only to attract new customers but to keep myself entertained as well, and to keep the income stream consistent and sufficient. “
Do you want to learn more about Linda Lee and The Sewing Workshop? Here’s how:
Linda says, “You can find all of our patterns, Sew Confident! tutorials and full fashion fabric collection at www.sewingworkshop.com. To see what we are up to on a daily basis, you can find us on Facebook and Instagram, both under Sewing Workshop. Oh, and you should subscribe to our newsletter!
If you have any questions for me, you can contact Linda@sewingworkshop.com. And if you are in the Topeka area you can come by our studio to shop for patterns and fabrics (and try on all our samples!)”.
The Sewing Workshop is located at
301 South Kansas Ave.
Topeka, KS 66603