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Liesl Gibson – Sew My Style 2020 Designer Q&A

Headshot of Liesl Gibson wearing glasses, dangly earrings and a dark blue shirt

Liesl + Co designer Liesl Gibson has quite the background designing patterns. Like some of our other featured designers, she too has worked with apparel companies you might have heard of (scroll down to see which ones!).

In fact, Liesl helms 4 brands now! Aside from designing fashionable patterns under Liesel + Co, she also has:

  • Oliver + S: patterns for children
  • Lisette: womenswear licensed by Butterick
  • Straight Stitch Society: patterns for bags, phone cases, and other accessories

All of these patterns (and more!) are available on Liesl’s site.

In this Q&A, Liesl gives us some honest insight about why so few designers do menswear, how much she loves ice cream (spoiler: it’s a LOT), and her plans for a very ambitious future garment. Enjoy!

What is your name? Liesl Gibson

What is your company’s name and how did you come up with it? My company is Liesl + Co. because I’m Liesl and, well, it’s a company. Original, right?

Actually, back when I founded the company, that was the name used for the incorporation but we did business under our first brand name, Oliver + S. We still make Oliver + S children’s sewing patterns, but these days we are putting most of our efforts into our Liesl + Co. line of patterns for women.

How long has your company existed? I started Oliver + S patterns for kids in 2008. We launched our first Liesl + Co. patterns for women in 2013.

When did you decide to become a pattern designer? Fashion design is sort of in my blood. My grandmother, back in the days before women had careers outside the home, actually studied fashion design and worked as a designer before marrying my grandfather. Once she married, she gave up her career to raise a family, but she was always creating things and became an internationally known embroidery teacher who wrote and self-published books on embroidery techniques. I began my professional career by working in publishing and finance, but I eventually gave in to my desire to design apparel, and I returned to school to earn a degree in fashion design.

What inspired you to start creating patterns? My daughter, actually! I was working as a designer for Tommy Hilfiger before she was born. After I had her, I took some time off work. I wanted to sew clothes for her, but I couldn’t find any patterns that were contemporary and that I liked. I had the skills, so I began designing her outfits, making the patterns, and sewing them. One thing led to another, and I launched Oliver + S as a line of sewing patterns for children’s clothing.

What background do you have in pattern design (self-taught, technical schooling, etc) I have a degree in fashion design from FIT in New York. As part of my studies, I had to take classes in flat pattern making, draping, and all the other classic apparel subjects. Prior to starting my own pattern company, I worked as a designer for brands like Ralph Lauren, Geoffrey Beene, Esprit, and Tommy Hilfiger.

What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream and do you prefer a cone or a bowl? Ice cream. However it comes. Whatever flavor. I adore ice cream. Really. Adore it. Totally. But if you force me to choose, my absolute favorite is Trader Joe’s Premium Vanilla. Cone or bowl, either way.

In the epic battle of cake vs pie, which dessert do you prefer and why? Ice cream. (Really.)

If you didn’t have sewing, what would your creative outlet be? If I weren’t sewing, I would have no trouble keeping myself occupied in my free time. I enjoy doing just about everything with textiles. I like dying fabric, and I enjoy needlework and knitting. I also have a loom that I inherited from my grandmother, and I intend to start weaving someday when I have more time.

What is the barrier for designers and companies to make more menswear patterns that are modern and current, especially as the men’s sewing community grows? There’s no real barrier for designers to make menswear patterns. It’s more an issue of the limited market demand for menswear patterns.

The problem is that there just isn’t as much need for a diverse array of patterns for men as there is for women. Think about it: menswear is much more limited than womenswear. To sew a complete wardrobe for men, you need very few patterns: one or two styles of trousers, a t-shirt, a polo shirt, a button front shirt, and maybe a jacket. That’s about it.

I used to design menswear, and our work didn’t focus on styles and silhouettes as much as it does for women. We focused primarily on color, pattern, prints, weaves, and trims. These are the things that do the work in a man’s wardrobe. So even if all of a sudden men would all start sewing for themselves, they wouldn’t need all that many patterns beyond a core set of basics. Although if the market were there I’d be more than happy to develop more styles!

If menswear isn’t currently in your pattern catalog, do you envision providing it in the future? We actually do have quite a few patterns for boys in our Oliver + S line and a few patterns for men in our Liesl + Co. line. For men, we have the Metro T-Shirt and the All Day Shirt. We may add one or two more items in the future, but like I mentioned in response to the last question, men are able to do a lot more with a pattern than women can so the need for a large number of patterns is not so great for men.

Here’s an example: Nicole used our All Day Shirt pattern to make eight (!) long-sleeve and short-sleeve shirts for her husband. He can wear these both on weekends and to work. And James went all out with the same pattern to make himself an incredible shirt with lace overlay for a very special occasion. It’s much more rare that the same women’s pattern could be used for making a casual weekend outfit and formal evening wear.

What is your personal favorite among your patterns? I would have to say it’s the women’s Classic Shirt. In my own sewing, I come back to this pattern more and more. It’s just a wardrobe basic for me. I’ve had a lot of fun tweaking it, adding details, and changing elements. You can see many of the things I have done with this pattern on the Oliver + S blog.

When was the last time you sewed something for yourself and what was it? One of the latest things I sewed for myself was a new coat for winter using our recent Chaval Coat pattern. I used a beautiful wool tweed I had in my stash. I had picked it up a few years ago from Holland and Sherry on a trip to London. I’m so happy with how the coat turned out. But I’ve always got something going; right now I’m sewing skirts for my daughter.

Woman posing on the street in a long tweed coat, modeling the Liesl & Co Chaval coat

What has been your all-time most challenging sewing project? It’s actually a project I haven’t yet started sewing. I want to make myself a classic Chanel-style jacket. I just can’t seem to find the time to make it. The idea is to make myself a true couture-style jacket that is primarily hand sewn. I’ve gathered all my materials and have done research and reading on the construction and sewing techniques I am going to use. But who knows when I’ll eventually find the time to start it.

What do you hope people gain from using your patterns? Confidence. I put an enormous amount of energy into writing clear and detailed instructions for all our patterns. I want people to gain confidence in their sewing and fit skills when they sew with us. And I want to give them styles and the skills to make these styles so that they feel confident when they wear what they have made. When your clothing is made specifically by and for you, you feel amazing when you wear it!

Thank you for your candor, Liesl! And we look forward to everyone’s Gelatos, no matter the flavor, this coming month!


Click here to read all the Sew My Style Designer Q&As.

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Sew My Style 2020 includes these talented sewists, catch up on their #SMS20 posts:

Aaronica @ The Needle & The Bell | Leanne @ Thready For It | Ari @ Max California | Minna @ The Shapes of Fabric | Carol @ Chatterstitch | Michele @ WinMichele | Julian @ Julian CreatesFlorence @ FTMom3 | Kelsey @ Seam Lined Living | Kris @ Sew Notes | Laura @ The Specky Seamstress | Samantha @ The Rural Sewist | Sarah @ Haraz Handmade | Shelby @ Handmade Shelby | Simone @ Intensely Distracted | and SMS20 Coordinator Paulette @ Petite Font

To stay up-to-date with all the #SMS20 news, pattern discounts and inspiration, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter at Sew My Style 2020.

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[…] Liesl did an interview for the challenge in which she discussed: how fashion design is in her blood, the project she’s dying to start on, and what she hopes people gain when they buy one of her patterns. You can check out the interview here. […]