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Portrait Of A Seamstress: Jackie


Jackie is ma’ girl, ma’ West Philly girl. Just like New York City, Philadelphia is broken into several sections. There’s North Philly (Northern Liberties), South Philly (Geno’s and Pat’s), Center City (Rittenhouse Square), and then there’s University City/West Philly. Across the Schukyill River and next to Drexel University and The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn & Wharton School of Business), University City and West Philly are like the Brooklyn of Philadelphia. It’s quieter and more suburban than the north, south, and center of the city. This is where Jackie and I live. She is a local pattern maker and seamstress who was born in Trinidad. When I found out she was from the islands, we clicked. Despite my white complexion, I spent most of my summers in The Bahamas, island hopping on my dad’s boat. Jackie’s heavy accent brings me back home – not back to Kansas like Dorthy in The Wizard of Oz but Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Pay close attention to her thoughts on the difference between pattern making by hand and pattern making on a computer. This is something I am struggling with as I make the pattern for the jumper. Making a pattern for yourself, you can take into account for your body’s quirks, but it’s a whole different story when you’re trying to create a pattern that has to fit many people and many sizes.

I was born in Trinidad, which in the southeastern part of the Caribbean.

I learned to sew as a child from my mother. She taught me the basics and when I was in my teens, I enrolled in courses for making pants, jackets, and such so that I could become more skilled. I came to the United States in 1976 and moving to Brooklyn, I got a job and learned even more about sewing and sample making. In 1981, I moved to Philadelphia, where I still live. Philadelphia is my home.

At night, more specifically, after nine o’clock. It’s quieter and I get a lot done.

Pattern making by hand is more custom made. When you use a pencil and eraser to make or alter a pattern, you can follow the fit of the body instead of the being tied to measurements and symmetry. A body is not perfectly proportioned – one arm is longer than the other, one hand is bigger than the other, and one side of the body is fatter than the other. You can account for the body’s quirks with hand drawn and drafted patterns, but in the computer, the pattern has to make sense and everything has to be equal. The left has to equal the right and the right has to equal the left.

Balance. In order to achieve a nicely fitting garment, balance is crucial. It affects the hang, the look, and the fall of a garment. If the balance if off, let’s say in the armhole, the garment will hike in the front or in the back (if it’s a dress) or diagonal drag lines will appear in the back area (if it’s a shirt, top, or blouse). Balance is key.

An awl and a pair of embroidery scissors.


  1. Reply

    Windsor Grace

    Love it! Thank you for interviewing her!

  2. Reply

    Silvia - Sewing Princess

    So interesting and fascinating. Thanks for sharing

  3. Reply


    I thoroughly enjoy all your Portrait Of A Seamstress interviews. They are very captivating!

  4. Reply


    I really love this series. I learn so much from my pattern makers and sewers also, but I’ve never actually interviewed any of them.

  5. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    Hand pattern making can be more instinctual as you after awhile it becomes ingrained what a correct armhole looks like and you get used to a sense of scale which is lost when you switch to the computer because of variables and its hard to get that gut feeling if something looks wrong on a screen versus IRL.

    I think though since most of the more experienced pattern makers worked by hand for many years before switching to CAD that there is a bias towards by hand being the best. I think once we get a generation of pattern makers who have 30+ years experience only in CAD we might get a better comparison.

    It’s like when you have a student that enters design school not having grown up sewing and you seat them in front of an industrial they take to it like a duck to water while the experienced sewers are pinning for their home machines for one reason or another. You go with what you know.

  6. Reply


    Thanks for introducing seamstress Jackie! She has some wise advise.

  7. Reply

    emily marie

    I’m with Jackie 100% on the awl & embroidery scissors! This is such a fun series.

  8. Reply

    Carla Baptiste

    That’s my Mom! Awesome seamstress and even more AWESOME Mom!
    Great article.

  9. Reply


    One of my close IRL-sewing friends is from the Caribbean and Jackie is how I’d imagine my friend’s mom might be (my friend learned to sew from her mother). I bet she has a lot of good stories to tell and sewing wisdom to share!

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