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Portrait of a Seamstress: Pamela of Pamela’s Patterns

pamela leggett
I remember my Kindergarten teacher – Ms. Minny. Old and wrinkly, she was the nicest lady I remember from my childhood. She always let our class play with the toys and color for hours. She was the best! What stands out in my memory most about Ms. Minny was her generosity and warmness. Whatever project we were working on, Ms. Minny didn’t stand in front of or behind us – she stood right next to us. Pamela Leggett, the founder of Pamela’s Patterns, reminds me of Ms. Minny, minus the wrinkles and old age (she’s much prettier!). Before interviewing her, she prepared grapes and cheese and crackers for our interview.  Just like Ms. Minny, Pamela didn’t talk above or below me, but right at me. The perfect host, a great teacher, an incredible inspiration, and an amazing seamstress. That’s what Pamela is to me.

Tell us your story: Hi my name is Pamela Leggett and I learned to sew when I was 7-years-old. I came from a long lineage of seamstresses so it is no surprise that I got into the hobby. My mother is an avid seamstress and both of my grandmothers were extremely talented sewers as well. My one grandmother, who was from the Netherlands, not only sewed, but knitted, crocheted, and was skilled in rush weaving and bead weaving. My grandmother on my mother’s side of the family upholstered, faux painted before faux painting was a trend, and made ceramics for home decor.

When I was 14-years-old, I was sewing professionally. My mother was a businesswoman whose career was to get women out of the house and into the working world, which meant educating them on arranging and building a wardrobe, finding appropriate hair and makeup styles, eating right, and exercising. It was my job to help go through their closets and pick out clothes that were suitable for their shape and lifestyle and if their clothes couldn’t be altered, then I made them new garments. So early on in my career, I was introduced on how to fit people – regular woman and not models or girls.

I later apprenticed with a Japanese tailor who made me sew everything by hand. I was rebellious because I had just bought a brand new, top of the line, Viking sewing machine, but regardless, she made me sew by hand and I can see why now. It was a great learning experience in traditional sewing.

I signed up to go to college, but this was during the 70s and fashion design schools were not as popular as they are today. I didn’t even know what they were or that they existed! So, the summer in between my senior year of high school and my first year of college, I designed clothes for musicians and theatre and ended up not going to school, but traveling and designing. I altered clothes, made wedding gowns, and taught women about building a wardrobe for about 3 years until I wanted to learn how to do business.

Then I opened up a boutique in Saugatuck, Michigan, which is a very cool town, and learned how to run a business. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work, but well worth it!

When I had my first child, I moved to Connecticut and started managing a sewing center and teaching people how to sew. I never thought in a million years that I would be a teacher, but I loved it! I don’t look at teaching as teaching, but inspiring people, helping people find a creative outlet, and giving people a life skill.

I later started writing for Threads Magazine and became the guru for sergers and serging. When I was writing one article, my editor asked me what I was working on. I told her that my latest project was making patterns for real woman with lumps, bumps, and scallops. As women age, their body changes and there are a few common denominators that make for a hard fit, whether buying or making clothes. I initially made 3 patterns that catered to these women, and they sold well, but when my editor put them in an issue of the magazine, Pamela’s Patterns really took off.

Now, I divide my time between Pamela Patterns, writing for Threads, and teaching at national sewing conferences. I travel once a month to teach at American Sewing Guild groups and sewing expos, shows, and stores. I also teach at Steve’s Sewing in King of Prussia, PA.

pamela leggettpamela leggettpamela leggettpamela leggettTips for aspiring teachers? Teach what you know – you don’t have to know everything or be a sewing expert to teach. Let’s say you’re really good at sewing hems or altering shoulders on a garment, then teach that! You’re comfortable with the topic, you know how to do it, so break it down into understandable steps.

Also, if you’re students are happy with your class, they’ll ask you to teach other classes, and that will inspire you to learn more and thus, teach more. It’s a cyclical process and one begets the other.

Best thing you’ve made? I can’t say that there is one particular garment that I like best, but what stands out in my memory is a particular genre of sewing. I loved recreating wedding dresses into something new. It’s so special to take a dress that was never worn or someone’s grandmother and transform it into something modern, hip, fresh.

Palmer Pletsch School of Sewing: Palmer Pletsch School of Sewing, which was founded by Pati Palmer – one of my mentors, is an international school that provides all kinds of sewing and fitting programs and workshops. There are four locations around the US – Oregon, Washington, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (where I teach) – and people come from around the world to partake in the program. The school is truly life changing – we teach how to fit any kind of pattern, McCall’s, Vogue, Butterick, Burda, Simplicty, without a muslin. It inspired my own business.

pamela leggettpamela leggettpamela leggettpamela leggettpamela leggettMentor: Oh, I’ve had many mentors! First is Pati Palmer, who is the founder of The Palmer Pletsch School of Sewing. She is the most giving person – she imparted her knowledge to me and then gave me the leeway to teach her method and her technique how I wanted to. I could never thank her enough for her grace and her encouragement.

Another person would be of Ann Person, who is the founder of Stretch and Sew, which was a company that began in the 70s with retail stores, classes on knits, and the most beautiful patterns. I’ve never met her in person, but we talk on the phone many times. I remember one conversation where I said, “Ann, I think there’s something wrong with your pattern. The front and back armholes aren’t balanced.” She replied, “Silly, of course not, it’s a forward shoulder!”

Martha Pullen, who is considered the goddess of heirloom sewing, is also another mentor. I assisted at her school, and more than any skill she taught, she showed me how to be empathetic to everyone. I learned a ton on how to deal, interact, and handle people from her. She’s a powerhouse and it’s amazing to watch her influence on others.

Last but not least is Nancy Zieman from Sewing with Nancy. She inspired me from the 80s with her videos and tutorials and when I finally met her, I was stunned how humble, funny, and enigmatic she is. She started selling my patterns shortly after and it was a great feeling to know that someone who I supported for many years was now supporting me.

7 Comments

  1. Reply

    tiff

    Powerful and inspiring! Beautiful photos. Thank you for this!

    • Reply

      Maddie Flanigan

      thank you for reading!

  2. Reply

    Ginger

    Wow! Pamela really has a great career in sewing! So cool!

  3. Reply

    Natasha Estrada

    “The front and back armholes aren’t balanced.” She replied, “Silly, of course not, it’s a forward shoulder!” <— This is very important. Most "balanced" armholes are based on the fact that your arms lie at your side which of course they generally do not.

  4. Reply

    Lisa

    What a great post! I really liked your introduction, as well, by the way. It was warm and interesting, and made me want to read more. Your interviews are an inspiration to me. I just posted my first one today at http://patternandbranch.wordpress.com/ but I feel like I still have a lot to learn. Pamela did a great job of communicating everything so clearly–I can see that she must be a good teacher. Now I have to check out the links to some of the places she mentioned.

  5. Reply

    Tilly

    Great interview, I loved reading about Pamela and getting a peek into her studio – look at all those threads! She seems like a very humble and generous person.

  6. Reply

    sallieforrer

    So very cool! Loved hearing about Pamela’s career path! Truly fascinating!

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