The Design Story Behind the Rome Collection


I can never predict a pattern launch will go, so we were so thrilled here in the studio about the enthusiasm for our Rome Collection. We've been working on the collection since the fall, after I returned from a trip to Italy filled with inspiration and ideas for a travel capsule wardrobe. After strolling those ancient streets and admiring all the chic ladies around me, I couldn't get the idea of a collection out of my mind.  I've never designed more than one pattern at a time, so it was incredibly fun to think about these patterns from a more conceptual and thematic place, and we were mood-boarding and fabric swatching our little hearts out while working out the details. The goal was to create three totally interchangeable patterns that created multiple looks, so much so that you could theoretically pack a suitcase filled with endless outfit combinations good for every occasion and not need to bring anything else. I'm doing a bit of travelling this summer and since I made myself a pretty capsule wardrobe, I'm excited to experiment with that idea.

Normally I approach our patternmaker Celine with very clear ideas and sketches for our patterns. This time around, the process was a bit looser. I had a rough idea of what I wanted (flared skirt, boxy top, sleek elastic waist pants) but we spent a lot more time experimenting and playing than we normally do. I gave her a lot of time to develop muslins and options, and the end result is a really beautiful collaboration with someone I love and respect so much. At the moment I'm quite sad because in two weeks she's moving back to France to be closer to her family. We are still working together but we'll have to figure out a new system now that an ocean is between us; I'm going to miss having her sit next to me. She won't be coming back to work till September so we're trying to get as much done as possible in the meantime.

Since there was so much design development and thought that went into the collection, we filmed a conversation between the two of us about where we started and where we ended up. You can watch that here if you'd like to see us get really nerdy about drafting:

The first pattern we worked on was our Fiore Skirt. I'm not a huge skirt person, namely because I'm super picky about silhouette. Celine started by drafting around 5 flared skirts (full, half and quarter circles before we nixed that and just focused on getting the flare right) before we landed on a shape we liked. Once that was figured out, we tried tons of pocket and closure options, all the time thinking about what would be the most approachable for beginners. I'm really happy with what we finally came up; it's a simple, classic shape but with some pretty details and variations, and I love it as a first project for a new sewist.

The Pietra Pants were actually inspired by a pair of vintage pants I saw a friend wearing at a party. They had the same clean finish/no waistband along the front, with an elastic channel in the back and they just looked so comfy and cool. We tried replicating them with darts in the front, but quickly removed the dart in lieu of a shaped seam line down the front, with inseam angled pockets (that angle shows up in all of three patterns; a little cohesive design detail we felt brought everything together). One of the things we worked on the most was the fit through the back. Because all the ease that lets you get the pants over the hips happens in the back, we worked hard to remove as much volume as possible without sacrificing the ability to slide them on and off. In the end, we ended up lowering the back rise a bit. Traditionally pants are cut a bit higher in the back than the front, but because Pietra is very high waisted, we decided it was more flattering to lower the elastic and have it hug the small of the back. That said, if you have to grade more than two sizes, I would consider adding an invisible zipper at the side. If you have a very small waist, you'll need more room/gathers to fit over your hip. If that excess bothers you, you can shave some off the back waist at the side seams and make room for your body with the zipper.

Our Cielo Top & Dress was probably the pattern we spent the most time on. Initially, I wanted a really exaggerated seam line at the sleeve, with more of a dropped dolman shaped sleeve. We tried pretty hard to make that work but it just felt awkward and didn't feel nice to wear. After many muslins we reverted to a more traditional sleeve and armscye, but still kept a bit of that exaggerated shape, because we loved the way it lay on the body. Once we had our armscye locked down, we tried soooo many sleeve options. It got a little out of control. At one point we were considering upwards of five options, but it felt a bit like cramming too many clowns in a car, so in the end we went with our shorter cuffed sleeve, and a really dramatic gathered lantern sleeve. We kept the bodice of the dress pretty simple; I love a classic straight shift dress, especially in the height of summer, so we stayed true to that idea and landed on a sleek, optional inseam pocket to break up the surface of the front.

We also broke with our naming convention with this collection. Our standalone patterns are generally named after an inspiring member of the sewing community, but for a collection inspired by Rome, it felt more appropriate to find Italian names that resonated with the designs. Fiore came first; it means flower, and we loved how that described the flow and petal design of our asymmetrical wrap skirt. Pietra means stone; this stuck with me because of all the gorgeous ancient stone in Rome, and also because our pants are really the root or anchor of the three designs (can you tell how much I loved doing super conceptual design work in my past interior design career? It sounds silly to write it all down but it's these kinds of mental connections that get me excited about design!) Cielo means sky, and the loose, breezy design of our dress and top feel as light as a cloud.

Now, normally we like to share a lot of inspiration and styling ideas when we launch a pattern, but honestly? We have very little reference material in our normally overloaded secret Pinterest boards. All three patterns were truly designed from scratch, and I was trying to go and find inspo images to share but was coming up a bit blank. It actually feels great to have something that feels created out of the ether, even if they are fundamentally simple designs.

Finally, I want to talk about our extended sizing plans. We've been hard at work the last few months working on our new blocks (if you don't know, a block is the "base" you use to draft patterns. We are working on multiple new blocks for bodices, skirts, pants, knits etc) After our survey in April, we analyzed a lot of data and settled on a new additional size range that will span sizes 14 to 28 / 30 with a D cup. The final size isn't written in stone yet since we haven't had anything graded and need to make sure we can actually grade up to a 30 from our base size (sometimes if you push grading too far things get really weird, which is why size charts offering a wide range of sizes need separate blocks). We received some critical feedback last week on Instagram when we announced the collection wasn't *yet* available in extended sizing, and I made matters worse but answering in vague and contradictory terms about our plans. Since we're still very much in development mode (we only received our dress form a few weeks ago and had our first fit model session this week) it's hard for me to give hard timelines. I've learned over the years that I'm almost always wrong about when I think things will be ready, and am gun-shy about overpromising things knowing how much we're always pushing deadlines back internally. Part of the behind the scenes work I've been doing this year is trying to streamline our production cycle so I can really plan accurately for the year ahead, but we're in a bit of a time-crunch situation with our patternmaker moving and taking 6 weeks off. We have a fall pattern (that was meant to come out last September!) that is nearly ready for testing, and Celine is working hard to finish our new blocks and the new pattern in extended sizing before she leaves next week.

Initially, my plan was to do the upcoming fall pattern and as many fall/winter friendly patterns as possible from our back catalogue in extended sizing this year. This is all Celine is working on for the rest of the year, but I wasn't sure how long testing and development would take since all patterns will be drafted from scratch from the new block. However, given the response to Rome, and the disappointment that it wasn't available in extended sizes as anticipated, we are moving that to the front of the queue once Celine returns to work. My hope is that we can have all three patterns from the collection available by the end of the year, with more patterns to come on a continuing basis.

At the moment we are planning PDF only launches for extended sizing. That was the overwhelming preference in our survey, and it makes up the vast majority of our sales. It will also let us get things out faster since we won't be subject to a longer printing lead time. Truthfully, we are in inventory hell at the moment. We have completely run out of space and have boxes stacked everywhere in the office, and there is no more space available in our building. We have to order very large quantities of everything to keep print patterns affordable (our print costs are extraordinarily high), which means we're often sitting on product for years, especially if it isn't selling well. Inventory is one of the hardest things to manage in a business (if we didn't have our retailers to consider I would probably opt out of printing patterns entirely) so I am trying to make smart decisions that will let us stay fiscally sustainable while also allowing us to make our designs inclusive and accessible for as many people as possible. I know a lot of insider details about a few indie companies who have had to greatly scale back or close operations entirely because of trouble managing large inventories, so I am trying to be thoughtful and smart about expanding, especially now that I am responsible for the livelihoods of four wonderful people.

If we are able to scale and grow, my hope is that we could print all our offerings, but given our cash flow and space issues it's simply not an option at this time. I know that's disappointing for print lovers out there, so hopefully my explanation makes sense. We are so excited about our new size range and have made a lot of technical improvements to our PDFs (including layering sizes!) so they will be a joy to use.

In regards to past purchases; I've been debating many options about how to handle updates to our older patterns. From a technical point of view, we have to figure out how to deliver them to everyone who has bought patterns in the past and wants the new sizing. I think we can figure out a relatively simple solution for PDF purchases, but print poses a larger problem, so those details need to be worked out. After listening to feedback, we've decided to offer those updates for free with proof of purchase rather than discounting them, which was the other option I was weighing. More details on that once we figure out the back end, but I just want to reassure you that if you've purchased an older pattern and we re-release it, you'll be able to access that update at no cost.

Thank you for your patience as we work through these big operational changes. I'm always overwhelmed by how long everything takes and I'm sorry we haven't been able to move as quickly as anticipated, but please know that behind the scenes we're working our hardest to get beautifully drafted patterns into your hands as soon as possible.

Hope you enjoyed learning more about the collection, and we can't wait to start seeing your makes pop up in the world!

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