30 Years Designing for The McCall Pattern Company
What do John Molloy, Family Circle Magazine,
1980, and Pati Palmer have in common?
Circle editors approached Pati to write an article on sewing
blazer jackets for women in 1980. At the same time, she was
designing the innovative 8-hour Blazer, her first pattern for The
McCall Pattern Company. By pure coincidence, at the same time, John
Molloy's Dress for Success was a best-seller, telling women
that if they wanted to get ahead in the corporate world, they needed
to dress like men.
doesn't know he thrust a new licensee for McCall’s into a spiral of
successes. There were no blazers for women at retail, so women
sewed them, but women entering the workforce had less time to sew.
Palmer’s new, faster tailoring methods and new technology in fabrics
resonated with those women.
Timing is everything. The average pattern in
1980 sold 1500 copies a month. Her pattern sold 20,000 copies the
first week, 40,000 the second week, 60,000 the third week---over
120,000 the first month and by year end, one million…more than any
pattern in history.
This year, Palmer celebrates her 30th
year with McCall’s and is their 2010 #1 licensee. To celebrate,
McCall’s is introducing for Fall 2010 the New 8-Hour Blazer, even
more innovative than the first, focusing on the latest technology in
shaping fabrics and in fitting today's female figure.
This story about Pati and her two interns appeared in the Fall 2010
issue of the Oregon Stater Alumni Magazine.
This can also be viewed as a PDF...
For more about interns Amanda Grisham and Nicole Ognibene....see
the online Oregon State University Synergies page.
Sue Hausmann, in her
"Pati Palmer was honored for her years of sewing inspiration as
the 2008 inductee into the Sewing Hall of Fame. A good time was had
by all. Pati also spoke at one of the luncheons and it was great to
hear how she got started in the sewing industry and to see some of
the garments she created years ago and see some of her early
publications. Do you remember sewing with double knits and Qiana??
Pati and I do!
BUSINESS MAGAZINE FEATURES PATI...
Local Designer Leads Sewing
When Pati Palmer went to Oregon State University in the early 1960s
to study home economics it was the cusp of the women’s revolution.
Soon the cool girls would have little to do with sewing and the
domestic arts as their generation left the home and moved full force
into the workplace.
As that revolution rolled on, Palmer set about making her career
in sewing and building over the next four decades a mini empire. She
and partner Susan Pletsch started Palmer/Pletsch Inc. in 1974,
designing first for Vogue Patterns and then in 1980 switching to the
McCall Pattern Company. There they created what would become the
best-selling pattern in McCall’s history. Tapping into all those
cool girls who were now working women and needed a uniform, they
designed a pattern for an easy-to-make blazer that sold 1 million
copies in one year.
In 1985, the partners started the Palmer/Pletsch School of Sewing
in southeast Portland to teach sewing and train teachers. Pletsch
left the company in 1986 and Palmer went on to build her business,
which now includes the school, book publishing, pattern design,
traveling seminars and sewing workshops. Known as McCall’s “fit
expert,” she remains its top-selling designer. Her sewing books (she
is the author of 10, editor/publisher of 23) have sold more than 3
million copies. She also produces how-to DVDs and is the creator of
eight sewing accessories. She recently was inducted into the
American Sewing Guild’s Sewers Hall of Fame.
At its peak, her company and her late husband’s Italian ceramics
import business, La Vita Vera/Mamma Ro, grossed about $2.5 million.
But the retail expansion of the Mamma Ro stores went bust (one store
is still open on NW 23rd Street in Portland), and Palmer/Pletsch
took a hit as fabric chains began to fade in the early 1990s. Now
revenue is about half of that peak, and Palmer’s staff for both
companies is small — herself and three others. They are a
soup-to-nuts operation, doing everything from shooting their own
video for the DVDs to taking photos for the books, to doing their
own boxing and shipping. Whatever it takes.
Palmer has an impressive sewing room that spans the third floor
of her elegant home in the West Hills of Portland. Equally elegant
in her trim blondeness, the 63-year-old industry leader has always
lived in Oregon, unusual because New York is the center of her
industry and the home of McCall’s. But her guiding principle has
been fashion for real people and real bodies, not Manhattan X-rays.
“The advantage of me being here and designing for McCall’s in New
York is that I know what’s going on,” she says. “When you are with
real people, that’s how you see things.”
Palmer is very real. An instant girlfriend, she is genuine and
passionate about where her industry is headed, despite the ups and
downs. She’s stitched together the ceramics and publishing parts of
her operation with the publication of a new cookbook, The Food Nanny
Rescues Dinner by Liz Edmunds, which features the Mamma Ro products.
“These two companies are very compatible,” she says. “They are going
in the same place.” That place is focused on web sales for both
companies, leaving behind the fickle brick and mortar.
Palmer is gratified to see interest in home sewing growing again.
She says it began to pick up about five years ago with quilting
leading the way, and the recent recession has also boosted the
industry. Then there’s the Project Runway effect, a reality TV show
that debuted in 2004 and shows no signs of fading. Each season,
young and bright-eyed contestants compete with each other to create
the best fashion designs with hopes of getting launched as a
designer. “The fashion schools are full of 20-somethings sewing
now,” Palmer says.
Younger women have so enthusiastically embraced the ancient
domestic art that sewing lounges are sprouting up around town, like
Seam Divas in Vancouver, Wash., a place that offers warm support and
a hot cup of coffee along with learning the craft.
Welcome back, cool girls.