The Sewcialists Interview: Amy Vickberg of Closet Case Patterns

The Sewcialists Editor Team was brainstorming over interviews we’d love to have and, naturally, Heather & Closet Case Patterns (CCP) came up on the list. It just so happened at the time CCP had been posting these really adorable, scrap-busting projects, so we thought this time around, we’d interview Amy Vickberg, The CCP-Scrap-Busting-Maven and Dancer-Model-Namesake of the Amy Pattern, as it timed perfectly with the November 2018 Sustainable Sewcialists theme month. Enjoy.

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Becky: Amy, we here at the Sewcialists are loving the upcycling and sustainable sewing tutorial posts you’ve been working hard on at CCP. It can be hard for a company to show personality at times, or be perceived to have any political leanings, but sitting on the fence isn’t always a good choice either. It can even be difficult for a company to show real personality. How does CCP reconcile business, politics, and community?

Amy: (laughing) We did have to put a moratorium on discussing American politics in the office! Here in Quebec, it’s a pretty liberal city, but that doesn’t mean everyone, here or in the sewing community, is on the same page. The sewing community is really wonderful and full very generous and kind people, but we can’t assume we all have the same belief system. For me, being frugal has always been a way of life, so these scrap-busting projects, using the materials at hand, is something that comes natural to me. Whether it be called “sustainable,” “frugal,” or whatever you want to call it, it’s something we can all agree on. At the end of the day, no one wants to be wasteful, regardless of their politics.

Becky: “Waste not, want not” is definitely a common denominator for most people.

Amy: Exactly. I live in a religiously orthodox neighborhood, and a lot of the families here have multiple children. The people here are doing what they can, to do the best for their children, in the middle of some religious and political unrest even in Montreal. Making the most of what you have is a commonality among all people. Politics will shift back and forth, but it’s better to bond over what we have in common than focusing on the differences.

Sewing is an art. I’m originally a quilter, and sewing has always been this language we can all relate to… I follow some museums on Instagram and they’ll repost things from their archives, like some of the African-American quilts made during Jim Crow era. There are these elaborate stories…

Becky: You’re talking about the Quilts of Gee’s Bend?

Amy: Yes! Quilting and sewing has always been this medium we can all use to communicate with each other.

Becky: I’ve been thinking about that lately too. All throughout history, people have used art when political strife hits peaks. I wonder what we’ll look back on during this period and see as an art revolution, like the Secession movements, Alice in Wonderland, punk rock, the Quilts of Gee’s Bend, political cartoons…

Amy: Graffiti and memes!

Becky: I haven’t even thought of memes as political art, but you’re right.

Amy: Yes. These memes – where the source is lost on some of the kids who are too young to know, and I’m sitting here saying, “you don’t even know what that photo is from…” in regard to the pop culture icon from MY childhood, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a joke of a joke of a joke… and some of them are really good. Memes are these efficient packages for getting a message across.

It’s funny because I work for CCP, I’m on social media a lot more now, and in a lot of ways, the sewing community is brand new to me. Sewing is always something that I’ve done but in this… doing my own thing, kind of by myself, sort of way, and not with any other friends that did it. I’ve been friends with Heather for a long time, but she was doing her thing over there, and I was doing my thing, and we were just close, supportive friends. Being on Instagram more has really opened up my world. I’ve gone from a solitary textile artist and sewer to being part of this giant community. It’s humbling, exciting, and energizing.

Becky: What was the journey to working for CCP?

Amy: Well, I was raised in BC, and I went to school in Miami…

Becky: BC to Miami??!! That’s a major scenery and culture shift!

Amy: Right? I went to dance school in Miami! It was an eye-opening experience. Let me tell you, I learned a lot!

(If you know anything about BC and Miami, you also know we laughed a lot here.)

(When we caught our breath…)

Amy: Then I moved to Montreal. You’ll find dancers the world over are really similar: we’re fun, we love to laugh, and we often will stay in artistic fields. Heather and I have been friends for a while… It all started when a bunch of us would get together on Monday nights to watch The Bachelor. My friend Michelle and I would make dinner, and Heather would bring her dogs over. Heather’s dog Harry and my dog Jeannie are boyfriend and girlfriend. We would all just sit around, laugh, and talk about our week. I had made this rope bag, and she wanted me to make her one too. I’d also, during my maternity leave, just go over to the studio and help her pack kits, like the denim kits, mostly to hang out and have some adult time. Maternity leave in Canada is great, it’s really long, and I needed some adult interaction, and I really just wanted to be around all the beautiful fabrics! So… when she saw my rope bag, she asked me if I wanted to write a tutorial, and that ended up being our first collaboration.

Closet Case Files Image: Produce Bags Tutorial

Closet Case Files Image: Produce Bags Tutorial

Becky: So, these things are all sort of lining up. You know Heather, you become great friends, you have this online Etsy shop with cute things, you start collaborating together…and the sustainable/scrap busting posts – were those a work brainstorming session, or was that something that evolved organically? What’s your inspiration?

Amy: It just was this perfect storm of things really… We were in the studio, and we were trying to get on top of organization. We dumped out all of the scrap buckets and had this idea of summer scrap busting. Heather had been at the farmer’s market and it was Chanterelle season, and she was looking online for fabric produce bags, and thought, “wait a minute! I can make these!” and I had a friend that had made the wax wraps, and really wanted to try it. Also, my kid’s school is a no-waste-lunch school. They don’t allow garbage, like plastic bags and stuff, to come into the school during lunch. I looked up those Velcro-snack bags on Amazon, and they’re like $12! We had all these waterproof scraps left over from the Kelly Anorak that worked perfectly for snack bags… It all just came together at a good time. I love the photography aspect of projects, and I can easily adopt Heather’s conversational-style writing, so it works out.

In a lot of ways, we’re really different too… but in a complimentary way. She’ll laugh at me… I’m the frugal mom, always trying to find cheap ways to do things, find a way to save a buck, and cut corners. This isn’t always the BEST way. Heather is the aspirational, artistic, aesthetic mind. When we sew pattern samples, she insists we slow down, do it right, use quality materials and finishing. The pattern examples reflect the CCP brand: a polished and quality look. Our differences push each other to look at things in a different way that we may have otherwise missed.

I’m not sure we’ve used the word “sustainable” in our discussions about these projects, and I’m not even sure where I got my frugal nature from. I feel like it’s just in my blood. I was raised a very middle class kid, but my grandmother was very resourceful. She ran the hospital’s auxiliary thrift store. I can remember her sitting, and watching Dallas, removing the beads from a just beautiful dress that had come in stained and not usable. She would remove notions from ruined, donated pieces to be used in repairing other things. When she died, her crawl space was filled with all of these little sewing notions. I saw that early on, I guess, and even now I can’t stand throwing out a bit of food or a worn towel. It always has a use.

Closet Case Files Image: Snack Bags Tutorial

Closet Case Files Image: Snack Bags Tutorial

Becky: Are you looking to grow your Etsy store and your personal brand as well?

Amy: I think what I’ve boiled it down to is that it is invaluable to me to have a place I can go and shut the door and be away from my children, and my partner knows that if I’m in there that I’m not to be bothered. It serves a purpose in my life right now: to have the freedom to just create, and have that self-care of me-time. Whether anybody buys it after that, it doesn’t matter. I’m creating these little orphans and I want them to go to a nice home, but I’ve had a few glimpses of what success looks like via an Etsy shop, and I don’t want that… I don’t want it to become stressful work and lose all of its joy. I don’t make money from it, and I don’t lose money – it’s just a place where friends and family who want to buy something cute and handmade can find something from me. And I’m still teaching dance too…

Becky: Oh! I had no idea!!

Amy: Yeah… I teach dance and creative movement to children of all ages. I rent a studio on Sunday morning, and it’s called Dance Party. I play modern music, no just “children’s music” type stuff, but fun stuff, and parents are required to come. The first Sunday, moms come with the kids, THEN the next Sunday, the dads have to come! It’s great. I get all of these thank-yous from moms who finally get a morning to sleep in!

Becky: I’m immediately regretting not living in Montreal…

Amy: (laughs) Yeah… I was teaching ballet but I wasn’t getting any boys in the class, and I have a boy, Charlie, and he wasn’t interested in going to dance class. I was watching the Labyrinth a lot, so now I have a program called Dance Magic Dance and our avatar is David Bowie! Now I have about 50/50 boys and girls!

Becky: Teaching dance and working for one of the biggest indie pattern makers out there… Here’s a question the team wanted to ask: What’s it like working in the CCP studio?

Amy: Well, of course the space is amazing. Heather was an interior designer, so the studio is beautiful. And Heather is lovely – I mean, she’s one of my best friends for a reason. She’s sweet, and fun, and wicked smart. I don’t have much to compare it to… I’ve worked other great, cool jobs, but it’s just different. There’s a great goup. There’s Alexis, who’s Heather’s right hand. She’s lovely and just has a whole other setof skills. For example, she’ll just think of the thing we’re all missing. She’s the organizational mastermind, you know. We’ll be fielding a new project or idea, and she’ll just come up with this question and it is always exactly what needed to be thought.  I think we all bring our unique take and so yeah, it’s just awesome I love it. We have a really great team.

Becky: CCP patterns are, as you said, polished, fashionable-yet-classic pieces in styles and size ranges that have, sort of, all women in mind. Less for a niche market, more for “everyone.” I feel like the scrap-busting projects are really something everyone can do as well.

Amy: I do I think you have to analyze the whole picture and figure out ways of inserting things and making little habits that slowly add up. Recycling programs aren’t the same everywhere, and while some municipalities make recycling easier, it can really be a burden in a lot of areas. And marketing can make things really confusing. Like, at CCP we were just talking about “vegan leather.”

Becky: Oh, right? I wish I was the person who thought of that! Vegan leather! We called it pleather, and you couldn’t get too close to a heater, or you’d melt!

Amy: It’s still PVC, isn’t it? It’s still plastic? And did you see that advertisement in Vogue, about how real fur is actually environmentally friendly?

Becky: NO! What is this? (I looked it up. It’s true. Pages 94 & 95 October 2018 Vogue with the Lady Gaga cover. Photo here for you to make your own decisions.)

Advert in Vogue magazine; Oct 2018

Advert in Vogue magazine; Oct 2018

Amy: Yes, it’s an advertisement making the argument that real fur is actually good for designers to use because it’s biodegradable unlike fake fur which is from fossil fuels and basically plastic.

But making little cloth bags that are practically free is something everyone who sews can do. Whatever fabric you use, you’re keeping plastic bags and that fabric from going to a landfill, so, marketing aside, it’s a win-win.

Cloth bags at $12 each or whatever they were is another barrier of entry, and like the “vegan leather,” good for someone for making a market of it. I certainly didn’t think of it. But that $12 is a barrier that as sewers, we can side-step, or even use the opportunity to teach others to sew simple bags, and while I’m not religious, I think it feels like I’m part of something bigger than myself.

Closet Case Files Image: Wax Wraps Tutorial

Closet Case Files Image: Wax Wraps Tutorial

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We’d like to thank Amy, and Heather for letting us borrow Amy, for a conversation about CCP. In addition to Heather’s really great patterns, CCP has a wealth of knowledge in their tutorials section on everything from denim repair to building your own cutting table. Tell us in the comments about your favorite CCP tutorial, and who you’d like to see us interview in the future.

(All images property and courtesy of Closet Case Patterns, except the Vogue screenshot – I’m not sure who wants to claim that gem.)

Author Bio: Becky Johnson is a Sewcialist Editor, a Portland Frocktails organizer, and a person of international interest… or ridiculous delusions of grandeur, you decide