The Sewcialists Interview: Chelsea Gurnoe, Friday Pattern Company

We opened up interviewing to some of the guest editors in Spring 2019. Last month, you read Elisabeth’s interview of Lauren Taylor, and this month we give you Ebi’s interview of Chelsea, owner of Friday Pattern Company.

Chelsea made our “Interview Wishlist” for quite a few reasons. From the very first pattern, Chelsea has donated 5% of all proceeds to charity. You can see here which charity was designated for which pattern, and a little bio about each organization. We love that she varies the recipients and spreads the love around. Chelsea has also always used diverse models, and has started increasing the inclusivity of her size range. She has also made strong public statements supporting the LGBTQ+ community, so watch this Fall for her unisex pattern line that will appeal to more gender expressions.

Without further ado, we present Ebi interviewing Chelsea.

Ebi (E): Hi Chelsea, thank you for doing this interview. For prep, I did a little research to the best of my ability and it was just interesting that I couldn’t find much about you. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad! I don’t know if I’m just looking in the wrong places and there’s some Chelsea fan club somewhere that I’m missing out on, and they’re discussing every nuance of your cereal for breakfast, I don’t know! You’re very mysterious!

Chelsea (C): I think I just took a different route. While a lot of indie pattern companies started with a blog, I think I was a little bit of a late adopter in regards to blogging. Even the sewing-Instagram scene, I wasn’t really super in it when I first started. Now I love it so much; it’s really cool to get to know people’s personalities and I’ve met way more people on the internet than I ever thought I would. But yeah, I think that a lot of people started with a sewing blog and it kind of blossomed into a pattern company, and I just kind of went right for the pattern making. I think that’s why there’s less about me.

I grew up in Santa Cruz, California, and I started working at Hart’s Fabric Store right after high school. Then I went to San Francisco State for apparel design, but I really didn’t like fashion school. It was exciting to be able to go, because I didn’t want to invest in going to FIDM [Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising], or one of those. They’re just really expensive. So I was super excited about [an affordable public school]. Their program was really vapid, and it was really… it was weird, coming from being really involved in the sewing scene in my town, with a lot of artistic, creative people going to something like that, it was like, “Oh, I don’t want to be part of the fashion industry.” I completely abandoned ship at that point. And then I went on a soul-searching trip and lived in Argentina for six months. I did end up finishing my degree later, but it was under better circumstances.

Latina woman with long hair, wearing a light blue dress that buttons all the way up the front, holding a basket-weave purse with sun flowers against a geometric-orange wall.

E: Wow, that’s a very interesting background! And I guess having a large sewing community around you is kind of a unique experience? That must have been pretty nice.

C: Yeah, I worked at Hart’s for a long time! I think the fact that Santa Cruz has Hart’s, which is a really cool and inspiring fabric store, makes it easy to find a lot of people who sew in the area.

E: I see. So is that why you had the idea for a sewing pattern company?

C: I think the idea started when I was working at Hart’s probably, but then I didn’t really get into it for years. I remember at Hart’s when we first got Colette patterns – those were the first indie patterns we got – and it was just mind-blowing. To have something that was designed with love and care was just like, “Whoa!” Around that time, I was working at the fabric store, sewing constantly, watching Project Runway… yeah, I fell in love with fashion there, and you know, fell out of love with it.

black woman with very short golden hair, a crown of flowers, and a flowing eyelet dress in tiered gathers standing against a blue wall

E: What was your process to bring Friday Pattern Company to life?

C: It was something I thought about. It’s something I wanted to for a long time. I worked in fashion in various capacities. I went to fashion school and it didn’t really end up being for me. I’ve always loved sewing first and fashion second. Until recently, I still had a day job, and that day job was pretty demanding. It was a good job and it’s a good company, so I had this idea that the pattern company was something I really wanted to do, but you know, it was more of a, “I’ll do it at some point,” so I built it up kinda slowly.

When my husband and I moved to Sacramento, he got a job here and I was able to keep my day job and work from home. I was feeling a little bit more isolated. We just didn’t have as much of a sewing community as we did in Santa Cruz, I was still making friends here. I ended up having more alone time, and that was really when I put a lot of work into my patterns. It was a hard year, not having any friends, but it was the best thing that ever happened for Friday.

In the end though, I’m really happy with where I’m at, and that I do get to have a career in sewing and fashion. That’s exactly what I’ve always wanted, so it’s really rewarding. It doesn’t matter how I got here.

Chelsea in the super popular Adrienne blouse made in an Art Gallery Fabrics knit, red with strawberry print

E: That’s intense.                                              

C: Yeah, it was intense!

E: Were you inspired to expand your sizing by the recent conversation around bigger size ranges, or is it something you had planned eventually?

C: It was something I had planned eventually, but it was really easy to just kick that can down the road since there are so many things that I want to do “eventually.” I think the recent conversation was powerful because it really held everyone accountable. It’s a hard conversation to have and I know that there were some who had knee-jerk reactions to it. It ended up being really cool. I was worried – because it’s something I wanted to do – but when you’re working alone it’s hard to conceptualize adding this other thing. Like I said, I have a workflow, this is my workflow, so it should be, “Oh, now I’m going to add this other thing,” and it’s daunting to change up one’s process. Once the conversation happens, having that motivation, and having to sit and wrap my head around what logistically was going to happen… it was really helpful and powerful and it ended up just not being that big of a deal to add the sizes. I’m really glad the conversation happened because it feels really good to be on that track right now.

black woman, very short hair, with a floral crown, in a deep-v-cut swimsuit with sleeves made of a floral print, standing on a geometric blue wall and more flowers by her feet.

E: The first of the expanded size range was the Seabright Swimmer, correct? How do you feel about the launch?

C: It’s exciting. The Seabright has a deep plunging neckline, so while that is not something everybody wants to wear, I’m hoping that it’ll resonate with people. It has sleeves, and that’s personally something I’m excited about because of some added sun protection. I hope that people are liking the plunging neckline too. It was a really cool experience just communicating with the testers and also people who were willing to share pictures of themselves in their bathing suits during the launch, and it sparked some conversations around sharing images of your body and shame around that. We feel like we’re not supposed to share our bodies, it means something more than just showing a bathing suit you made. So it was a really cool, cathartic experience to have those conversations. Hopefully we get to have some more of those conversations and celebrate our bodies! And swimsuits!

E: You donate some of your proceeds to different charities and it seems like it’s one charity per pattern. Do you have a list of charities you’d like to eventually associate with your next patterns, or is there some relationship between the backstory of a pattern and its related charity?

C: So, there isn’t really. It started with a list. For the first four patterns I put out, they each benefited a different organization. It’s just 5%, so it’s not a ton per unit and looking back, it wasn’t practical with such a small amount. So now it’s each season – and it’s not really like I put my patterns out in seasons, but it’s more like groupings that I usually photograph together. Like, one group of patterns I shot together, the 5% went to The Trevor Project, and that had less to do with the patterns and more to do with what is going on when I’m putting the patterns out. I think there was some bullshit going on with Trump when I put those out, so I was like, “Ah!!!! These are all going to The Trevor Project!” And I think the ones before that were the ACLU. In my testing process for the patterns, I have a question on the feedback form asking testers if they have a charity they really love. If one stands out to me, I’ll look into it, and consider it.

E: Cool, cool. That’s awesome! So it seems like now it’s driven more by social events.

C: Yeah, I really like business models that have some sort of giving aspect. I feel like it gives more meaning to your brand, even if it’s just a small thing. I work by myself, [so] there’s no one – I mean, there’s some people who want to sew – there’s no one really expecting the patterns to get done except me, so it’s nice to have something beyond myself that I’m doing this for! It gives me a little motivation.

E: It’s inspiring that you didn’t let the lack of a team stop you from trying and doing, and that’s really really cool. And that is very different from a lot of other companies that I’m aware of, so kudos to you.

C: It was definitely scary, and still sometimes I struggle with imposter syndrome. I know that my first patterns were not as good of quality as they should have been because I think that I’m very much the type that, “I’m going to just do it!” I think I might have gone in a little harder than I should have.

designer in her own Cambria Duster coat made of a blue and white floral, wearing a black tank and black jeans, with an industrial warehouse looking background

E: Sometimes you just have to do it. Your first of anything new you do is probably not going to be that great.

C: You know, I learned a lot from it. One of my patterns was selected for a sewing challenge which was amazing, and then it was so many people buying it. It’s a simple dress; it was one of my first patterns. I think that it was a good pattern but some people did not like it. I think that because it was a challenge, I think there were people buying it even though it was not something they would have wanted to sew otherwise. A lot of people liked it, then there were some people who really didn’t like it. It was really, really scary and honestly really sad.

I met up with Gabriela of Chalk and Notch and had dinner. She gave me some advice on really tightening up my testing process, spending a lot more time on the details, really focusing, and it changed everything for me.  It was such a valuable learning process. Now, I get so into it with my testers and I spend so much time on the patterns that I feel confident about my newer patterns. I feel proud of them and I can stand by them. I’m really grateful for that crappy experience.

I remember one woman, she was nice, but she did a whole YouTube video critiquing every detail of a pattern, and I saw the clip of it on Instagram and was like, “Oh god!” So I called my mom and made my mom watch it. I was like, “Watch this video, pull out and tell me what the constructive things are, I do not want to hear the rest.” So yeah, my mom watched it. She made a little list of the things that were necessary to hear. I did end up updating that pattern and sent revisions to everyone who had already bought the pattern.

E: That’s very inspiring the way you handle adversity! I did see that sew-along and I read blog posts. One of the ones I kept open was a woman, and she did have critiques, but she said that you took feedback well. That’s something that cannot be said for a lot of indie designers, that they take feedback well. And it was just something in the back of my mind, but I see that that’s clearly your personality. For you to be aware of this thirty-minute video that could have been very painful, and you didn’t brush it off.  You sought out the good from it, that’s kind of impressive, that’s really very very different. And then you reissued the pattern? That’s awesome.

I’m so glad we got to talk! Because I was really very curious. Thank you for sharing and being really open.

C: Thank you, this was really cool.

The Sewcialists would like to thank Chelsea and Ebi for this interview. Ebi can be found at Make The Flame blog.

Chelsea and Friday Pattern Company can be found here and on Instagram. If you are in the Sacramento area or hankering for a Northern California tour, consider taking a class with Chelsea at the Sew Shop Sacramento.

Chelsea teaching at the Sew Shop Sacramento

(All images property and courtesy of Chelsea Gurnoe and Friday Pattern Company.)

The Sewcialist Interviews are a chance to hear more from some of the leaders in our sewing community. We search out pattern makers, fabric designers, teachers, designers, and all-around awesome people that embody the Sewcialist spirit, and bring you interviews to help inspire your sewing journey.