Monthly Archives: August 2012




Goose Mother: Simplicity seems to have given you a wide berth in pattern design. You’ve done Crafts, Home Décor, Accessories, Men’s, Women’s, and Children’s patterns. You certainly didn’t get pigeon-holed into one area.

Andrea Schewe: Yes, there’s been a variety of assignments. Let’s see …. back to costumes … and I just ran across an interesting project that I had completely forgotten about.

In the late 1990s, a Native American woman wrote to Simplicity complaining about how poorly representative and insulting the American Indian costume patterns were that all the major pattern companies issue. I think the thing that bothered her the most was the way all the existing patterns had the “breechcloth” tied around the outside of the men’s or boy’s shirts. Even though the breechcloths that Indians wear now-a-days are just two apron-like flaps tied at either side at the waist. In actuality, they should be worn under the shirt so that just the bottom edge shows. This is to emulate a real breechcloth which would have been a very long, narrow piece of cloth that would go through the legs and up and over a belt in the front and the back. This would have been worn alone or with separate leg pieces when the weather was cold. However, Simplicity and this lady wrote back and forth and eventually I got involved and we came up with a pattern for the basic men’s and women’s garments worn in modern Pow-Wows. I made the pattern in adult and children’s sizes and it has been updated once. The original patterns were Simplicity 8281 and Simplicity 8282. The updated versions that are still in the catalog are Simplicity 5446 and Simplicity 5448.

Now to catch up with where we left off in the sort of chronological survey of my patterns. As I’m sure you are well aware, the pattern companies compete with one another. We noticed one of our competitors had a pattern with patriotic costumes that were selling reasonably well, so I was asked to make a similar pattern. This would turn out to be the Uncle Sam, Abe Lincoln, and the Statue of Liberty pattern that stayed in the line for quite a while. I spent some time with my newly discovered skills of researching on-line. I recall examining the folds of the Statue of Liberty’s gown and I think I came up with a better version of that costume than the one we were competing against. It was issued in adult and kid’s size patterns; Simplicity 5987 and Simplicity 5983.

Then in about 2003 Betsy Burger phoned, (she is the Design Director of the Craft, Costume and Home Decor Departments at Simplicity), and told me they had a Gypsy costume that was selling well and they would like me to do my take on a set of gypsy costumes … so, again doing extensive research on the web, I came up with more of a tribal/belly dancing package of gypsy costumes. I found sites that displayed traditional costumes with full circular skirts, balloon pants, little midriff tops and longs head veils. It ended up being so much different than I imagined it would. This design was issued in Misses’ and Girl’s sizes; Simplicity 5357 and Simplicity 5359.

Issuing a design in these two size ranges involves me making a sample size 10 Misses’ and a sample size 10 girl’s, choosing and acquiring fabrics and making up all the photography samples. I have dress forms in all the sample sizes Simplicity needs. But, if you look at this photo (see photo at the beginning of this installment) you will notice I bought one of the inexpensive home dress forms for the Men’s form. This is because my husband just happens to be so close to Simplicity’s sample size that I fit things on him all the time.

Goose Mother: What a good sport he is!!

Andrea Schewe: He is very accommodating in doing fitting sessions for me. Sometimes my husband gets into the fun of it all like the time he dressed up in this gangster coat from Simplicity pattern 4916. We all have fun with the costumes.

The gypsy pattern did really well, but people thought of it more of as a belly dancing costume. Approximately four years later, Simplicity requested another belly dance costume pattern. This time I wanted to design the more classic type of outfit belly dancers wear, which became Simplicity 2941. There are variations on a very full circular skirt, beaded wide belts and bra tops. I used chiffon and georgette for the skirts and scarves. Then another couple years passed and Betsy noticed that a garment that is worn over belly dancing costumes was popular among belly dancers. This was thanks to her web surfing, and she asked if I would design a pattern for these garments which are called Ghawazee coats. I mentioned we would need to have new belly dance costumes to put the coats over, so I ended up designing a pattern with three belly dance costumes and a pattern with three coordinating Ghawazee coats to wear over them; Simplicity 2158 and Simplicity 2159. The other photo below is from an advertising layout for Simplicity which is a composite of those two patterns.

Also in 2003, my younger son, (remember he was in the improvised costume as the little red devil in 1988), graduated from high school. I no longer had kids at home. At the same time, Simplicity was contacted by The International Costumer’s Guild, which is a large group of people who do very serious and amazing costuming for the sheer joy of it. The Guild asked if I could be their guest at their next annual convention.  So, on the road I went!!

Goose Mother: Ahhh, it appears we shall be doing some traveling next time!

To Be Continued ……………………

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As Andrea and I mused through her vast creations of patterns, we’ve stumbled upon others from an earlier time, but were distracted from largely due to my prodding and inquiries into the Renaissance and costume patterns. Therefore, we begin this installment with a bit of backtracking.

Goose Mother: Andrea, here’s a pattern from 1989. I like this one. Adorable! (I show her a pattern I’ve retrieved.)

Andrea Schewe: Oh my! That one is ancient. (She chuckles and stares at the pattern momentarily; first over her glasses then flips the pattern over and reads a bit.) Yes, this one is from when I was still working at McCall’s. (McCall’s 4208). Hmm, you know there are a lot of craft patterns that I was also designing between all the costumes and I really haven’t mentioned them at all.

Goose Mother: That’s my fault. I’ve prodded you for your stories on the costumes and became so wrapped up in them. Perhaps a bit of backtracking is in order.

Andrea Schewe: Recall that I spent 1983-85 at the toy company, AmToy, before I started freelancing. When I started working as a freelancer the majority of my work was for toy companies. At McCall’s, I made patterns for plush animals, doll clothes and home decoration. That pattern you showed me, McCall’s 4208, was one that I designed to give small children something they could really play with and use their imagination.

The very first professional pattern (for commercial sale) I ever made was a craft pattern; a baby’s room package. I mentioned this one earlier. This was a design McCall’s presented to me, but I completely worked it out, turning the small sketch into three dimensional pieces and then sewed all the photo samples with patterns.     

And I also mentioned that the first pattern I made for Simplicity was a package of No-Sew costumes, but the sketch that caught the eye of Abbie Small during my interview with Simplicity was a design I had made for baby doll play accessories. I had presented this idea to McCall’s and they passed on it, but Simplicity liked it and I made it up shortly after I started working for them. (Simplicity 8105) This pattern has diapers that can Velcro on and off, a bib, a tote with fold out changing pad, soft bassinet, a one piece jammie and a back pack for the child to carry her doll around with her. This sold well, so I designed a similar pattern for the 18” girl doll that had, among other things, a sleeping bag and garment bag with hangers so girls could take their dolls over to play at a friend’s house. (Simplicity 9833) Simplicity then asked me to make a pattern with accessories for actual babies. (Simplicity 8400) But the pattern in this category I’m most proud of is a soft book for babies. There are 8 pages with an activity on each page including zipping and peek-a-boo. (Simplicity 3709) This is still in the catalog and I plan on making it for any grandchildren of mine that may come along!

Actually, I’ll just try and give you an overview of my craft patterns I think are the most interesting.

Another successful early craft pattern had a couple of stuffed ducks and cows wearing prairie dresses that were designed to cover up a vacuum cleaner or sewing machine. (Simplicity 8462) When you don’t have much closet space these could make a decorative item out of a vacuum stowed in a room corner or make an open sewing space appear cheerful and tidy. There were several patterns for the same kind of thing during this time period. It was popular in the early 90’s to have stuffed animals around the house wearing very full, old fashioned dresses with pinafores. Fashions in crafts come in and out of style just like anything else.

In the spirit of the old fashion look, I designed a set of sewing room accessories meant to be made as gifts. Abbie Small took a trip to London and brought back a couple of cute items she saw there; a retractable tape measure that was in a cloth animal and some tiny scissors that were attached to something. Gosh, I can’t quite remember, but that was how this pattern was born. Abbie asked me to come up with a group of things in the spirit of the items she brought back. (Simplicity 7105) Then, about 4 or 5 years ago, I designed a set of themed pin cushions because Betsy Burger noticed that pincushions were very popular items on the internet. The owl in this pattern is my favorite. (Simplicity 2990)

One of the things I want to do when I retire … (she’s laughing) …

Goose Mother: Yeah, I’m glad to hear you laugh when you say that! I don’t know you personally, but from what I’ve observed, I find that a bit difficult to envision. You’re laughing because even you know better!!

Andrea Schewe: Well, somehow I don’t think I will ever retire in the conventional manner, but I really want to make a quilt or two or three. I love mixing fabrics and making interesting patterns. Back in the 90’s, I had a wonder-person sewing for me named Birdie Zoltan. She was basically a quilter and craft maker. And let me tell you, she really knew her stuff!! She learned dress making techniques from me, but I learned about paper piecing (a technique for making tiny pieced designs) from her and I designed a pattern that had a bunch of items made using this method. There is a tote bag, hand bag, eye glass case, needle case and even a hair barrette. (Simplicity 7045) I’ve never done anything quite like this since, but would very much like to. Maybe I should say something?? But, is this something people want to do now? I’m actually curious about this because I don’t see much like this lately. Hmmmmm, but it’s really fun to do.

Another project I did for Simplicity was a pattern of accessory props used when doing yoga. (Simplicity 3583) I have been taking yoga classes for about ten years now and there are things made of fabric that many people use to help in their yoga practice. The one tricky thing was figuring out how to make the round and oval bolster pillows that are used to help support people in certain poses. They can’t be floppy. After much effort and experimentation, I found that the way to get the bolster to be just like the store bought ones was to have a core of foam rubber and then wrap the foam with the thick cotton batting that upholsterers use. It was a fun puzzle to figure out. Here is one of the photos I sent to Simplicity so they could see how I made the inside of the bolster.

Goose Mother: That’s interesting, especially learning about how you come by your ideas.

Andrea Schewe: Another time I will talk about the doll clothes I have made for Simplicity as well as some fashion accessories and Home Decoration. Actually, the project I am working on right now is a curtain pattern, but that’s all I can say about that just now.

To Be Continued…………………..

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