We recently interviewed Mary Lou Lange our Techniques of Fit, Flat Pattern, and Serging instructor. We learned quite a few things and hope you do too!
Cañada Fashion Department (CFD): You have a lot of sewing experience from multiple places: home dec, quilting, apparel, and art clothing. Can you tell us more about that? How has this helped your teaching?
Mary Lou Lange (MLL): In high school I worked at the Stanford Barn for a custom dressmaker. These were the days when everyone wore short skirts. We were swarmed with work. I exclusively did hand work and got adept at precision and speed. I switched to Home Dec right out of college. It was a time when we had too many teachers and jobs were scarce. I worked for a custom upholsterer and trained as a tailor in Germany. As a team, we relished solving construction sequences and technique applications together. I learned the trade from a true craftsman. While working there I saw the ins and outs of running your own business and brought this into Entrepreneurship class. For several years I (with a partner) ran a pattern company creating and selling Quilting and Art to Wear patterns. I learned quickly about the bottom line, cost analysis, and income statements. Plus, I had the experience of going to market twice yearly. Traveling all over the country was a bonus.
CFD: Please tell us more about your pattern company. What are your thoughts on partnering with someone like you did?
MLL: Partnering allows you to bring your strengths together thus creating a whole larger than yourself. You brainstorm and feed each other. I would not have wanted to do it alone. Yes, you share profits, but you also share the excitement and success. Going to your hotel room after an enthusiastic day selling (wholesale) and counting your money is not time to be alone. When time comes to dissolve the partnership, it is excellent advice to have it spelled out before you even enter into the partnership. Even then, there is no guarantee. We went in as good friends and our friendship dissolved with the partnership. I had just started teaching at Cañada and was not able to do both successfully. I had to make a choice. Cañada won!
CFD: What do you enjoy about teaching?
MLL: I still consider myself extremely lucky to teach here (Cañada). To share with others what you have learned and to watch as students explore what they want to specialize in. Students bring so much into the classroom. A teacher has to continuously change what and how she teaches as the industry’s needs change. You always have your eyes and ears open. Plus, I want my students to question and challenge. That is when growth happens for all of us.
CFD: Serging, patternmaking, and fitting have become your specialties. How do you hone these skills outside of class?
MLL: I am a “how to” person. I love to be faced with a machine I have not seen before, or a technique in Ready-to-Wear I want to unravel. I tell students that creativity is not my strength, but if I see something new, I have to figure out how it works or how it has been done. I make a good percentage of my wardrobe and I challenge myself to change up patterns or be inspired by a picture. I am lucky to have a talented group of sewing buddies and we fit each other. Even the lab classes here present fitting issues I have never encountered before. Fit is lifetime learning.
CFD: What do you value in Cañada students?
MLL: Their work ethic—they work hard here in the classroom and go home to family and full-time jobs. They manage multiple classes and still come excited to learn. They form groups and work together countless hours outside of the classroom. We have a tough schedule and expect commitment and the students rise to the challenge.
CFD: We heard you are very fond of your featherweight sewing machine. Can you tell us more?
MLL: It would probably be one of the first things (well not first but right up there) that I would grab in a flood or fire. I can depend on her to give me a perfect stitch on the sheerest fabric to the heaviest leather and drapes. I have had and sold several other machines but stay true to my featherweight. She was built into my custom cabinet and is my primary performer alongside my 1982 White serger.
CFD: We hear you were inspired a bit by your dad.
MLL: He taught woodshop and I tagged along with him everywhere as he build our home, remodeled another, and did countless kitchen cabinets, furniture repair, etc. Sewing and Tailoring teach you many of the same skills. You have to see the process, understand the sequence, cut, measure and construct using refined skills. I love mitering whether it is in wood or on fabric. I logged (lapped) the right angled corner of our kitchen counter using a process first done in quilting. When we built our deck, we had several odd angle cuts. It was my experience with odd angled mitering in fabric that solved the problem. As my fellow sewist always says, “we are fabric engineers.”
Thank you, Mary Lou, for sharing some of your experience, inspiration, and advice!