A Q&A with Fig & Needle Founders, Ping Mathre and Sandra Helsley

Ping Mathre and Sandra Helsley

Cañada Fashion Department (CFD): How did you two meet?

PM: We met at Cañada in Ronda’s Beginning Flat Pattern class.

SH: We always sat at the table in the front and did homework together after class.

CFD: Had either of you made patterns before?

SH: I had played with making patterns in the past, but not really garments, just bags.

PM: (I didn’t know you made bags!) I had done sewing for a long-time but from ready-made patterns or folded pieces of paper that I kind of cobbled together. They were not the best. It was something I always wanted to learn. When I took Ronda’s class, every week was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s amazing!’

CFD: You have very different backgrounds, don’t you?

SH: I used to be in Tech. My background is in Computer Science and Information Science. I used to do user experience research. I got into Parsons in 2013 but turned it down. An academic suggested fashion technology. An example would be a purse that changes color according to somebody else’s umbrella they were standing next to. That wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I kind of always regretted [choosing not to go].

PM: And my background is in psychology.

CFD: What made you each decide to do pattern-making professionally?

PM: At some point I just had the realization, ‘Hey, I could actually legitimately do this!’ … Something just clicked.

SH: For me it happened over time … The thing I love about making patterns is the technical side of it. Coming up with a schematic of what you have in your head.

CFD: What prompted you to go into business together?

PM: We both had this general plan that at some point we would start a pattern company, but separately.

SH: Ping was doing an internship … I interned with [the same company] in the fall after her. Our internships overlapped, and there were one or two things we both worked on. I knew we could work together really well.

PM: I would come in on Monday morning and find post-its Sandra had left for me on Friday afternoon.

SH: Eventually I asked Ping, ‘Is this something you would ever consider doing together?’ It took me like a week to get up the nerve.

PM: (Really?!) We had a 2-hour conversation about what our goals were. We wanted to make sure everything was compatible.

CFD: What exactly did you do for the company where you interned?

PM: Pattern-making and grading. You would sketch out garments you wanted to sew and make patterns. They gave their interns a lot of autonomy.

SH: I also helped with their booth at street fairs [and other events]. I helped people try things on. I noticed the size range that they had was just not inclusive … Their things were so cute, but people would try them on and be disappointed. [Their clothes] only went up to a size 12.

CFD: That’s one of the things that makes your company Fig + Needle different, isn’t it? It’s more inclusive?

SH: Yes, we have two size ranges. The smaller range is 0-12 with a D cup, and the larger range is 12-26 with a DD.

PM: Yes, a lot of people are talking about size ranges in the indie pattern world. Very few companies are in line with today’s figures.

CFD: How do you divide the roles between you?

SH: Because I’m very technical, I’m in charge of all the business licensing and tax stuff. I’m also the webmaster.

PM: I come up with the ideas, but I discuss all of them with Sandra. Sandra discusses all the business stuff with me, and I’m usually like, ‘Sounds good!’

SH: Ping also does the social media. I don’t really want to do that stuff.

PM: That’s how I feel about the business stuff! [Both laugh.]

CFD: You just officially launched with two original patterns, correct? What are they like?

PM: Yes, one is the Faron jumper dress with princess seams and a zipper down the front. The other one is the Elwynn blouse with a keyhole opening in the back. They can be worn together.

CFD: Any advice for current students?

SH: Do internships. It’s great experience.

PM: Definitely keep your class binders! I am constantly pulling mine out.

CFD: We miss you. When are you coming for a visit?

SH: Ping is going to the Kenneth King talk next week.

CFD: Great! We’ll see you there!

Find out more about Fig + Needle and purchase patterns here.