Here's what Erin had to say:
How long have you been sewing and what inspired you to start designing your own patterns?
I’ve been sewing since middle school. I remember we were supposed to choose one bag to make for our entire semester project and my friend I picked out 3 or 4 from the catalog and made all of them! So I guess I’m not afraid of zippers because I never learned that they were supposed to be scary - at 12 or 13 we were sewing up zipped duffels like it was no big deal! I grew up around sewing. My mom always made our halloween costumes and sewed all the curtains in the house, and my aunts and grandma sewed as well and we got handmade gifts all the time. Maybe about 9 or 10 years ago I borrowed my mom’s old sewing machine to make something, so for Christmas that year my parents bought me my own. I started making harnesses for my Yorkies and bought a couple of bag patterns at the craft store, but I was frustrated with how so many of them had raw edges. I knew I could do better, and I found a few early PDF patterns by Michelle of Michelle Patterns. I loved the way she wrote her patterns, and her bags definitely did not have raw edges. At the time she mostly did simple envelope pouch patterns and small purses with magnetic snaps, and I wanted to make larger zippered bags, so I started studying how the zippers were installed in all the bags I had in my closet and my mom’s closet, and the key was that they were not sewn into the side seams. It took me a few tries but I came up with the recessed zipper technique I use in the Two Zip Hipster. Since no one else had made a pattern for anything like that at the time, I decided to write one of these "brand new" PDF patterns. I loved that I wasn’t limited on how long the pattern could be and that I could use as many steps and pictures as I wanted to explain everything! I do have a tiny bit of a technical writing background, and it just seemed to suit me more than any other job I’d ever had. I was determined to be successful enough to do it full time - this is not a job you can do for an hour between dinner and bedtime!
What do you love most about your job?
I love the moment when I go from “this will never work, what was I thinking?” to “OMG OMG OMG this is my favorite thing ever!” … Usually there is one transition prototype that’s in between “I hate this!” and “I love this!” but sometimes, it’s just a moment, and that’s the best.
What is the hardest part of the design process for you?
All of the “I hate this” prototypes because I feel like I’m not making progress, even though I am. You feel like you’re wasting fabric and wasting time, but at the same time of course it’s not a waste, it’s all part of the process, but you want it to go faster, you want to be done, you know you have to trust the process but you have an hour until the toddler wakes up from his nap and you just want to finish the bag and post it on Instagram already!
What do you enjoy doing when you aren't working?
I have an 18 month old who can run and climb, so I enjoy any activity where my child can be put into a containment device, like grocery shopping! Nap time is pretty great. I also enjoy sewing knit clothing with my overlocker. (Yes, my hobby is a different type of sewing!)
What is your favorite pizza topping?
Just cheese! It’s all about the cheese, sauce, and crust for me.
What is your favorite thing about bag making?
The precision of it. I’ve made some t-shirts and things let me tell you knits are awesome but the overlocker can accidentally shave off half an inch of fabric and that shirt is still going to fit you. One needle position can make or break a bag, and while that may frustrate some, I love it. I love the control, I love that extra prototype where I had to change a measurement by 1/8” to get it to be perfect. There is very little I can control in my life right now but I can get these little details just exactly the way I want them. There is also a lot of math, which I love.
What is your least favorite part of bag making?
Cutting out a bag, especially a big bag, when I just want to sew! I’m not one to leave half finished projects around - I work start to finish - so when I want to make something new I always have to start at the beginning. I don’t always mind the cutting step but sometimes it feels like half of bag making is cutting!
Is there a pattern of yours that is your favorite?
Date Night was my favorite pattern and bag. I went through a lot to get that top zipper JUST right, and the photos for that pattern just turned out gorgeous and I love everything about it - the size, the front pocket... I made like nine of them *after* I locked in the pattern pieces, just to perfect the technique. I even did a photo shoot with them! BUT, it’s definitely the new Sunrise Saddle Bag now. Those princess seams give it a shape that I just LOVE. It holds about the same amount as Date Night but in my favorite cross body style and the curves make me happy.
What is your favorite pattern by another designer?
The Michelle Patterns Bucket Bag: I just love this bag. There are so many oval bottom shaped bucket bags but this one is just a little fancy and lovely and it’s a great size. I made one from my favorite Amy Butler fabric ever (which I think was called “Love”!!) and I still have it somewhere. Michelle’s simplicity and style will always win me over. I love everything she makes.
What is your favorite snack?
While sewing? Pretzels! I have to order the ones I like from America. :)
What is your favorite piece of bag hardware?
Rectangle rings and sliders because I love cross-body bags!
What machine do you sew on most often?
I currently have a Bernina 350PE because I had to sell my Bernina 750QE when I moved from the US to Australia. Bad life decision. I love my husband and son but I miss my 750 EVERY DAY. My life won’t be complete until I have another.
What advice would you give to someone who is new to bag making?
Don’t be afraid! Find a good pattern that gives you confidence. The right bag to make first is a bag you *want* to make… there is no point practicing on a tote bag you will never use. Good interfacing and stabilizers are expensive, don’t expect to substitute cheaper ones and get the same look. Shop sales and use home dec fabrics where possible to eliminate a layer of interfacing. Zippers are not scary. Invest in the right presser feet - a good narrow zipper foot, a quarter inch foot, an edge stitch foot, and possibly a walking foot. You don’t need an expensive iron but you do need a HOT one with a lot of steam. Use YKK brand zippers, even if you need to order them online. Use a 90 or 100 sharp/microtex or topstitch needle. Change your needles often!
Who is your favorite fabric designer?
Based on my fabric shelves? Kate Spain. I must have gone through a purple phase at the same time as she did. :)
What is the best compliment you've received as a designer?
Usually when one of my patterns helps someone overcome some fear about sewing, like a fear of zippers or giving sewing another try after a bad experience. I also really love hearing about young people learning to sew with my patterns. I think my favorite though is the sheer enthusiasm that people have about the bags they make. Nothing is a bigger compliment than someone being SO excited about what they made with one of my patterns.
How organized is your sewing space? Are you a mess maker or everything in its place kind of person?
Not as organized as I would like it because every time we move my space gets smaller, so it’s kind of cramped right now. I am the one with the super neat sewing room. Sure it get trashed while I’m actively sewing but if I had my way I would have a spotless room every night and most definitely between projects. Fabric folded, loose threads vacuumed, desk clear!
What is your favorite color?
What is your favorite thing to listen to while working?
It used to be dance music, but I don’t think I’ve heard a song that isn’t by The Wiggles in a year. I have a couple of podcasts that I listen to if they are available. Sometimes I just marathon shows like Tiny House Hunters because I don’t really need to pay attention to them.
Is there anything you wish others knew about you or what you do?
The way I write my patterns is like a class. I try to include all of the information that you will need to successfully finish the pattern, along with very detailed photos of the process. You shouldn’t need a video or a Facebook group in order to finish it, although I do have a lovely FB group who will happily answer any questions or offer support and I pop in several times a day. I love seeing what everyone makes! I’m actually kind of shy about it. I’m an introvert so putting a pattern out there is kind of revealing in a scary way, and it’s still weird to me that people make things with my patterns. But, I do love it. I may just “like” your photo but I will probably call my husband over to take a look because I’m so excited about your bag. He’s active in my group (usually to let me know if I’m needed but sometimes to cause trouble like posting unflattering pictures of me working!) and we will often discuss the bags posted each day.
I do wish they all knew that I’m likely in another time zone - I’m an American in Australia (for now!) I usually reply to messages within a few minutes to a few hours, and if you need something urgently, I will absolutely happily help you immediately, as long as I am awake, which is possibly different hours than you are awake. :) Oh what I would do for an assistant on the other side of the world! I also get the occasional email apologizing for "bothering me" for something simple like a pattern download limit reset. If you’re apologizing, that means you hesitated to ask for help. Don’t hesitate. That’s my job! I’m always happy to help! It’s not a bother or a hassle, please contact me!
One more thing is that patterns take time to write. Maybe because my process pictures take a while, maybe because I’m a perfectionist, but patterns take me weeks even once I’m done sewing a dozen prototypes. I try to wait to “tease” the new patterns until I’m at least actively writing them, because at least then it’s only a 2-4 week wait, but I need that feedback before I spend a month writing a pattern only to realize no one is going to like it. I have yet to find the perfect balance of asking for important feedback vs. annoying people by posting too soon before it’s ready for purchase, but I’m trying! I know you NEEEEED that pattern. I really do. I need it too! And I love your enthusiasm! It will be available before you know it. No more unexpected, not-by-choice, nearly-two-year maternity leaves for me! The child finally has daycare a couple days a week for now (hooray!) and long term plans are being made so that I can work even more. I love this job and I’m not giving it up!
Also, thank you all for your support over the years, it means the world to me! I could never have taken the long break that I took without the best customers ever right there waiting for me! <3
How do you make sure that your patterns are accessible to bagineers? How do you promote your work?
The way I write my instructions is very accessible, the Sunrise Saddle Bag for example was 3600 words and 145 photos over 25 pages. The only reason someone might not be able to make one of my patterns is if they are so new to sewing that they wouldn’t know how to buy and install the suggested needle, for example, or are completely overwhelmed by very basic sewing instructions like basting. I am not suggesting that someone should make a purse that uses 4 yards of fabric and 6 yards of interfacing as their first bag project ever, because that’s an expensive lesson if you mess it up. BUT, there’s no reason to not chose a small project with a zipper! I write my patterns so that they can be made from quilting cotton or home dec fabric, since that is readily available everywhere. Not everyone has an industrial machine to sew vinyl or leather. I focus on reducing bulk so that my bags can be made on any relatively good quality domestic machine. I always test out a variety of interfacings as well, to see what works best so that I can recommend it and you won’t be left guessing. Then I try to list a few substitutes as well, and if those aren’t sufficient we have long discussions about them in the Facebook group. I love the group because someone has probably already done the modification you are thinking about, and someone probably lives in your country and has shopped at your local stores and can help you find a substitute for something. It’s so supportive and helpful!
I promote my patterns across Facebook (my own Page + Group), Instagram, and my blog and email newsletter. I have my patterns for sale on my own website and on Craftsy. The best way I can advertise is to just make great patterns that will turn into successful finished bags and when someone posts their finished bag, everyone wants to make one! Generally the “process” I go through is most detailed in the Facebook Group, and then Instagram. The “finished" bags and announcements go on the blog, newsletter, and Facebook Page.