Meet Your Maker: Peter Lappin of Male Pattern Boldness
What could be better than a man who sews? A man who blogs about it, OBVIOUSLY! Native New Yorker Peter Lappin runs Male Pattern Boldness (best name for a blog ever?), featuring the clothes he makes for himself, his partner and his identical cousin Cathy. Read on, dear friends, to find out all about why he started sewing, what inspires him and why vintage machines win out over newfangled contraptions every time.
Black Cat Originals (BCO): Why did you suddenly decide to cultivate an interest in sewing?
Peter Lappin (PL): I bought my first sewing machine only three years ago (in 2009, when I was 47), primarily to shorten [trousers] and do some simple alterations – I got tired of paying to have them done professionally. As far as interest goes, it wasn’t until I started using the machine (which I bought off eBay) that I realised that with a little instruction you could actually make your own clothes. I joined the Pattern Review site and met a lot of people who were very supportive and encouraging. But that first sewing machine purchase was really a bit of lark. I had no idea where it would end up leading me!
BCO: What inspires you as a tailor?
PL: For me a tailor is a man who makes suits. I don’t do much of that, although I have made the attempt a few times. I call myself a home sewer. I make the distinction primarily because tailors need very specific skills, like pad-stitching hair canvas interfacing by hand on jacket collars, only some of which I have. But as a home sewer, I’m inspired by many things.
When I sew for myself or my partner, Michael, I’m usually inspired by fabrics I see in fabric stores. I’ll think, “I would love to have a shirt in that fabric.” Sometimes my partner will ask me for a specific item, like a pair of [trousers], and he’ll pick out the fabric. As far as women’s clothes go, I’m inspired by old pattern envelope art, old movies and movie stars and vintage fashion magazines. I don’t consider myself a ‘fashion person’ per se. In fact, my own wardrobe is pretty unexciting and I don’t get invited to a lot of glamorous parties these days, though I’m hoping that will change!
PL: I love the looks of the past and I enjoy recreating them. Also, for men, vintage patterns are better drafted, especially for thin men. The fit in the past, especially in the 60s and 70s, was much more fitted, which is more flattering for someone with my build – thin and athletic. I love the old pattern artwork, particularly from the 40s and 50s, which was similar to the illustration of the period. For women, the look was more formal, more romantic and more glamorous. I love that and I think a lot of young sewers – who grew up in a culture of dungarees and flannel shirts – are drawn to that today.
Vintage patterns are also easy to find on sites like Etsy and eBay and often sell for less than new patterns. Plus it’s fun to sew something nobody else is sewing, especially since I usually post my projects on Pattern Review, BurdaStyle, and my own blog. Sewing is something I do in a very public way and it’s fun to sew something unusual and get positive feedback.
BCO: Why the preference for vintage sewing machines over fancy digital ones?
PL: I only sew with vintage machines and most of mine are black metal Singers from the 40s and 50s. They were extremely well engineered and made to last a few lifetimes. They are easy to maintain, easy to repair (if needed) on your own and easy to operate. No bells and whistles. For someone who sews clothes, all I generally need is a straight stitch, so most of my old machines are straight stitchers. I also use old zigzag machines at times – it all depends on the project. The newer machines I’ve tried are way too complicated for me and I have no use for all the embroidery stitches many of them offer. The computerised machines break down more easily and you cannot repair them on your own.
PL: She came into my life less than three years ago and has gained a tremendous following via my blog. She loves clothes and I’m afraid I’ve spoiled her with my creations. Thankfully she knows how to ‘sell’ an outfit and doesn’t mind spending hours modelling. The fact that she looks a lot like me – a younger, prettier version, of course – intrigues a lot of people. When it’s your own cousin it doesn’t seem like such a big deal!
BCO: How did you decide what to make for your 1944 project (which involved making three garments from that year for cousin Cathy Lane)?
PL: I think was hunting around Etsy for vintage patterns and saw a very cheap women’s jumper and blouse pattern from 1944 for sale and I decided to give it a shot. Then I decided to make a matching coat (as time goes by, Cathy’s creations become more elaborate and it doesn’t seem like enough to make only a dress anymore – she needs a whole outfit), using another 1944 pattern I found online (albeit a bit more expensive than the jumper). I love that period in fashion and it was fun making clothes that in their day would have been considered everyday, normal fashion, as opposed to, say, an evening gown.
Usually my projects just sort of occur to me while I’m browsing through Etsy or eBay, or when I know there’s an upcoming Pattern Review contest I want to enter.
BCO: How do people react to you being a guy who sews?
PL: The reaction I’ve got has been tremendously positive, whether on Pattern Review, on BurdaStyle (where I later started posting my work as well as contributing articles), my own blog and on the part of Vogue Patterns Magazine, where I write freelance articles. Obviously it’s unusual, because so few men sew. But also because I sew both women’s and men’s clothes – and model them both. Also the whole vintage pattern thing puts me in a particular niche. Most men who sew just sew contemporary clothes for themselves – not that there’s anything wrong with that!
PL: Are they? I don’t know. For men and women, there are so few areas in our lives where we get to create something ourselves, that challenge us to focus and express our creativity. Sewing allows a person to do that. Self-expression is a basic human need. It’s a way we self-actualise, at least, that’s what it’s like for me. Also, in these days of ‘fast fashion’ and globalisation, it feels nice to make something for yourself, something that’s made to last.
BCO: What tips do you have for any men out there considering taking up sewing?
PL: Buy yourself an old sewing machine, a beginner’s sewing book, a few basic patterns and get started. Try to connect with other sewers and find yourself a sewing buddy, even if it’s only online (though now with Gmail and webcams, it’s very easy to communicate in real time). It helps tremendously to have someone to turn to who knows how to sew if you’re having trouble, particularly at the beginning.
Pattern Review is an excellent resource, as are many blogs, and if you’re having trouble with a particular sewing technique (or even having trouble with something basic like winding a bobbin), invariably there’s a YouTube video of someone showing you how to do it. The most important thing is to jump in and not be intimidated. As with most new skills, there’s a steep learning curve at the beginning, but hang in there and you’ll be sewing your own clothes – and awing your friends with your creations!
BCO: When did you start blogging?
PL: I started blogging in January 2010, so I’m currently into my third year. When I think about all those blog posts, I can’t believe it! But blogging gives me a great deal of joy and it’s great to know that what you write will be read by so many people. All the comments are icing on the cake: immediate feedback!
BCO: How do you find the time to sew and blog?
PL: I don’t work a full-time job right now so I have the time and since it’s a joy, it doesn’t feel like work. Blogging really doesn’t take all that much time – maybe an hour or an hour and a half a day. I love to start my day writing the blog – it’s a discipline like exercise and the more you do it, the easier – and more rewarding – it becomes. The sewing is a bigger time commitment of course. When I’m deeply involved in a project I can sew for ten hours or more in a day. It has happened, though I wouldn’t recommend it!
How inspiring is Peter? Who’s reaching for their sewing machine as they read?