Exclusive Q&A with Flirt Skirts Authors Patti Gilstrap and Seryn Potter

When two great friends get together to combine their creative and design powers, great things happen. Such was the case for Patti Gilstrap and Seryn Potter, the founders of Flirt Brooklyn, a hip clothing boutique located in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Started in 2000, it is home to many local clothing designers including items by Patti and Seryn. In 2007, the pair created Home Ec., a place where they could share their love of sewing and design. This year they have branched out with their first book, entitled Flirt Skirts (Potter Craft), featuring 20 skirt projects inspired by their stylish collection. Read on for an exclusive interview with Patti and Seryn to learn more about their inspirations, history, and more, and check back on the SewDaily blog this Friday for a chance to win a copy of the book for yourself!

Sew Daily: Where did you first learn to sew and who taught you?
Patti: It's hard to pin down exactly when I started sewing but it was apparent from an early age I was very into making things and it became obvious that I had a knack for putting things together. My mom had a sewing machine and let me use it to experiment. As a teenager I got my own machine and a job at the local Jo-Ann fabric. From that point on there was really no stopping my quest for sewing knowledge.

Seryn: I have a love for clothing and design and a knack for buying and merchandising but actually learned to sew much later and what I know I learned from Patti. It makes you look at what you wear so much differently once you actually learn how it goes together. You start to ask a lot of questions when you shop especially in stores where everything is cheap. Learning to sew has actually been one of the most challenging things I've ever done.

SD: How did you come up with the idea for Flirt Skirts?
Patti & Seryn: We were originally approached by Sharyn Rosart of Quirk Packaging to write a book about sewing. Skirts have always been something of a specialty for us. Flirt Skirts is an offshoot of our custom skirt service that we have been featuring at Flirt for almost a decade! After opening our shop and spending day after day with customers it became apparent that the biggest issue customers face when shopping is fit. We began offering customers the option to design their own skirt by trying on samples of our skirt styles and then customizing their skirt by choosing their own fabric and making modifications to the fit specific to their bodies. It's been a huge hit with our customers and we've made hundreds of skirts over the years. Our Skirt-tificate is a big gift around the holidays. So it just seemed natural that we would write a book that is basically our custom skirt service put entirely into your own hands from start to finish.

SD: Tell us a little bit about your Home Ec Sewing Studio. How did you get started? Where do you see it going from here?
Patti & Seryn: Home Ec started as a simple search for a larger production studio for our own clothing line. We had been sewing our designs in the tiny back room of our boutique in Brooklyn and it was obvious we needed more space. We found this amazing space that was much larger than a studio and started to play around with the idea of teaching classes. For years people had asked us if we taught sewing but we always said no because we had no space to facilitate classes. Home Ec gave us the opportunity to take our boutique concept to the next level from featuring local designers and handmade items to teaching people how to make things themselves. We developed a roster of classes and started signing up students. That was nearly five years ago. Looking forward we hope to continue to share our philosophy of creativity through our classes, our book, and our patterns.

SD: How did you two meet and combine your love of design?
Seryn: When we met it actually had nothing to do with clothing or design. Patti had moved to NYC to pursue dance and choreography and I had moved here to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. Which, of course, meant that we waited tables. I had been working at a big bbq restartaunt in midtown while performing and recording with my band. I was getting tired of waiting tables and my sister and I had opened a small tea room inspired by our english grandmother called Tea Cozy. It was very cute and we were doing well but I realized that although I had worked in food service for years I didn't love it. In the meantime my guitar player who also worked at said bbq restaraunt had started dating this girl who had started working at the restaraunt after I left. He told me her name was Patti and how she made clothing and eventually we met one night at a friends show and exchanged information. Later on that year my sister was getting married and needed to find someone to make her bridesmaids gowns. We were out fabric shopping and I suggested I get in touch with Patti to possibly make the gowns. As I was mentioning this I looked up and there was Patti shopping for fabric. The rest is history.

SD: Where do you find inspiration for new designs?
Patti & Seryn: Living in the city is constant inspiration. We love to people watch and soak in not only the styles people are wearing but the attitude and mood that what they are wearing reflects. Attitude has so much to do with great style. We love clothing history and like to pull details from the past and experiment with new techniques and work those into new designs. We also like to pull inspiration from asking ourselves what we would like to wear today. That answer changes as our lives changes and so our look in constantly evolving.

SD: What was the process like coming up with the skirts together for Flirt Skirts?
Patti & Seryn: Fortunately the ideas came fast and furious and so we just started sketching. That was the easy part! We included a mix of simple to more challenging projects for every level of sewer. The design aspect was a lot of fun as was choosing the fabrics. The writing process was harder. Translating the making process to words presented any number of challenges for us and we learned a lot while doing it. Now on the other side we have a lot of admiration for authors, especially those who write technically, as it is very difficult to be clear while keeping it interesting. We would love to do another book with only instructional illustrations- kind of like Ikea instructions.

SD: What do you love about skirts?
Patti & Seryn: You can get away with a lot in a skirt because it is like a blank canvas. Once you have the basic shape down the possibilities are limitless. Get bold with colors, contrasting fabrics, trims. You can customize it to your personal shape. You can use a lot of details in skirts that you might shy away from in a blouse or a dress. Skirts are great because when paired with an otherwise simple outfit an outrageous skirt can be worked into your everyday wardrobe.

SD: Do you have any advice to pass on to our readers who are looking to pursue their sewing careers?
There is a big difference between sewing for a hobby and sewing as a job. If you are looking for advice when you are just starting out we say: start simple. Don't overwhelm yourself with projects outside your skill set. Finishing projects as opposed to starting a bunch of them but not finishing is far more satisfying and will keep you sewing longer because you are meeting goals. For those looking to sew for a living we have different advice. To those of you wanting to make things for a living we say to be patient and not expect great things overnight. It takes a lot of perseverance and a lot of time to build your customer base. Remember to pay yourself a reasonable rate for your work, take your overhead into consideration when pricing your products, and don't undersell yourself. There is a market out there that appreciates what you do and you will find them if you look.

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Nicole Smith

About Nicole Smith

Hello!

My name is Nicole and I am a contributing editor for Stitch Magazine. I'm originally from Texas but now live in Brooklyn, NY where I try to squeeze my fabric collection and my six sewing machines into a Flatbush apartment.

Previously I was the Lead Editor of SewStylish magazine and Associate Editor of Threads magazine. I was also the Crafts & Decorating editor of Adorn Magazine and worked in the fashion and beauty departments of Teen People and Seventeen Magazine.

My second book, Dorm Decor (Chronicle Books) with Theresa Gonzalez, is available now. My first book entitled Fashion DIY (Sixth & Spring Books), which I co-authored with Carrie Blaydes, is also available now. I'm currently working on my third title to be published by Lark Books in 2012.

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