Linda Lee founded The Sewing Workshop pattern company in 1991 after purchasing the San Francisco-based sewing and arts school of the same name. Today, The Sewing Workshop is a multifaceted sewing business that specializes in education, patterns and products for the home sewist. Based in Lee’s hometown of Topeka, Kansas, the company produces an avant-garde line of sewing patterns, runs a month-to-month subscription program of sewing video tutorials and sells designer fabric, hard-to-find notions and Lee’s how-to books.
Lee’s designs cover a number of styles, but she tends to gravitate toward simple yet interesting geometric lines. “I like asymmetry, the perfect disguise for a not-so-perfect figure,” she says. Lee strives to create interesting designs featuring great fabrics, unexpected combinations and unique details that inspire her customers. Her goal is a satisfied customer dressed in a style that makes her feel attractive and comfortable. Lee works hard to make sure the instructions that go with her patterns are clear and easy to follow so her designs are simple to make.
“I have always been interested in trends,” Lee says. “I want to be right in the thick of them.” To help with that, she makes sure to employ people under 35. “They keep it exciting,” Lee says of her four younger employees. A former interior designer, Lee also takes much of her inspiration from the interior design industry, which she calls “always on the move, trend-setting, sophisticated and ever-changing.”
Lee’s interior design roots show in the look of her building in downtown Topeka. It’s a historical building that has been stripped down to the basic elements of the architecture. The floors are old wood, and the walls are brick and stone. The ceilings feature exposed joists, lots of contemporary lighting and unique wavy foam ceiling panels that improve acoustics and add ambient light. Lee describes it as an industrial feel. “Nothing matches, which I love,” Lee says. “I chose [the space] because I like historical buildings and restoring them, and the price was right.”
The office is a little crowded now that they have more employees, but Lee can always retreat to her personal workspace, which is her favorite part of the office. Even though it’s small, she loves that she can relax in her Herman Miller Ergon chair while she works on her iMac, clear her mind by looking at her quirky artwork or gaze out the window that opens directly out to the street.
Lee also has a number of tables so she can easily work on multiple projects at once. She keeps her class materials organized using fabric-covered boxes that she keeps on rolling industrial shelves like the ones used in commercial kitchens. “Everything is mobile,” she says, “so there aren’t too many challenges that we can’t address by changing things.” While she’d like to add a quiet room for small meetings, she appreciates that impromptu meetings happen organically because of the open space.
Though Lee loves her hometown, she travels constantly for the business. “My influences come from those travels, meeting people from all over the world,” she says. Nonetheless, the Topeka office is home to a great source of her inspiration. “My employees are the most inspirational things in my office.”
Learn more with Linda! Discover a variety of skills and techniques in your favorite format: ebook, pattern or video. Find them at shopsewitall.com.
Q&A with Linda Lee eBook
Get the very best of Linda Lee’s column featured in Sew News magazine. Learn a bounty of unique techniques and tips, from adjusting pants patterns and sewing perfect necklines to bias seams, hand smocking, underlining and more.
Sew a sturdy tote bag with laminated linen. With loads of cool features like faux suede handles and a metal zipper accent, this bag pattern is the perfect blend of everyday utility and sophisticated style.
Sew it All TV: Rectangle Skirt with Linda Lee, Episode 808
Create an easy wrap skirt using two fabric rectangles that create an asymmetrical hem. Choose from corduroy, cotton sateen, denim, double knit, rayon, linen, raw silk or wool—the possibilities are endless with this forgiving design.
Craft U: The Anatomy of a Bag: Tips & Techniques for Sewing Bags with Linda Lee
Learn the ins and outs of all the techniques necessary to make a pretty and practical duffle bag. Learn about making bags and totes, installing zippers, making your own straps and more! Enrollment for this six-week course began on Nov. 28, 2016, but with no set class times you can still enroll! Visit craftonlineuniversity.com for all the details.