MATERIAL GIRL: JENNY HALL DESIGNS PATTERNS FOR DIY FASHIONISTAS WORLDWIDE
Jenny Hall was bored. The New Orleans native and schoolteacher was newly married and living in Atlanta while her husband was busy with his medical residency back in 2005. New in town and not knowing anyone, with her husband working until midnight, Hall decided she needed a hobby.
“I remember begging for $65. We had no money,” she says. She bought the cheapest sewing machine available and began to teach herself to sew by reading tutorials and looking at blogs.
Fast-forward 11 years, and Hall, now in Baton Rouge, is a rising indie clothing designer, with 11,000 followers from all over the world and a profitable online business selling her own original PDF sewing patterns. It wasn’t a seamless journey, to be sure, but Hall’s company, dubbed Seamingly Smitten, is thriving.
Of her earliest days with needle and thread, Hall recalls, “Everything was a rectangle. Pillows, curtains…anything rectangle.” But her motivation to make things evolved after the births of her son and daughter. “I wanted to make them things and I didn’t know how. I had no idea what ‘pattern’ meant,” she says. She taught herself to create children’s clothing by tracing her kids’ garments. Eventually she started a blog about her experiences. Other sewing moms started commenting, and the site evolved into a place for making and sharing patterns.
“It’s the teacher part of me that I can still use,” Hall says. For each downloadable pattern on her website and in her Etsy shop, she offers a step-by-step, easy-to-understand tutorial with pictures to help even novice sewers make a wearable end product.
Her customers are typically women ages 22 to 44, many of whom want to stay on trend, but with modest options. Hall gets inspired by looking at the latest trends in boutiques. With 70 patterns of her own now, she is able to go home and easily reinvent an existing design to cover the shoulders or add sleeves, for example.
In a private Facebook group with about 1,500 members, seamstresses from around the world interact with Hall daily, submitting photos of their finished products, asking questions and collaborating on designs. When a new pattern becomes available, Hall posts it in the group and asks for pattern testers in each size. She uses their pictures as examples in the pattern shop. “It’s great to see women of all sizes,” she says. “I use my customers as models. I get emails saying, ‘Thank you for using models that look like me.’”
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the process for Hall is seeing her customers’ personalities shine through based on the fabrics they choose. One popular summer design, the Cold Shoulder Top, was sewn dozens of ways—in a solid teal cotton, a bright floral, a Navajo print with a solid back, a soft rayon/spandex blend and a geometric pattern, to name a few—all by women proud enough of their handiwork to be photographed wearing it.
While she loves designing patterns for women most of all, she also offers some “Mommy & Me” designs, as well as plenty of ruffles, rompers and john johns for the little ones.
When Hall first started, she was one of three designers that she knew of selling downloadable patterns online. Now, the market is saturated—but she doesn’t seem to mind. It only gives testament to the fact that the maker culture is still thriving. “I’d rather more people do it,” she says, “and share in the love of sewing.”