Start your (sewing machine) engines, our latest free pattern, the Peppermint Paddington Top, has landed! It’s a bold blouse pattern with puff sleeves that bring the drama, mama, to any outfit. This exclusive, highly wearable pattern was created for us in collaboration with the lovely South African patternmaker French Navy Patterns and is brought to you in partnership with our good friends at Spoonflower. We used the new Cotton Lawn from Spoonflower, printed with a gorgeous floral pattern by Californian surface-pattern designer Grace Andersson – the winner of our Spoonflower design challenge!
Founded back in 2016 by Sarah Steenkamp, French Navy Patterns focuses on making everyday, easy-to-sew patterns accessible to even the most inexperienced of sewists.
“I studied fashion design when I finished school and, although I have never really stopped sewing and making patterns on the side, somehow life got in the way and I never seemed able to pursue my passion as a career,” Sarah says. “I started this (now completely neglected) blog as a personal project in an attempt to preserve my sanity when my ex-husband was working abroad and I was living alone with our tiny twins. It served as a much needed creative outlet and distraction from loneliness, laundry and sleep deprivation. As time passed it sort of morphed into a platform for my patterns after I discovered the incredible world of indie sewing, and I have never looked back!”
In the spirit of going behind the seams, we caught up with Sarah to learn more about her label and to rack her brain for tips and tricks when creating the pattern.
Tell us about your journey into the sewing world?
I was introduced to sewing at a young age as my mum used to sew quite a bit when I was growing up. I was always fascinated by the process and loved the trips to fabric stores to select fabric for the pyjamas she’d annually make for me. I only actually started sewing when I was 17, a few months before I finished school and then went on to study fashion design for three years. I have been making my own clothes ever since but it was only after the birth of my twins in 2015 that I decided to no longer purchase clothing at all and transition into a completely handmade wardrobe.
It was quite a lonely and isolating time for me being outnumbered by small babies, and I began documenting the process on Instagram as a creative outlet and an escape from sleep deprivation and the demands of single parenthood. I didn’t even know that indie sewing patterns existed until I started my Instagram account in 2016!
I started to get so many questions and requests about the self-drafted designs I posted that one day I thought, “Maybe I could do this.” I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into as I had never even used an indie pattern at that point (they were way out of my budget), but in hindsight this was probably a good thing as knowing how much went into it probably would have been too daunting and scared me off. My first pattern test was quite an education for me but my testers held my hand and guided me through all the challenges that were presented to me.
What inspires your patterns?
The patterns I create are mostly inspired by my lifestyle as I am still ultimately designing garments I would like to wear and that are practical to daily life. My design process is not trend-driven. This is both because I am way too busy to devote any time to researching what is ‘current’ or ‘fashionable’ (although I’m sure I’m subconsciously influenced by this on some level), but also because I aspire to create garments that are timeless and accessible to all ages. Mornings for me are quite manic, being a single mom to six-year-old twins as well as working a day job (patternmaking is my side hustle), and I don’t have time to waste thinking about what to wear. I am not really interested in fashion so much as I am in helping others to curate a wardrobe that reflects their personal style and hopefully makes getting dressed a little more effortless.
What do you love most about the sewing community?
Where do I begin?! The sewing community is quite literally the nicest collection of people in the world. I would never have had the confidence to release even one pattern, never mind several, had it not been for the encouragement and support of this community. Imposter syndrome is strong with me and I often (usually) feel like I have no idea what I’m doing but the sewing community continues to support, educate and inspire me in a way that I could never adequately articulate.
We just adore the Peppermint Paddington Top! Any tips and tricks for sewists when creating it?
It is a quick and easy sew that even beginner sewists can tackle. If, however, you are new to sewing and find the pattern a little daunting then you can easily omit the button closures at the back as it is more decorative than practical – the top can be pulled over your head without undoing the buttons. The technique by which the facing and button stand are constructed is also a little unusual (or so I was informed by some of my testers) but makes for an amazingly clean finish on the inside. It’s always a good idea to read through the instructions in their entirety before getting started sewing.
Do you have any recommendations for fabric choice for those struggling to make a decision?
I think that the fabric choice, to a large degree, dictates the overall ‘drama’ of the puffed sleeve. If you are looking to make less of a statement, then I would suggest using a softer and drapier fabric. If you are all about embracing the puff then firmer fabrics and those with body will yield a more structured silhouette. The raglan sleeve also creates an opportunity for interesting colour-blocking or contrasting fabric combinations.
Where do you plan on wearing the top?
I love my (many) Peppermint Paddington Tops and am surprised how easily the quite dramatic silhouette has fitted into my (otherwise quite conservative) wardrobe. I personally love to wear it French-tucked into high-waisted pants or with dungarees.