I was so very honoured and happy when the lovely people at Rikstäcket (the Swedish quilters association) asked if I wanted to do an interview for their magazine this summer, I naturally said YES! The lovely magazine with the article just landed in my mothers letterbox, she naturally immediately took pictures and sent to me so I could read it, it's beautiful! I'll translate it below for those of you who don't speak swedish. ;)
Maria Wallin, self-employed & pattern designer
Maria Wallin is one of the teachers at our annual meeting and retreat in Kalmar. She makes patterns, primarily for bags, under the name Pink Pony Design. Here she tells us how she got started with this business and how she works.
Who is Maria Wallin?
- I'm a 32 year old "kulla" (word for woman or girl in the part of Sweden I'm from) from Borlänge. Eleven years ago I packed up my company and two cats and moved to sunny Malta to try something new in a warmer climate. There I've since remained and I live there today with my beloved boyfriend Erik Svensson, sadly my two cats, Edward and Diana has passed away. We also have a summer house in Sweden, in the middle of the woods outside Kristinehamn, where I love to spend a few months each summer to fish, go berry and mushroom picking and fiddle in the garden, which is a few of my favourite things. On top of that I love to travel, good food and good wine and reading, especially fantasy books.
How did you get started with quilting and bag pattern making?
- My mother, who's always been a very talented clothes seamstress thought we needed to find something fun to do together when I moved so far away. So when she'd been to a quilting fair the spring after I'd moved and heard about a quilting retreat that a woman held up in Våmhus (small village in the middle of Sweden) each summer, she thought we should try quilting together. I was at that point in my life not very interested in, or more importantly good at sewing, and quilting didn't sound super exciting to be completely honest. But I'd love to spend a week with my mother so off we went, I got to borrow one of her sewing machines and from the first day up in the big house with her and 28 other lovely, quilting women I was hooked! We learned the basics of quilting together, everything from the fact that you actually rotary cut fabrics (instead of cutting with scissors as I thought) to sewing a correct 1/4" seam. Already after a few days I decided that I'd had enough of small projects,
I wanted to sew a full size quilt! Together with our teacher I sketched a bargello pattern, exactly like I wanted it and with her help I designed my very first quilt design and pattern. It was a fantastic experience! And absolutely amazing to be able to cuddle down under my very own quilt after several days hard work.
And that's how it all started, I continued to sew and quilt a bit more regularly after that and each summer I spent at least a week along with my mother at the quilting retreat. I tried to learn as much as I possibly could from the internet, and got through the web into bag making also. I started a blog (this blog that back then had a different address) to be able to keep a diary over my sewing. I quite quickly got quite a few hundred readers each day despite the fact that back then, all I did was share what I had made, and my mistakes and lessons making it. I made a few bags after patterns I'd bought or found online for free, but got very frustrated by the difficult patterns with in my opinion too little information and images for them to be fun or easy to follow and make. So I quickly abandoned following others patterns also when it came to bags and started making my own designs here too.
When did you start your company?
- I made a few free quilt patterns for United Notions in the US - they're still available on their blog, modabakeshop.com - and that lit the fire and got me started on making my own patterns and tutorials. But back then I worked more than full time with my company that the sewing was put on the backburner a lot. But I stayed with it and made a few tutorials, tried to keep the blog alive and learned to free motion quilt. That is something I really love, it's so amazing to sit there with a blank canvas of fabric in front of you and just create and paint with thread.
When I sold my company about 1.5 years ago I then suddenly had a lot of time for sewing! I wanted to find something new to work with and after much positive pressure and cheers from Erik, Pink Pony Design was born, my very own company for making and selling patterns. It took a lot of convincing and coaching from Erik before I added my first bag pattern to craftsy.com and I was insanely nervous
before the first purchase was made. Thankfully I got incredibly positive response on my first pattern, the Bring the Basics Bag (which I'll be holding a class on at the annual meeting/retreat and that soon will be available in a new version and in two sizes) and I was so excited to continue! Today most of my sales are from my own homepage.
How do you work when you make your patterns?
My basic idea behind my patterns is that they should be
more like tutorials, where each step is followed by a color photo and a thorough description of exactly what you're supposed to do. I presume nearly no knowledge (other than basic sewing skills) from my customers but try to explain every step from the very beginning. You shouldn't have to worry about whether or not you understood or did something wrong.
My design process is pretty simple, most patterns are born from a personal need for a specific bag or bag feature. Then it's very simple to just make what I need and want, but I try to make it with a fun design or clever idea. Other times I start with a basic idea, like with for example with my Batala Backpack, where I had the idea to make a full circle backpack as I'd never seen one. It however proved to be a bit more difficult than I'd initially thought, as I didn't want to to turn out as just a sack, but I wanted it to have a proper backpack with some stability and interior pockets. So I had to divide my circle a little, give it a proper, interfaced middle section and let the two half circles be the sides. So I got my full circle backpack in the end, even if it consisted of two half circles.
Thankfully I have Erik to discuss ideas and thoughts with, and often when we're out and about we discuss handbags we see, designs, patterns, colors, upcoming trends and other things that can be incorporated into future designs.
I usually sketch out all ideas I get, so I remember them later. I have a sketchbook filled with more or less doable ideas and designs. Sometimes I even dream about designs, my so far one and only table runner pattern is from an especially vivid dream where this pattern was so clearly imprinted in my mind I just had to rise from my bed in the middle of the night and go sketch it so I'd be sure I'd remember it.
Once I've decided on a design I dissect it to see what's actually sewable, what might be too difficult or tricky to do for the average sewist and then I redraw it over again. You'd laugh so much if you saw my sketchbook, luckily I'm much better at sewing than I am at drawing. But the most important thing is that my stick figure like bag doodles are good enough for me to remember my thoughts regarding the idea and design when it's time to use it.
Then I sew a trial version, but I always sew using my favourite fabrics, even my very first tests, this as I want to be able to use the bag myself even if it turns out it's not 100% right and needs to be altered a lot for the final version. Many of my finished bags ends up as display exes in stores, some with my parents whom since 1.5 years have the quilt and sewing machine store Borlänge Sycentrum.
Based on how it went when I made the trial version I then make changes, change the order of the sewing process to make it easier and more convenient to sew, change angles or anything at all really that bothered me in the trial version. the I sew the final bag, then I take photos of every step in the construction process, make drawings of the pieces for templates and then from those pictures I write the pattern.
Your patterns are available in both English and Swedish, do you write both versions at the same time?
- I write all my patterns in English first, this since I've worked in English all my adult life so it is quicker for me to write in than Swedish. And most of my pattern testers, the amazing women who try my patterns before they're available for sale to check I haven't made any mistakes are English speakers so that way I can get the pattern to them as soon as I've finished the first version. While they're testing it over a number of weeks, I can then translate it to Swedish without stress.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to expand so I spend as much time as I can on my little business. Most of my business is online, about 90-95% of sales are PDF and I like it that way. Many of my customers are in the US, UK and Germany, and Australia is also starting to join the ranks which of course is great fun.
You also have a lot of customers in Sweden, do you have anything you'd like to say to them?
- I absolutely love seeing what you make from my patterns, it's one of my favorite things in the world, so please tag me on Instagram and Facebook, and please mark your posts with the hashtags for the pattern as it's so amazingly fun to see your beautiful creations!