1 August 2014

A Day in the Life of Liesl Gibson (Oliver + S)

You all know Liesl Gibson, right? The designer behind no less than FOUR sewing pattern brands - kidswear Oliver + S, Lisette patterns in partnership with Simplicity, Liesl + Co PDF patterns, and Straight Stitch Society accessories. (Just reading that list is making me need a little nap on her behalf!) Well today we get to find out what it's like to be superwoman Liesl by spending a Day in the Life in her company. How does she manage her time to stay on top of it all? And what does she wear while doing it? Let's see...


"My typical day right now is pretty atypical. For 10 months of the year, my daughter S is in school (she’ll start fourth grade in September), and we have a regular schedule: wake up, breakfast, to the school bus stop by 8:20, work, afterschool program pick up by 5:55, dinner, homework, bed for her, more work for me, and then sleep.

But July and August are different. S spends all of July with her grandparents—two weeks with my husband Todd’s parents in Michigan and two weeks with my parents in Wisconsin. They all love the time together, and Todd and I enjoy the adult time. Then we usually do a home exchange for the month of August and spend that month together as a family somewhere interesting. This August, we’ll be in Barcelona. We still work while we’re away, but the change of scenery and pace is always inspiring.

So right now, my typical day is much more unstructured than usual. This morning I woke up at 8:00. I start the morning with breakfast—usually eggs or a little granola. Todd and I have just started doing the Seven Minute Workout together in the morning. S and I recently started taking violin lessons together, so I practice violin a little in the morning—I absolutely love playing! After that I shower and get dressed. Today I chose a pair of linen culottes that we’ll be releasing as a Liesl + Co. patterns this fall. I paired it with a white embroidered blouse I bought at Zara a few years ago and with some new sandals.

Todd and I left together for the studio around 9:00 today—which is quite late for us. Todd usually bikes to the studio while I take the subway. But today there was a thunderstorm forecast and a flash flood watch for the afternoon, so he took the subway with me. (The afternoon ended up being sunny with no rain. Go figure.)

When I first launched my business, Todd was working as a management consultant and helped (“forced” might be more accurate…) me to write a business plan before I did anything else. Having a solid business plan really helped me through the first two years. Whenever anyone asks me for advice about starting a business, I tell them they have to have a good business plan before they launch. Todd hadn’t originally planned to work with me, but that changed about a year and a half after the company started and we saw the potential in the business. We’ve been working together for five and a half years now. I do product development for our four brands of sewing patterns, and he makes the business run smoothly.

We live in Manhattan’s East Village, and our studio is four stops into Brooklyn on the L line which runs under the East River. We can make it there by bike or subway in about 20 minutes. But today I needed to stop at the art store to pick up some materials for a Straight Stitch Society photo shoot, so I got off one stop early.

From there I walked to the studio. Our space is in an industrial neighborhood that is undergoing rapid change. The small manufacturers are moving out, and their large spaces are being carved up into artist studios and workspaces for creative businesses. The floor where our studio is located used to be a book bindery, and you can see sewing machine needles nestled between the floor boards. I moved into this space six years ago, shortly after I started our first brand, Oliver + S.

I was one of the first tenants in the building after it was converted, and I really like it here. We’ve become friends with some of our neighbors who do interesting things like creating paintings, designing wallpaper, recording music (and arguably being the coolest woman in the world), and making artisanal beef jerky. Until recently, we even had a small bourbon distillery in the building.

I usually start my morning at my desk, responding to email and corresponding with many of the freelancers who help us create our patterns.

What I do after that depends on where we are in the production cycle for each of our brands. I could be designing new styles for kids or women (for Lisette or Liesl + Co.), figuring out how to construct a new style, writing and illustrating instructions, or formatting patterns for the printer. Every day is different. We often have work in different stages of development for our brands, so some days I’ll be working on something early in the production cycle at one time and then switch to something later in the cycle for another brand. I usually spend Mondays writing blog posts, but right now I’m trying to finish the fall patterns, so I’m really focusing on all the details that are so important to our patterns.

There aren’t any convenient places to eat in the neighborhood, so Todd makes lunch around 12:30. We have a sandwich press in the studio, and he puts together hot sandwiches of some kind. Today’s lunch was sponsored by the letter P: panini (with prosciutto, pepperoni, provolone, plum tomatoes, and pesto), pickles, and potato chips. We pair lunch with some fruit that I pick up on my way to the subway in the morning. Today it was cherries.

 In the afternoon, it’s more of the same activities. This afternoon I cut out a dress that we’ll release this fall under our Liesl + Co. brand, and I worked on formatting the pattern sheet for another Liesl + Co. pattern for the fall.

We left the studio at 7:15 and stopped for a quick dinner of vegetarian burritos and nachos at La Gringa Taqueria which is near the closest subway stop. We were home by 8:15. I practiced violin for a while and then we put on an episode of Boardwalk Empire which I’ve checked out from the library. While the show played, I opened my laptop and made cutting layouts for the patterns I was working on in the afternoon. After that, Todd headed off to bed and I stayed up for a while finishing the layouts, finally turning in around 12:00. Tomorrow I leave for a series of trips: flying to Nashville to teach for one of Anna Maria Horner’s sewing workshops, then home to see my family and to pick up S, and then we all leave for Barcelona a few days later. I guess this is one of my last typical/atypical workdays in the studio until we return home in September and school starts again!"


Thanks for letting us spend the day with you, Liesl! Readers, if you liked this and want to read more Days in the Life of inspirational people who have made a career out of their love of stitching, there's a whole page of them - from Colette Patterns to Sublime Stitching to Figgy's. Enjoy!