Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with a Pattern Designer

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Feb 27, 2017 / 0 comments

Jessica George can’t remember a time when she didn’t know how to sew.
“There are 5 kids in my family and one of the ways my mom kept all of us busy was by doing crafts – so I was always crafting,” recalls George, who grew up near Cleveland. 
In college, George studied industrial design with the intent to go on to create toys, perhaps for some big-name company. She took time off before completing her studies to volunteer in underserved communities just outside Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Although much of what she encountered was vastly different than her life in the States, George did find a striking similarity – the people were crafters.

Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with a Pattern Designer
But before George could complete her time volunteering, she came down with an illness that doctors could not immediately diagnose. Eventually they determined she had postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
George had to readjust her plans – and sewing became a reprieve. It was a way for her to express her creativity while also earning an income.

Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with Pattern Designer Jessica George
Since 2012, George has been a professional sewing designer. Although she’s created countless designs over the years, she’s “officially” developed and sold 30. And in March, George will be publishing a book of her favorite designs all around an idea inspired by watching kids at play, entitled Hopeful Hatchlings.

Hopeful Hatchlings turtle. From Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with Pattern Designer Jessica George
Below, George shares her insights on creativity and crafting.
Most of your sewing designs are stuffed animals – why are toys so intriguing to you?
I still remember that one of my assignments in college was to do a product presentation geared towards children. It was just this simple assignment, but I had so much fun doing it that I kept going.
I think what really draws me to toys is that they’re tactile. You can squish them and love them. I can add a detail that can only be seen from a certain angle, but that adds so much personality. I love that toys are a design that can you can interact with in three dimensions.   

Hopeful Hatchlings Dinosaurs. From Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with Pattern Designer Jessica George
When it comes to creating a new sewing design, what inspires you?
It’s just everywhere, honestly. Sometimes I draw on the work of my favorite children’s book illustrators. I get a lot of ideas that way. But other times it’s ideas that come up from things I encounter during the day.

Hopeful Hatchlings owl. From Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with Pattern Designer Jessica George
How did your time in Argentina impact your design ideas?

When I lived in Argentina, I volunteered among people who had very little. They didn’t have running water, and their homes were simple with dirt floors. For many, their kids had to leave school early and start working to support their family. And they relied on their family’s skills, like baking or sewing. I always felt like I had this immediate connection with their culture since it was really a culture of crafting. It wasn’t just a hobby, but a way of life.
It’s hard to explain, but when you see a family working together and teaching one another – there’s this amazing sense of unity that comes from that.  The world gave them a hard road to go down, but they found a way to make it better by using skills passed down from generation to generation.
My life is completely different than theirs, and yet that sense of unity is still something that inspires me all the time.

Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with Pattern Designer Jessica George
Switching gears, any suggestions on teaching kids how to sew?
I think that kids get really excited when they see fast, exciting results. When I sew with kids, I like to find something that they can put their own mark on – even if it’s just the fabric choice. I’d recommend something they can do in one sitting – start to finish, like a pillow case. Or another example that’s perfect for kids is the fried egg pattern from my book.

Fried Egg pattern from Hopeful Hatchlings! From Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with a Pattern Designer

Any tips on helping kids develop their own sewing patterns?
What I’ve noticed with kids is that once they learn something they want to put their own stamp on it. So I’d encourage kids that once they learn one sewing concept to use it to come up with another idea on their own. That’s a great way to help them get crafting – to use one concept they’ve learned and apply it to another one.
I also have to say that developing patterns is helpful in teaching kids the importance of math skills. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with my nieces and nephews where they’ll say, “When am I ever going to use this?” And then I can tell them, “I used this just today.” Things like figuring out the area of a square or how much fabric you need to complete a project.

Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with Pattern Designer Jessica George
You mention in your blog, Sweetbriar Sisters, that you were diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 2005, but you found a way to continue being creative. What advice would you give to others dealing with similar challenges?
Something one of my doctors said has really stuck with me – she’d always say to find a way to minimize loss. I think about that phrase all the time.
When you have a chronic illness, it’s easy to keep a running mental list of all the things that it keeps you from doing. You can’t hold a job, you can’t travel, you miss special occasions, etc. The list can get pretty long. You have to chip away at it as much as you can. 
Sure, I can’t hold a traditional job, but I’ve found a way to work from home. I’d love to visit every art museum in Europe, but until I figure out how to do that I’ll follow as much local art as I can. I’m not exactly living out my dreams, but I definitely haven’t lost them either. Life can be pretty good if you take your loss and figure out how to minimize it as much as possible.

Hopeful Hatchlings Dragon. From Lessons from Argentina: Q&A with Pattern Designer Jessica George
For your latest designs, the toys “hatch”—how’d you come up with that idea?
Most of my toys ideas come from playing with kids – they’re the best inspiration ever. I was playing with a group of kids one day and they had some baby stuffed animals that they wanted to see hatch. They’d wrap it in a blanket and unwrap it to mimic hatching. They kept doing it over and over again – and I thought I could sew a pattern around that idea. And that’s how the hatchling was born. 


Learn more:
Website: http://SweetbriarSisters.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sweetbriarsisters/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SweetbriarSisters/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SBSPatterns



Kristen J. Gough is the Global Cuisines & Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. She shares her family's adventurous food experiences--and recipes--at MyKidsEatSquid.com.


All photos courtesy and copyright Jessica George