Whether it’s an accent pillow that adds a smart pop of color, or a snuggly throw giving a sofa the extra coziness it needs, the right textiles can tie a room together. We are always looking for new ways to incorporate tactile beauty into our living spaces, and our love affair with textiles is such that in 2013, we began making our own soft goods right here in our Portland factory.
Composed of true makers, the small-but-mighty sewing team is responsible for taking huge rolls of fabric and spools of thread and turning them into the beautiful, handmade heirlooms you see in our catalogs. “Being makers to the core, it was really important for us to start producing in-house the products we were dreaming up,” says Creative Manager Jorie Garcia. “Luckily, a sewing team is a relatively manageable operation, so we felt like it was something we could and should accomplish.”
On any given day, if you walk onto the second floor of our factory, you might find our sewing team creating stockings, aprons, travel totes, tablecloths, napkins, pillows, and much more. Cindy Morgan, Abi Mohrmann, and Rachel Rasmussen, the three full-time members of the sewing team, possess a deep bag of sewing skills they picked up from their individual professional and life experiences. Cindy, for example, earned a four year fashion design degree from the Art Institute of Portland, worked as a costume designer for decades, and ran her own sewing business. Rachel, the newest member of the team, taught herself sewing before picking up five years of production sewing experience in companies around Portland. Abi was a committed hobbyist before transferring to the position from elsewhere in the factory.
The three women work in a space about the size of a single-car garage. The middle of the space is taken up by a broad table for measuring and cutting fabric. Around the table are three straight-stitch sewing machines, and two specialty machines known as sergers that simultaneously cut and sew fabric. A few ironing boards and clothes irons (just like the ones you probably have at home) are set up in the lane between the table and the sewing machines. One day they might be stitching a vibrant damask fabric woven in India (featured in our collaboration with ace&jig) while the next they might be cutting heavy canvas for the Schoolhouse Canvas Organizer.
The team works hard to perfect details so subtle you might not even notice them on first glance. For example, every panel on the St. Honore Tree Skirt has to be cut so the horizontal stripes match up perfectly when stitched together. When sewing the Patti Plaid Stocking, they have to pay attention to how they cut each pattern in order to highlight the large scale of the unique Woolrich plaid.
Cindy is the longest tenured member of the team, and we’ve written on here about Cindy in the past because she’s such a beloved figure in the factory. But she’s also a deeply skilled and knowledgeable sewist. She’s been sewing since she was five years old and can draw on decades of sewing experience when problem solving. She knows how to fix the machines and even keeps a collection of specialty sewing machine feet around for modifying machines like a chef keeps a collection of knives for preparing different ingredients. “We’re extremely lucky to have someone of Cindy’s knowledge and skill on our team,” says Jorie, who was involved in bringing Cindy to Schoolhouse in 2013 to set up the department from scratch.
“When I was hired, it was just me,” she says. “I spent a few weeks on the computer placing orders for the sewing machines and getting everything set up.” Having been around to start all of the processes, Cindy functions as the de facto lead of the department. But as with other departments in the Schoolhouse factory, the sewing team functions smoothly in part because every member of the team is trained to perform every necessary task in creating our products. This flexibility lets the team be more efficient and productive, but it also makes for a steep learning curve for new members who are expected to contribute immediately when they’re brought on board.
In spite of the rapid tempo of the job, the Sewing Specialists say they appreciate that their station lets them be a true maker. “We get to take fabric and see it all the way to a finished product. Sometimes we’re even packaging the products before they go out the door,” says Cindy. “There’s a lot of satisfaction in making something beautiful from start to finish with your own hands.”