Handmade: Designer learned from European couturiers
You can hear the excitement in her voice as Christine Jonson talks about her successful career in the clothing design industry that began 23 years ago, after she completed a four-year certificate program in pattern making at a local design school.
“The small school was owned and operated by two European women who were couturiers in their respective France and Italy for many years,” remembers Jonson, who lived and worked in Detroit at the time. “This was the only school of its kind in my area and I consider myself very fortunate to have been exposed to such expertise and knowledge. I felt that I had found my calling. It wasn’t that I picked up the art of pattern making so quickly, as much as it was the enthusiasm I felt inside for what I was learning. I still feel that same enthusiasm today.”
After design school, Jonson, 58, did an apprenticeship with her mother, an “Italian couture dressmaker,” who taught her to sew. She says, “At 25, I became partners with her and expanded her couture dressmaking business where I spent several years sewing and honing the design and pattern making skills I learned in school. This experience brought theory and application together.”
Jonson, who now lives in Royal Oak, recalls being on holiday during the early ‘80s in California where she noticed people wearing clothes made of a fabric she’d only seen used for workout gear. It was “a cotton/Lycra knit fabric that used shape and design as its only attributes.” That experience would later lead to a major turn of events in her career.
She says, “After years of detailed, exacting, by-hand couture sewing, I was ready for a change, and this fabric was my vehicle for change. I spent many years designing and producing my own label of ready-to-wear clothing for the wholesale market, designing exclusively with this cotton/Lycra knit fabric. It was this wonderful knit fabric and its qualities that allowed me to design and perfect sewing techniques that have translated to my pattern company today.
“What’s fun for me,” adds Jonson, “is doing the pattern making as guess work, getting from A-B with as few mistakes as possible. How can I make this garment look like there are 15 pattern pieces when there’s really only four or five?”
Jonson creates her designs completely by “hand and eye” and without a computer. Most are intended to be used with Lycra blend fabrics, and she describes them as not being oversized, but not really fitted, either. One of her loose-fitting designs is a swing coat she calls “Easy Coat Pattern,” and among her more popular patterns is the one for the wrap dress that appeared on the cover of the September 2013 issue of “Threads” magazine, which she writes for sometimes.
Jonson works out of her design studio in Hazel Park where she welcomes customers, by appointment, to look through her collection of over 50 patterns, which are printed by McCalls and priced from $12-$20 each. The patterns, sold under her name, are also available at Haberman Fabrics (905 S. Main) in Royal Oak, stores across the country, and on her website (cjpatterns.com). She writes the instructions and has someone do the digitizing, grading/sizing, and illustrations.
Jonson’s patterns “are a very good seller for an independent pattern line,” says Patty Weir, apparel manager at Haberman Fabrics. “They’re very timeless, but very stylish for all ages of women.”
Currently, Jonson shares her skills by working on product development for other clothing design companies. She says, “It’s been a really nice transition using the skills I’ve developed over the years.”
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, email@example.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.
Contact Christine Jonson Patterns at (248) 547-1080 or cjpatterns.com.