PRO­FILE: THE FOLD LINE

Simply Sewing - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Judy Dar­ley.

It’s not al­ways easy to iden­tify when you’ve met the per­fect per­son to launch a busi­ness with. As Kate Un­der­down, one half of the duo behind on­line sewing com­mu­nity The Fold Line (www. the­fold­line.com), points out: “Just be­cause you get on as friends, it doesn’t mean you’ll au­to­mat­i­cally have a good busi­ness part­ner­ship.”

For­tu­nately for de­voted fans of The Fold Line, Kate and her col­lab­o­ra­tor Rachel Walker met as col­leagues, lay­ing down those lines of re­spect and im­par­tial­ity be­fore nat­u­rally be­com­ing friends – all of which, Kate says, has “made work­ing to­gether so much eas­ier. Nei­ther of us is afraid of say­ing we don’t like an idea or sug­gest­ing ways it should change for fear we might hurt the other’s feel­ings.”

The pair met while work­ing for Lon­don­based sewing store Sew Over It (www. se­woverit.co.uk) with Lisa Com­fort. Kate grad­u­ated with a de­gree in fash­ion at Northum­bria Univer­sity, then worked as a milliner for four years be­fore get­ting the job with Sew Over It. “I thought the job sounded right up my street and meant I could use some of the skills I’d learnt at uni ver­sity such as pat­tern cut­ting.”

Rachel has a very dif­fer­ent back­ground, hav­ing com­pleted a PHD at Cam­bridge Univer­sity in evo­lu­tion­ary ge­net­ics,

Kate Un­der­down and Rachel Walker!launched The Fold Line with the aim of cre­at­ing a bustling sewing com­mu­nity. We "nd out how they make it work.

study­ing the flow­ers of South African daisies. “I then moved back to Lon­don and worked as a post­doc­toral re­searcher at The Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum in the evo­lu­tion­ary ge­net­ics of sea­weeds.”

Re­al­is­ing she needed a change, Rachel started dress­mak­ing classes in 2013. “My mother taught me how to sew as a child and I did sew a fes­ti­val tent for my GCSE de­sign and tech­nol­ogy project but didn’t start dress­mak­ing again un­til these classes.” Feeling revitalised, Rachel signed up for some work­shops at Sew Over It, and some­how be­came a long-term fix­ture!

“After get­ting more ex­pe­ri­ence, Rachel be­gan teach­ing the oc­ca­sional class for

Sew Over It,” says Kate. “At that time we were build­ing up the pat­tern side of the com­pany and it made sense to bring in Rachel. She’s the most or­gan­ised per­son in the world!” In­deed, this par­tic­u­lar qual­ity is one of the many things that makes Kate and Rachel’s busi­ness part­ner­ship work so beau­ti­fully. “I’m the one that pushes us to take more risks and she reigns me in. That’s why we work re­ally well to­gether.”

SO­CIAL SEWISTS

After Kate left Sew Over It to man­age the so­cial me­dia ac­counts of sev­eral lo­cal com­pa­nies, she and Rachel con­tin­ued to meet up as friends. “Every time we met up we chat­ted about hav­ing an on­line home for all the sewists out there,” Kate re­mem­bers. “So many sewists en­joy their hobby in a re­ally soli­tary way – you might spend a whole week­end mak­ing a dress and then show your non-sewing friends, and they re­ally won’t be as im­pressed as they should be! It can be lonely, so we be­gan to think about cre­at­ing a way for peo­ple to con­nect through a web­site.”

There was one ma­jor chal­lenge – nei­ther Kate nor Rachel had any ex­pe­ri­ence of build­ing web­sites. “Be­tween us we’ve got lots of skills, but cod­ing isn’t one of them,” Kate says. “It was only in ret­ro­spect that we re­alised for every other web­site like ours, such as Ravelry (www.ravelry.com) and Spoon­flower (www.spoon­flower.com) for in­stance, at least one of the founders has cod­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. We had to get in a team to help us and they built The Fold Line web­site on a Word­press plat­form with a spe­cial plug-in to take care of all the so­cial as­pects so peo­ple can chat and com­ment.” The up­shot of this is that it’s dif­fi­cult for Kate and Rachel to es­ti­mate what’s pos­si­ble within their bud­get and timescales. “Every time we want to do some­thing new with the site, it’s a steep learn­ing curve,” Kate says. “It’s frus­trat­ing not un­der­stand­ing how it all works.”

The big ad­van­tage of com­ing up with such a fab idea with­out ex­pe­ri­ence of run­ning a busi­ness, how­ever, is that they had no idea how hard it would be. “We talked about it every time we met up, chat­ting about it over a few glasses of wine usu­ally, and then de­cided to go for it,” Kate says. “We had no idea what we were get­ting into. That’s the nice thing about naivety!”

As the site be­gan to take shape both in their heads and in re­al­ity, Kate and Rachel made a point of talk­ing to ev­ery­one they met about their plans. When the launch date in Oc­to­ber 2015 loomed, this en­sured that an­tic­i­pa­tion was grow­ing. “It was such a strange day. We just clicked a but­ton and that was it – the site was live.” They had no way of guess­ing how suc­cess­ful it would be. “It was like plan­ning a big party when

you have no idea if any­one will turn up. When­ever some­one reg­is­tered, we got a no­ti­fi­ca­tion, and all day it was go­ing ping, ping, ping! It was amaz­ing.” As the months go by, the com­mu­nity site con­tin­ues to at­tract new mem­bers. “The bril­liant thing is that they’re all us­ing it in their own way. Some come for a chat, some use it to store their pat­terns, and oth­ers just drop in to read our blog en­tries and browse.”

The Fold Line also con­tin­ues to de­velop all the time, echo­ing the in­ter­ests of its com­mu­nity of sewists. “We started out think­ing that fo­rums were an out­dated idea and had groups in­stead, but peo­ple kept ask­ing for a fo­rum, so we ended up adding one, and it’s re­ally pop­u­lar!” Kate says. “You need to start with a long-term vi­sion, but be pre­pared to change it as and when, es­pe­cially when your busi­ness is as com­mu­nity-led as ours is.” One key el­e­ment of this is keep­ing mem­ber­ship of the com­mu­nity free, with ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue cov­er­ing the day-to-day run­ning costs. This en­ables Kate and Rachel to keep their mem­bers at the fore­front, and re­ally lis­ten to their ideas, al­low­ing them a real in­flu­ence on the way the site evolves.

“For every four or five peo­ple who con­tact you to make a sug­ges­tions, there are 100 who you prob­a­bly won’t hear from,” says Kate, “Ev­ery­thing we’ve in­tro­duced thanks to our com­mu­nity’s in­put has be­come an in­stant hit!” The abil­ity and will­ing­ness to trust your con­sumers’ in­stincts is clearly in­valu­able. “Our users are just the nicest peo­ple and we al­ways ask them for their opin­ions on things we’re plan­ning to in­tro­duce. It’s so help­ful!”

ACHIEV­ING GOALS

The core am­bi­tion of The Fold Line was al­ways to bring peo­ple to­gether, not only on the web­site but also in real life. “Chats on the web­site have led to many sewists ar­rang­ing face-to-face meet-ups,” Kate en­thuses. “It’s gain­ing a life of its own, and that makes us re­ally happy.” In fact, in Au­gust 2016, The Fold Line hosted its first real-world event, in­spired by craft re­treats in the USA.

“We kept say­ing how much we wished there was some­thing like that in the UK, then be­gan think­ing we should host our own,” Kate says. Then as they were mulling the idea over, a for­tu­itous email popped up in their in­box. “It was from Char­lotte of English Girl at Home (www.en­glish­girlath­ome.com), one of my favourite sewing blogs, say­ing she was think­ing along the same lines! So we got her on board and set things in mo­tion.”

The idea of the Sewing Week­ender was to keep things as re­laxed as pos­si­ble, invit­ing peo­ple to bring along what­ever sewing project they were cur­rently work­ing on, with the magic in­gre­di­ent of be­ing sur­rounded by like­minded peo­ple away from the dis­trac­tions of ev­ery­day life. De­scribed as “an in­for­mal se­wathon” and tak­ing place in Cam­bridge, the two-day event was a huge suc­cess, sell­ing out en­tirely long be­fore the week­end took place. “We’d brought all these sewists to­gether on­line, and then or­gan­ised an event so they could meet in real life. That for us says, yeah, we’ve done a good job.”

While the busi­ness cur­rently eats up most of Kate’s time, she does find the time to in­dulge in a bit of per­sonal sewing, too.

“I’m lucky enough to have a sewing room, though I do have to share it with my boyfriend’s car­pen­try tools – there are threads and saw­dust ev­ery­where!” Glanc­ing around, Kate counts nine pairs of scis­sors, which she keeps “hang­ing on nails in the wall so they’re within reach when­ever I need them. I also have a mas­sive pen rack with rulers and so on, and lots of pic­tures of things I’d like to make. I’m al­ways buy­ing pat­terns to add to the 40 or so wait­ing for me to make them! It’s chaotic but I like it.” She ad­mits to be­ing “a dress girl. I like that you get an en­tire out­fit in one go. I also like things that are fast. Rachel calls me the Speed De­mon! She’s the other way round, all about the process. She can get re­ally into do­ing topstitching care­fully and doesn’t mind if it takes for­ever.”

Hav­ing worked seven days a week since the launch in 2015, Kate is de­ter­minedly claw­ing back a bit of per­sonal time now.

“I’m try­ing to get a proper bal­ance – to close my lap­top at 7pm and have week­ends.” Although, as her boyfriend is a chef who works “strange hours”, Kate’s week­ends don’t al­ways hap­pen ac­tu­ally on the week­end. “Quite of­ten I’ll take a Wed­nes­day morn­ing off and we’ll go to see three or four art ex­hi­bi­tions around Lon­don when it’s

qui­eter,” she says. “I’ve started ex­er­cis­ing too, go­ing for runs and listening to pod­casts like Seam­work Ra­dio (www.seam­work.com/ra­dio), Crafty Plan­ner (www.crafty­plan­ner.com), and While She Naps (www.whilesh­enaps.com).” Busi­ness pod­casts cap­ti­vate Kate and help to keep her mo­ti­vated. “There’s one called Startup (www.gim­let­media.com/show/startup/) that’s great to lis­ten to on days when you’re feeling a bit fed up – it’s nice to lis­ten and know other peo­ple have sur­vived what you’re go­ing through.”

A big part of The Fold Line’s re­mit is to draw at­ten­tion to new pat­tern re­leases, which means Kate is con­stantly scour­ing sewing blogs, too. “Every week we pub­lish the Sew Re­porter, which of­fers a snap­shot of what’s go­ing on in the sewing world,” she says. “There are so many great blogs, in­clud­ing English Girl at Home, of course. I love that Char­lotte cov­ers so many dif­fer­ent things. I re­ally en­joyed her se­ries on nat­u­rally dye­ing fab­rics.” Vlogs, too, are a grow­ing ob­ses­sion. “I do so much work-based read­ing that it’s nice to sit back and let some­one show me what I need to know – it feels so much more re­laxed.” Kate and Rachel have even started film­ing their own vlogs to of­fer com­mu­nity mem­bers an al­ter­na­tive to read­ing blog posts, and they’re proving re­ally pop­u­lar.

In fact, the com­mu­nity hasn’t stopped grow­ing since it started, with Kate and Rachel us­ing their sewing skills and so­cial me­dia tal­ents to push the bound­aries of what a sewing web­site can be. It seems the high ex­pec­ta­tions of their first mem­bers were soundly placed! Most re­cently they’ve launched a brand of sewing pat­terns called TRIBE, which fea­tures de­signs “by well known sewing blog­gers (the first was The Bil­lie Col­lec­tion de­signed by Rachel Pin­heiro of www.house of­pin­heiro.com) in­ter­spersed with de­signs by mem­bers,” says Kate.

The lat­ter is a re­ally bright idea. Mem­bers are in­vited to sub­mit de­signs, and the most pop­u­lar of these, as voted for by the on­line com­mu­nity, will be made up into ac­tual pat­terns. It’s a clever way to en­gage sewists and boost loy­alty to The Fold Line even fur­ther. “It’s a way to get ev­ery­one in­volved in the de­sign process,” Kate says. “How of­ten have you thought that you’d love to sew a gar­ment, but can’t find the ex­act pat­tern for it? We all have those ideas, and The Fold Line will make some of them hap­pen.”

Be­come a mem­ber at www.the­fold­line.com Psst! The Fold Line have been short­listed for Sewing Blog of the Year in the 2017 Bri­tish Craft Awards. Vote for your faves at www.britishcraftawards.com (closes 20 Dec 2016)

Pho­tos: www.the­fold­line.com

Founders of The Fold Line Kate (left) and Rachel met while work­ing with Lisa Com­fort at Sew Over It.

Rachel mod­el­ling her Tilly and the But­tons Marigold jump­suit. She’s “all about the process” and takes time over de­tails.

Self-pro­claimed “dress girl” Kate ex­per­i­mented with stripes for a modern take on the 1940s Vogue 8974.

Above: Kate’s in­spir­ing craft space is filled with vin­tage finds, sewing tools and no­tions – there’s even a wall ded­i­cated to dis­play­ing her im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of scis­sors!

Be­low: Although run­ning The Fold Line keeps Kate and Rachel busy, they still find the time to sew and share their fin­ished projects on their blog, vlog and so­cial me­dia.

Rachel’s ver­sion of the Bre­ton top from the lat­est Sewing Bee book.

Kate and Rachel’s next ven­ture is a line of pat­terns de­signed by mem­bers of the sewing com­mu­nity.

Hands up if you love sewing! The Fold Line’s first real-world meet-up was a huge suc­c­cess.

These Sewing Week­ender at­ten­dees have noth­ing to be blue about wear­ing these hand­made out­fits!

Above: The Sewing Week­ender event brought to­gether sewists from across the UK for two days of sewing, chat­ting and drink­ing tea. Sounds like a per­fect week­end to us!

Top: The calm be­fore the sewing storm on the

rst day of the Sewing Week­ender.

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