PROFILE: THE FOLD LINE
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.”
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!”
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)
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...
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.