Pati Palmer – The Julia Child of the Sewing Industry!

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Pati Palmer getting fit with Melissa Watson, Pati’s daughter.

Pati Palmer getting fit with Melissa Watson, Pati’s daughter.

Pati Palmer is to home seamstresses what Julia Child is to home cooks.  Julia elevated our cooking and made us believe we could be gourmet chefs in our own kitchens.  Pati developed and simplified sewing techniques that made us believe we could not only sew our own clothes, but we were designers, and what we created could be original and better fitting than anything we could buy off the rack.

Pati considers herself as an educator and has been teaching sewing for nearly 40 years.  For 15 years, she traveled 26 weeks per year before establishing the Palmer/Pletsch International School of Sewing in Portland, OR, where she now trains consumers and sewing educators. She is the co-author of ten sewing books and editor/publisher of 16 more books, 16 how-to videos. She also created eight unique Palmer/Pletsch sewing notions products.

From 1980 to the present Pati has designed and written instructions for more than 220 patterns for The McCall Pattern Co. Known as McCall’s “fit expert,” she remains a top-selling designer including a new pattern that includes how to use The Palmer/Pletsch Tissue-Fitting Method.

In recognition of her contribution to the sewing industry, in 2008 Pati Palmer was inducted into the American Sewing Guild Hall of Fame.  In 2011 she was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Association of Sewing & Design Professionals.

Sew a Beaut. Wedding coverGail Brown Quigg worked with Pati Palmer and wrote many books for Palmer/Pletsch.  According to Gail, “in the early 80’s, Pati and her then partner, Susan Pletsch (now Foster), took a big risk in asking me to coauthor a book on bridal sewing, Sew a Beautiful Wedding. When I look back, I marvel at their willingness to invest in a relative newcomer to book publishing. Contrary to the short publishing cycles practiced by most publishers in the sewing/craft industry, Pati continues to publish an updated version of this and my other Palmer/Pletsch titles, now 30+ years later.   

When we would be writing a book, her constant questions were, ‘How will that make a difference to our reader? Can they understand it easily and quickly from what we have written or illustrated on this page? Is the information new enough?’”

Gail credits Pati Palmer with bringing realism to the sewing industry.  “She was determined to provide a path to real fashion for real people and to create patterns and clothes that would flatter real women’s figures not the stick figures depicted on magazine covers. Pati is always long on ideas and short on time. The magic to that conundrum is that she translates it into respect for her customers’ time. She and the creatives around her are on the search for shortcuts that don’t compromise outcomes.”

Palmer/Pletsch was not driven by the model of book publishing at the time.  They developed their own system, devoting time and energy to writing books that would stand the test of time, and last longer than one publishing cycle.  As they sent teachers out into the field, they created handbooks and pamphlets that dealt with specific sewing issues and techniques.  Every page was scrutinized, every word mattered.  If an illustration could make the point better than two paragraphs of text, Pati would drop the text and go with the illustration.

When photography came into book publishing, Pati immediately recognized the value of using photos.  So, she did what she always does.  She learned how to do it herself, and Palmer/Pletsch photography became the gold standard in the sewing industry.  She created her own flexibility because she DID IT HERSELF.

Melissa Watson, Pati’s daughter, takes over the McCall’s Vogue, Butterick Fashion Show in 2015 after 25 years of commentary. “Time for the next generation.”

Melissa Watson, Pati’s daughter, takes over the McCall’s Vogue, Butterick Fashion Show in 2015 after 25 years of commentary.
“Time for the next generation.”

Pati was always willing to share information and connect people for their mutual benefit.  In 1984, Joanne Ross, a Home Economist for Pierce County, Washington, was contemplating starting a consumer sewing show in Tacoma, Washington.  The first person she called for advice was Pati Palmer.  Joanne and Pati were both home economists in the Pacific Northwest and had been friends for years.  At the time, Pati was managing a small sewing show in Portland, Oregon.  Joanne and Pati met for a cup of coffee, and they discussed the possibility of starting a show in Tacoma.  At the end of that meeting, Pati said, “It’s a great idea, you have the population to grow a show, you have an excellent base of volunteers, and I’ll help any way I can.”  And she did.  The Sewing & Stitchery Expo has become the biggest consumer sewing show in America, and Joanne credits the encouragement and good advice she received from Pati Palmer.

Since the first year of the Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Pati has been a vendor and a teacher.  In 1984, her seminars were among the first to sell out — and that is still true today.  Joanne says, “Pati is a hard worker, and she puts together a fantastic professional style show every year, using her McCall’s patterns.  Her style show is a highlight of Sew Expo — entertaining and beautifully presented.  Our audience appreciates her focus on FASHION FOR REAL PEOPLE, and the importance of good fit.”

Joanne says, “Pati Palmer has been instrumental in helping a lot of people get started in the industry.  She is a talented teacher and an astute business woman.  She feels very strongly helping somebody get started is paying it forward.  Pati never felt competitive with other teachers or designers or book publishers, because she feels we are all on the same team.  Whatever brings interest and enthusiasm for sewing should be encouraged.  Pati is right, which is why I don’t worry about other sewing shows.  It’s about building interest and inspiring home sewing.  This is how you pay it forward — with advice and encouragement to newcomers.”

Gail says, “Look through the Palmer/Pletsch book and video catalog, and you will see a wide range of topics and authors, all introduced to the sewing world by Pati.   Her products survive and thrive because of who she is:  a force. More than anything, she identifies with, and cares for her customers. Her goal is to help them celebrate sewing, fashion, their homes, and really, themselves. When she started in the business, the fashion sewing statement was created in New York; Pati brought a fresh, less urban and practical approach to style and construction. She knew the consumer, because she was the consumer, and coincidentally and conveniently, she loved to sew.’’

Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, and Pati Palmer on set of

Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, and Pati Palmer on set of

For example,  Marta Alto (who has been with Palmer/Pletsch for 30 years) and Pati are famous for their tissue-fitting classes.  They have developed an 11- hour in-depth tissue-fitting online class for  When asked when, how, and why they started tissue-fitting, Marta and Pati had different recollections, and only vague memories of how they began. They realized that they simply took the concept of trying on tissue, but instead of making a muslin, they made the tissue their muslin and adapted slash and spread to the tissue.  Up to the 1970s, everyone did muslins and altered them. College textbooks showed women trying on tissue to compare body proportions, but went directly to muslin after that.  Pati and Marta developed their tissue-fitting system to avoid that extra step.  Of course, along the way, they also developed a special alteration tissue that is the same weight of pattern tissue so as to not overpower it.

In the sewing world, Pati Palmer’s reputation is that she is a hard worker and a big thinker, with an infectious, confident can-do, Johnny-bar-the-door optimism.  Whether she is designing a new pattern, developing a seminar or creating a new sewing product, Pati is always looking for a better path, an easier way to teach, a more efficient way to deliver information.  This drive has played out in her willingness to learn photography (to a professional level), set up her own video studio, be among the first to embrace the internet, create a website, then social media, teach Craftsy classes and countless other ventures most would deem undo-able.

Melissa Watson fits Pati Palmer on the set of Craftsy.

Melissa fits Pati on the set of Craftsy.

Pati Palmer has seen many changes in sewing over the last 40 years.  When asked where she saw it going in the next 30 years — she said, “I never thought I’d see so many young people loving sewing. They will be the ones in charge! And, I have great confidence in them. There is so much talent and enthusiasm. And, I can’t believe my own luck with my daughter having worked in ready-to-wear and finding it less creative than she had imagined now wanting to be a part of Palmer/Pletsch. Her current task is re-doing our website, adding a Palmer/Pletsch Blog, and representing us doing Craftsy classes on the Palmer/Pletsch Tissue-Fitting Method. She has really learned how to fit and loves it.”  Pati has designed for McCall’s since 1980 and Melissa Watson since 2008.

“I am still inspired every day by all of the teachers we have trained and seeing them succeed, especially those in charge of our additional 4-day workshop locations: Pamela Leggett in Philadelphia; Janet Dapson in Michigan; and Nancy Seifert in Seattle. I get most excited during a fit workshop, especially when the full-busted ladies get into the right size and do their full bust adjustment and everything fits! Most of all, seeing so many people of all ages learning to or returning to fashion sewing, especially all of the talented young women and bloggers. They share what they love to do with total enthusiasm. I have always said that I will not retire until there are as many fashion sewers as quilters!!”

Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Part 3 – Ticket Office and Main Stage Daily Free Style Shows

2015 Sewing & Stitchery Expo Ticket Office Volunteers.

2015 Sewing & Stitchery Expo Ticket Office Volunteers.

Ticket Office:

In early January, the Clothing & Textile Advisors (CTA’s) set up the Sew Expo Ticket Office to process orders (on-line and snail mail). No other consumer sewing show attempts to “ticket” each and every seminar. Everybody who works in the ticket office is a CTA. Teams of volunteers from Pierce and Snohomish counties help pull tickets and get the orders sent out. The team processes over 9,000 admission tickets, 1,500+ special event tickets and 40,000 seminar tickets each year.

Sew Expo attendees go on-line to register, their transaction is processed, their tickets are pulled, and they receive a snail mail envelope with printed tickets to each and every class or event enrolled.

Although many CTA’s volunteer their time to work in the ticket office, (Katy and Julie have been there from the start) the four mainstays are:

  • Katy Patjens: Chair of Customer Service: Takes the lead on helping people with orders and troubleshooting.
  • Julie Kennedy: Chair of Ticket Pulling: Each order’s tickets are pulled and prepared.
  • Barbara Bitetto: Chair of Registrations: Starts the process by printing registrations.
  • Jean Snedden: Chair of Checking Station: This team checks each order before they are mailed.

The week before Expo, the team physically moves the ticket office to the Fairgrounds so attendees can purchase tickets at the show.

Sandy Miller, Louise Cutting, Mary Collen.

Sandy Miller, Louise Cutting, Mary Collen.

Daily Free Style Shows on the Main Stage:

Clothing & Textile Advisor (CTA) Mary Collen has been the Style Show Manager since 1991. She began as a volunteer “dresser.” She asked to be behind the scenes because she was too shy to be a hostess.

CTA Pat Watson is the Co-chair, and this dynamic duo starts to work on the Style Shows in November, when four professional models are hired.

They coordinate the model measurements and information with designers. Some designers make garments to fit models; others send garments already in their sample line. McCalls, Vogue, and Butterick often send garments that were photographed in their pattern catalogue.

Set-up day they schedule each designer for one hour to fit the models and finalize their lineup. A dresser is assigned to each model to help them in and out of the garments quickly. Mary says, “We don’t see the garments until the model fittings on set up day. Often, things don’t go as planned.”

On this day, Shirley Riley spends at least eight (8) hours on a computer entering all of the garments on a spread sheet with who wears what, in what order and what accessories will be worn. These get posted at each model station and at the stage entrance.

Mary is the final checker before the model walks out on the stage. She makes sure they are up on time, in the right order and are wearing the correct outfit. She also keeps the show timed so all of the garments out on stage show without exceeding the allotted 45 minutes. She tries to keep in sight of the commentator to cue them if they need to speed up or slow down.

Remarkably, Sew Expo usually does six different shows every day for three days. With an average of 40 garments per show, that’s 240 different garments in a day. Each Style show is 45 minutes, with a 15 minute break between shows. Models only have a 4 minute turnaround all day long. It is a grueling schedule, but extreme organization makes it look effortless to the audience.


We hope you’ve enjoyed taking a peek behind the scenes of the the largest consumer sewing show in the United States. Everyone involved with Sewing & Stitchery Expo looks forward to seeing you March 1-4, 2018 in Puyallup, WA. For more information, please visit

Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Part 2 – Meet the Leadership and Clothing & Textile Advisors

Sew Expo Leadership: Janet McLoughlin, Joanne Ross, Ann Sagawa

Leadership: Janet McLoughlin, Joanne Ross, Ann Sagawa


Janet McLoughlin: As a Conference Manager for the Washington State Conference Center, Janet works on Sew Expo year round, but she also manages other conferences for the University. As the Show Manager, her role revolves around the logistics. This is everything from securing the dates with the fairgrounds, signing contracts, ordering wheelchairs and overseeing the printing of the brochure and at door newspaper.

She works with exhibitors, putting together the vendor location puzzle. She oversees move-in and move-out of the booths, decorator set-up of the show floor and making sure everything goes smoothly.

Come December and January, Janet is attached to her computer. Between getting the brochure to the printer and then working to get everything uploaded to the website, ordering the actual tickets and then … making sure the on-line registration system is working! (Many hours are spent trying to “break” the software so that no one runs into trouble when ordering tickets.)

Ann Sagawa: As the Education Manager, Ann is technically the only full-time paid employee of the Sewing and Stitchery Expo. Her job is all about the classes, workshops and seminars. She also coordinates the CTA program and their involvement in the Sew Expo. At the planning meeting, Ann brings the numbers from the previous year, and they review the feedback from attendees. They discuss who’s coming back, who’s taking a break, and what new products or teachers should be invited to the next show. Ann sends out the correspondence with teachers, accepts their applications for classes or events, and presents this information so the final choices are made. She edits every class description, helps put together the show brochure, and uploads the information to the website. Sew Expo also does two special evening events during the show. 2017 Friday Night LIVE featured Martha Pullen. And the Saturday Quilter’s Night Out featured Kym Goldup-Graham and Ann Duncan all the way from Australia.

Sew Expo Clothing & Textile Advisors

Clothing & Textile Advisors (CTA) Volunteers

Clothing & Textile Advisors:

The Clothing and Textile Advisors (CTA) volunteer program was started in 1983 by Joanne Ross. It was a copy-cat of the infamous Master Gardener Program, a nationwide program also started in Pierce County Extension office. The idea was to provide volunteers with in-depth sewing and textile education in return for their volunteer time to teach others sewing and textile skills during the year. The program blossomed into a statewide program in about 12 counties. These volunteers give countless hours and many are well-known experts, even published.

CTA’s teach all year round including 4-H sewing, several summer sewing camps for children 8-14 years old living in low-income areas, adult sewing lessons at different community sites and sometimes they teach workshops to enhance their own skills. They now have approximately 250 members statewide.

Joanne says, “The CTA’s are the heart and soul of Sew Expo. They serve as hostesses during the show, and each seminar room has a CTA in charge for every seminar or workshop. But they do much more than that. During the week before Christmas, 30 CTA’s spend a morning getting the brochures sent out to stores and businesses and individuals not on the mailing list. This year more than 40,000 brochures will be mailed out and another30,000 will be hand delivered to local stores.”

Check out next week’s blog for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how the CTA’s contribute to the Sewing & Stitchery Expo, consider two specific areas: the Ticket Office and the Free Stage.

Next week, Part 3:  Sew Expo Ticket Office and Daily Free Style Shows on the Main Stage


Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Part 1 – How It All Began

Sewing & Stitchery LogoThe Sewing & Stitchery Expo: How It All Began

The largest consumer sewing show in the United States happens every year in a little town outside of Seattle, Washington called Puyallup. Nearly 30,000 sewing enthusiasts come from all over the world to attend the show. They come because the Sewing and Stitchery Expo (Sew Expo) has more than 450 booths of carefully curated sewing merchandise — including fabric, sewing machines, patterns, books and notions. They come because they will have up close and personal access to the biggest stars in the sewing industry. Over the years, the headliners have included Martha Pullen, Nancy Zieman, Sandra Betzina, Eleanor Burns, Alex Anderson, Pati Palmer, Sue Hausmann and Mark Lipinski — just to name a few!!

No matter what your area of interest is — Sew Expo will have a class for you. With over 500 lectures and workshops to choose from, you can learn garment construction, quilt making, home dec or quick gifts. For over 30 years, the Sewing and Stitchery Expo has been gathering the best and the brightest in the industry for FOUR DAYS ONLY.

March 1-4, 2018, Sew Expo will celebrate it’s 34rd year. So — what’s the story? How did Sew Expo become the biggest and most exciting consumer sewing show in America?

Joanne Ross had a dream . . .

Joanne Ross had a dream . . .

Like anything of value, Sew Expo started as one woman’s dream. In 1984, Joanne Ross was a home economist working at Pierce County Extension. She attended a consumer sewing show in Portland, Oregon and thought the concept might work in Tacoma. She discussed it with Pati Palmer, Chair of the Portland show.

(Top) — Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, Pati Palmer (Bottom) —The Tilton Sisters - Katherine, Marcy

(Top) — Marta Alto, Nancy Seifert, Pati Palmer
(Bottom) —The Tilton Sisters – Katherine, Marcy

As part of her job with Pierce County Extension, Joanne had already developed a program called the Clothing and Textile Advisors (CTA). To become a CTA, a volunteer attended classes to learn about textiles and sewing, with the emphasis on garment construction. The goal of the program was to send volunteers out into the community to share and teach sewing as a life skill. During the 1980’s, the CTA membership had grown to hundreds of women, with chapters in and around the Pacific Northwest. The CTA’s began asking Joanne to bring in big name sewing teachers so they could learn about the latest techniques, sewing notions and patterns. Joanne knew the CTA’s could become an important element in a consumer show. But it would require a lot of planning.

Joanne Ross developed a business model and presented the plans to the Washington State University (WSU) Conference Office. At that time, the Extension Office, and therefore, the CTA program, fell under the umbrella of WSU, so having WSU handle the management of this new consumer sewing show would be a good fit.

(Top) — Washington State Fairgrounds. (Bottom) — Friday Night Live.

(Top) — Washington State Fairgrounds.
(Bottom) — Friday Night Live.

That first show in 1984 was a complete leap of faith. No other university in the country had attempted anything of this scope. Like Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, Joanne Ross felt, “if we build it — they will come.”

The first Sewing and Stitchery Expo took place at the Tacoma Dome Convention Center. It was a two-day show with 56 exhibitors. Nobody knew what to expect — so they were blown away by 3,200 eager attendees. The second year attendance doubled. After only three years the show was too big for the Tacoma Dome. It was a hard decision to move the show to the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, Washington. Although the new location could accommodate hundreds of vendors and thousands more attendees, it would be a much larger financial risk.

Because of the growth of the show, it was expanded to three days, and by 1995, it was a four day show with over 30,000 attendees. The 2017 show (March 2-5) will have sewing and quilting enthusiasts from all over the world coming to celebrate Sew Expo’s 33rd year with 450 booths, over 500 classes and workshops, five daily free style shows, $50,000 worth of door prizes and two spectacular special evening events.

Joanne Ross says, “The Sewing and Stitchery Expo is the realization of a sewing dream — a place where the best experts in the industry come to share their expertise. Our attendees come to the show to meet the Sewing Stars they’ve seen on television, or to try the latest technology, attend lectures or hands-on workshops. For four days, they can shop to their heart’s content…and share their love of sewing and quilting with like-minded individuals.

Barbara Bitetto drawing lucky winners for daily door prizes.

Barbara Bitetto drawing lucky winners for daily door prizes.

The unexpected benefit of Sew Expo is that it has become THE PLACE to launch new product, try out new technology or introduce new techniques. Our vendors come to Sew Expo to sell their merchandise, of course, but they also set up meetings with the biggest players in the industry. The sewing machine companies sponsor our hands-on sewing studios, special events, and give away bags. They send their educators to Sew Expo, as well as their executives. They have meetings with new designers and the creative juices just seem to FLOW at Sew Expo. We’ll hear rumors of a new product or machine one year — and it will be a manufactured reality being launched at the next show. Many of our attendees also come to Sew Expo with a sewing related business idea. They come to the show because they want to network and find resource suppliers.”

Sewing and Stitchery Expo has been so successful because of its volunteers and staff. The Expo is managed by more than 150 volunteers and a staff of more than 25 persons. It is their dedication all year long that gives the Sewing and Stitchery Expo its national prominence within the sewing industry. It is their customer service ethic that provides a wonderful experience for all who attend.

Next week, Part 2:  Sewing & Stitchery Expo, Meet the Leadership and Clothing & Textile Advisors