Wenlan Chia debuted her collection, Twinkle by Wenlan, in 2000 with a line of colorful knit sweaters. Today her collection includes not only clever and feminine ready-to-wear, but also accessories, jewelry, home furnishings and a yarn collection. Wenlan has received numerous awards and was inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America in '07. She's the author of a popular series of knitting books, including Twinkle's Weekend Knits, and has recently introduced Twinkle Sews, her first book of sewing projects. Come with us on a behind-the-scenes tour of this inspiring designer's Manhattan studio.
Beth: When did you start sewing?
Wenlan: I started sewing later in life through a part-time class at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In order to design, you must know how to sew. I love sewing because I find it very soothing and therapeutic. I love cutting out the fabric and making everything perfect because I'm very picky!
Beth: Tell us about your design studio.
Wenlan: My studio is in a prewar building on 8th Avenue in Manhattan's garment district, so it's very convenient to all of the fabric stores. The studio has big windows and is located on the 17th floor, so we have a great view overlooking the Hudson River. It's a large open space with a partition that separates the design space from the showroom.
Beth: Do you have an inspiration board?
Wenlan: We have a huge design board that creates an invisible line between the designing and administrative areas. We post design sketches, color stories, fabric swatches, inspiring images and lab dips (small test swatches used to test how the fabric colors will look in production) for the current season.
Beth: What are you working on now?
Wenlan: Right now we're working on Spring '10, which is a continuation of the color and prints from Resort and Pre-Spring. I'm using a lot of vibrant oranges, greens, blues and aquas. It's a definite departure from Fall '09, where I focused on more subdued colors. The prints for Spring '10 will be feminine, artsy and abstract, showing off the bright spring colors. I'm also combining black and white in several prints, which looks very clean and crisp. I'm mixing many new fabrics for more complex layering of texture, print and color.
Beth: What environment helps you create the best?
Wenlan: I'm not a big fan of listening to music while I work. I work very intensely, so I like silence. I find lots of inspiration as I'm walking down the streets of the city, as well as from music, movies, photography, art, food and my travels. I look for things that present a new perspective or a new direction of thinking. I'm interested in things that make you look twice.
Beth: Do you have advice for aspiring designers and other sewers about setting up a design space?
Wenlan: When I was starting out in New York, I worked from home and had a small apartment, but I still made room for a big worktable. The table overlooked a window where I had a few green plants, so it had a relaxing view. It's important to have a dedicated table like this where you can spread everything out that you need for your project. This way, you won't get distracted searching for that perfect button hidden away in a drawer somewhere, and you won't have to clean everything up in order to eat dinner. When I'm designing, I tend to work my way around my table, from one corner to the other. I also think it's important to keep a stockpile of things that inspire you. And when you're working long hours, make sure that you're sitting or standing in the correct posture so that you don't have a sore neck or back the next day.
Beth: What are some of your favorite pieces in Twinkle Sews?
Wenlan: I like everything in the book. I've included designs from eight years' worth of work--from my earlier collections all the way up to more recent pieces. For myself, I really like Boy Meets Girl (a big, lightweight cotton shirt) and White Magic (a pleated tunic dress).
Beth: You've offered knitting workshops in your studio. Do you have any plans to offer similar sewing classes?
Wenlan: I hope so! I'd really like to offer sewers the opportunity to work with the patterns, maybe by offering classes that show how to change the patterns and take the designs to the next level. It's exciting how shows like Project Runway have exposed the creative process and helped change the perception of sewing. I hope the book inspires sewers to make pieces that they're proud to wear. It's exciting to make something that you don't wear just because you made it, but because it's great!
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