You know the term girl next door? I don’t mean it sexually, like your brothers do, but friendly. Jenna Cotton was my next door neighbor and as a child, I went to her house if I needed school supplies, a movie to watch, or a shirt to wear with my new pair of low rise jeans (it was all the rage when I was a teenager). She was always available to help, hoot and holler over something stupid, and/or just hang out. Well, Heather is the seamstress next door. A patternmaker for a major fashion house in New York City, she’s just so down to earth! Just like Jenna, I want to spend my nights and weekends at her house and talk pattern manipulation, interfacing options, and thread quality. She spends Monday through Friday shortening and lengthening patterns, but while she’s not at work, her efforts go towards something that involves a lot more tulle, chiffon, and silk. Out of her home studio, she makes and alters bridalwear and she’s pretty damn good at it!
Tell us your story: Hi, my name is Heather Hartman and I became interested in sewing before I actually started sewing. When I was 6 or 7 years old, a lady who lived down the street from me made Barbie clothes for all the neighborhood girls, so we always had “cool” doll clothes, not the ones you could buy in stores. I didn’t learn how to sew until 10th grade, when I was in high school.
I planned on attending Philadelphia University after high school, but I got pregnant my senior year. The job market, especially the salaries available, in the fashion industry are risky and I didn’t want to go into a profession where I didn’t have a steady stream of income to provide for my family, so I enrolled in nursing school. My focus was midwifery, but I quickly realized I hated it! I loved the idea of being a midwife, but the day in and day out duties just wasn’t for me. A year into nursing school, I took an art class and as the semester progressed, I started thinking, “What am I doing? This is such a mistake!” Coincidentally, a woman from Moore College of Art and Design spoke to us about the school, so I transferred.
At Moore, I studied all kinds of fashion design – womenswear, menswear, children’s wear – but my focus was bridal. I mean, come-on, what girl doesn’t like a fancy dress?! If I could wear a bustle and a tiara every day, I would!
By day, I’m a patternmaker for a fashion house in New York City, but on the side, I design and make custom wedding and bridal gowns for my business, Heather Hartman Designs. I’m in the process of taking it to the next step – I just completed/filed several documents that would allow me to work with wholesalers in the city. My business is moving forward under a new name and I’m excited for the big announcement!
What sewing machines do you have/use? I have a total of 5 sewing machines. First, I have an industrial Juki that’s my everyday machine, and it’s a funny story about how I learned to sew on an industrial machine. In high school and at Moore, I sewed on a home machine, but during my sophomore year of college, I worked on a project at Drexel for The Arts of Fashion Foundation. The organization travels the world and teaches classes and the instructors include people who have worked for famous designers such as Prada and Raf Simons. The only machines that were available at the school were industrial machines and I was the only one who didn’t know how to use them! I was so embarrassed that my school only used home sewing machines and everyone else’s used industrial machines. It was at that point I decided to learn.
I also have a Kenmore home sewing machine that I bought in 10th grade and it is still working, and I have a Singer home serger and a Brother coverstitch machine.
Then I have a vintage Brother machine. It’s so pretty – it’s like a classic car! I bought it at a thrift store for $25. It cost about $100 for a new belt, bobbin, needles, and other parts to get it into working order, but it was well worth it!
What did you dream of becoming when you were younger? My mom told me I wanted to be a nun! Could you imagine that? I think I would have been kicked out of the convent by now, considering I have a husband and two children!
What do you dream of becoming when you’re older? At 28 years old, I dream of creating a bridal collection, taking it to boutiques in the city, and letting it expand and build from there.
What advice would you give to recent graduates? Take what you can get, even if it’s not what you had in mind. Every opportunity is a chance to learn what you want because let’s face it, no one knows exactly what they want to do right after college.
What are you working on now? I’m currently working on a wedding party of 8 that is very soon! There are 2 maids of honor, 4 bridesmaids, one flower girl, and one junior bridesmaid.
Difficulty with brides: Brides are not difficult to deal with – it’s the bridesmaids that can be a problem! It’s not their big day, so they’re not always as cooperative or as flexible as I need them to be.
What example do you want to set for your children? I recently taught both my daughter and my son to sew because, first, I want my son to know that sewing is not just for girls – guys can do it too. I also want to teach my children that things don’t have to be the way they are or the way they are intended. Just because you buy a shirt at a store, even if it’s $3 at a thrift store, you can bring it home and make it into whatever you want – a skirt that looks like it cost $35 or $350. If they grasp this concept, they’ll understand that life is about what you make it, not what is made for you.