No one day is the same for Helen Pollington, freelance pattern-cutter and co-founder of Violet & Wren. She tells us how to cut it, juggling multiple jobs and ideas and dealing with creatives in the fast-paced world of freelancing
The first thing I do in the morning, when I can, is go for a run. It helps to motivate me and sets me up for the day. Then I check my emails before heading out.
As a freelance, I have no fixed Monday routine. I don’t have a typical week, which is what I enjoy so much about freelancing: every week is different. I usually freelance for three or four days a week, working the other one or two days on my own British loungewear and lingerie brand, Violet & Wren. If I’m with a client – for example, I’m now working with the brand Cimone for spring 17 – it involves discussing designs and sketches, draping, drafting patterns, toiling, sewing, measuring samples, fitting, and producing technical specifications and detailed technical drawings. Each client has their own requirements and every job is different; depending on the client, I either travel to their studio in London or work from my garden studio at home in Surrey. If I’m working on my own brand, Violet & Wren, Mondays usually involve a telephone meeting with my business partner and co-founder, Louise Barnard, to talk through the itinerary for the week, which can include comp-shopping, designing, graphic and web design, press meetings, and meetings with factories, bloggers or editors.
I work closely with designers and creative directors to develop each piece and ensure they look and fit like the designer’s vision. I drape and draft patterns, cut and stitch toiles or work with sample cutters and sample machinists to develop the toiles ready for fittings. Fittings usually involve several members of the team, such as the designers, pattern-cutters, garment techs, production, buyers and merchandising, with each having an input on the pieces to ensure that they are happy with the look and fit. The piece has to merchandise well, both individually and as part of the collection, to ensure that they can be brought in at the right price for the end customer.
Violet & Wren autumn 16
You have to adapt to the role as a freelance pattern-cutter from the moment you start your position. Learning to read a designer is the most challenging requirement of the job: you have to really understand what their vision is, and to help to bring it to life in 3D form. Every designer has their own handwriting and their own taste in terms of fit and proportion, and being able to get this right very quickly is very important for a freelance. I worked for several companies cutting patterns before I started freelancing and I think that is really important. As a freelance, I think it helps to be able to offer your client a wide range of skills, and gaining experience and contacts from a wide range of brands and companies has really helped to provide me with a breadth of industry knowledge. I also think it’s really important to ask as many questions as possible – there is so much knowledge out there, and chatting to skilled people with experience is inspiring.
I always carry a notebook. You wouldn’t expect it but the job involves a really good memory. I need to remember style names and numbers, model measurements, pattern measurements and the history of the garments for every brand I work for. It can be really tricky. Some weeks I may work for two or three brands, so I am constantly changing the way I think and remembering all the specifics required for each brand, as it’s the different finishes and details that make each brand unique.
This summer I am working as a pattern-cutter with the overseas brand Noon by Noor, so I am travelling out to Bahrain to work with its design team developing the collection. As many factories are based overseas, I have spent a lot of time visiting these as a garment technologist, going to the core manufacturing locations such as China, India and Turkey. I’ll hand over styles for sampling, check production while it’s going through and check that the quality, size and finish are up to the required standards before the finished product is finally shipped.
Violet & Wren autumn 16
I’m really proud of the achievement of launching Violet & Wren in 2015 and being named as one of the top 10 new brands to watch by Lingerie Insight, a lingerie industry magazine, in our first year. A year after launch, we have secured 10 stockists in the UK, US and Japan for the autumn 16 season. I always love to see a collection brought together in the campaign, on lookbook shoots or on the catwalk at the end of a season. It is always really rewarding seeing the garments as a collection – it gives them a whole new life.
I’d be a carpenter. I would adore to make some bespoke furniture. I love 3D design and used to do a lot of woodwork with my dad when I was younger, building rabbit hutches and little boxes. I’m happiest when I’m creating something.
2004 Graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fashion Marketing from Northumbria University, Newcastle
2015-present Co-founder and creative and technical director, Violet & Wren
2012-present Freelance pattern-cutter and garment technician, Mother of Pearl, Cimone, Victoria Beckham, Roland Mouret, Noon by Noor, Beulah and others
2011-2012 Senior menswear technologist, AllSaints
2009-2011 Senior pattern-cutter and technologist, Samsung
Interview by Eleanor Codlin