Meet Mari Miller

This year I’ve done a bit of pattern testing for a few new pattern lines for nix and I’ve enjoyed pattern testing to help out new comers. This has given me a few new things to sew.

Sometimes I’m making the garment using just the pattern without instructions but I get to work with the pattern designers themselves. We usually ‘speak’ via email and most pattern designers work in different countries and timezones but that just adds to the fun of pattern testing.

Mari Miller is the lady behind the Avocado hoodie I’ve made for Mr V and myself.

Meet* Mari…

What do you love about sewing?
So many things!
I love how calm yet exciting the process is. Of course, having fun things that fit will is a great incentive too. I’ve always been drawn to tactile things, so working with great feeling materials and wearing them just plain makes me happy. I need to work with my hands and sewing is a wonderfully sensuous way to do that, between the feel of a crisp linen or buttery soft silk to seeing solid colors that pop and fun prints.

Do you come from a long line of sewers/pattern drafters/crafters?

Yes and no.
Both my grandmas knew good, basic crafting skills. You had to in order to live through the Depression. However, those skills weren’t really passed down to my parents’ generation. And I never saw either of my grandmas or my mother sew. Although, my one grandma did try to teach me how to knit when I was in grammar school, but I didn’t take to it until I was much older. It’s a shame she didn’t teach me how to crochet though- even after she had gone blind she could crochet flawless lace doilies. I want to be that skilled!

What does a work day look like for you?
It depends.
On days when I go to my paying job I get to downtown Chicago by 9am and do the usual grind (as a legal assistant) until 5pm, at which point I go home and sew or spend some quality time on the computer doing all the behind the scenes work for the company. On my “free” days I get up and spend my time sewing up muslins, working away on that computer again, or filming a short video for a tutorial.

How long have you wanted to start a pattern line?
Around under a year, although I’ve been dreaming up fashion designs since I was a little girl.

What made you decide to set up a pattern line?
I graduated while the economy was taking a nose dive so I ended up with some really awful jobs, the kind where you’re treated like a machine, your boss literally throws their dirty tissues on your coat (although I don’t think she did it on purpose), you’re encouraged to under-perform and there’s absolutely no possibility of advancement. After a few people I cared for died, I knew I couldn’t keep living like I was. It was time to start making my own opportunities and living the life I wanted. I had dreamed of owning my own business for years, but never before had it seemed so important to stop putting that dream off. Ever since I was a little girl I had loved to sew; it was the one constant thing that never changed, so starting a sewing-centric business seemed the natural choice.

How did you choose your pattern company name?
It was the name of my blog, because when I started it I wanted to talk about whatever caught my fancy, be it sewing, science, art and architecture, or chocolate. Before that, for my undergrad degree, I had gone to an art school that encouraged students to study many different, or disparate if you will, disciplines. Working to bring together many different media and modes of working is my favorite way to live and to create things.

It also seemed to describe the lives of a lot of people I knew – they weren’t just moms or dads, judges, data entry temps (as I had been), or business owners – they took on many disparate roles in their lives. How long ago was it that you couldn’t be both a school teacher and a wife or a bank clerk and a photographer? People nowadays seem to be doing more and more different things all at once, yet they don’t always have exciting wardrobes to accompany all their needs. You can get up, put on the same boring suit or office casual attire, go out to dinner with friends in that same clothing, get home, toss on some pajamas or yoga clothing, then go to the grocery store or running the next day in the same kind of yoga attire. For a lot of the people I know, their closets are made up almost entirely of clothing for just those two ends of the spectrum: work attire and lounge wear. I think that’s why a lot of us look into our closets and groan that there’s nothing to wear- we’re bored with it all!

There’s something special that happens when you put on a garment you’ve sewn that doesn’t fall squarely into either of those categories. That’s what Disparate Disciplines Sewing Patterns is about, making clothing for those other occasions in your life. Sure, the patterns can work in more “wardrobes” than just the ones they were designed for, but they’re about sewing with things in mind outside of just work and the grocery store. It’s about creating a wardrobe that encompasses all the disparate roles you take on instead of just making pretty dresses or just making work clothing. There’s nothing wrong with solely doing either, but creating a well-rounded wardrobe can be a big confidence booster.

What inspires you?
Many things: people on the street, nature, TV and movies, the list goes on. For instance, with the Avocado Hoodie I was inspired to solve a problem: cold hands while walking with my arms around my boyfriend. That’s also why I included details like the thumb opening and overlapping hood- you need that extra protection when you live in the northern climes! As for making the cuff start above the wrist, that was inspired by seeing a longer cuff on a knit sweater during my morning commute. That way the beginning of the cuffs could also line up with the beginning of the hem band, a detail I hadn’t seen on other patterns. Sometimes the inspiration comes from another kind of practicality, like using up scraps of fabric. That’s how the original draft of the wrap skirt started.

Do you have a mentor?
I have a few friends off of whom I bounce ideas and ask for advice.

What challenges have you had with your pattern line?
Managing people’s expectations. I’ve learned that some people project their hopes and expectations onto the patterns. They want your pattern to match their exact lifestyle and get upset when it doesn’t, but you can’t be everything to everyone. That’s why there are so many different indie pattern companies, we’re all catering to a different fashion sense and lifestyle.

As for logistics and day-to-day work challenges, it’s always the little things!
From the post office, to computer problems, people getting sick and so on. A lot of small problems add up to larger ones. But one of my favorite challenges has been learning how to use new software. It’s incredibly time consuming and often frustrating to make the instructions, yet I’ve really enjoyed expanding my skills to learn how to use vector based graphic design programs (think Photoshop without pixels), as well as video and sound editing programs.

What does your pattern line offer to the sewing community?
My pattern line offers modern designs with details not seen in many sewing patterns. There are great companies out there that do a modern look with a more loose silhouette and less defined waist, like Grainline Studios. Other companies produce excellent basics, like Sewaholic. Companies like Colette produce really pretty dresses.

Disparate Disciplines helps you create a special, wearable wardrobe that works for all parts of life, from those days you need to lay around the house but still want to feel a little fashionable to times when you need that pretty dress. It’s about creating patterns that fill all the gaps in your wardrobe.

Designs focus on interesting seaming and construction, while staying feminine and comfortable. Waists are more defined in modern cuts that sometimes give a nod to the past. It’s not about appealing to both vintage and modern lovers, but about appreciating fashion’s past while looking to the future. This can be seen best in the 1401 pattern which can be made as a dress or a top. The silhouette was based on 60’s sheath dresses but the seaming details are more modern.

Do you have a 5 year goal in mind?
My main goal is to create a business that modestly sustains me, so I can stop working in a cubicle while also fostering a growing online community full of people who sew things that make them happy.

What advice would you give others who are thinking of starting their own pattern line?

Honestly assess your skills, strengths and weaknesses. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make a website or take photos up to the standards to which I aspired, so I decided to work with people who do those things well. That was also why I hired a pattern maker. I could draft and grade the patterns myself, but would they be as good as a trained professional with a computer program that can match seams up to tiny fractions of an inch? I’ve got a bit of a perfectionist in me, so how many hours would I need to dedicate to drafting “perfect” patterns that fit a range of figures, continually re-doing my work and worrying to death that things weren’t up to snuff? Could my time be better spent doing other things?

Keep in mind that starting a business, not just pattern drafting and sample sewing, takes tons and tons of time. The amount of time you put in will make the difference between a fun hobby shop on Etsy that takes the edge off your fabric addiction and a serious store like Colette patterns. You can set up a blog in five minutes, but setting up a store takes a lot longer. There are so many things that don’t readily come to mind when you’re initially fantasizeing about your new venture: you need to register your business, educate yourself on sales tax, import all that tax info into your online store, etc. The list really goes on and on. These time consuming and often tedious details add up to a more polished online presence. So think about how much effort you can put into the business and try to judge if that time will realistically help you meet your goals, whether they’re making pocket change or being as big as McCall’s.

Also, read “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing” by Kathleen Fasanella. Having been published in 1998, it is a little out of date; it also talks about manufacturing a line of clothing instead of creating sewing patterns. However, it offers a wealth of helpful knowledge, from things like how to hire a pattern maker to the importance of style numbers and a bit of grading theory.

Mari Miller

1. all opinions are the interviewee’s own.
2. this blog post is not sponsored and has been published for people to know the maker better, understand the ins and outs of pattern making biz from one person’s personal journey.
3. all images are copyright of their original owners and used with permission for the purposes of discussion and illustration


  1. Nicely put! Took the day off today to bake, catch up on chores, blog and just chillax as a self-reward for a finished round of marking. Great that the first thing in my feed was such an inspiring post about getting out there and building your own antidote to depression. Good on Marie and good on you for all the pattern-testing interview-posting support!


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