Recently, I was gifted with a huge collection of vintage Stretch & Sew Patterns & Books, Vogue Designer patterns, and some 'miscellaneous' good sewing stuff! It kinda 'hurts' to describe them as 'vintage', because that means I am as well. Nonetheless, these patterns and books represent classic fashion design and a sewing revolution. Being a curious person becoming more and more interested in history these days, I started to do some digging into the story of this sewing revolution headed by Ann Person, sometimes called both the:
'Colonel Sanders of the Sewing Industry'
'Halston for Home Sewers'
For a concise look at Ann's life, find her Obituary at this link. She lived to the generous age of 90, and as I read, kept 'spry' up to her passing on August 10, 2015.
In the book The Ann Person Method from 1973, and Express Yourself Creatively from 1980, I found this personal and touching story of the beginning of Stretch & Sew and its amazing growth. I feel that there are MANY lessons for ALL of us today in everything she overcame - and likely without any government handouts. Thus, I am going to share most of it - shortening with some paraphrasing. This history sounds to me to have come straight from Ann's own pen, even though it is written in the 3rd person and present tense. It is quite a story in my estimation, and I think it will inspire you. And...share with a young person in your life as a true AMERICAN story!
" Born and raised in logging communities near Eugene, OR, Ann was reared on the American ethic that prosperity can be achieved through inspiration and hard work. Today, she is the dynamic president of Stretch & Sew, Inc., a multimillion-dollar home sewing business. Ann's journey from logging camp to boardroom included many rough years. She attended the University of Oregon as an art major, but her studies were interrupted during WW II when Ann joined the WACS and taught painting in a convalescent hospital."
After the war, A returned to the University to continue her studies in Art and Education, which were interrupted when she married. Together, Ann and her husband purchased a small resort in an Oregon rural community and became business partners. Within three years they found they had lost $10,000, brought two daughters into the world, and Ann had suffered polio.
Searching for a way to keep the family together and to save the property they owned, Ann's husband started a company that became a very successful logging operation. Ann devoted her time to raising their daughters Claudia and Kris, and a third daughter, Mindy, was born. In 1956, her husband was injured in a logging accident. Following a year of convalescence in AZ, the family moved back to OR to find that the partners in the logging operation had lost all of the business that had been built up. Ann was going to have to start over again.
The first attempt at recovery was a vitamin sales organization, requiring both Ann and her husband to sell vitamins door to door. After this failed, Ann found work as a saleslady for the Singer Sewing Machine company, but that was brought to an abrupt halt when she suffered an auto accident that incapacitated her for 2 years. After recovering from the accident, Ann returned to Singer, teaching sewing classes, including a series of teen classes.
Net yet busy enough, Ann branched out from Singer to travel around Oregon, giving antiquing demonstrations in hardware stores. She started a painting class at a parks and recreation center, taught resin casting classes for a paint store, and made picture frames for students (as well as for her own paintings which she regularly sold).
One day, a neighbor asked An to give a teen sewing class at the recreation center where she taught painting. Ann agreed on the condition that she could reach the teens a new method of sewing she had developed by trial and error. The new method involved using knit fabrics and new techniques rather than the old-fashioned ways she had taught at Singer. The mothers readily agreed since they were more interested in keeping their girls busy rather than in what sewing method would be taught.
The classes were a smash from the beginning because Ann had a knack to help girls discover a whole new way of learning. The girls' mothers wanted to learn as well, so Ann set up classes in a local fabric store. At that time she came up with the name: Stretch & Sew. By the fall of 1966, Ann found herself traveling through the states of OR, WA and CA teaching unending groups of women her wonderful method."
Ann was frustrated that major pattern companies did not realize that special patterns were needed to sew knits. To solve her problem, she began cutting her own from butcher paper and selling them to her students. Her first pattern was printed in February of 1967. By August, she had opened a little knit fabric shop in Eugene, OR and trained teachers in her method. By September 1967, she started writing her first book in longhand and drew the illustrations herself. The book became a best seller and by 1973 had sold a million copies.