Every avocation has its celebrities, and Ann Person, the founder of Stretch & Sew, was a star in the world of home sewing in the seventies and eighties. As knit clothing hit the market in a big way, she devised methods for stretchy, comfortable, and forgiving garments to be made at home
In the mid 1960s, when she was around 40, Person began to experiment with knit fabrics. Before home sewing machines had special stretch stitches, and long before home sergers, she instructed people to stretch knits as they sewed in order to create flexible seams. Soon she was publishing patterns along with a how-to book, The Ann Person Method. My copy, bought on ebay, has extensive notes by its original owner.
Person offered an irresistible package: style, economy, and speed. Her advertising stressed how easy it was to make professional looking garments in half the time as traditional sewing methods. It was the right idea at the right time.
After she opened her first store in Burns, Oregon, she and her husband decided to turn the idea into a franchise. A decade later, there were some 350 Sew & Sew stores across the country. The owners taught Person’s methods, offering an eight class series that began with tee shirts and included a fitted blazer. One fashion show in Los Angeles, co-sponsored with Harper’s Bazaar, even featured a knit tuxedo with satin lapels.
Along the way she hired professional pattern makers who began basing their work on style leaders like Halston and Givenchy. “Some designers don’t like to see me come,” Person said in a 1974 interview. “They know that what I buy will soon be available to home sewers.”
Often described in newspapers as a “white haired grandmother,” Person always appeared in public wearing her own designs. I know many women who still have her patterns in their stashes. There’s more to come soon on the Ann Person sewing empire.
In the 70s, I made a bunch of clothes with knits using the “Stretch and Sew” technique on my mom’s straight-stitch Singer. It does work, and because the hole in the stitchplate was small (not bigger for zigzag), that slippery Qiana wouldn’t get sucked down the hole. And that polyester doubleknit was gross, but so easy to sew!
I still use some techniques I learned at a Stretch and Sew class, such as how to apply neck ribbing then press it over a ham. The class furnished a pattern for the ham, and described how to stuff it with damp, chopped-up bits of wool and bang it on the floor while stuffing to compress the wool. My ham is about 45 years old and still serving well. It was so exciting to learn this new way of sewing.
“a knit tuxedo with satin lapels”???? One more good reason not to return to the 1970s.
brilliant cover, and another book for me to look up. ( my favourite sewing ‘ann’ is ann ladbury after seeing her on the bbc archives). Ann Person sounds like a whirl wind of energy!
Ann Person was a member of my college sorority, I believe. I remember when S&S was all the rage but I have never used any of the patterns.
I loved Ann Pearson’s method. I took her eight week course and still have the book. The even had a class on how to make the cabbage patch dolls!