Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Cool it down, Mafe Maria

The last time I wrote (feels like a year ago), I happily reported that I had finished my kids’ size chart and was starting to create standardized patterns for my “line” of shirts… OH MY GOD!… How I underestimated the effort and scope creep ahead of me… What hit me since then was a wave of reality and craziness that I have finally realized I need to control or I’ll go out of my mind.

mafemaria labels

First, I discovered the existence of current standard data for body measurements of children. Data I felt the need to use in order to validate my not very scientific size chart and patterns. So of course there were changes. And just like back in my old analyst days, I built a spreadsheet to model each measurement behind my patterns. I really wanted to have mathematical formulas for each dimension so that I could control the patterns much better for future alterations for girls and older sizes.

Along the agony of checking and rechecking my model, I became interested like I never have in the art and science of pattern making. My grandmother taught me how to sew from patterns, but I’ve never known how to make my own — other than tracing them from sewn garments. So I started researching and discovered a lot of minutia I was never aware of when it comes to the proper fit of tops. Things like the asymmetry of arm holes, and to make things worse, I looked up raglan alterations and decided that they way I was drafting mine was wrong.

Things were confirmed when I sewed my first prototype, a 3T raglan to be tested by Joaquin. In my ignorant past I would’ve been perfectly happy with it, but new shit had come to light, and I had learned enough to know that all that bunched up fabric around Joaquin’s neck when he raised his arms was an unforgivable sin that needed to be redrafted. I had an idea of what needed to be done, and for a week or so wished so hard I had taken a pattern making class. I wished for a book… for the time to become an expert at this new thing so I would never have these problems. That’s how much of a DIY junkie I am. I want to be an expert at everything I may need. Sucks.

But backing up from the whole sewing front, one more two–headed monster came crawling from the shadows and took her chunk of time. Can you guess?…

Clothing labels.

…Which brought about the discovery of several federal regulations I was not aware of for commercial clothing, and since I was reading about the FTC labeling requirements, why not go ahead and read every single U.S. CPSC rule involved in children’s apparel. That was a fun weekend (not). But it needed to be done, and I’m glad I’ve finally done my homework.

So now that I knew that brand name and shirt size were not the only things I needed to put on a permanent clothing label, and realizing by how much the content of those labels would vary from design to design, I had to invest a considerable amount of time testing DIY ways of creating my labels. I decided that I would have my brand name, shirt size, RN, and “made in” statement in one label, hopefully printed by Spoonflower; and the more variable fiber content, care instructions, and cohort info in a second label I would make myself.

So I tested the most obvious and documented DIY way of making clothing labels: Iron–on transfer on ribbon. I’ll save you the details, and just say that if you’re a budding sewing entrepreneur considering this, just FORGET ABOUT IT. Pointy corners. Bleeding ink. Pray that the customer never puts a hot iron to the label. I could make an effort and take the first two, but hoping that the customer never irons over the label was an obvious kiss of dead because some people do iron their t-shirts (I know these crazy people). Of course the bleeding ink was not very hot and professional either. Bye bye iron–on transfer paper and wasted money.

Time to try the next DIY method… Bubble Jet Set 2000 (can you hear the angelical trumpets and choir?). This is the way to go. I found a great tutorial that made me itch to try it, and since I was buying and testing the stuff, I decided that I would try it with my brand labels too, so I wouldn’t have to spend all that time and frustration iterating over color shifts and turn–around time for test swatches with Spoonflower (as much as I love these guys). Plus, printing the labels I need on demand from home, beats ordering a full yard of labels, many of which I may never use. Of course the DIY process takes time, and I am Mrs. Complicated and had to go with a beautiful round label, that after washing and drying I decided would not age well unless I serged its border.

Back to sewing, picture me going over the model multiple times. Tweaking things. Graphing little body parts at scale to compare them to my chosen garment dimensions to see if they made sense at all sizes. Finally breaking down and purchasing every size of a single shirt to give my model a reality check.

I sewed a second prototype.

Nobody’s looking for perfect fit. It’s a child’s shirt, for God’s sake!…That realization finally hit home. But that didn’t stop me from feeling extremely proud that I made this shirt from a pattern I drafted by myself (first time ever). Sure, a professional pattern maker may have a good laugh on it given that it’s just a simple non–fitted raglan, but at least I know that my sizes are consistent among each other. There are mathematical formulas based on standard body dimensions behind my patterns, and that makes me feel more in control of the design. As simple as it is. As invisible as this factor may be to you all.

And some time during all this crazy time I had an epiphany…

Every single thing I am; every single thing I’ve ever learned or been educated on; every single one of those things, I am using on this project. My engineering, my business education, my grandmother’s sewing instruction, my experience as a financial analyst, my design background. All of it is finally working together. And I smile and nod in humble yet proud self-recognition as I read The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing and realize that over the last month, I’ve been, thought, and acted like each of the job roles she describes within the industry (of course at a very primal skill level). And all this tells me that I’m on the right track. That this is in fact a great next career for me. And suddenly I realize…

OH MY GOD! I’ve been working like I’m starting a business by April 1st.

That business I was planning to start in two or three years, when Joaquin is attending school, because now I can only experiment and test things in preparation for when I have the actual time to do it… That business that was not supposed to happen yet, I didn’t realize, but I’ve been moving towards it all this last month. Nothing wrong with that, except for the self–imposed deadline, and the unnecessary lack of sleep.

So a few days ago I realized that I need to slow down and remind myself of where I am. I’ve done a lot of good things for my future business, but full–blown professional with a real clothing line of several designs and sizes is not going to happen in the next three weeks. I need to readjust my expectations and keep small. One design at a time. Only boys for now (specially after seeing my failed first prototype for a girl shirt pattern). And I need to get some more sleep.

I’ve thought a lot of abuelita Luz these days. She did all this stuff I’m trying to do right now without any formal education. I remember the huge stacks of fabric ready to be cut with that electrical tool I never understood how she could handle. I remember her workers, the one snipping hanging threads from the finished garments, and Dioselina, her right hand. How I wish I would’ve taken a real tour of her workshop and production process back then. Sometimes I look at Joaquin, in whom mom and I see so much of abuelita Luz so many times… He was the one that brought back all of this to me. Could he be her? It would make good karma sense given the history of my family. It would be so neat…


  1. On , Petie wrote:

    Bummer on the girl clothing hold. ;) I’m glad you’re feeling happy about your work!

  2. On , Luci a.k.a. DuhBe wrote:

    Thanks for the link to my label tutorial! (WordPress tipped me off) I completely agree that printing your own labels is the way to go – I only wish more people could see that. It’s so darn easy.

    I feel your pain on the pattern drafting. Size charts are overwhelming. You just have to realize you can not fit everyone, all the time (it’s worse for adults.) May I recommend Wild Ginger software to you? I use the Pattern Master Boutique for women and I love it! You can get the childrens program for $100 and it will scale all the sizing now that you have your mathematical measurement charts.

    I think it’s awesome you have done all this research up front, including Kathleen’s book. You are rare, and I’m glad I found your blog.

  3. On , Maria wrote:

    Don’t worry, Petie. The hold on girls is just temporary so I can focus and see some real progress on the task at hand. But I’m so itching to try these two designs I came up with that would only work for girls. The thing I keep thinking is… girls? or women?…

    I look at girls shirts and all those gathers and capped sleeves intimidate me so much. The effort to come up with something moderately girly (because I could never come up with full–blown girly) is a whole other project I need to think a lot about.

    The technique I want to try would probably make these shirts expensive for a garment that is only supposed to last a year or so. Women shirts on the other hand… Not so many fru-fru details. And the life–span for an adult shirt would be more in line with the expected cost. But moms of girls keep coming to me asking for girl shirts (maybe they like my not so fru-fru style). So they’re in my mind… If I could use the same pattern I’ve developed for boys… but I’m not sure that girls’ moms would be cool with that. Lots to think about.

    Thank YOU for the wonderful instruction. I had heard of the product before but it was your tutorial so well detailed and specific to the same thing I was trying to do, that gave me the right push.

    Thank you also for the software suggestion. All along through the effort, I kept thinking that there must be an app designed for this purpose. I’ll take a look. Adults, I’m sure are way harder because fit becomes much more of an issue. Specially if I go for women shirts, I’ll really need help from a professional (person or computer). So thank you again :)