It really is an honor to have such talented people like Jen (aka Grainline) as members of Kollabora. You can feel her talent, passion, and fine aesthetics coming through this interview. Learn how Jen deals with mistakes, how risk is empowering, and how instincts are a key ingredient of her DIY philosophy. And if that's not enough, laugh about her unique Karaoke talent. - Nora
My name is Jen but you may know me as Grainline Studio and my DIY weapons of choice are a sewing machine, fabric, pattern paper, pencils, rulers and scissors.
When I am looking for inspiration I head to my family’s cabin in northern Wisconsin for some nature time. I always come up with my best ideas from my Northwoods office (a pontoon boat). Maybe it’s something about getting out of the city into a new environment and actually being able to properly relax but it works every time.
After a long day of making things I usually go for a run or walk around 5 or 6 to break up the day and get some fresh air (well as fresh as Chicago air can be) and then either keep making things, meet up with friends, or do crosswords on my back deck while checking out all my plants. They’re so cute and edible!
I’ve been making as long as I can remember, drawing my own paper dolls, making treasure maps, etc. I started sewing when I was 10 - It’s hard to believe I learned to sew 20 years ago!
When I think about starting a new project I plan it all out in my head then get to work when I next have time. I actually rarely sketch, occasionally I’ll make written notes but about 90% of the time I just figure out what it’s going to look like with all the details etc. up in my head then get the supplies and go to work.
The best part about running my own business is setting my own hours (I can work from my desk, pattern table, sewing machine, deck or even a pontoon boat in the woods) and the fact that any success I have is directly related to the amount of hard work I put into the business. It’s incredibly rewarding. I get excited every time I see a finished garment from one of my patterns, it seriously never gets old.
My advice to anyone looking to start their own business is to be prepared to do a lot of hard work, then take how much work you think you’ll be doing and multiply that by 10 and keep going at it. It’s all worth it though because you’re building something that is all your own. Also try to find a hobby that has nothing to do with your business, something you can do to take your mind off of it. You’ll need it!
If I wasn’t a designer/patternmaker I would love to be a designer/patternmaker. I know that’s just about the lamest answer to this question but there’s nothing else I would rather do. I am sure of this because I have a photography degree wasting away in a filing cabinet somewhere and went back to school to become what I am today.
Honestly, when my alarm goes off I internally swear, hit snooze, and refuse to believe it’s morning yet. When I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I have to get up (which usually takes about 2 snooze button hits) I get up, make tea and hang with my cat. My mom always says that I was born tired.
The song that can cheer me out of any bad mood is Cannonball by The Breeders. In fact while typing this out I played the song and it motivated me to get up and make another taco even though I am really sore from a long run!
My favorite word is candy
My least favorite word is gluten because it means I can’t eat whatever I’m reading the ingredients of.
My favorite artists are my friends here in Chicago who make awesome art every day - Julia Stotz, Brian Guido, Stephen Eichhorn, Michelle Bollinger, Sarah Fox, to name just a few. It’s unbelievably inspiring to be around creative and talented friends who also work super hard for themselves doing what they love. I’m also totally inspired by the entire sewing community, everyone is so kind, generous, and talented it blows my mind a little. Okay, a lot.
My favorite thing about making is having complete control over all aspects of the end product. I always drove my mom crazy as a kid trying to find clothes. I would imagine exactly what I wanted before we went and, of course, it never existed in the store. Now that’s not such a huge problem anymore.
You know in The Royal Tenenbaums* when Royal says “I'm talking about putting a brick through the other guy's windshield. I'm talking about taking it out and chopping it up” in regards to Ari and Uzi spending all their time behind a desk instead of doing kid things? To me, DIY is sort of like that but without the destruction. To me DIY is taking risks, not depending on someone else to make things happen, and the pride that comes when you discover you can do what you put your mind to.
Sewing wise, the first thing I made was a cheeseburger with pickles, onion, tomatoes, and lettuce. I still have it on my dresser actually! General making wise though I have no idea what the first thing I ever made was, my mom couldn’t recall either, I’ve apparently been making things as long as we both can remember.
Three words that describe me: fun, organized, hard-working
Three words that describe my work: classic, lighthearted, modern
I’m sure I’ve gotten a ton of creative advice over the past 3 decades but nothing standout was coming to mind. Then I got an email from my friend who, in response to a question I had just asked her about the printed patterns we’re working on, said “Just trust your instinct.” I have to say out of all the advice that I’ve received and may or may not have stuck with me somewhere in my subconscious, that really is the best thing you can do. Be true to yourself, your vision, and work harder than you ever thought you could and you can make crazy amazing things happen!
One fact about me that’s embarrassingly awesome is that I am AMAZING at talking between songs at karaoke. I’m pretty awesome at karaoke too, which is confusing since I’m relatively shy and don’t drink, but the creepy void filling between songs is really where I excel. I’m available for void filling at your next karaoke party!
My DIY secret weapon is a little saying that is extremely helpful to me: Make a mistake, take a break. When I make a mistake I just walk away, go sit on the porch or check my email, anything else for about 10 or 15 minutes, then when I come back to the problem, I’m no longer fuming and it seems much easier to handle and fix.
I feel like every sweater I’ve ever knit prior to my Icelandic sweater, probably about 5 sweaters all knit early in my knitting career, are my biggest DIY mistakes ever. Everything from not understanding gauge to picking patterns I didn’t have the foresight to realize I’d never wear. Disaster town!
I have so many next projects it makes me quake in my boots to think about. Personally my next project is to finish my quilt before fall rolls around and Grainline Studio wise my next project is to release a summer pajama pattern I’ve been working on. I’m also knee deep in the unbelievably long process of getting printed patterns made. Phew!
*The Royal Tenenbaums is my all time favorite movie of all time and I can, and will, relate anything I can to it.