Today our interviewee is Peter Lappin, a native New Yorker and one of the sewing world’s most sought-after teachers. He started sewing in 2009 and makes all his own clothes using vintage sewing machines and vintage patterns.
He has a wonderful Blog – Male Pattern Boldness full of sew alongs, style, fashion, fabric, articles and interesting days spent in New York.
Peter is a Digital Ambassador for Threads Magazine and lives in Manhattan (a stone’s throw from the Garment District) with his partner, Michael, and their two chihuahuas, Freddy and Willy….Read on…
Who/what inspired you to take up sewing and how old were you?
I started sewing in 2009 and I was already in my mid-Forties. Originally I purchased a used sewing machine to perform some basic alterations (hemming) on second-hand pants I’d purchased at a local thrift store (charity shop). Little did I know it would turn into my life’s passion.
Who can you remember doing your first sewing with?
I am largely self-taught, though in the last five years I’ve started taking evening classes at Fashion Institute of Technology. My very first sewing was just me and a collection of YouTube tutorials on the basic tasks like loading a bobbin and threading a sewing machine. Nobody in my immediate family sewed and I really didn’t even understand how a sewing machine worked initially.
What is the first thing you made?
The first thing I made was a denim sewing machine cover for my very first sewing machine, and mid-80’s Sears Kenmore (see pic). From there I moved on to men’s boxer shorts (some wearable, some not).
What is your favourite type of stitch?
Oddly enough my favourite stitch is a well-balanced straight stitch. I find simple stitches that look good on both sides of the fabric to be elegance itself.
What type of sewing projects do you prefer
I love sewing with vintage patterns for both men and women. I’ve made more men’s shirts than anything else: they’re challenging to make and at the same time wonderfully absorbing. And it’s great to be able to wear the fruits of my labor!
What is your inspiration for your designs
For menswear, I’m most inspired by classic mid-Twentieth Century styles. At heart I’m rather conservative in my wardrobe choices. For womenswear, I’m most inspired by vintage looks of the 1930’s and 40’s, especially those worn by the Hollywood film stars of this period.
What do you consider your best piece of work
I’m proudest of some of the complicated outerwear I’ve made, including peacoats, parkas, and zipper jackets, including one I made in faux fur and lined with a vintage Chinese brocade
What is your very favourite thing that you have made?
I don’t have a single favourite, but one of the projects I’ve worn the most is my blue nylon mountain parka, made from a vintage 1970’s Daisy Kingdom pattern
What is your favourite tool or gadget?
I’m fondest of my vintage Singer buttonhole attachments, particularly one dating from the late 1930’s, model 121795. I use this to make nearly all of my buttonholes and it never lets me down. I recommend this model all the time to other sewers, especially those whose sewing machines aren’t reliable when it comes to making buttonholes.
Do you have a favourite colour to work in
I’ve probably sewn the most with grey and blue, two colours I think flatter me most.
What type of fabric would you choose to work with?
I love working with fine quality cotton shirting.
Do you prefer hand work or machine work?
I definitely prefer machine work though, as I’ve gotten more involved in complicated tailoring, I’m getting better at hand work.
What’s your dream sewing machine
I love my all-metal, mechanical Singer 15-91 from the early 1950’s. It was once a top-of-the-line straight-stitch machine and it’s a true workhorse. It’s easy to maintain (just a little oiling from time to time) and can handle anything from multiple layers of stiff denim to silk chiffon. I feel lucky to be able to own it and they aren’t rare if you’re interested in picking one up yourself. (Just make sure the wiring is intact.)
My advice to a newbie would be …………………..?
Learn to enjoy the process as much as the result. Sometimes your early projects will turn out to be wearable and sometimes they won’t. Just remember you’re always learning and always improving with experience.
What is the piece of work that has driven you mad/been a disaster
I worked on a wedding garment that was white silk taffeta embellished with rhinestones. To sew the fabric I first had to remove a great many of the rhinestones and then I had to reattach them by hand. Very time-consuming and not much fun!
Do you make things for other people?
I do. Mostly men’s shirts but I’ve made everything from Covid masks to wedding gowns.
Who (famous person alive or historical) would you love to create something for
Can’t think of anyone offhand.
What’s your best sewing background music?
I love listening to classic Latin dance music from the 1940’s – 1970’s like Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. Also WWII big band singers (and the popular music of that period in general). And Broadway show tunes.
Are you an early riser or a night bird – when is the best time for you to sew?
I’m probably best in the late morning to early afternoon. I find that it’s almost always a good idea to quit by 5 pm — I often regret it when I don’t because I’ll end up having to rip out seams the following day.
What other hobbies or interests do you enjoy?
I’ve been a long-distance runner for decades now and have recently gotten into vintage watch repair.
Who in the sewing or crafting world do you most admire?
I love everything Duane MacLeod (Mainely Dad) sews — he’s not the most prolific of sewers but everything he makes is beautifully crafted. I greatly admire Gretchen Hirsch’s skill at building a successful sewing empire and I love her vintage aesthetic.
You can find out more about Peter on his Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Male-Pattern-Boldness-122497657805575/