Meet the Designer: Toni Coward
Toni Coward had a Better Homes & Gardens subscription at age 10. Today, she lives in an uber modern house on a rural plot of Tasmanian land. But her day job is designing practical and wearable sewing patterns for women and kids. Toni is the designer of Make it Perfect sewing patterns. We chatted with her to find out how this Aussie sewist took her brand global and how she finds inspiration in the everyday.
Hi Allie! Thanks for inviting me to chat with the Indiesew community today! I love your site and everything you encompass and am grateful to be a part of it.
I’m Toni Coward, designer behind Make It Perfect patterns. I live by the beach in Tasmania, a little island state to the south of Australia. I really, really love where I live. It is quiet and peaceful, country-rural but just a short walk from the beach! We recently built a house on an acre of land, so have been working hard landscaping like crazy which keeps my family super busy. It is so exciting to see the rewards of our hard work.
My husband is an architect, so between he and I always designing, creating, and conjuring up new ideas, our kids are always making too; my kitchen bench is strewn with craft supplies and creations and there are ALWAYS Legos on the floor! I love that my kids have adopted our love of making. My passion is creativity, mostly expressed through sewing. I love to decorate our home and I enjoy cooking too, although don’t find as much time for it as I used to.
What does your daily life look like?
Well I'm a Mum of four (ten, eight, seven, and three years old) so most of my time is consumed by keeping everyone happy and alive (not a joke)! School drop-offs and pick-ups, parent help in classrooms, after-school sports and activities, dinner, bath, and bed...some days I feel like I don't even get to come up for air!
I like to go to the gym (cross-fit) two or three mornings a week and the rest of my non-sewing time is spent doing housework! I'm just a regular stay-at-home Mum with a business on the side!
How did you learn to sew?
When I was in year seven, my older sister, one of our friends, and I did a year of homeschooling together. My step-grandmother was a high school teacher and we thought it would be fun to try it out for a year. Making is in my blood; growing up I was always creating something, and I even asked for a subscription to Better Homes & Gardens for my tenth birthday!
During my year of homeschooling, I spent hours each week learning to sew under the guidance of my grandmother. We even sewed a big collection of baby tracksuits and sold them at the local market!!
How did the evolution to designing your own sewing patterns take place?
After sewing as a young teenager for a few years, I started experiencing failed project after failed project. My hand-me-down sewing machine and overlocker never seemed to work properly and I became disgruntled with sewing. I remember making the decision one day when I was about 15 that I would never sew again...and I didn't for about 12 years!
I was a new Mum with two babies adjusting to the "stay-at-home" life when I discovered that there were cool fabrics around that I would actually wear myself, and I got the bug to start sewing again. My biggest mentor was the owner of my local fabric shop. I remember complaining to her one day about how I wanted to sew clothes but found the big-name commercial patterns difficult for a beginner to understand. Her reply was, "Why don't you design some patterns yourself?" The whole concept was new to me but got my mind ticking, and I was determined to give it a go! My friend told me that she would sell my patterns in her shop and that gave me the confidence to start Make It Perfect.
How did you get your brand out to the global sewing community?
After selling patterns in my local fabric store for a few months, I began contacting fabric and sewing stores around Australia to introduce myself and see if they would be interested in stocking my patterns. It was a long, hard slog starting out! But I had the time and enthusiasm to keep pushing on.
About six months after releasing my first design, I took a leap and attended the Australian Quilt Market. Things just really took off from there. I managed to get my patterns stocked in many stores around Australia and, a year later, started working with a distributor who now takes care of printing, folding, and mailing my paper patterns. Of course, social media is where most of the promotions takes place now; my blog, Facebook, and Instagram are by far the easiest way to connect.
How would you sum up your signature style in three words? What inspires your designs?
Practical. Wearable. Comfortable. I try really hard to design patterns for clothing that will be worn over and over again…day-to-day clothes that are functional wardrobe staples.
What’s currently on your cutting table?
A big mess! I have just released a pattern for kids PJs and my sewing room always needs a good clean-up after a pattern release! Quick on its heels, though, I’m working on a pattern for the ladies, so I’ve got paper and pens and fabric cuttings everywhere again! I also have a long list of things to sew; I’m desperate to add a few new items to my wardrobe for winter.
If you could only sew with one type of fabric for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Why?
Chambray. I could wear everything in a soft denim chambray but have to remind myself to sew with other fabrics so that I have more to wear than double denim!
Let’s see your sewing space! What elements are required for your ideal sewing space?
My sewing space is a little room connected to the rumpus room in our house. It works well as I’m close to the family and everything going on, but still out of sight enough that I can make a mess and keep it there!
My space is small, but works well. I sometimes venture into the rumpus for cutting out if the floor is too messy in my sewing room but I have managed to fit pretty much all of my supplies into this space and it is cosy and homey.
Show us your fabric stash! What colors and prints do you gravitate towards?
My stash is really varied. I have lots of knit fabrics in solids and stripes, and I'm a sucker for funky European kids’ prints. And then I have a heap of quilting cottons. When I first started sewing it was all about quilting cottons. I don’t use them as much as I used to, so now they are slowly depleting and I’m quickly replacing them with fabrics more suitable for garment sewing, such as voile, rayon, double gauze, etc.
Oh and chambray—gotta have that chambray! I gravitate towards bright, fun prints and colours, but over the last year or so I have been really disciplined and purchasing more “boring” colours and lots of solids or stripes because I know from experience that clothes made from the basics are the ones I will wear over and over again.
Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Toni! Getting a glimpse into a designer's life (especially a Tasmanian one!) is always a treat.
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