Kathleen Cheetham on the Taunton Online Workshops set, shooting “Sewing for the Plus-size Petite: Tops & Tummies”. (Marsha Elkind for The Taunton Press)

Kathleen Cheetham on the Taunton Online Workshops set, shooting “Sewing for the Plus-size Petite: Tops & Tummies”. (Marsha Elkind for The Taunton Press)

Port Alice businesswoman turns setbacks into plusses

Cheetham always enjoyed sewing and sewed on the side for extra income.

WRITTEN BY DEBRA LYNN

Online businesswoman, Kathleen Cheetham, has made a life’s career by rolling with the punches. Having a “petite plus” body type—one that is little, round, small-boned with narrow shoulders and a shorter torso that is notoriously hard to find clothes for—she made it into her calling card.

Today, she runs an online business that has tens of thousands of customers all around the world eager to acquire her patterns for petite-plus-sized women who want to wear properly fitted stylish clothes.

The daughter of a Montreal garment worker, Cheetham always enjoyed sewing and sewed on the side for extra income.

After spending 15 years of her life working as a bookkeeper in Vancouver, she unexpectedly was laid off when the company she worked for moved its head-office.

Her husband, Dan, suggested that, instead of looking for another bookkeeping job, she should do something she really enjoys.

She ended up going to Kwantlen Polytechnic University, earning an associate degree in clothing and fashion technology, where she developed a desire to design clothing for petite plus women.

Working as a sales rep in retail in a store that specialized in plus sizes and maternity clothing, she found she could not wear their designs because they made clothes for women who were taller and bigger boned, what she calls, “grand women.”

One of these outfits would fit women like her “in all the wrong places. It would go around…but it was…gaping off their neck and shoulders, bunching up around their torsos, and they’d be pulling their pants up to their ribcages. It would go around them, but it was baggy and overwhelming in all these other places.”

Women like herself usually had to alter store-bought clothes to properly fit their body type or sew their own.

Even patterns were limiting.

Cheetham states, “Even for me to sit down and alter those patterns for a little round woman…it was terrible! For that great a difference in body type, it’s a lot of work.”

After investigating the prospect of creating a ready to wear line, she determined that her pockets were not deep enough and concluded it would be more viable to sell her designs as patterns to sewers.

In her first three years, she worked along-side other paying jobs to develop her first six patterns.

She worked in the film and television industry making costumes and wardrobe for such tv shows as Cold Squad, The New Adam’s Family Series, Breaker High and made-for-TV movies starring such actors as Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser MD fame.

She printed her first pattern in 1999 and didn’t do any more work in movies after that.

She went on to promote her patterns at trade shows across Canada and the US. Her idea also produced a number of additional income streams for her through writing articles for sewing magazines, such as Threads and Sew News, teaching online classes in fitting & alterations for the website, Craftsy, and even publishing a book, Singer Petite Plus: Sew a Mix-and-Match Wardrobe for Plus and Petite-Plus Sizes.

Cheetham’s designs accommodate and compliment curves with clean, well-fitted, classic lines. The effect is sophisticated, dignified, but also feminine. They don’t just “cover up” more ample proportions, they accentuate them in a positive way.

Deliberate or not, Cheetham’s work is a feminist statement. Instead of forcing women to adapt their bodies to fashion, she is adapting fashion to women’s bodies. Kathleen Cheetham’s line of sewing patterns for plus-sized petites can be seen at www.petitepluspatterns.com.

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