Listen to the episode
7. Bag Making with Ellie Lum Of Klum House – The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast
Patterns & Designers mentioned
Nikki Easy Blazer Sewing Pattern, by Style Sew Me.
The Slabtown, from the Klum House Workshop website.
The Fremont, from the Klum House Workshop website.
How to Sew a Running Stitch in Hand Sewing, written by Debbie Colgrove and posted on the spruceCrafts.
Double Fold Hem – Easy Step by Step, posted on the Treasurie blog.
Killing of Vincent Chin, from Wikipedia.
Sew the Fremont Bag, with Ellie Lum on Craftsy.
What to Expect from the New Craftsy, written by Abby Glassenberg and posted on the Craft Industry Alliance website.
The Crafter’s Box official website. (Klum House is working on a potential collaboration with them.)
Sew Like a Boss – Online Class Bundle, from the Klum House Workshop website.
The Klum House Workshop official website.
The Klum House official Instagram account, @klumhouse.
To learn more about Ellie:
Meet the Maker: Ellie Lum, posted on the Fancy Tiger Crafts blog.
Podcast Episode #173: Ellie Lum of Klum House, written by Abby Glassenberg and posted on the Craft Industry Alliance website.
Professional Profile: Ellie Lum, written by Katie Whittle for the Seamwork magazine.
Ellie Lum Founder of Klum House Inspires and Educates Makers Through Custom DIY Bag Kits, from the StickerGiant YouTube channel.
Ellie Lum’s profile and biography on Etsy.
Ada: This was so great. I think I learned so much personally.
Ellie: Oh, I love the oh my gosh, I could go on forever. I mean, I feel like we could have talked about so many things.
Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared so in practice as we create a space for Asian soloists, and our allies. I’m your co host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado, which is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho peoples. I’m a marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare, C-H-U-A-N, and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly, for this podcast, you can find my sewing account on Instagram at @i.hope.sew.
Nicole: And I’m your co host, Nicole, I’m based out of Chicago, the original homelands of the council of the three fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m a Filippinx-American woman, a lawyer and a sewing enthusiast, you can find me on Instagram at @NicoleAngelineSews.
Ada: So before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?
Nicole: So remember how I said back in May I was working on a blazer with a terno sleeve? Well, I got overwhelmed and that took a backseat like it was a lot. And so I’m going to give it another go now it’s the Style Sew Me, Nikki blazer. And I’m going to try to figure out how to make it a removable sleeve so I can try the terno sleeve. And like a not like a regular sleeve. I’m excited. It just keeps getting pushed because life happens, right? So it’s not gonna be out for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. But it’s fine, it’s fine. I was going to use the silk mikado blend that I talked about, but I’m going to make a wearable toile instead and it’s still super cute, it’s just a lot less expensive fabric to work with. And then I’ll probably end up making the mikado and just save the look for October, which is Filipino American History Month. It would give me a lot more time to work on it. I’ll probably still push it off but we’ll see, how about you Ada?
Ada: I am taking a little break from starting new projects right now. So we talked about in Episode 4 about self-care. And I think my commitment was to be more mindful and take more time with what I’m making. And I realized, you know, a few weeks ago as I was finishing ahem that I was rushing through it and it wasn’t as nice or nicely finished as I wanted it to be. And that kind of got me thinking so I don’t have anything. Now I have a wearable toile that I was working on, that I’m not really in love with. So I might just take a break from that. And I think I’m gonna take this time to actually reorganize my sewing space because you can’t see. But there are notions and bread in elastic and some rotary cutters floating around everywhere. And it’s a little bit of a disaster. So I need, I need to clean that up.
Nicole: Oh, yeah, I like that. And I have thought you know, now that classes have been done for some time that I want to take the extra time and you know, organize my sewing space, but then I also want to sew, so I’m not really sure but kudos to you for for taking a step back and doing a little self-care.
Ada: So last week, we were talking about the topic of cultural appropriation again, we went a little bit deeper and we focused on how listeners can start to apply what they’ve learned to their everyday lives inside and outside of sewing and if you tuned in and still have any burning questions you’d like to ask us, feel free to email us or DM us on Instagram.
Nicole: Today we are changing the tone for a week and moving away from educational content to shine a light on another Asian American maker we’re delighted to introduce Ellie Lum, founder of Portland Oregon based Klum House. Klum is a combination of Ellie Lum’s last name and her husband’s, Dustin Klein. Klum House is a one-stop bag making shop and school, which offers bag making kits, patterns, tools, supplies and workshops to help makers such as any of our listeners who are interested in bag making today and these makers can create heavy duty bags on a home sewing machine. So we’ll be chatting with her today about her sewing experience. what it’s been like as an Asian American entrepreneur and the bag making industry. What Klum House is really about and what Klum House has in store for us in the upcoming months. So welcome, Ellie.
Ellie: Thanks. Thanks for having me. Super excited to be here.
Ada: So for any of our listeners tuning in today who are new to you and or Klum House? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Like, who are you? How do you identify and maybe a little bit more about how your identity intersects with your sewing?
Ellie: Yeah thanks for that question. So my name is Ellie. I go by she, her, hers. And I definitely identify as mixed race. I am part Mexican, part Chinese and part Portuguese. So I’m from San Francisco, I was born and raised there. And also raised a little bit in a small beach town in southern California called Carpinteria, which is just like a little south of Santa Barbara.
So my mom’s Mexican, and my dad’s Chinese, Portuguese, he’s from Hawaii. And I was mostly raised by my mom. So I was raised Mexican, even though I don’t really totally look Mexican, and don’t really totally look Asian. And most people don’t know what Portuguese people look like. So growing up, it was really interesting. Everyone was always kind of like, what are you.
And it was always a little embarrassing, you know what I mean? Like, growing up in San Francisco, and going to high school there in the sunset district, it was a Chinese neighborhood. So and there’s actually just like a lot of Asian folks in San Francisco, and the Bay Area in general, it didn’t realize how diverse it was until I went out into the rest of the world. So like, I grew up, like knowing a little bit of garlic, knowing a little bit of Spanish, knowing a little bit of Chinese, because all my friends were from all over the place.
Ada: It’s still kind of like that, maybe a little less. So I lived there for six or seven years, basically until the last year and I have only a few friends that I can say are actually like true San Francisco natives. Although native is probably not the right word to use to describe it. But I digress. That’s a whole different topic. I, yeah, that question of like, What are you? It’s, it’s a it’s a hard one.
Nicole: I got it today. Yeah, I did. And it was, I don’t know, I don’t I’ve almost made like an excuse for it. So I’m outside of Chicago and I visited San Francisco for the first time in 2018, I got to really explore as a silly tourist, what I loved and so just talking about the diversity of San Francisco that that you felt, you know, growing up, I loved the diversity of the books that were in the stores. I like books. I’m, I like to read law school didn’t didn’t take that from me. And like, I was amazed at all of the, like the Filipino children’s books, like it really got to my heart, like seeing all of those children’s books, and then seeing books by Filipino authors about food about, you know, Filipino history, like pre colonial Filipino history, and then essays about what it means to be Filipino. Like, I can’t go to a bookstore anywhere near me. Even if I went into Chicago, into the city. It’s just so I just remember really loving that part of San Francisco, but definitely from an outsider’s perspective, for sure. So we’re really happy to have you here today and talking, you know, about Klum House. And you know, what brought you to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast today?
Ellie: I’m just really excited for what you all are doing, like creating spaces like this, and just being able to share our stories, but also for me, culture making and social change is just really just part of life work for me. So it’s nice to collaborate, and to just be around kindred spirits. And, and see like we can really intersect with the different things that we love and bring all of these messy conversations about identity and being human and how to see each other more fully as humans and what it means to respect where people are from and, and all of that. So I like the richness of the messiness of conversations like that.
Ada: Thank you and thank you again for being here since I know you were talking about like our kindred kind of shared hobbies and beyond just identity and talking about that. I’m curious, since Nicole and I shared a little bit about our current or current sewing projects, or lack thereof, are you personally sewing anything or making anything at the moment that you’d like to share with the audience?
Ellie: So I’m always working on future kits and designs. And I am such a, I’m such a researcher. So I really like to thoroughly vet, the stuff that I release. And I spend sometimes over a year with it, before I decide to go into production, with it to writing the pattern and doing the illustrations and really committing to it. Part of that has to do with how, what I make is teaching patterns, I don’t think of them just as here’s how you make a thing. But I’m really looking at like, what’s the best way to explain this to someone? What is the best way for someone to build skills while they so this, and I really like to work at the intersection of heavy duty sewing, and home sewing, and pushing our sewing machines to their limits in what we can produce and look what we can make that looks super professional. So I like working with leather. So I’m looking at different techniques and hardware that I haven’t put into previous patterns. Sewing with leather is something that I’m interested in. So I’m playing around a lot with accessories and different types of backpacks.
Nicole: Do you like to sew bags for yourself? Or is it more like a work thing? And then you work on other things for yourself?
Ellie: That’s a good question. It’s a little of both. I am a very pragmatic person. And bags are super useful and utilitarian. So there’s that aspect of like, you know, what do I want to use? What do I want to wear, but I’m generally not trying to produce like the perfect bag for myself. But I do think the stuff that I make for myself will eventually make its way into Klum House patterns and products. My previous profession was making custom messenger bags and bike bags. So that really influences and my lifestyle of cycling around the city and being able to have waterproof bags or bags that go on the bike or bags that are good for carrying my little dog Winston, who is only seven pounds,
Nicole: Can you develop a bag that can carry a 23 pound Bichon?
Ada: I would counter, I don’t think you want that.
Nicole: It’s balanced. Like I’ve seen slings. But yeah, a sling would be good.
Ellie: I mean, honestly, the Slabtown backpack would probably be good, especially if you put like a little bit of foam in there. For him to stand on.
Nicole: I’m like looking, I don’t have pen a pen on me.
Ellie: Or like a more advanced pattern. But there’s a lot of options, because there’s like a little zipper on the side of the bag that would allow his head to stick out actually because it’s referred to the main compartment. Or he could love it.
Nicole: I know our producer will make note of that pattern. Please for me, I appreciate that. I haven’t made a bag before. And I’m speaking with you, I’m getting interested in it. So I’m looking forward to learning more about Klum House.
Ada: I am a biking nerd. As in I had zero bikes. And then I went to and I had like three, as as listeners from the beginning can tell I when I go into something like I went from zero sewing machines to four to five, like a year. And same applied for bikes. So I am personally very interested in learning more about that kind of aspect of your life, especially the parts that tie into sewing like your background, custom making those bike messenger bags. So since you used to be a bike messenger, and now you’re running Klum House are two very different things. I’m curious, like when did you start sewing and how did you actually get into, you know, from starting to sew all the way to opening your business?
Ellie: Yeah, thanks for that question. Well, my mom likes to sew. She’s been sewing her whole life, right? I mean, that’s one of the things that is awesome about sewing is it is such an oral tradition. And it is such an intergenerational skill. And I love that about it. It’s so culturally like culture is baked into the knowledge lineage of it. So my mom was a hand stitcher and that, she never really liked sewing machine. She always got really frustrated with them and she was like, didn’t want to figure out how to use them and the tension would be messed up or whatever. So she just did hand sewing her whole life. And that came because she used to be a flight attendant in the 60s and 70s. And she would hand sew when she would be waiting for flights, like her bikinis for the place that she was flying to you or whatever. Oh she was a hippie too. So she would like sew patches on her friends, jean jackets.
And so she taught me and my sister how to hand sew. I remember it being when I was six, but my sister said, “No, you were five and I was six”, ‘cause she’s a year older than me. And we would, my mom ran a daycare, and we would have, she used cloth diapers and cloth napkins. So we would do the running stitch on the double turn hems of that. But I mean, we would sit there like concentrating so hard. And she would let us have these sharp needles, you know. And it was so fun. And she always made things and I always wanted to learn and growing up, I like hand stitched my sixth grade graduation dress. Wow, that was super fun. But most of the sewing growing up was making clothes that just like didn’t fit or didn’t work. I mean, it was so hard to to learn that skill. Back then at least there wasn’t really great patterns to learn from. And then she knew I told her I wanted to learn how to sew on a sewing machine. So she brought me to a friend of hers’ house that was a little older, Mrs. Yalie. I remember her name. And she taught me how to use a sewing machine when I was like 12.
Ada: Wow. Yeah. That’s amazing. I can really identify with that, because they think I was around probably the same age five or six when my mom taught me how to and so her motivation was so that she wouldn’t have to sew my ballet slippers or my, you know, the elastics or modify tights, or what was it Girl Scout patches. And this was like, now they’re all like iron on transfers. And something, people have it way easier. But this was like, you still had to stitch every single one on and they like had to fit together. And it was like piecing things together on a vest. You know, with your tiny hands, going very slowly. It was, it was definitely interesting to learn, I think at that age. So once you learned with the machine, how, like, how did that kind of carry with you afterwards? Because 12 it’s still pretty early to be learning how to use a sewing machine.
Ellie: Yeah, I’m trying to think back. I remember years of just selling random ass like, things that you would want to throw in, like, pink, you know, tube skirt, or just stuff that was like easy to fit, but didn’t really work very well.
Ada: Did you ever hack jeans like take some scissors?
Ellie: I’m trying to remember. You know, I did take a break from selling in my mid teens. And then I started R.E.Load Bags, my custom messenger bag company when I was 17. So, that you know, yeah, there was just a few years there, where I didn’t sell a ton. And then so and then that was all industrial sewing. So then I was self taught industrial sewing for years. And even when I ran the small batch factory…
Nicole: Can you help me understand like what the biggest differences are between industrial sewing and like home sewing is?. I’m a, for context. I’m very, very fairly new home sewer, like I started sewing masks and baby blankets in March of last year. So what’s the difference? Like what are the biggest differences between the two?
Ellie: That’s a cool question. Um, so let’s bring it back to the the main reasons you would use an industrial machine versus a home machine. So industrial sewing machines are made for factory sewing. So they are made to produce a high volume of things and in repetition. So they’re very pared down and unique to a particular part in the production sewing process.
So take a pair of jeans, for instance. There’s a bunch of different types of stitches on a pair of jeans. There’s a chain stitch, there’s a you know, they’re straight stitch, there’s a zig zag, there’s a bartack so when those are being made in the factory, someone sits at a bartack machine that only does have our tack someone’s looked at a zigzag machine or a chain stitch machine that only does a chain stitch. So, say you’re sewing something at home, and you’re sewing a pair of jeans from start to finish. So you just switch a dial on your machine, you change the dial to a zigzag, and back to a straight stitch, maybe you have a chain stitch, I’m not sure depending on the machine that you’re on. So industrial machines are made for one user to do the same particular thing over and over. And home sewing machines are made to make a project from start to finish by one person.
Nicole: That’s all, this is all really new to me. So that’s really neat to be able to have that context, you know, because I know I’ve seen, I think I’ve seen some home sewists who have industrial machines at home. So when they do that, it’s just this workhorse of a machine that does the one thing that it needs to do?
Ellie: You know, when you start to get like, some people love sewing fast, right. And some people just like doing shit fast, you know, and it’s more fun. So industrial machines are really fast. And they’re really powerful. So if you really know your shit, you can bust something out so much faster. Like when you start to get frustrated that your machine speed is keeping you from sewing as quickly as you want to not yourself, which will be a point probably in your sewing career, then that’s a point where you would maybe switch to an industrial just because you want to get it done. You know, industrial machines, too, they have larger motors, then they’re more powerful.
Ada: Yeah, and motor equals power.
Ellie: Exactly. So if you need more power, you need a larger motor. And you can only fit a certain size of motor in a home sewing machine, because the motor is encased in the machine. But on an industrial machine, the motor is attached under the table. And there’s a belt drive to the flywheel or the hand wheel, depending on what language you want to use. So you get this really ability to have this robust motor, you can’t get a motor that big in a home sewing machine, because there’s nowhere to put it.
Nicole: See now I want an industrial because I like I mean, I don’t I have no business having an industrial machine, nor do I have space, but this is gonna sound really silly. So, so wait for it. But my serger doesn’t have speed control. And I love just putting the foot pedal to the floor there. Through the serger, it’s satisfying when I’m doing things like searching the edges of you know, like towels or you know, scraps to just use for for rags. So I yeah, now I want an industrial.
Ellie: It is fun to have that amount of power and then to grow your skill and your relationship with the machine to really be able to harness that power. I mean, it’s part of the fun of sewing.
Nicole: That sounds. Yeah, that sounds really fun.
Ada: It’s like driving a car. Like my partner is a car guy. I’m trying very hard to get him on the EV train. But he really likes combustion engines. And when I’m playing with my vintage machines, I’m like, this is like the same as you nerding out about a motor on a car. It’s just a different type of motor.
Ada: So we kind of jumped ahead there. But I’m curious since you started Klum House, you’ve been at it for a little bit of time. Now. Can you share a little bit more about your experience being a mixed race and Asian American woman entrepreneur?
Ellie: Yes, I was thinking about that earlier before we started talking. And I mean, growing up in San Francisco, everyone was everything. You know, like I looked, it was just how it was it was such a mixing pot, I guess you could say.
But I was raised more by my mom, who’s Mexican, because my parents got divorced when I was three. So I wasn’t really raised by my dad, who very much identifies as Chinese. It was interesting to get like, you know, when I would go visit him the difference between sort of how he, I guess, saw my career trajectory and my mom, you know, and my mom was is Mexican and darker skinned. She’s definitely brown. And she was very verbal about racism and, and being passed over for jobs and the mistreatment of just what she’s experienced in her life as being a Mexican woman.
So she always kind of told me like to just go for the stuff that I wanted to do. And to just try like, I’ll tell you story in a little bit, the first time I sold something that I made, I was in fifth grade. But my dad, he was really into just putting your head down and working. You know, and he never really saw my messenger bag company as a real job. He called it my hobby. And he worked at the post office in Daly City, which is right outside of San Francisco, for like, since the 80s. And just like had the same job went to every day, to do the same thing. And honestly, he always wanted to own a bookstore. But he never really like. He just was, I think, in a lot of ways, just grateful to have a job.
And I think his idea was just don’t rock the boat, just do the work that you’re given that you are allowed to have. So I think there was a juxtaposition, a lot of layers there for me, growing up in a Chinese neighborhood, going to high school in the Sunset district in the 90s, which had a lot of race wars, honestly. And that’s a whole nother subject, but then also fully being raised by a single Mexican woman. And like really, sort of weighing those a lot of those messages, you know,
Ellie: But I can tell you, my mom, like she was really into crafts, and I was too because I would always learn from her. And I would always make these like really colorful friendship bracelet bracelets with embroidery floss. And I don’t know, if folks still do that. I mean, I’m in my 40s. So we grew up, you know, it was so in, especially in California. So it makes these really elaborate friendship bracelets, and my mom, she was like, “Oh my god, those are so good. You should take them down to the local surf shop, and see if they want to buy them.” And I’m like, you know, in fifth grade, so I’m like, okay, whatever my mom says, because back then I was a preteen when you listen to your parents. So I remember going down there with her and showing them to the shop lady. And she was like, “Oh, yeah, these are great. I’ll buy them”. And then like handed me a $24 check. Which my mom promptly took from me.
Nicole: Agent fee.
Ellie: Yeah. But yeah, so I really I was raised, I think in that way to, to go for things. And for her, it came from this idea that no one’s ever going to give you the chance that you deserve. Being a woman, being mixed race, or Mexican, whatever you’re not, you can’t sit there and wait, like, you’re not going to be given that chance unless you take it. So she was just like, always encouraging me to take chances where there was and not wait for permission.
Ada: I love that. I wish someone had told me that I think earlier in my life and my career, because it did take a few learning experiences, as we will call them to really start to learn that and start to advocate for myself. And now that I’m more comfortable doing it, it’s it kind of comes more naturally, but it was definitely like a high learning curve.
Ellie: And it is for a lot of women too. And especially culturally, you know, like I sort of get these two different messages like from my Chinese father, like don’t rock the boat. And my Mexican Mom, it’s like support the revolution.
Nicole: So when you started your bike messenger bag business at a young age of 17. That’s amazing. I think it’s, it’s really incredible. And I love how you were so encouraged by your mother. So what was your father’s reaction to it, then?
Ellie: Oh, he was like, Oh, your hobby? And I’m like, my full time job. You know, it’s like, are you still making bags for your hobby?
Ellie: Yeah, so no, not so supportive, but not necessarily talking it down outright, either.
Nicole: You know, the something you had mentioned earlier about how your dad was like, I’m grateful for the work, keep your head down and do the work. And you know, so that is something that I can identify on the whole with, because both of my parents are Filipino and the way that we were encouraged what we were encouraged to do growing up was just you know, straight line and you know, it’s not I’ll say that I don’t think it’s wrong, I think it’s different. And but I think it’s beautiful to have that in your mother, someone to encourage you and have say, you know, do what you want to do, you’re great at this. You can do whatever you want, I believe in you. And even if you don’t believe in yourself, just like just go, just go to this surf shop. Right. And I think that’s, that’s really wonderful to have that as a part of your life. But I can definitely identify with some of the things he said about the way that your father’s sees, you know, education and hobbies versus real world job.
Ada: With quotes, yeah, exactly, yeah. Was it different than when you founded Klum House, like, did, did the perspectives of either sides of your family change?
Ellie: You know, over time, I think my dad realized that I am always going to do my own path. Um, out of all of my brothers and sisters, I was the one he worried about the least. So I think that there was a certain amount of trust there. But you know, to him, what my life career and all of that was such a non traditional path. for him. I think he always worried about his children, like making a living, and being accepted in society and not trying to stand out was a big thing for him, you know? Just being quiet, keeping to yourself and doing your work. Right? Like very to me, very Chinese, culturally.
Ada: Yeah. It’s, it’s funny that you say that, because my dad had the same exact worries when I left my job to do my own thing. And I was like, “Well, when I was 16, or 17, you were trying to explore entrepreneurial ideas. So like, you, you shouldn’t be 0% surprised now”. But I think, you know, reflecting, he passed a few months ago, and reflecting on his papers and how he came here from Taiwan in ‘82. And I realized when I was looking into his papers, like he must have gotten here, right around when Vincent Chin was murdered. And so to witness that, as a grad student coming here, for the first time, you’re in a new country, where people are clearly racist against you. He definitely like, he participated in activities. But there was definitely that mindset of like, keep your head down and just do the work to get through. And it was almost like a survivor or survival mentality that he then kind of passed along to us right? Later on, which is interesting, once you’re kind of not in that position, and you do have the privilege to do your own thing or, or make your own path forward.
Ellie: See, I love that you shared that Ada. And thanks for also sharing about your father passing. I’m sorry to hear that. And it sounds like he was really amazing.
Ada: He was, I named my business after him, so I would hope so.
Ellie: I love that you’re talking about that survival mentality. I think you’re exactly right. And that’s, that’s what I, I feel like both my parents instilled that in me, and I carried it forward through my whole life, always sort of, not that it’s not that I was taught this, but like, saving my money, really by a penny, like intensely, because, you know, yeah, and even, I mean, just sort of nonlinear thoughts. But as you’re talking, I was remembering just like growing up in Southern California, because when my parents divorced, when I was three, my mom moved us back down to Santa Barbara, which is where she’s from. My parents had met in San Francisco. And I was me and my sister were, you know, there was only three Asian people in our school. And people would, all the kids would just like make up, like, you know, racist songs about us. And to me, no, and it was really confusing, too, because we’re like, “Wait a second. Well, we are Chinese, but we’re also Mexican. And we’re also Portuguese”, but, you know, since we look Chinese and mixed race, like you’re just gonna say, “Oh.” But regardless though, it was just like a really confusing to never fit in anywhere. Yeah, you know, and I think that is part of the survival mechanism, to to just try to blend in and pass.
Like my mom taught us, she did not teach us Spanish on purpose. Well, my mom, because speaking, Spanish is her first language. She was put into classes for kids that had learning disabilities, because of her accent. So she and also like she was really verbal about all the racism she had experienced in her career path. And so she thought she was doing us a favor and protecting us. Not teaching us Spanish as our first language, even though those were the first words that I spoke, so that we wouldn’t have an accent. And my dad.
Ada: I had a friend remark to me a few years ago, he’s like, “Well, you oh, you don’t have an accent”, because there’s a slight Asian American accent that some people do have. And if you’ve heard it, you might like, you might know what I’m talking about. But he said to me, “Oh, you have no accent.” But growing up, we had the same exact thing like I was, because Chinese is technically my first language. I, my parents were very truthful when they registered me for kindergarten, and they were about to put me in an ESL class, even though I was already reading in English. And they were like, “No, you can’t put her in an ESL class.” Like, technically, that’s right. But she probably has better English than many of the other kids here, that you are not pointing to that class. And it was, and that wasn’t even that long ago.
Like, I can’t even imagine. If that was slight progress, you know, to to whatever people are going through now, like it’s slow progress.
Ellie: It is. It’s funny to think about how it shifts to and to talk about our parents generation, and what they were going through to rate like the choices they were having to make, that we’re really conscious about dampening down their culture, or their identity in in the name of safety for us, and freedom for us like, yeah, and it wasn’t that long ago.
Nicole: No, and I didn’t think about it growing up, of course, and now you know, that I’m much older. Looking back on it, I do recognize that it is part of that survivalist mentality. And you know, for my parents, at least, specifically for them, you know, because they were both immigrants that’s not built in, I was gonna say built in. But it’s something that is common with a lot of people who immigrate from other countries, particularly those who are not white immigrants. And I think it’s something that I look back on with a little bit of pain, because I wish I had learned Tagalog or I wish I didn’t groan whenever my grandma wanted me to learn a new cultural dance. I wish I took interest in you know more about my culture. And that’s for me, as an individual has rebounded at my age where now I’m like, I want to learn everything, like I just placed an order from, for books from a University of the Philippines, because really even in San Francisco, I looked at bookshops, you know, online, like at some of the websites, like you can’t get them. And I’m really looking forward to, you know, reclaiming some of that last time.
And again, I’m not blaming my parents, you know, it’s just and I know, none of us are. And it’s just, I wish I had invested or understood more and gotten, you know, more of that those cultural ties growing up, but I get it, like, I totally get it with a survivalist mentality. And so you have this beautiful, complex, rich heritage that we’re so glad that you’re sharing, you know, your thoughts on with us. And I was wondering, does your heritage or has your heritage informed Klum House’s way of working and Klum House’s values?
Ellie: It’s almost like too meta, and now, like, well, yes, because of me, right. And it’s my project. But I think it kind of goes back to our previous conversation about survival on many levels. I mean even growing up pretty poor. So we think there’s an aspect of, of poverty and coming from poverty that overlays with this being raised by a single mom with four children, Mexican for that matter. So she, yeah, so we, you know, didn’t have much. And so we did get creative and they think they’re like that sort of reclaiming survival is a place of empowerment, comes to mind. And really seen the benefit and value of what it means to truly believe in yourself. And I think that’s the basis of Klum House. really seem like crafting and making as a form of self empowerment, that then trickles out to a more empowered community and the ability to shift culture and build the world that we want to live in. Like, I know that that’s a pretty big, broad connections to be made. But I do believe in this, like sort of fractal idea that what we engage in on the micro builds the macro.
Ada: I love that, I do want to make sure we have enough time to kind of talk about Klum House a bit. So can you tell us more about Klum House, and maybe some of the courses that you offer?
Ellie: Yeah, so Klum House really is born out of my two major skill sets, which is custom bag making that I did with R.E.Load for 15, 20 years. And my degree from UC Berkeley in adult learning theory and eco literacy. So I really took like the work and experiential education pedagogy that I learned at Cal, and coupled that with all of my knowledge of sewing production and bags, and that’s, that’s really what makes Klum House isthose basis, that skill basis and that theoretical basis. And my whole idea with that is that can I really build sewing education and bag making education in a way that is like this really seamless learning experience, no pun intended there, where people can build skills and feel empowered along the way and, and really get supported in that process.
Nicole: There are so many other like how to sewing courses online. And you know, people often YouTube their way to the sewing success or failure depending on the day, the hour whatever.
What what are some things that distinguish Klum House from you know, any YouTube tutorial or even like class on craftsy? So for any listeners who already don’t know, Craftsy is an online community for all creators, not just sewing, to get together and share their skills for other creators to learn from so how does Klum House you know, distinguish itself from all the other sewing classes out there?
Ellie: Well, I do have a class on Craftsy, it’s really popular and it was actually really fun to teach to, to film. It’s called the Fremont tote. It’s a pattern and kit that we offer, but we host the class, too.
So I recently had a live stream last week and got into this really cool conversation on chat with all the folks on the live stream. One of the things that came out of it is that I realized that a lot of craft teachers don’t actually bring the philosophy forward. And, and one of the things that I think is unique about my teaching style is that I explain the how’s and the whys, not just how to do something. But why we do it. And I like people to understand the root of where something came from, so that they can make independent decisions moving forward and connect the dots, you know, so it’s not just like, you know, in my pattern like this is a quarter inch seam, just do what I say, it’s like, this is a quarter inch seam, because this is why we choose to do a quarter inch seam. So then when we’re doing a half inch seam, or or whatever, you know, it’s like this is why so then you’re learning how to make those choices. So then you can go on and design your stuff, or wherever you want to take it, because you’ve learned the logical thought process of how to make those decisions. And that is so much for me more empowering than just just do this pocket just like this. It feels like a more effective way of teaching. Like you learn better that way when you know the why.
Yeah, and the other aspect, I think that makes it unique for us is that I really like because learning how to sew is really can be really challenging, and there’s so many aspects, but the rewards are so great. And I’m just such a pragmatic person that I love that as people are learning how to use tools and think creatively, and engage in a creative practice that they’re also making things that are so useful to use in your everyday life. And there’s this whole other aspect of Klum House that really grew out of, I grew up in punk and DIY culture. And in there is an inherent, like, you know, interrogation of capitalism. So I really like to sort of having, keeping that mentality and carrying it forward. And really looking at what happens when we develop a stronger connection to the things we use in our everyday lives.
What happens when it’s no longer a transactional experience with objects, but it becomes a relationship, you know, and then that relationship is then you can trickle it out into the gifts that you make for people. And then if people get those gifts, it’s not transactional, either, because it’s something that made you know, so there’s this idea that you can interact with objects, so that they become sacred, they become more important, and you also understand the production cycle, and you start to value labor in a different way to so there’s all these, I think, theoretical underpinnings to just the practice of learning how to make one of our patterns.
And by no means do I think it all needs to be conscious or spelled out. But that is, those are the thoughts behind what we produce. And when we have a lot of fun doing that, you know, because I’m really like, I really love to understand why I do everything and I am a teacher so I want everyone to interacts with the things that I make to understand why they’re doing it also.
Nicole: But that sounds like a lot of fun.
Ellie: Exactly. And also it’s not how we normally think of sewing. And I like that I like bringing it into this realm that you know, muddles the barriers.
Ada: You did mention that your pattern and your class on Craftsy have been pretty popular. And you’ve been on there for a while, I think so I’m curious, how do you feel about the platform, especially since it’s gone through some changes in ownership? And has it been beneficial to growing Klum House’s business outside of that one pattern?
Ellie: Yeah, I had a lot of fun working with them when they were Blueprint. They’ve since changed a lot. And I haven’t kept in touch. I’m starting to look at working with other platforms. I love doing collaborations. And of course, we also have our own online classes that we host. And I’m excited to be developing more online classes and courses that are time based. So folks can look out for that we have one coming next month actually. And but I love collaboration, I think that craftsy has done a lot to make sewing, accessible, and sewing education accessible. I know they’ve gone through a lot of changes, and I’m not super clued into all of that. But I am glad that people are becoming more comfortable learning online. And it’s nice for me as a teacher because I feel like I can reach more people. It’s more acceptable. So I hope that a lot of online skill learning continues. But I do think there is some stuff lost in translation that is just with skill based education, so much easier to do in person.
Nicole: So you mentioned that you’d love to do more collaborations. Like what’s your ideal collaboration, like what does that look like? And maybe if you’re comfortable, like who would that be with?
Ellie: I’m always looking for collaborative partners. I am currently working on or am negotiating with collaboration with the Crafter’s box which is super exciting, cool and ongoing. You know, who knows where what direction crafts he’s going into, but it also just really like like feel like something like this is a really great collaboration to like being able to go and speak in other communities and other people’s followings and just have that cross pollinate and have ideas is really exciting to me. Because bag making is so niche most of sewing is either in garment or quilting. And I really like developing and pushing the narrative forward about bag making. But yeah, it is not as widely practiced, you know, so I think it’s fine to moonlight in different sewing spaces.
Ada: It’s funny that you say that because I kind of went through all these garments, went through all these machines and was like, “Oh, I’m, I’m a bag, lady, I can take a bag to this, this could work”. And I thrifted a piece of, you might appreciate this, I thrifted a piece of upholstery fabric that kind of looks like carpet. And I meant to turn it into a small tote, per a friend’s suggestion, she had actually said, “Well, I really want this fancy designer tote. I just don’t have $3,000 to spend on it. But I wonder if we could sew one really similar.”
And we were like, “it’s basically upholstery fabric, we can make that”. And it turned out terrible. Like I’m literally staring at it beyond my computer right now. Because I broke three needles in the span of one night, and I hadn’t even gotten to top stitching. And now I’m frustrated and annoyed with this project. Even though you know, like I said, I’m a total bag lady. I love having bags and would love to get into bag making.
And so I think that’s why businesses like Klum House are so interesting, because you said it is a niche. But so many of us already have many of the skills that you need to get started. It’s almost like the confidence boost of knowing the how and the why that you shared in your teaching style. Specifically, I think that helped motivate people and make them more confident. So absolutely. I am curious if there’s anything you shared a little bit about those collaborations? Is there anything coming up in the next few months, besides those collaborations that you can share? For our listeners to get excited about or ask them to go do?
Ellie: So we like, you’re right, we like to build success into the kits in the pattern. Because we do really I do really think deeply about like, you know, it is hard to figure out how to sew something that’s super thick on your machine. So the thing that I’m most excited about is introducing like cohort style classes. So that I actually can interact with sewing students on a deeper level and build a relationship over the course of like, say, a semester or something. So that’s something that I’m starting to design. So that I mean, ultimately, I think a lot of times people want to learn how to design bags. And so I’m really looking at going in that direction, where my patterns are, or this like base building block for teaching, design thinking and looking at how you can make those decisions to design the bags that you want to make.
But I think also just going into like the basics and interacting with me as a teacher, like, yes, there’s a lot of people that teach these things, but they’re not coming with a theoretical framework that I come to the table with, with and the professional training and whatnot, too. So I always just want to make sewing and creativity as accessible as possible, including, like, just pick up a sewing machine at your local thrift store and make something amazing. So I’m always gonna try and do projects that can serve people in that way, when it’s really fun to have those aha moments. And I just want to give more of that to people. So I’m really excited to produce more longer term online classes. And when we get to be in person again, hopefully, go back into an in person intensives and retreats a couple times a year.
Nicole: I was going to ask whether the bag design course was going to be online. I mean, I’m not nearby, but I’m so interested in in person sewing class. I started sewing during the pandemic and like my sewing friends are all people all over the place. And I can’t wait to like get in a studio and have someone teach me and and talk me through it and laugh with me when I have to pull out the seam ripper because that’s exactly what’s probably going to happen. Yeah. And so there’s going to so it sounds like you have plans to launch you know, like an online course for now but then you know opening up in like in person, when that becomes safe to do so. Is that, am I understanding that right?
Ellie: Yeah. And that’s what Klum House did for years is, is in person workshops and open weekend intensives. We had a design and sew intensive that was three days long and people would fly in from all over the world to take it.
Nicole: That sounds like so much fun. It was, we should have a collective field trip.
Ellie: Yeah, that’s hands down some of the most fun times I’ve had teaching. And yeah, you’re right, it is hard to translate these really tactile experiences into the virtual space and feel supported. I think there’s, we’ve had to learn quickly this year, how to do that the best that we can, but it’s definitely a lot of different code switching and how you support you know, such like you were saying a tactile experience. Like I can’t reach through the screen and show you exactly how I would seam rip that even though that’s really what I want to do, you know?
Ada: Yeah, yeah, I’ve done classes like hybrid kind of classes like that where it was my local sewing studio slash store and the teacher has been teaching for a very long time and they were figuring out zoom classes for the first time and it was like a watch the video and come to class with questions, which for me worked out in that setting, but I know isn’t for everyone and I had at least 20 questions about zipper insertion, which you know, is just a hard on fabric by itself, let alone like in an accessory or a bag and trying to show her on my camera was very, it just added I think to the stress of like trying to figure out this new skill.
Nicole: I was just gonna say I’ve only actually made one bag as well. And it was one of those things that you’ve seen, you see a quick YouTube video like “turn any piece of fabric into a simple easy, no fuss, you won’t mess this up tote bag”. Guess what, no, it was terrible. I was really awful. And then I discovered a walking foot. So this is how I learned about a walking foot was my mother in law was like Nicole just, just get one of these and try again. And it was fine. It was a bag only a mother could love and so I gave it to my mom. So the things that Klum House puts out, I’ve taken a look at the kits and they all look really amazing and produce beautiful bags. As someone who is fairly new I’m just gonna say new new to bag making and who is interested. Where do you recommend I start?
Ellie: Yeah, so the kits are great. So what you need to become a rock star bag maker and start with Klum House bags is I would register for the Sew Like a Boss online class bundle which is on our site. And that is three classes in one bundle. Sewing Machine 101, Woodland dopp kit, and Portsmouth tote. And the Woodland dopp kit introduces you to zippers, and the Portsmouth tote really introduces you to some more heavy duty sewing techniques.
And if you couple that with buying a full maker kit of the Woodland kit and the Portsmouth tote, you would have everything you needed with a lot of support to do your first bag projects. Even if you’ve never touched a sewing machine.
Ada: Maybe I should have done that before I attempted to make a carpet bag.
Ellie: Well, so let’s talk about that. Because when I design a new pattern, I literally make like 10 sometimes, 15 versions, I kid you not before I’m like this is the this is right, or this is good. So as even a designer and a seasoned maker, I mess up all the time. And I also I think is okay, as long as you’re okay with that iterative process.
Ada: Yeah, I think where I’m at is like this bag is not leaving my house. But I think it could be an interesting scrap project, like I turn into something else at this point. And maybe I really do, I really did actually enjoy the construction aspect of turning it into not a garment right into like a usable object I would use in a different way than just wearing it or you know, wearing it as an accessory. And so I think it’s, it’s definitely going in the scrap bin but perhaps maybe it’ll be a basket or something else that can use around my house. So this fabric doesn’t go to waste. And you’re right. It does take a few tries for you to even get the pattern. So as a novice maker in that, I should obviously potentially expect to have a few turns in my own bag making journey itself.
Ellie: For sure, I mean, I feel like every project we make, even if it doesn’t turn out is a step towards us building our skills or deepening our relationship to our creativity, or discovering something about our own style. Like there’s so many other things happening. Even if you have a project. They’re like, Oh my god, I don’t even want to look at this again.
Nicole: I’ve had projects like that, but you know, what’s the saying? Like it’s the journey and what you take from it rather than the destination. So yeah, it’s been so great to chat with you. Thank you so much for joining us.
Ellie: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.
Ada: Yeah, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you Ellie. To our listeners, you can buy all of the patterns and kits and read Ellie’s blog on the Klum House website at klumhouse.com. That’s K-L-U-M-house.com. And we’ll have all the links to the various bag kits mentioned during this episode in our show notes. And Klum House’s in person workshops, as we mentioned, are currently on pause. But they’re like we talked about, there’s plenty of sewing and bag making classes online that you can take from the comfort of your own home and in your sweatpants or whatever you choose to wear around your house.
You can also follow Klum House on Instagram at @KlumHouse. We’ll also include links to the Klum House website and Instagram in our show notes.
Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week, we will be diving into the topic of silk and Asian fabric and textile that we all know and love for its luxurious feel. If you like our show, you can support us by following us on Instagram at @AsianSewistCollective. That’s one word Asian Sewist Collective. You can also help us by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would love it if you could rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, PocketCasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. All of the links and resources like I mentioned will be in the show notes on our website at asiansewistcollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages. If you’d like to be featured on a future episode at asiansewistcollective(at)gmail(dot)com.
Nicole: This episode is brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Aarthi Ravi produced by Mariko Abe and edited by Leslie Rehm Hunt and Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.