She survived WWII in Europe to come to America to work as one of the first patternmakers for Levi’s Jeans. Now a large part of the success of homegrown North Carolina jeans maker Raleigh Denim can be traced back to the expertise of patternmaker 82-year-old Chris Ellsberg, the hands and talent behind the perfect pair of jeans.
I believe that I am about the last patternmaker that still knows how to do things by hand.
Ellsberg has been making patterns for 55 years. Today, she does not believe there is anyone who does what she does, at least not in this country.
“I believe I am about the last patternmaker that still knows how to do things by hand,” Ellsberg said.
With the depression about eight years ago, Ellsberg had been let go at her previous job. She did not see many opportunities for her with her skill set in patternmaking. Then one day, her hairdresser told her about a denim company in Raleigh that made jeans by hand.
“I didn’t believe him,” Ellsberg said. Ellsberg went to the company, Raleigh Denim Workshop, and after seeing the small start-up with its manually-opperated sewing machines, she knew she wanted to work there.
Owners, husband and wife team Victor Lytvinenko and Sarah Yarborough, were just starting out and did not know that they could financially support an additional employee. Yet they welcomed the passionate, traditional patternmaker to the team.
“And within, I don’t know, a few months, we had orders from Barney’s New York, and we had hired a couple of people, and that’s when it all really started,” Lytvinenko said.
Lytvinenko said with her many years of experience, he has a lot to learn from Ellsberg. “It’s funny because I am her boss, but she is my mentor,” he said.
Ellsberg said she also always takes the opportunity to learn. “I always took the opportunity to learn more while you are working,” she said. “If you don’t know something, either stay longer or figure out how to do it.”