Saturday, October 19, 2013

An Open Letter to Indies

Dear Indie Pattern Designer,

First, I want you to know that I LOVE that you are out there, providing more choices and variety. As a stitcher and habitual pattern buyer and stasher, I very selfishly want you to succeed. And, as a former business owner, I know running your own company is not as easy as it looks from the sidelines. So please know that what follows are suggestions and constructive criticisms that are meant to be helpful and not mean-spirited.

So, deep breath, here we go ...

You have a website/store, so please carve out a spot there where I can learn about your processes, your training, your vision. I want to know if you're the designer and the patternmaker, or whether you outsource patternmaking, which is really OK, but if so, tell me how you oversee that. I want to know if you're formally trained, self-taught, or somewhere in between (sewing, designing, patternmaking ... all of them). I want to know what inspired you to take this leap. I want to know where you're going.

Test, test, test. And proactively. Seek out testers from all experience levels (and even body types), and make sure you get them. Make contacts directly and don't just wait for volunteers to catch a blog post asking for sign-ups because some of your best potential testers may miss a post or two, or even your entire blog. Provide your testers with an actual process of what and how to test. Make sure you check in with them and encourage an open dialog, even, and especially, if things aren't going well for them. Don your thick skin and encourage them to find errors, in both your instructions and the pattern pieces. Don't wait for your first round of paying customers to be the guinea pigs. Sure you can tease us with pics from your testers, but don't sell us a pattern until the tests (and press checks) are complete and the corrections have been made.

And because mistakes inevitably do sneak through from time to time, plan for it in advance. Create an errata webpage for each design and provide the URL in the pattern instructions as the first step (and keep that page updated).

If you offer downloadable/PDF versions of your pattern, make sure you test that too.Pay attention to where important pattern landmarks fall between the pages and adjust your layout if necessary.

Think about those who blend between sizes with an eye toward nesting different sizes whenever you can.

Tell your customers what body (and bust) type you're designing for, and provide finished measurements for bust-waist-hip so there is a jumping off point for individual alterations and expectations. And then be consistent throughout all of your styles.

And, finally, consider your price points and the expectations created. Do your patterns fully deliver? If they do, I'm fine with the price. But if not ....

Thanks for reading. I'm looking forward to your next release!




  1. I especially agree about the variety of skill levels. I see many women with very little experience used for much of the testing. And I have noticed that many of the testers are friends or fans of the designers. I have noted that in at least one case, all have said how easy a pattern went together but then all mention the back neck gaping and the oddly squared off hem on the dress. These two complaints are still mentioned in every post of this dress I have seen. It seems odd that this is accepted instead of being used as feed back to prove the pattern.

  2. Thank you for this and all your honest reviews. Nothing bores me more than 50 people making the same dress and it is just perfect for all of them. It never seems very honest to me.

  3. Thanks for taking the time, Debbie. Beautifully put. I especially like the part about inspiration and background. SO important!

  4. Amen Sistah! For an example of good customer service and keeping in touch with customer, check all the comments on StyleArc (NAYY).
    Statements of ease and actual pattern measurements are helpful. Don't say that you have less ease than the Big 4, then have 4" of ease!
    Its like they don't think we talk to each other...

    1. Good one, becki-c! God, I hate Hot Patterns more than I can say for drafting tents. The are huge! And I find Collette to have weirdly placed darts. I know the big 4 get their share of hating, but really the indies are not uniformly better.

  5. Thanks Becki ... I meant to include giving finished measurements, and your comment reminded me.

  6. I agree. I've made two muslins of the skater dress and am still adjusting trying to make it work for my body type, which, in theory, it should. I probably should have known I was going to have trouble given the way the pattern printed out. I'm still trying to figure out why every person who's made the dress seems to say it goes together "like a dream" and was just perfect. Right...,.

  7. Excellent!!!! So glad you wrote this. Now I hope at least some of them actually read it and take it to heart. :)

  8. YES! I wish there were also good technical drawings so you can see seam line. Much easier for me to wrap my head around a design.
    Thanks for writing this and just your sewing blog in general!!

  9. Well said! Thank you for saying it.

  10. Very well and positively put. I would like to echo kristi's comment: good technical drawings are a must (By Hand London Anna dress, I am talking to YOU!).

  11. I would like them to put not only what bust type but what body type they are designing for, what height, what torso length etc. The whole deal. Seeing a photo of the designer usually gives a clue. That's all OK Just tell us!

  12. Let's hope your message gets to the right people! Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  13. A well written blog post that every independent pattern designer should read! There are some who do it very well - Oliver + S / Liesl + Co is a case in point. I will put up with some of the pattern failings of other independent designers - for example, Style Arc need to improve their instructions but their drafting and customer service are so good I will overlook that - but others won't get a second purchase. Which is a shame, really! Posts such as yours should really help them to improve and translate into a better experience for all of us!

  14. Marfy patterns have no instructions at all and they are popular with their target market, which demands excellent design and drafting and is confident in their ability to assemble the garment. I see StyleArc as appealing to a similar group, or maybe as the patterns you use when you are nearly ready for Marfy. I think if the pattern company depends on customer feedback to refine their product, they are not yet professional enough to charge for their patterns and should offer them as free downloads.

  15. There you go, Lynn. You've just proven the value of communication. I love Hot Patterns and the fit I get from their patterns.

    I agree with you, Debbie. Indie designers need to seek out experienced sewers who are prepared to give honest feedback, rather than the fawning sycophants. I love it when a little guy gets it right and I'm more than happy to support that. But they've got to get it right.

  16. So true, so true!! I am "testing" a pattern right now and was pleasantly surprised to see not only a very nice size chart with bust/waist/hip measurements for choosing a size, but also FINISHED garment sizes for all of the above measurements so I knew how much ease was at each point in the garment. I have caught many errata in indie patterns and I always alert the company. But sometimes they are not just typos. One time, during a sewalong I noticed that everyone's skirt was too big and needing taking in. I brought this to the attention of the company and after a few days it was reported that the designer had accidentally added seam allowances twice. I just checked the errata page on the website and there is still no mention of this. So, unless you were part of the sewalong and following my discussion thread you do not know this!

  17. Thank you for posting this, which contained many useful points. Now hopefully, those who read/subscribe to other blogs who make independent patterns, will take note of your comments. I would hope that your readers will notify indie pattern makers of this post, if they are not aware of it.

  18. These are all very good points Debbie. I've enjoyed pattern testing this year and I've learnt quite a lot of new techniques from each indie.
    Each one adopted feedback from their pattern testers so I felt much more confident of the quality of their patterns. Plus I enjoy helping out newbies.
    I still use patterns from the big 4.

  19. i liked this post! nothing irks me more than seeing a new pattern being "tested" by the same bloggers over & over, all with similar skill levels. I want to see variation too.

  20. What she said!

    I echo every one of your sentiments. This is beautifully put. I do think that Indie Designers owe you major cash for the consult you just provided them gratis. It is specific, constructive and much needed. Thanks, Debbie.

  21. I'd like to add: hire a copy editor.

    If you are just starting out, find a copy editor who likes sewing (like me!) who is happy to edit your first pattern in return for an endorsement on your blog or other quid pro quo.

    Once you have a bit of money, hire a technical editor with experience in sewing patterns.

    And please, don't let your layout person use curly apostrophes for inch marks :-)

  22. Good post Debbie. Lots of valid points and well said.

  23. I would add "If you are going to do a sew-along, make the timescale realistic". One indie pattern maker I would like to love just seems to pick a sewing step and allocate 30 minutes to it regardless of how long it might actually take. I think one of the steps was cut out the garment - due to her weird cutting layout (necessary to follow because of stripes) - that one step took me more than three hours due to a bad fabric choice. That didn't bother me, because I've been sewing a while, but a newbie could easily get discouraged when the "expert" is saying it can be done in 30 minutes.

  24. AMEN!!! I agree wholeheartedly. I also wish, like many here, that the indies would tell us what body type they are drafting for. Sewaholic is great for this - from the get go its been for pear shapes. It's also great to know cup size and what the pattern designer thinks about sizing and proportion and why and how they are different from the Big 4. It gives all of us a bearing for what to expect.

    I also would love to know their processes. Do they draft to a body that is similar to their own or to a set of measurements from somewhere else. I feel that this process and others like it are purposefully shrouded in mystery and I hate that. Empower us all to want to try your patterns because we know that you know what you're doing! Its fine if you're self taught - there is nothing wrong with that - but let us know.

  25. I really appreciated this! I started sewing in January of this year and am doing pretty well so far if I must say so!

    I'd see all the bagging on the Big 4 (which is deserved at times) but WOAH! I made the mistake of thinking I could criticize an indie pattern and got blasted a bit. You see fit issues and pattern issues being blamed on the Big 4 vs. with Indies, people blame "themselves" for what's wrong with the pattern.

    And I still say I'm never paying $15+ shipping for a pattern for pj pants. And I'm a huge fan of Tasia & Sewaholic

  26. Thanks for raising the debate Debbie.
    What struck me is that some of the issues raised are based on expectations or hopes and it may be helpful to separate those from the technical issues which can be controlled.

    Dressmaking involves fitting skills as well as sewing techniques and assembly.
    Maybe anyone who produces a pattern should make it much clearer that any dressmaking pattern is only ever a starter template and the dressmaker should expect to have to make alterations and adjustments for fit. Often I hear and see comments that suggest people expect that patterns should fit out of the packet and of course they should fit if the person has the same measurements and proportions as the body the pattern is based on. Many if not most of us won't be a match.

    From this premise the information that really matters include the relevant measurements on the sizing chart and also the finished measurements.

    I strongly agree that the pattern product should be quality assured and testing is one of the ways to do this - but testing is one of the processes in the Development process and can cover many different things. The real issue is - What is being Tested? What are the different test scenarios designed to find out? Is the testing actually examining what you think is being tested? Also technical testing should not be blended with market testing.
    Testing has to be carried out against specified criteria.

    Some examples of testing might be - testing the stated finished measurements in different fabric types, or testing the clarity and usefulness of assembly instructions to a beginner, intermediate and advanced dressmaker, or something as straight forward as proof reading the written content.

    As for patterns, designs and bodyshapes - if we have measurements on sizing charts and also finished measurements, we can see where the differences will be between the actual body and the pattern's standardised body.
    Now whether a design hangs well on particular bodyshapes or works in larger or smaller sizes is a subjective styling issue. It can be market tested, but it's not a technical testing issue.

    Unless it is a custom pattern, any pattern can only ever be expected to be tested to fit the body measurements it has been designed to fit.
    Finally, every pattern should be checked to prove seam lengths, seam allowances and balanced seams.

    I think we should expect, demand even, that patterns are technically proved and reliable and that measurements and sizing, plus finished measurements are availble on the outside of any packet together with fabric information. Just about everything else is insormation that may be nice to have, it's not essential.

    Happy sewing.


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