Feature on La Sewista’s Wednesday Words: pattern purchasing

Vintage dress patterns

Good evening, sewing friends!  I am surprised and delighted to report that Bunny of La Sewista! has chosen to feature a comment that I had written a few months ago as a jumping-off point for discussion on today’s “Wednesday Words.”

My original comment was written in the comments section of Lauren’s (Baste & Gather) post regarding the “fangirl” mentality that encourages automatic pattern purchases from favorite designers without much consideration for the quality of the pattern itself.  The essence of my comment, and my overall view on the matter, is that when you have limited income to spend on fabric and patterns (as is my case), more thought goes into the process of choosing which products are worth the investment.

A recent illustrative example of this is the debacle with Colette’s latest Seamwork pattern, the York top.  The original post featured an image (which you can see in this GOMI thread) of the top with abnormally (erroneously?) low bust darts on full display, which Colette promptly replaced with images that conceal the issue.  Concomitant with the image replacement was deletion of some comments that mention the problem on Colette’s blog post announcing the magazine issue.  Minutes before I published this post, Colette had replied to a question in the comments that the model was petite, and fit issues had been overlooked.  While this may be true, it doesn’t inspire confidence.

Would you buy a pattern of sub-par or questionable quality simply due to brand loyalty?

Go check out both Bunny’s and Lauren’s posts for some very interesting discussion on this topic, or feel free to leave your thoughts here as well.  I would hope that we would all “vote with our dollars” and choose to spend our hard-earned money on quality products, both in sewing and in life in general!

27 thoughts on “Feature on La Sewista’s Wednesday Words: pattern purchasing

  1. The first thing I noticed about the york top was the difference between the tech drawing and the sample pics. The tech drawing looks more boatneck with hardly any width on the shoulder, but the made up sample looks quite different.

    • I honestly don’t know what’s going on with this pattern at all. Does Colette think we won’t notice things like this? I may not know how to professionally draft a pattern, but I do know what the final product is supposed to look like!

  2. Oh my I just spent the better part of the last hour surfing through all of your links Caroline! I think you hit the nail on the head and as a life-long sewer, I can’t abide purchasing poor quality or bad design just because of a brand, for anything. I’ve sewed with “the big 4” since I was a kid and now they are a dirty word in the cool-hip sewing community, which I really don’t understand. $1.99 on sale for a professionally designed and drafted pattern with multiple options vs. $12+ for an indie pattern of questionable technical quality and one or two options on sleeves? No thanks! (and oh my word that colette blouse was horrible!!)

    • It seems like the Big 4 are coming back around in favor, which I think is great. They have their issues (what’s up with so much ease?), but I’ve sewn quite a few garments from these patterns with great results. Likewise, I’ve had great results with some indies. I’m willing to pay the higher price if I like the pattern and think it’s worth the investment. Bottom line: if you’re going to charge a premium, it had better be worth it!

  3. I learnt to sew with Collette patterns and had a lot of questions from other sewers who had heard there were lots of fitting issues and didn’t I find it a huge problem? As a beginner sewer I made many a muslin for each and every pattern and the first one would be so far away from fitting me that I’d make huge changes to get it to fit. At the time I took that as part of the process, but I now know better. I’ve sewn Collette patterns that have been very well drafted and needed little to no adjustments (truffle, hawthorn, Astoria) and some that I could just never get to fit (sorbetto, jasmine). You’d think they all start with the same blocks?

    • You’d think so! I’ve learned over the past few years to stick with pattern companies that are drafting for my body type, unless I’m prepared to make major adjustments. For example, I like a lot of Sewaholic’s patterns, but they’re drafting for basically the opposite of my body! Colette is pretty far away from my body type too. For what it’s worth, I sewed two Colette Beignet skirts and found them to be well drafted with professional finishes. I had to make some significant fit adjustments, but the skirts came out nicely. I’m not necessarily anti-Colette, but I’ve been finding some of their choices questionable lately.

  4. I feel indie pattern companies offer the best instructions and sew alongs so when I began to sew two years ago I did buy patterns I really shouldn’t have because they don’t suit me/weren’t the best drafted. However, they were the patterns that helped me get good enough to sew the big 4 or Burdastyle without much difficulty. Now I understand more about sewing, I have stopped impulsive pattern buying and I will only buy patterns which I know I will sew and wear. The only company I fangirl over is BHL and I wouldn’t buy a pattern from them just to support them. I do get easily influenced and I’m more likely to buy a pattern because a lot of bloggers are making nice versions of it but I’m trying to loose that habit!! 🙂

    • I agree, Meg! There are benefits to all types of patterns, whether they’re Big 4, Burda, or indies. If I like the pattern, am reasonably confident that it’s well drafted, and am sure that I will sew it, I’ll buy it regardless of pattern company. It’s hard for me to impulse buy with my limited resources, but I’m open to any and all patterns that catch my eye. And of course I get influenced by bloggers too – how can you not with so many great sewists around? 🙂

      • The blogger influence was is real!! Some blogger can sell me anything! I’ve got a budget, which I try not to go over! and I want to put impulse buying patterns to an end!

  5. I tend to agree with you – I have a bit more disposable income now than when I started sewing, but my measurements are exactly the same and so any new pattern includes the “cost” in time and effort of altering it to fit the hips o’ doom. I usually find it easier to use a pattern I already own and alter it, unless it’s a garment outside my current collection (e.g. a coat.)

    I have one trouser pattern – Sewaholic’s Thurlow – that I’ve used maybe a dozen times now, including converting it into jeans, skinny jeans, Victorian fall fronts, high-waisted aviators, and a miniskirt! (The waist/hip/crotch shaping is perfect for me; I’d rather redraft the entire rest of the pattern than use another one that isn’t right in that area.) I think I have six Closet Case Files Nettie tops. Four Lekala waistcoats. Seven Vogue shirts.

    (….. FIVE GOLD RINGS! Ahem.)

    The other thing I noticed on the linked threads and elsewhere is people commenting critically on the cost of indie patterns and noting that they could just wait and get a Big 4 pattern for e.g. a T-shirt at the next sale. I do wonder how many people realise that this doesn’t apply everywhere? We don’t have any chain fabric/pattern stores in the UK, and patterns from the big 4 – especially Vogue – are nowhere near as cheap and much harder to find discounted. A big 4 pattern will run you £8/9, and a Vogue £15; the lowest I’ve ever seen a pattern discounted to (outside of charity shops) is about £2, and that’s rare. Indie prices vary but aren’t especially out of kilter with the big houses. Patterns are just expensive across the board!

    • You should get an “extreme pattern use” medal for all those Thurlows! I aspire to this one day – to get a perfectly fitting pants pattern in the waist/hips and modify the heck out of it. I feel for you re: expensive Big 4 patterns. Personally I don’t have transportation to chain stores that sell these patterns for $2, so I wind up paying higher prices online like everyone else (although I suspect they’re still cheaper than prices you see in the UK). It’s all about value. If you think a particular pattern is worth the investment price, then it’s a good choice for you personally. I just get frustrated by expensive patterns that aren’t worth the price!

  6. I actually left a comment on Colette Patterns blog post before they changed the picture of the top. It didn’t make the cut I guess because my comment was not approved and therefore not displayed …
    At first I thought the darts were some fancy type of darts I don’t know about because they were rather curvey and low maybe a curved waist darts lol … Then I read on GOMI and saw the line drawing and I was very taken back WOW if I had sewn a top with darts like that I would not even feel happy about it …

    • Jess, this is ridiculous!! I’m very sorry to hear your comment wasn’t approved. While I can understand a business wanting to show their products in a positive light, the spirit of a blog is open discussion and conversation. A courteous and professional reply to a critical comment would have been fine, in my opinion. If they don’t want critical comments, they should not allow any comments at all.

      As for those darts, as far as I know they are just plain wrong! French darts curve up from the waist to the bust, but the darts on the York were just plain bust darts that were several inches too low.

  7. Great comment Carolyn! I feel that I have matured enough to see through the fangirl mentality and gushing love of Indie patterns. When I first got back into sewing and started reading blogs I got sucked in…I own both Gertie’s first book, and the Colette Sewing Handbook. I regret those purchases and am actually ashamed to see them on my bookshelf. Total waste of money for both of them. But so many bloggers gushed about how wonderful they were. “Caveat emptor” and “Sewist, know thyself” have become my new mantras.

    I am not opposed to buying indie or more expensive patterns, but I am very choosy about which ones. Sewaholic’s Minoru is well worth the money, as are a number of Jalie patterns. Even if I find a Big 4 pattern that I like, I will make sure I don’t already have a similar pattern and I will always wait for them to go on sale. I feel bad for those who don’t have access to cheap Big 4 patterns, but I have been there and I was forced to learn some drafting, be creative, and extremely choosy about what to spend money on, or spend time printing and assembling.

    • Well said, I think we share the same pattern buying philosophy. 🙂 As for the Colette and Gertie books, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying beginner sewing books when you’re a beginner! It’s really hard to evaluate books when you haven’t flipped through them in person and don’t have the background knowledge to really know what you’re getting. Perhaps pass them on a beginner sewing friend? Or just consider it a lesson learned. Personally I don’t own either book, so I really can’t speak to their quality.

      • I did reviews of both on my blog. Colette’s book is OK, Gertie’s not so much. There are so many examples of poor construction in Gertie’s book that can be seen in the photos that it is upsetting. On one page she is showing how to do a horse hair hem and then you see photos of pointy awful hems, darts going past the nips, and more. This dumbs down sewing. The book is colorful, has wonderful artwork and is therefor very appealing to the newbie. By writing a book before she had the skills to show how to execute it is very unfair to new sewists, showing them a standard that is sub par. Because they have no frame of reference as newbies, and it is said by Gertie, they accept it as well done.

        Thanks for the props, Carolyn. Love your blog.

  8. Excellent comment for discussion! I am much the same as you–too little disposable income to instantly click BUY NOW when the new great thing gets released. That post on B+G left me feeling a bit icky. I have some “fangirl” love for a few indie designers, but if I already own a similar pattern–especially if I know it works for me–I’m not going to buy it just to fit in with the cool kids, or to exude a certain vibe, or to show-off that I bought and already made the latest and greatest. Yikes! No! And oh boy, that Colette debacle. I hardly ever read their posts anymore, so I wouldn’t have known about low dart-gate if I hadn’t read about it elsewhere. I have a few of their patterns, but they have all required substantive altering, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that their drafting is just not quite right. I have so many thoughts on this topic, but I won’t dump here… Thanks for sharing your post!

    • Hahaha, thanks Lisa! I completely agree – I have many thoughts and comments on this topic but am trying to restrain myself. 🙂 I love “low dart gate” – very appropriate! And I agree, there were many things in Lauren’s post that I didn’t agree with, but she does make the point that if pattern companies can identify customers who are willing to pay for feelings and confidence, they may as well make money off them. Personally I don’t consider myself this target customer and like to think I can exert a bit more discretion, but to each their own.

  9. I must admit I have been sucked into buying new patterns when i see them all over the internet, but I’m not drawn to a particular company. I really want to make some blocks and use a little imagination! One day….! 🙂

    • Yes, same here! I want to learn much more about drafting and fitting. It’s such a complicated and technical topic, which is right up my alley. Now if only I could stop working and free up my schedule… 🙂

  10. Great post. I think your analysis and how you handle your patterns is spot on for someone on a budget, and makes way too much sense. Personally, I really enjoy collecting patterns in the same way I enjoy a fabric stash. I don’t mind having 10 t-shirt patterns, but I get an inordinate amount of joy in the collection and organization of those patterns. I even like buying duplicates so that I can can cut with abandon and not feel bad. But I recognize that what I’m doing is not the most cost-effective or efficient method, and I’m paying for that enjoyment. And I am not a fangirl in the sense that I will buy it just because one of my favourite pattern makers released it (though I am partial to Silhouette and Pamela’s Patterns). I recognize that all pattern makers have their ups and downs. (But I will buy almost any Big 4 pattern with cup sizing.)

    • Suzanne, I think collecting patterns just for the sake of building a collection is wonderful! If you enjoy it, it’s well worth your money. Personally, I wish I had the resources to buy more (patterns, and just stuff in general)! It’s all about balance. For me, I look at how much disposable income I have and choose what to spend it on. I could buy more fabric and patterns if I stopped going out to dinner, but that’s not going to happen. 🙂 Perhaps one day I will have the resources to start collecting… one day!

  11. Great post. I did see that Colette top and I actually gasped in horror at those darts. I’m personally the kinda gal who prefers to sit back and watch you lovely northern hemisphere sewists make all the New Patterns then I wait down here I Australia and see what issues appear….. I’m brand loyal to absolutely no-one and I am delighted when I come across a fabulously drafted detail whether it’s Big 4 or indie. I’m so keen to learn more fitting (particularly trousers) and so not keen on crappy beginner boring patterns…..

    • Well said, Sarah! I couldn’t agree more. As someone who sews a lot of practical, everyday garments, I understand the need for basic patterns on the market and am more than happy to purchase them. However, I expect a quality product for my money, especially for such simple silhouettes! The York embodies a lot of things that frustrate me about the current state of sewing patterns, but more than that, Colette’s unprofessional response is pretty eye-opening. It makes me sad that true beginners who are excited about learning to sew might not know enough to see the issues, buy that pattern, and have a disappointing first experience.

  12. No matter what pattern we choose to buy, the most important feature is measuring. I get so fed up with the phrase from bloggers, “I always cut a size 12, so I cut the size 12 and it didn’t fit”…really….did you measure and plot point like your bust points on the front to make sure the darts would land where they should (1.5 to 2 inches away from your nipples) or the shoulder width or even compare the bust circumference and hip circumference with your actual body? Do you know how much ease was put in for this style? You can be using the best or worst pattern in the world and if you don’t know how the paper pattern compared to your body…you will have problems. Neither the Big 4 nor some Indie designer will know where your bust points are and whether you are short or long waisted or need a sway back or rounded back alteration…that is your job to adapt your needs to the paper BEFORE you cut it out unless you are doing a muslin. I sew for clients of all sizes and women’s bodies are all different and expecting any pattern to work right out of the envelope is like wishing for the moon.You can pay 1.99 for a good basic patterns (like pyjamas or skirts) from the Big 4 or drop $20 for the same similar/copied pattern from an Indie site…your choice but I would rather buy better fabric with my money. The Big 4 have been doing this for decades, have professional pattern makers, graders, sample makers and testers versus Indies who use home sewers to test and promote for free….again… in the end it is our choice. Great blog post, Carolyn!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I agree that fit is critical for a successful garment. It’s a challenging topic that takes years of experience to learn properly, but I like to think that this is one of the many things that keeps sewing interesting for me. There is just always (always!) more to learn. I’ve learned a lot about fitting my body over the years, but I have such a long way to go still. I’m a huge proponent of making muslins because (a) I don’t have the money to waste good fabric, and (b) I want to at least improve the fit of the garment, even if I don’t get everything perfect. I think there are advantages to both Big 4 and indie patterns and have had success (and failures) with both. With that said, there is a large spectrum of quality with indies, so I try to be careful with my selections. I envy your experience fitting women of all shapes and sizes – I hope I reach this point one day!

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