Monday, June 30, 2014

Finished Project: Blank Slate - Sleepover PJs

Apologies in advance for the craptacular iPhone pics with bad lighting, but I wanted to blog about these while they were still fresh in my mind and before I get sucked into the mini-wardrobe contest vortex, starting tomorrow.

We've got a heat wave forecast for this week (Temperatures in the high 80's! In Seattle!), so I wanted to whip up a couple more quick sets of summer pajamas for Eva. I'd previously made the Peek-a-Boo Patterns Alex & Anna summer PJ's, but was intrigued by the envelope-style neck opening on Blank Slate's summer PJ offering and so decided to have a go at the Blank Slate Sleepover PJs:

Blank Slate Sleepover PJs
The version pictured is actually my second go at these. In the first version, which Eva wore and wound up in the wash before I could photograph them, the bottoms were too big and I had some bad gaping at the neckline. The second pair (pictured) turned out pretty much perfect, with a few minor tweaks:
  • In my experience, Blank Slate patterns run very close to RTW sizing for major kids' clothing brands (Carter's, OshKosh, Old Navy, etc). We've been buying 2T size sets of things for her, but she's really still in the 18M size in pants, shorts, etc. I made her a 2T in the shorts on my first pass at this pattern, found them to be a bit large, and then went with the 18M in the pictured version. The 18M fit is spot-on.
  • The neckline binding, as drafted, is probably too long for all but the least-stretchy of knit fabrics. Being inexperienced with this type of neckline (outside of a couple of onesies when Eva was a baby), I wasn't sure if I'd need to ease the binding onto the neckline to avoid gaping. The answer: Yes, you want the binding to ease onto the neckline to avoid gaping, same as you would with a t-shirt or other knit top. For the "good" version of the PJ top, I shortened the binding pieces by about 2" from the original draft.
Outside of those two things, this is a nice little pattern that goes together very quickly. It took me around 2 hours to complete the set from start to finish. I like the envelope neck opening because it makes it easier for Eva to put the top on and take it off herself--something that she's very keen on being able to do right now.

Here's the line drawing, so you can see that the final PJ's match the line drawing very well:

Blank Slate Sleepover PJs line drawing
As always, I found Melissa's instructions to be clearly written and photographed. She uses a method for applying the neckline binding that is both easy and produces nice results.

If I were to compare the Peek-a-Boo to the Blank Slate version of knit summer PJ's, I think that they're both good patterns, and if you have a preference for one version over the other, go with that. The Peek-a-Boo version runs a little smaller/more snug by design and is a little shorter. The neck opening on the Peek-a-Boo is a bit on the small side. I like the flexibility of the envelope neck opening on the Blank Slate, but like I said, watch your binding length when you pin on the binding, and adjust as needed before stitching.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be diving into my first garment for the mini-wardrobe contest. I'm looking forward to hopefully putting a small dent in my fabric stash and tick a few patterns off my pattern stash list in the process. And assuming that everything goes well, I'll have a few new outfits at the end of the month, too!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Planning: Mini-Wardrobe Contest 2014

As I think I've mentioned in previous posts, although I'm an active member of PatternReview, I rarely enter the monthly contests that run there. I have several reasons for this:
  • The contests rarely align with my sewing goals at the time for a given month.
  • When I do give it a go, I rarely feel like my finished garment is worth entering in the contest (see my Lekala wadder from the New To Me pattern contest).
  • Most (but no, not all) of the contest winners tend to be young, slim, and are either masters of a tripod and a self-timer or have much more willing SO's than I do to do a semi-professional photo shoot.
However, the annual mini-wardrobe contest is running this July, and that does happen to align with my current sewing goals, so I think I'm in for this one. I'm also going to use this as motivation for knocking out another four garments that will be entries in my neglected-but-still-in-progress 12-piece capsule wardrobe.

The contest runs from July 1st-31st and has the following rules:
  • Participants must sew 5 garments, one of which may be a "wearable accessory", such as a scarf, belt, or hat.
  • The 5 garments should combine to create 6 different outfits or looks.
  • You must take a photo of each of the 6 looks (my husband is going to love that one).
I've picked out the patterns that I'm planning to use, going with a theme of "Seattle Summer Style". These are the types of garments that I see being worn by a lot of women around Seattle right now:
  • Colette Moneta dress (in a peacock blue or galaxy print jersey)
  • Grainline Archer blouse (in white cotton shirting)
  • HotPatterns Weekender Daytona hoodie (in white cotton jersey)
  • McCall's 6966 maxi-skirt (in blue and white striped French terry)
  • HotPatterns Weekender Boyfriend jeans (in turquoise denim or an Ikat-print twill)
Note that these are all fabrics and patterns that I already have on hand, so I don't need to worry about hunting any of these down for the contest. Many of them are already pre-washed and ready to go!

Here's how I'm planning to pair these garments to create my six looks:
  1. Moneta dress (alone)
  2. Moneta dress + Archer blouse (worn unbuttoned like an overblouse)
  3. McCall's maxi skirt + Archer
  4. Boyfriend jeans + Archer
  5. McCall's maxi skirt + short-sleeved pullover Daytona hoodie
  6. Boyfriend jeans + Daytona hoodie
I'm still on the fence with fabric choice for the dress and the jeans.  I was originally going to go with all blues and whites, but am a little worried that might be a bit boring, so I threw in the galaxy print as an option to make things a little more interesting. (Plus, isn't everyone in the blogosphere making a galaxy print skater-style dress this year?)

My main hesitation with the Ikat-print jeans is that I really love the fabric (and it was a little pricey, but not horribly so) is that I'm probably not going to have time to truly muslin the jeans (plus, I want to enter the jeans in the Pattern Stash contest), and I'm a little hesitant to cut that fabric without muslining first. On the other hand, HotPatterns pants have historically fit me pretty well with minimal pattern alterations, so it's not as big of a risk as it might sound like. I do want to make up those Ikat pants (and a galaxy Moneta) even if I don't make them for this contest.

I will need to muslin the body (at least) of the Archer blouse. I am hoping that a standard FBA with a bust dart (I will leave the dart in for shaping) should give me a decent fit.

I'm thinking that maybe I'll leave the jeans to be the last thing that I sew, so that I can see if I have the time to do a proper muslin or not. The turquoise denim is a really gorgeous color, but it was also fairly inexpensive, so if I don't have time to muslin, that might be the way to go.


Update (28-June-2014)

After reading the comments here and on Pattern Review, I think I really want to concentrate on making the ikat print pants the "star" of this wardrobe, so I'm simplifying a bit to have more time for those. Here's the revised wardrobe mood board:

Revised mood board

This wardrobe plan will give me time to properly muslin the ikat pants and make fitting tweaks.
  • If the jeans muslin is a disaster, depending on the amount of time that I have left, I'll either go with another pant pattern (the ikat fabric is a lighter bottom weight stretch twill--it's really perfect for summer pants) or will go with Debbie's suggestion of a skirt. I certainly have a few patterns in my stash that would work for a straight twill skirt. 
  • The hoodie can still be worn over the dress, so the number of looks doesn't change.
  • I'm debating between the Torque top (which looks better on a person on the ones I've seen made up than it does in the line drawing) and the La Strada top. The Torque (on a real person) appears to be similar to that draped asymmetric hem BurdaStyle top that everyone was making a few months ago. I really like the La Strada, but I'm not sure how well that will go with the maxi-skirt, although I could always belt it if I made it and it seemed like too much volume.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Finished Project: HotPatterns Weekender Daytona Hoodie

Some professions seem like they have a certain type of garment that people automatically associate with them. Farmer? Overalls.  Business executive? Suit and tie. Golfer? Dockers and a polo shirt. For people who work in software development, that iconic garment would have to be The Hoodie. Even though I've worked in software for...longer than I care to state, as I've gotten older, I've been trying to get away from the super casual hoodie (but they're so easy to just throw on!) At some age, I felt that it became inappropriate to wear a hoodie with a Russian River Brewing logo into the office, but I have missed these more-functional-than-a-cardigan layering pieces.

Enter the HotPatterns Weekender Daytona Hoodie:

HP Weekender Daytona Hoodie
As Trudy describes in the video tutorial for this pattern, this is really more like a t-shirt with some fun details than a sweatshirt (although you could use it like that). The pattern includes options for a long-sleeve, elbow-length sleeve (which I used), or sleeveless with a contrast shoulder. You also have the choice of making the hoodie as a pullover or as a front-zip version. I love front-zip hoodies, but I envisioned wearing this version more like a top, so I went with the pullover version. 

Daytona Hoodie envelope
I love how my hoodie turned out; I envision this being a wear-every-wash-cycle type of top. I cut this version out a while ago, but got distracted by making my daughter's romper and participating in the HP Blouse-Back tee sewalong before getting back to my hoodie. 

Fit and sizing

I made a wearable muslin of this top before cutting my good fabric. I rarely make a muslin for knit tops, but I wanted to use a pricey rayon knit from Emma One Sock for this, so I wanted to make sure that there were no surprises in the fit or detail construction. I'm glad that I did make a (very) wearable muslin first; the sizing runs a bit large. Like the few other reviews I've found for this pattern, I would up sizing down two sizes from the size chart for the pictured version. The size chart indicates that I should make a size 22; I made my wearable muslin in a 20 because I could tell that the top would be roomy from doing a flat pattern measurement. While I've been wearing my muslin a ton (it's super comfy), I could tell that I wanted to go down one more size for my "good" version, so the version that you see pictured here is a size 18. (I typically sew an 18 for the neck/shoulders of HotPatterns, anyway.)

Note that I re-distribued the bust gathers over a longer (wider?) area. The gathers are very concentrated as drafted, and mind wanted to fold over themselves into a dart in my muslin.

Hoods up!

Fabric used

Both the main body fabric (the red print) and white contrast are rayon jerseys. The red print was a cut that I bought a while back from Emma One Sock. The white was a "Fabric of the Day" a few months back from Gorgeous Fabrics. Both are very drapey and fairly lightweight. I found the white to be more sheer than I'd like for something unlayered, so I thought that using it as contrast would be a good use for it.

Poorly-lit fabric close-up on the ruching above the bust
This pattern would be perfect for those super cute, somewhat whimsical knits that you've been stashing from Girl Charlee.  I think that the zippered views provide a fun alternative to a cardigan when you just want to throw on another casual layer but not wear a jacket.

A few notes that I took while constructing my wearable muslin

Here are a few things that I jotted down while in the process of constructing my muslin, in case it helps anyone...
Construction notes:
  • Pattern envelope indicated 3 yards required for long sleeved hoodie version; I cut mine from 2.5 yards without having to squeeze or get creative with my fabric layout.
  • Add a notch to the bottom CF of the pocket piece and hoodie front to make it easier to line things up.
  • Add a notch to the CB neckline to make it easier to line up the hood.
  • The lower notch on the front sleeve (to help act as a guide for gathering) is missing. I eyeballed it from the instructions/line drawing and added my own notch. We'll see how this turns out. 

Remember that huge haul of merino jersey knits that I ordered from FabricMart a while back?  While they're all lovely, color-wise, and super soft to the touch, and I've now lived with a few garments that I've made from them. I've learned that the lighter weight ones are REALLY lightweight, while still being really drapey and soft. I don't really feel like I should be making anything out of them that isn't intended to be layered from the outset. (Don't you just hate it when that happens?)

That said, as much of a waste as it feels like, I think they'll be a great option for wearable muslins. So....that's what I used for this version of the HP hoodie. I have a really cute rayon jersey that I splurged on from Emma One Sock that I think will be perfect for this pattern, but I want to make sure that I get any kinks worked out before I cut into my expensive fabric. I figure that even if I make a few goofs in my merino wool, this test run will still be a super comfortable top for lounging around the house.

Final word

If you're interested in making this pattern, I highly, highly recommend watching Trudy's construction tutorial that she posted on YouTube. The facing construction is explained much more clearly in the video than in the written instructions.

I definitely plan to make a few more of these. It's a fun, cute pattern and it fits very much with my crazy-busy working-mom-in-a-casual-work-environment lifestyle.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Finished Project: HotPatterns Blouse-Back Tee

For the first time in what feels like forever, I finally have a finished project *for me* to write about: the HotPatterns Fast & Fabulous Blouse-Back Tee!

HotPatterns Blouse-Back Tee - front
While the neckband appears to gape, that's just a product of it getting mangled in the wash. I'd steamed it back into shape in the morning, but it got stretched out again by the time we took these photos.

From the front, this top looks like a fairly innocuous-but-cute striped tee with contrast sleeve and neckbands. But lo and behold, much like the mullet, this tee is all party in the back:

HotPatterns Blouse-Back tee - back
I actually finished this top two weeks ago, but due to Seattle weather and toddler stains, I wasn't able to photograph it until this weekend. I worked on this top on a leisurely schedule as part of the HotPatterns-hosted sewalong for this pattern. If you're at all interested in this pattern, I highly recommend checking out the new HotPatterns Facebook group, where you'll be able to see all of the cool design variations people made. This pattern is great because not only is it fast and easy to sew, you can get really creative with color blocking, contrast, or even using lace or chiffon remnants for the back and other pieces.

Now, onto the information that you're probably interested in...

Fabric used

The striped fabric is a rayon knit that was FabricMart's "crazy priced fabric" several months back. I paid around $3/yard for it and bought six yards, so I had no qualms about using this fabric for my "test run", even though I quite like the fabric. I found it interesting that I found identical fabric listed on EmmaOneSock and SawyerBrook for exponentially more than what I paid.

The black contrast is a rayon-bambmoo knit remant from that I had left over from another project.

Note that you want to use a VERY lightweight and drapey fabric (can be knit or woven) for the back drape piece, or the piece won't hang as expected.
HotPatterns Blouse-Back tee envelope
What happens if you don't use a drapey enough fabric for the back? Look at the line drawing and see how the back piece partially wraps around the front? (You can see that a little in my photo of the front of the top.) That's by design to show off the contrast. However, if your back drape fabric isn't drapey enough, sewalong participants found that the back wrapped around in an exaggerated way and/or stuck out to the sides. Of course, that's fine, if that's the effect that you're looking for, but your top won't look like the one in the line drawing then.

Fit and sizing 

According to the bust, waist, and hip figures of the HotPatterns size chart, I should wear a size 22 in their tops, but from experience, I know that I like to start with a size 18 (which matches my high bust measurement) and then transition to a 20 or 22 (depending on the flat pattern measurement) at the armscye. This "cheater FBA" method usually serves me well on their knit tops. For this pattern, I started with a size 18, transitioned to a 20 at the armscye, and then out to a 22 at the hip (some folks were finding that it had less ease through the hip/bum than they preferred). From an ease perspective, this worked fine, but as you can see in my photos, the front is riding up a bit, which is exaggerated by the hi-lo hem nature of the top. I do plan to make this again, but when I do, I will "undo" my cheater FBA, and do a traditional darted FBA, which will add a little more shaping to the top and should alleviate the "riding up" beyond the design detail.

As far as length goes, I shortened both the front and the back by 2", which isn't unusual for me, given that I'm only 5'2". You can see that the back is still pretty long on me--hitting me at about mid-back-thigh, when it really should be ending just past my butt. I might shorten the back a tad more when I make this again.

Other gotchas

Some sewalong participants found that the neckband, as drafted, was a bit long, particularly if they had a very stretchy knit. I always always always check the length of my neckband before stitching on--a good rule of thumb is that the neckband should be about 2/3-3/4 of the length of the neck opening for it to ease properly and not gape. This applies to all knit tops with a bound neckline--not just this one.

Overall, I'm quite happy with my top--it's a fun, easy-to-throw-on top for warmer weather, and I definitely would like to make this again and play around with the design possibilities. I have a sheer rayon knit that's not suitable to be used without layering, and I'm thinking of using that to underline a stretch lace for the top body, and using the sheer knit on its own for the drape piece.

A final thought (for now) about swimsuits

The discussion that ensued on my last post about swimsuits was interesting, enlightening, and to be honest, a little disheartening.
  • Interesting because you all managed to find both some really wonderful resources and examples of bloggers who had successfully tamed plus sized swimwear.
  • Enlightening because now I know that many other women share my frustrations with plus sized swimwear design and the available options. (The issue with tie-behind-the-neck straps came up again and again.)
  • Disheartening because the suit that I want to make clearly doesn't exist anywhere yet. Bombshell/retro styles are really popular right now and flattering on many (especially curvy) figure types, but the available patterns in this style will require quite a bit of engineering effort on my part to make one work for me. Conversely, there are a couple of swimsuit patterns out there that do appear to have provisions for bust support, but they are very basic styles and would also require a lot of pattern drafting/frankenpattern effort to morph the style that I want onto their base.
I'm not sure what I plan to do at this point. I'm not sure that any of the options are worth the effort for a suit that would get worn just a few times this summer so that I can take my daughter to the pool. At the moment, I'm leaning towards just sticking with my old my-boobs-don't-spill-out Target tankini.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


I've been MIA for the past week or so due to a rather large product launch we had at work yesterday. I survived, though, with my sanity still somewhat intact. I am looking forward to having my life back, for at least a little while. I am looking forward to having enjoying having my energy back and being able to do more with my daughter on the weekends than taking her to the playground and pushing her in a swing for a half hour. There are several indoor pool/"aquatic recreation centers" near our house that look like they'd be a lot of fun for Eva, and I'd love to take her.

With that, let's talk about a subject that many of us find overwhelmingly unpleasant: Swimsuits. I do own one, and like many plus sized women, I didn't have much choice in my swimsuit. We were on vacation a little over a year ago, our hotel had a nice pool, and since I didn't own/bring a swimsuit, we ran to Target and I purchased the only suit I could find where my boobs didn't spill out in an obscene way.

I've been mentally toying with the idea of making a swimsuit so that I can have something to wear if I take my toddler to one of the local aquatic recreation centers. Of course, swimsuit patterns don't come in size "short and dumpy with a giant rack," so I'm looking at having to make significant pattern alterations and at least one muslin to come up with anything remotely workable. And unfortunately, there aren't many pattern reviews or blog posts for plus sized swimsuits out there where I could use someone else's work as a guide. We're in uncharted waters here.

I love love love the look of the Closet Case Files bombshell swimsuit (and love the look of bombshell swimsuits, in general):
Closet Case Files Bombshell swimsuit
This has been a very popular pattern in the blogosphere for the past year or so, but I can't find a single example of anyone remotely plus sized who's made it, either on Pattern Review, the pattern's flickr group, or by simply googling for blog posts. At best, there are a few women with hourglass figures who are rocking it, but they are much smaller hourglasses than I am.

Unfortunately, when I look at the line drawing, I want to run away crying when I see how small the bra portion appears to be in relation to the rest of the suit:

Bombshell line
I don't suppose anyone out there happens to know what cup size this pattern is drafted for? I can do an FBA on just about anything, but this looks like it has the potential to be a far more substantial engineering project than I am willing to take on. Blog posts and reviews have described this suit as being supportive, but supporting ~20 lbs of boobage is going to be a much greater task than I think this suit has been asked to handle by most of the bloggers who have covered this suit.

Another suit that I like the look of is Gertie's new suit for Butterick:

Butterick 6067 by Gertie
This pattern has the advantages of including different cup sizes (up to a D), so in theory, a less substantial FBA would be involved. However, the sample on the model doesn't fit her all that well (look at the seamline across the bust), and she doesn't appear to be particularly full-busted.

Butterick 6067 line drawing
This one doesn't seem to have any reviews anywhere yet, so I don't have a feel for if the cup sizing runs small or weird, or if they just chose the wrong model to photograph for their sample.

I'm intrigued by the idea of making my own suit--I'd love to have a suit that I potentially actually like, rather than one that I left the store with primarily because my boobs didn't spill out of it.

Have any of you tried tackling a swim suit when you knew that there would be major fit challenges involved? What pattern did you use? And has anyone with a curvy figure made up either of these patterns and just not blogged about it or reviewed it yet?

On a related note, I think it's telling that there are so few blog posts from plus sized women about swimwear. Honestly, I couldn't find a single sewing-related post by a plus sized blogger (but maybe Google missed something)? Trust me, I can certainly understand not wanting to post photos of yourself in a swimsuit on the internet. We've all read that viral blog post by the woman who posted a picture of herself in a swimsuit as a way of making peace with her body only to have the image stolen by a diet company who used it as a "before" picture. None of us want to be that person. I'm not sure what the solution is; how do we communicate about what patterns work for us and encourage each other if the only way to do that is to put yourself out there in front of a judgmental public?


Update (20-June-2014)

I'm updating this post to surface some of the suggestions/links given in the comments. I know that blog readers don't always read every single comment (shocking, I know), so I'm hoping that this info will be easier to find if someone reads this post in the future.

Other swimsuit patterns that go into true plus sizes

Jalie 2447 (goes up to a 50" bust, 52" hips):

Jalie 2447 line drawing

Simplicity 1374 (goes up to a pattern size 24 - 48" bust, 50" hip)

Simplicity 1374 line drawing
Butterick 5795 (goes up to a pattern size 32W, includes separate cup sizes, 54" bust, 56" hip)

Butterick 5795 line drawing
Various Pin-up Girls swimsuits (up to bust size 52"):

Denise swim suit

Princess tankini

Resources for modifying a swimsuit pattern for a curvy figure

Heather's instructions for grading the Bombshell swimsuit up beyond the size chart:

For a sewist with the following measurements:
  • 47" bust
  • 43" waist
  • 54" hip
  • 5'7" and short waisted
From Heather:

"This is the formula I would use if I was grading the pattern specifically to fit your measurements. Trace the unchanging line of the pattern piece (the center seam or the line where the fabric is placed on the fold). Using size 18 pattern pieces, measure at the widest point of the bust. You are going to extend that point by 7%. Taking the narrowest point of the waist, you should add 16% to that point. At the widest point of the hip, add 17% (I got these numbers by dividing the bust/waist/hip ratio for size 18 with your bust/waist/hip ratio). Actually, add 1/2 of the above percentages since the pattern pieces are only half and will be doubled when you cut them out. You follow so far?

Once you have your new key measurements plotted (widest bust, narrowest waist, widest hip), you can join them together with a smooth curve (tracing the curve of the size 18 piece if possible). Normally I would suggest that you also lengthen all your pieces by 106%, but since you are short waisted you may not need to. Do the above exercise using a stretchy piece of a fabric for your lining parts only and see how the fit is. If it fits okay in the length, you will not need to lengthen any pieces. If you need to add a little to your lining pieces, THEN you would add the 1.6 ratio to your ruched pieces."

Adding support to a swimsuit

Incorporating a partial bra into a swimsuit:
Beverly Johnson blog post on incorporating a bra into a swimsuit:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Finished Project: Blank Slate - Retro Romper

I bought a Pfaff! More on that once I've had a chance to play with her and bond with her a little bit.  For now, though, I'll show you what I've been working on for the last week: the Blank Slate Retro Romper.

For the unfamiliar, Blank Slate offers PDF download patterns for kids (and a few women's patterns, too) in sizes 18M to a child's 8.

Seriously, how cute is this?

Retro Romper at the playground

As I think many female children-of-the-80's did, I had a very similar romper to this one when I was a little girl. Somewhere in my parents' photo albums, there's a bunch of pictures of a 5- or 6-year-old me wearing my terry cloth romper on a trip to Sea World. If I had been a little older at the time, I would have looked like an extra from the cast of Meatballs.

When I discovered Blank Slate patterns, I knew that I had to make this pattern for Eva as soon as the weather was warm enough.

Contemplating a slide

As for the pattern itself, it was a joy to sew.  The printed pattern contains clear markings to line up and make it easier to tape the pages together, everything lined up beautifully, and the different sizes were well-marked. The instructions contained a nice amount of detail and were well-photographed. As a side note, this pattern contained one of the best step-by-step sets of instructions for how to apply a visible bias binding that I've run across. I think that a beginner could attempt this pattern and get really nice results.

Nearly all of the romper's seams are enclosed in a visible bias binding. This was a little time-consuming to do, but I think it's pretty clear that it "makes" the garment.

For my version, I used a remnant of red Sophia knit from my stash and strawberry-and-cherry print bias tape that I purchased for this project from Pacific Fabrics here in Seattle.

Love this binding!
I found the sizing to be accurate. Eva usually wears a 2T in ready-to-wear (RTW). She's slightly under average height and is slender for her age (she turns two in a few weeks). I sewed the 2T for her, and it fits perfectly.

The only modification that I made to the pattern was to add a snap crotch instead of sewing the crotch shut. Even though we don't need to change diapers quite as frequently as we used to, I didn't want to have to take her romper off every time that we changed her. To incorporate the snap crotch, I simply bound the inseam with bias tape and set three snaps into the binding. There might be a better way to do this, but this method seemed the most intuitive to me and seems to work just fine.

I really love how the romper turned out, and I definitely would like to make this again. The pattern specifies that it can be used for a knit or a woven; since I used a knit this time, I'd like to try it again in a woven. I might even get ambitious and make my own bias binding!

Until next time!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

My wishlist for indie pattern companies

Intro about explosion of indie patterns, everyone has an opinion. In the past few days, a lot of those opinions have revolved around the pattern testing process used by some indies. (If you follow the sewing blogosphere, you've likely seen a few posts and heated discussions around this topic show up in your blog feed.)

These posts and discussions got me thinking about my own opinions around pattern testing, which in turn, got me thinking a bit about indie patterns in general and some of the things that many of the indies could do a little better to improve their product.

I don't want to armchair quarterback here. I know that as the head of an indie pattern company, you have to wear many hats:
  • Fashion designer: You have to come up with attractive designs that people will want to sew and wear.
  • Pattern drafter: You have to either draft the pattern yourself or outsource to a reliable pattern drafter.
  • Technical writer: You have to write the instructions for your pattern. This process includes sewing up samples and illustrating or photographing the steps. You need to evaluate your target customer and make decisions about how much or how little detail to include in your instructions. Writing clear, usable instructions is an art form; it's also why I have a job.
  • Production coordinator: For companies that offer printed patterns, you have to coordinate the printing and packaging of your product.
  • Web Master/Marketing/social media manager: Maintain (or have someone maintain) your web site and maintain your social media presence so that people are actually aware of your patterns and want to buy them.
I'm sure there's quite a few things that I'm forgetting. What I've listed is still a hell of a lot of work for anyone, never mind if you still have a day job or a family that you ever want to see.

With that in mind, I've created a wish list of things that I like to see from a pattern company that will generally make me more inclined to spend money on that company's patterns. I've noticed these things either completely missing or poorly executed from at least a handful of pattern companies and generally shouldn't be a whole lot of extra work to implement.

(Note that I'm not mentioning anything about expanding size ranges, since I discussed that in a previous post, and I don't want to harp on it.)

Here's my wish list:
  1. Include a technical drawing in the listing for all of your patterns.

    The drawing could be as simple as a fashion sketch, although it should be an accurate reflection of the actual pattern. Fashion photos are pretty, but sometimes the obscure details of the pattern.
  2. On a related note, photograph your sample garments on a real person, so that we can see what the pattern looks like when it's made up.

    I'd love to see the photo shoot include models of different shapes and sizes so that we can tell how the garment looks on different body types. Barring that, add a photo gallery or link to an online photo sharing group so that your customers can at least share their finished garments. That works, too (sometimes even better than a very-stylized photo shoot).

  3. Make your size chart easy to find, and tell us what bust cup size your patterns are drafted for.

    I shouldn't have to hunt through your web site, or even worse, type "size chart" into a search field to see the size range for your pattern line. Ideally, include a "Size chart" or "Sizing" tab in the navigation bar of your web site. At the very least, include your size chart as an image for the individual pattern listing on your online store.

    Some European companies will just list the European size range in the pattern description ("Drafted for sizes 34-44"), which is better than nothing, but if I don't have those sizes memorized and am on the border of your size range, I still have to go searching externally to see if I fit your pattern range.

    Along with your size chart, list the cup sizes that you draft for somewhere on your web site. Very few companies mention cup size, but this parameter is really important for most women (not just the large busted) in determining what pattern size we should start with.
  4. Include a "figure flattery" key for each pattern, like Vogue does.

    This seems like a no-brainer, but Vogue seems to be the only pattern company that does this, and I find it immensely helpful in choosing designs that will flatter my body type.

    If you draft for a specific body type, please state that somewhere and be up front about it. I will probably never sew a Sewaholic pattern because I couldn't be any further from the body type that Tasia drafts for, BUT I love that she drafts specifically for a pear body shape and embodies this in both her sizing and styles. Outside of Sewholic, SBCC (who drafts for regular and plus sized petites), and a handful of others, few pattern designers mention a specific body type or size as their target. If you're drafting for a specific body type, embrace that, and I bet your customers will, too.
  5. Make PDF versions of your patterns available, at least for basic things like tops and simple skirts.

    I know, I know. Not everyone likes PDF patterns. But some people do, and they make your patterns accessible to a much larger audience. I'm not naive enough to think that this doesn't involve a lot of work, but I would guess that it's probably a good investment of your time.

    For the indie pattern makers who blog and who offer both PDF and paper options, I'd be really curious to see what the breakdown is for your percentage of sales for one vs. the other.

  6. If you do offer PDF download patterns, make sure that you provide some sort of guide for lining up and taping pages.

    If you've sewn a variety of PDF patterns, you've probably experienced this: You've excitedly printed out a pattern that you just downloaded, are ready to dive in, spread out the printed papers and...scratch your head. The pattern includes no key or guides for lining up and taping, and assembling the pattern itself becomes akin to working on a jigsaw puzzle. Or, maybe you had no problem figuring out which pieces go where, but when you try to line them up, there are gaps/misalignments. Instant frustration and irritation.

    If you're looking for help getting your PDFs in shape, Melissa Mora of Melly Sews/Blank Slate patterns offers an online class for this. I can't vouch for the course, but I can vouch for the fact that Melissa does an excellent job of creating extremely user-friendly PDF patterns that are well-tiled, clearly printed, and efficiently use paper without excess taping. (I'm not affiliated with Melissa beyond being a fan of her children's PDF patterns.)
  7. Don't assume that someone will print your PDF pattern in color.

    Don't color code the different size lines on your patterns. Dashes, dots, and other line textures work better. Also don't assume that a sewist will be working from a color printout of your instructions. When you sew the samples used in your instruction photographs, keep it boring and use black thread on white fabric or other high contrast color schemes that photograph well and will be visible in a black-and-white printout.
  8. Have a basic freebie pattern available for download so that we can check fit, drafting, etc, before we spend $10-$20 for a pattern.

    Look at a freebie pattern as a marketing tool, preferably something basic like a t-shirt or a shell. It helps get your patterns into the hands of people who are interested in trying them but want to see your instructions and check the the fit of your drafting block before spending money. Quite a few indies do offer these freebies in some form, so this "wish" is pretty low down on my list.
  9. Release patterns on a somewhat reliable schedule. (This helps keep your customers interested and gives your fans something to look forward to.)

    I'm a dork. I look forward to new pattern releases. I totally eat up all of the teasers that get posted in social media and elsewhere. I stalk pattern web sites to make sure there isn't a new release that I've missed, and I continually hit the "refresh" button my browser on the last day of every month looking for the new monthly StyleArc releases. Feed my illness, please.
  10. If you're doing a blog tour for a new pattern release, consider using bloggers of a variety of shapes, sizes, and ages.

    The Curvy Collective tour for the latest Colette releases was the first time that I could recall seeing more than a single token curvy or plus sized on a pattern release blog tour. That either seems to be changing with the Curvy Collective (several of their blogs are on the tour for the new BGD skirt pattern), and I hope that the trend continues.

    I know that most bloggers tend to be on the younger side, but I think it would be great to include a wider variety of ages on these tours, as well. A criticism that I've seen of some indies is that "Company X's target demographic is much younger than I am", and in some cases, that's probably true. In other cases, the bones of the pattern are a good basic that many women can wear, but the pattern/garment has been styled "younger" via fabric choice or accessories.
In reading this list back over, I think that two main themes emerge that summarize my wish list:
  • As a customer, I want to know if your pattern will work on me. Detailed sizing information and photographs on a variety of figures will help me figure this out. Not everyone who is interested in your pattern will be a US size 4 with a slight hourglass figure.
  • Offer a PDF download option for people who prefer that format, and make sure that your downloaded PDFs are user-friendly.
I'm curious, if more companies implemented these things, would you be more inclined to buy more of their patterns? Are there any things on your "wish list" that I didn't cover?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Seven-year itch: Sewing machine research

A family member recently gave me a very generous gift of $1000 with the caveat that I spend it on something for myself. I desperately need some organizational furniture/goodies for my sewing room, so I'm earmarking several hundred dollars of that money for some form of shelving/bookcase/baskets and a trip to IKEA, but with most of that money, I'd like to get a second sewing machine. If there's anything left over after that, I'd like to get one of those fold-away cutting tables so that I don't have to cut my fabric on a pad on the floor any more.

My must-have for this second machine is that I want to be able to have both machines set up so that I can do construction on one machine and top-stitching on a second machine. However, I have a number of "nice-to-haves", which is why I'm looking beyond a straight-stitch mechanical machine.


Some history

Outside of "helping" my mom sew when I was a little kid, I've sewn on exactly two machines in my life:
  • My grandma's 1970's-era Kenmore
  • A Bernina Activa 230 PE
I took the Kenmore in for service a while back to get it up and running, but even though it has a zig-zag and a few other stitches, the straight stitch is the only thing it does reliably, and it does balk at bulky seams. Unfortunately, as much as I'd love to keep this in the family for sentimental value, it really doesn't meet my needs.

I purchased my Bernina as a floor model seven years ago because this was the machine that we used in my sewing classes, and I was comfortable with it.

I mostly love my Bernina--it's a great, basic all-around machine.However, there are a few things that I wish it did better, and I am hoping that whatever second machine I purchase complements my Bernina and "picks up the slack" in a few areas. Here are the things that irk me about my machine:
  • My Bernina lacks adjustable presser foot pressure. I have a walking foot for it that I bought used, but wow, that walking foot is a pain to take on and off.
  • The automatic button holer HATES doing button holes on bulky fabric. Button holes on shirts/blouses are fine, but doing them on a pant waistband or jacket up near the collar is largely an exercise in frustration. It's not enough to trim the seam allowance to a tiny amount; the button hole foot balks at the unevenness caused by even a trimmed bulky seam allowance.
  • It's passable (but not great) at going over bulky seam allowances.
  • Perhaps it's user error/inexperience, but the decorative stitches are often a bit wonky; I know that I'd use them more if I could get more consistent results.


The candidates

I posted a thread on Pattern Review and swung by my local everything-but-Bernina dealer. I think I have my list of machines narrowed down to the following three machines, but I'm open to looking at others, if there's a model that I'm missing. Ideally, I'd like to spend around $500 my this machine, but obviously, I have a little bit of wiggle room in my budget.

I suspect that I won't make a final decision until I've test-driven all three machines and see which one I "click" with the most. Of the machines listed here, the Pfaff Passport 2.0 was the one that was set up on the dealer floor when I visited. She'll unbox the other two for me when I come in for my serious test drive.

Janome DC2014

I haven't read a bad thing about this machine in the reviews or elsewhere online. Everyone describes it as a "workhorse", and everyone who has it seems to love it.

Janome DC2014
Dealer price: $499
  • Strong motor
  • Comes with a walking foot
  • Price
  •  No adjustable presser foot pressure
  • How does it handle knits?
  • How hard is it to take the walking foot on and off?
  • Does it work with a twin needle? (Definitely not a deal breaker; I use the coverstitch option on my Evolve for most knit hemming, unless I need a lot of precision.)

Pfaff Passport 2.0

IDT! IDT! IDT!  I am completely intrigued by Pfaff's IDT, and I think it would be the perfect solution to most of the things that irk me about my Bernina. My understanding is that the Passport is a smaller, lightweight machine meant for classes.

Pfaff Passport 2.0

Dealer price: $599 (after rebate)
  • IDT
  • Nice button holes (via dealer demo)
  • One-step button hole via sliding a button into a slot on the foot
  • Should be able to handle all kinds of fabrics, thicknesses very nicely
  •  Price is slightly higher than I'd like
  • Size compared to Pfaff Ambition Essentials (I have some space on my sewing desk; I don't necessarily need to be limited to a travel machine.)
  • Motor compared to Janome?
  • Does it work with a twin needle? (Definitely not a deal breaker; I use the coverstitch option on my Evolve for most knit hemming, unless I need a lot of precision.)

Pfaff Ambition Essentials

IDT (again)! According to my dealer, the Ambition Essentials is the same as the other machines in Pfaff's Ambition line, but with a few fewer bells and whistles. She also said that it's very similar to the Passport 2.0, except that the Ambition Essentials is a bit larger and does have a few more bells and whistles than the passport. Given that the dealer is offering them at the same price, she advised that I assess the space that I have for the machine and allow that to influence my decision if I decide to go with a Pfaff.

Pfaff Ambition Essentials
Dealer price: $599 (after rebate)
  • IDT
  • One-step button hole via sliding a button into a slot on the foot
  • The most bells and whistles out of the three machines
  • Is supposed to handle all thicknesses/types of fabrics very well
  •  Price is slightly higher than I'd like
  • Size compared to Pfaff Passport 2.0 (I have some space on my sewing desk; I don't necessarily need to be limited to a travel machine.)
  • Motor compared to Janome?
  • Does it work with a twin needle? (Definitely not a deal breaker; I use the coverstitch option on my Evolve for most knit hemming, unless I need a lot of precision.)



I am planning to test drive all three of these models on Sunday. Do any of you own any of these machines? What has your experience been with your machine (good or bad)? Are there other models that I should be looking at in my $500-ish price range?