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?


  1. METRIC. I cannot even begin to tell you how much it makes me froth with rage when pattern makers only provide imperial measurements on their size charts and only yards in their pattern instructions. I can't buy in yards. I don't think in inches. Provide both and at least pretend you're aware that there is a world outside of the USA, pattern-makers!

    1. Duh. Good call. I think that in the US, since the rest of the world uses metric, many of us are used to metric measurements when we see them in size charts, etc. I don't tend to think twice about it. But, it makes sense that the reverse wouldn't be true.

    2. "froth with rage"


      oops. Sorry westmoon! :-p

  2. Oh yes metric please! I was once standing in a sewing shop trying to figure out was a half inch button on a Colette pattern was in mm (none of the shop ladies knew either).
    Also my own personal bug bear is kids patterns that are only offered up to a size 8. My 6 year old daughter is now out of the size range of nearly all kids indie patterns. Would it kill them to add a few extra sizes? I'm not going to stop sewing for my daughter just because she's 135cm tall, and she has many years before she'll want teenage style patterns.

    1. I hadn't noticed kids' sizes stopping at size 8 until you mentioned it, but yeah, wow. Other than Ottobre, Peekaboo, and Jalie, it seems like there's a huge gap in pattern availability for older kids and tweens.

  3. Oh color. Yea - I print in black and white. Unless I'm lucky and the repro guy in our office prints and trims for me - he's the best! It's rather aggravating to be reading through and find a reference to a colored mark - because um, I don't have color. g

  4. Great list. I especially like #10. It seems like when patterns go on a blog tour, they are always the young, slim bloggers. Variations in ages and shapes would be very nice to see.

  5. An excellant list and Here's one more tidbit: If you make a pattern for knits. SAY WHAT PERCENTAGE OF STRETCH IT IS DESIGNED FOR. It's not hard for us to figure out the stretch of our fabric and most fabric vendors tell us what it is when we buy. A pattern for stable knits 20% or less- will not be the same as one for with 50% stretch.
    I also loved the curvy collective blog tour although I have a double whammy...middle age and being a plus. It's nice when I see folks nearer my age and build make a pattern work.
    I do like that some indies design for a particular body type and say that right up front. Helps me know when to pass on it.

  6. Good list. My wishlist includes drafting patterns for plus size women. Colette has discovered that there is an audience for patterns than go up to 3XL. Style Arc has a excellent size range that fits across the entire spectrum of sewists. I feel that plus size sewist are being treated the same way that the folks on Project Runway act when they have to sew for "real women". Our money is just as green as the smaller sewist. Why not draft for two size blocks that address a larger range of sizes?

  7. Great list.

    For me, it is not just the bust size, but the general "model" of your pattern company. It's so important. I squeal on the inside when I find a woven top that I like and it has cup sizing. Yessssss. 14D please!

    Also, I just got all sad and depressed on Monday when I realized it'll be months before any of the Big 4 do releases again. Sure I haven't sewn much that I picked up in the last release but still...I get SO excited looking at new patterns!!!! :-)

  8. A great list! I agree with all of the above.

  9. Good list. I also want to underline the metric thing too. Providing metric measurements shouldn't be too hard, should it?? And absolutely the line drawing. I would like to see one before I purchase the pattern.