Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Whatever happened to....[Pattern Company]?

Lately, it seems like every time you sneeze, a new indie pattern company pops up somewhere. I've been realizing just how many of these are popping up since I started writing my This Week in Patterns posts a couple of months ago. Especially with so many of these companies offering basic, similar designs, I'm really wondering if and when the bubble is going to burst for some of these newcomers. I just don't see this being sustainable from a market perspective. I mean, how many kimono-sleeve tops and A-line skirts does a person need?

I've been thinking a bit lately about the indie pattern companies that were around when I first started sewing in 2007, and a few immediately spring to mind that are no longer around or actively releasing patterns. 

Gone or MIA

  • Betsy Ross Patterns: Before Colette and other hold-your-hand-while-sewing vintage-inspired indies arose, there were Betsy Ross Patterns. (I think I learned about them via Bust Magazine.)
    At the time, they were the only indie that I could recall that was targeting younger sewists. Most indies at that time seemed geared more towards art-to-wear or a much more mature aesthetic than mine, so Betsy Ross intrigued me.

    I never sewed any of their patterns, however. Even though I was much thinner back then, their largest size still topped out at a 41" bust and a 45" hip. My bust was slightly larger and hips were smaller than that, and I just figured that I was out of luck with their patterns. They closed up shop a few years ago, and now you can't even find a link to their website via google.

    Betsy Ross - cropped jacket
  • Go Patterns: Not to be confused with current kids' pattern company Go To Patterns, Go Patterns was an indie that produced sewing patterns focusing on couture techniques. The had a Little Black Dress sheath dress pattern that was all the rage on Pattern Review for a while. Then they released a second pattern (a cape), and then...nothing.

    Go Patterns sleeveless dress

    Their patterns were above my skill level, but I liked their sophisticated designs and liked that they targeted more advanced sewists (for when I was ready for that).

Lower Profiles

  • Jalie Patterns: While still definitely an active pattern company, Jalie released its last batch of patterns in May of this past year. However, their last two releases before that were in March 2013 and October 2011. I love the large size ranges of their patterns (covering both my two-year-old daughter and my plus sized self), but wow, they go a long time between releases. Their solid drafting and instructions has earned them a loyal following, so I doubt they're in any danger of disappearing.
  • Knipmode Magazine: In my early days of sewing, the big pattern magazines for women were Burda Fashion (before being rebranded as BurdaStyle), Ottobre Woman, and Knipmode, a Dutch magazine whose garments often had interesting draping and seaming details. They had several online distributors where you could easily order single issues in the US, and a steady stream of reviews on Pattern Review. A few years ago, though, they had a few management changes and their magazines became difficult to obtain in the US. On top of that, their designs got a lot more basic and a lot less original. You just don't see them mentioned much any more, although I guess you can buy a lot of their patterns as PDF downloads now.

The Current Crop of Indies

Of the current crop of indies, I wonder if we're already starting to see some yellow flags. Cake Patterns had a very public (and very unprofessional) social media meltdown last year and has barely been heard from since. By Hand London stopped all sales of PDF patterns, possibly because those PDF sales were cutting into the sales of their overstock of print patterns. I've read posts from other bloggers where a designer got snippy with them on their blog because of a less-than-glowing review. I have to wonder what the business plans are for these companies, given some of this head-scratching behavior.

The other thing that really stands out to me now that I've been paying a lot closer attention to pattern releases is that beyond slight differences in online personalities, I can't really differentiate between a lot of the newer indies. In a crowded market space, smaller companies have to find a strong niche to thrive, and I really wonder what the niche is for some of these designers. What makes you different from one hundred or so other indie designers out there, and why should I buy your pattern? Especially when so many of your patterns look like other patterns out there? And why does it seem like so many indie designers are targeting a beginner sewing market? With a few exceptions, where are my indie patterns for fly-front trousers, jeans, jackets, and coats?

Final Thoughts

On a contrasting note, I threw my hat in the ring and was selected to test a new pattern by a new designer. I volunteered to do so because she posted a pic of an earlier version of the design, and I loved it. It's very "me", and when I do eventually post photos, you'll know in a heartbeat why I was interested in this pattern for myself. There are also some very unique things about the construction and seaming of this pattern, and I'm really excited about it. There's a new type of welt pocket involved that I've never seen before. I'll actually *gasp* learn a new technique from this project! To me, that's the sort of thing that makes an indie pattern worth the extra cost.

28 comments:

  1. All good points! There was a recent post by " Did you make that" on her blog... pointing out that there is an emerging trait in the SBC...community vs customer... and how the two now have blurred lines of difference.

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    1. I read that post, and I agree that the line is blurred. I think that things get uncomfortable when you have blogger-customers and blogger-designers all interacting with each other on blogs and in social media. It does seem like blogged reviews are starting to trend more towards honesty and pointing out things that didn't work so well. I think that's a good thing.

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  2. I was a knitter long before I started sewing, and I've seen a lot of the same things you've described here among indie knitwear designers--lots of one-hit-wonders, designers who were popular for awhile but have disappeared, tons of simple patterns or designs that look a lot a like, etc. And like you say about a lot of the new indie sewing designers, it's hard to distinguish between the vast majority of indie knitting designers. The handful that have risen to the top and established strong businesses are typically combining high-quality patterns with a distinctive aesthetic, a continually expanding design portfolio, novel approaches to help customers build skills, strong business partnerships, and creative marketing. That's a lot of balls to juggle as a designer.

    It seems like a lot of newer indies are mostly trying to replicate what has worked for other designers, and so of course people are starting to get tired of the same basic shapes, same extensive sew-alongs for those simple patterns, same fawning blog tours. As more and more designers appear, it just isn't enough to have a decent eye for design or to draft a pattern where all the notches match up.

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    1. I've seen the same thing happening in craft beer (which my husband and I were really into for a while). When we lived in San Diego, we had a handful of AMAZING craft breweries, and homebrewing got very, very popular. As the industry took off, it seemed like anyone with a homebrew setup in their garage opening a brewery. I think there's something like 96 craft breweries open in San Diego now.

      Like with any movement with DIY roots, I think that the designers with a decent business sense and a good product will stick around. The others will either run out of money or become frustrated with how many different hats it takes to run a business like this, and I think in the next year or two, we'll see some quietly leave the scene.

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  3. I agree with what was said. I don't invest much in indie patterns because their designs aren't distinctive enough to replicate what I already have. The big 4 seem to be duplicating themselves also. Since the target is the beginner/advanced beginner, they seem to hold back on the details that would make for a stand out garment.

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    1. There are a few exceptions to my "basic" design complaint, like HotPatterns and StyleArc, and those are the companies that I'm willing to shell out a bit of extra money for. (It also helps that HotPatterns drafts for a curvy figure, so I don't usually need many pattern alterations for their patterns.)

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  4. When I was a brand new sewer I was very grateful for the indie pattern companies for holding my hand and all that enthusiasm. But once I got beyond that stage and really got into the sewing community I realized that some of those patterns are very badly drafted or overpriced. But then I discovered that there was a whole cadre of indie sewers I had never heard of that were making great patterns. I only figured it out after seeing some posts on Pattern Review. I felt like a stumbled upon a secret. I found Cutting Line Designs, Christine Jonson, Silhouette Patterns, and Pamela's Patterns to name just a few. And I was trying to puzzle out why they didn't make the blog rounds like all the new hip designers. But each one of them has a dedicated following that doesn't get anything for free and is quick to put even handed pattern reviews on their blogs. I think think you are right about the indie bubble, but I think its only going to hit the new indies, not the old school ones. (I'm glad Cake is no longer putting out stuff, I didn't like the pattern, it didn't work for me, and I find her response to Debbie appalling.).

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    1. I would never wish for someone's business to fail--I was mainly wondering if the Cake hissy fit had impacted her to the point where she was licking her wounds a bit.

      You raise a good point about the diversity of what we call "indie" patterns. We tend to lump them all together, whether they're an established professional line like Christine Jonson or HotPatterns, or an upstarted created by a blogger who's learned some pattern drafting. They're not the same thing.

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  5. I wholeheartedly agree with the assessment of the current Indie sewing pattern scene.

    I get now that for many people overseas, the price isn't an issue. They will be paying $15 for a Big4 or $15 for an Indie so trying Indies isn't as high-stakes. For me, I just cannot justify the cost of like...the vast majority of the patterns out there! Between the Big4 and Burda mag, there's not much else that I "need" from an Indie company. Except for what DOES NOT EXIST! Like you said, trousers, jackets, outerwear, *INTERESTING* tops, etc.

    And I've sewn a couple of patterns from the popular indies and was somewhere between "it was fine..." and "Bleh". Yet that top by In-House was AMAZINGLY AWESOME and yet not many people have heard of them.

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    1. Which pattern at In House are you referring to. I took a look at their site but I couldn't figure it out. The Diana top is lovely, but bears a striking resemblance to Vogue 1387. But I notice it has cup sizing, which could be awesome.

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    2. The Belle blouse. I sewed a straight size 12, and ended up taking the darts in back up more (vertically) and it's pretty near a perfect fit.

      The Belle blouse is drafted for a D cup which is what I use when I use Big4 patterns with cup sizing. It was well worth the $10 for me!

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    3. That blouse looked great on you! We hear a lot less from the indies who don't do the massive blog tours, sewalongs, and other promotional deals. ;)

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  6. Good comments. Good insight. From a marketing standpoint I totally agree. I see very few patterns that fit my aesthetic that I would not have to redraft to make them fit me. For me, it's not worth the money to buy something that is blah, and won't fit anyway. It seems to me that taking the time to make a good fitting block, and the time to learn pattern drafting or at least dart manipulation and how/why a garment fits the way it does is well worth most people's time as once you have the skills and the fit down, you can do whatever you desire to make the pattern unique and your own, including only the design details from a fashion garment, or another pattern that you choose for your body and your garment.

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    1. Right. And fitting/drafting is a whole other ballgame from the design aspect that I was ranting about. I know that some of the "new indies" outsource their actual pattern drafting to professional pattern makers, but it's hard to figure out who does that unless you follow their blogs closely.

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  7. First, i am really enjoying this reporting on the patterns out there!

    Secondly - i worked for years as the main customer service person for a small software company. The fact of the matter is that if someone decides to wage a campaign against your product there is not much that you as a small business can do.

    Small businesses do not have unlimited resources, and 'squeaky wheels' can eat up a truly appalling amount of time and energy and still not be satisfied. The hard, bottom line fact is that at a certain point you need to cut your losses and go on to build good will elsewhere. As much as sewing commentators like to bring up 'the business plan' i have not seen this fact of business addressed. Some clients will never be happy and a start-up business can die trying to do so for too many people.

    Customers also need to perform due diligence if they can't afford the money or hassle of a failed pattern. The Big Four have discouraged this diligence with their cheapo patterns for years, so i believe that we as sewists need to re-focus on these skills. With all the blogs and reviews out there, if people would just show a bit of patience to see how things shake out (and be honest about who has similar figures, their own skill level and style preferences, and the fabric recs of the design) then it's reasonably easy to avoid major disasters.

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    1. I can definitely relate. But, there's a fine line between defending your product from unwarranted attacks and being just plain unprofessional. And sometimes you just need to blow off a critical remark when it's unwarranted. I'm thinking of the one-star Yelp reviews for a local restaurant because the service was a little slow on a busy Saturday night. Or because the restaurant didn't have X on the menu.

      I spent many years working at several different (now failed) software startups. At one, we had a paranoid CEO who made us google for blog posts with critical comments, and then we had to post rebuttals. I thought that was really tacky.

      An objective, critical review shouldn't be seen as an attack. Not every pattern is going to work for every person.

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  8. Keep an eye on Cake this coming year. Good stuff coming.

    I look for the indies first, because I assume there will be good new ideas there. Since I'm largely drafting my own stuff now, I am looking for inspiration or a kick in the pants. It's no different to me than paging through the big Two companies catalogs with their endless repetitions.

    There are always new businesses coming up and older ones fading away (either age, death or real life intervening with business). And when the PDF format turns into something more practical for the home sewer (and when we find a better term than that, cause I am not sewing a home)....

    Wait a minute. This just turned into a blog post, not a comment. Hey, thanks for the kick in the pants!

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    1. That would be great if she's got some good stuff coming this year. I have a $15 voucher for being in the "winning house" back in the Red Velvet sewalong last year. ;)

      The Tiramisu dress and Espresso leggings were big winners for me. I do think that she has an interesting drafting system that works well for some designs.

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    2. "I'm not sewing a home" hahaha!!!

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  9. I'm glad to see others mention CJ Patterns. I like her stuff but wish she would put out something new soon. Give the youngsters ... hahaha ... something to aim for. Would also like to see new Jalies, but I know that "fashion" patterns aren't their main focus so it's understandable that those releases are fewer. I still haven't bought any Style Arcs but that will be changing at some point soon. Even though I have a billion other patterns to sew too.

    I really don't think Cake stalled cuz of our scuffle. She's had health probs apparently. I never wished her to fail but she did need to regroup, so I hope she's doing that.

    So, how's that Hawthorne coming along? Hahahahaha

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    1. I just can't bring myself to work on the Hawthorne with temps in the 40's here right now!

      I do have three other projects in various states of finishedness--that pattern I'm testing, the StyleArc Elle pant, and the HP Sakura Bomber jacket. And I really need to get going on my coat project, too!

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    2. Oh BRrrrrrr!!

      Can't wait to see and hear/read about what you're testing.

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  10. ach, can't make the 'reply to' feature work correctly but re: Cake Patterns the owner had some health problems as has been pointed out. She had to have her gall bladder removed, my mom went through that and i can vouch for the big impact that can have. Steph C. posted about her hospitalization and surgery quite openly and this may have more to do with any hiatus as opposed to 'wound licking'.

    And i would think that if people are interested in these small business owners sprucing up their business plans, upping their pattern drafting skills, producing unique and relevant new designs for the home sewist that a bit more time between releases would be expected, perhaps even welcomed as all that planning and skill-developing would take time.

    I think?

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  11. And in new pattern news, have you seen the new HP dress?

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    1. Yup! I might make an exception to my personal moratorium on sewing dresses while the weather is cold for this one, since it's actually a dress designed for cooler weather.

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  12. Like the other commentators I agree with you completely about the Indie pattern company bubble - there are way too many companies where I look at their website and come away uninspired, and unable to tell them from their competitors. On the other hand there are Indie pattern companies that are trying to carve out a niche - sewaholic for pear shapes, Bluegingerdoll for D cups, Tilly for handholding beginners, and Heather Lou for challenging and different designs immediately come to mind. As a Brit I may have a slightly different perspective on this as the Big 4 patterns are more expensive, so many of the Indie designs are competitively priced (especially PDF versions which I prefer anyway as they are easier to alter).

    There are two niches I think are still open. firstly patterns designed for REALLY big boobs. Where are the patterns for FF and G cups? D cup patterns are fine, but they ain't enough for me.

    Secondly, when I first started sewing (when all I knew where the big 4 patterns in my local shop), I naively assumed that the big companies would make sure that they always have classic basic shapes on their books, like a good RTW store would, even if the fabrics, colours and details change season on season (I know 'classic' is a subjective term, but I an thinking princess seamed sheath dress, A-line skirt, straight legged jean, v-neck t-shirt etc). I was amazed and disappointed when I went looking for basic shirt and trench coat patterns to find nothing seemed to be available at the time. I don't think they necessarily have to be tagged as 'classic' but I expected them to be there - these are what most people wear most of the time. I really think there is a niche for a pattern company specialising in well drafted classic basic shapes with clear instructions - the closest I have seen to this is Sewaholic, Lekala or stylearc who have a range which includes tops, trousers, skirts, and coats (so many Indie pattern companies sell almost exclusively dresses). Once drafted these patterns would keep selling themselves - the Sewaholic Renfrew is regularly one of her best sellers years after release.

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    1. I agree with you wholeheartedly. You're preaching to the choir in wishing that someone would tackle the niche of designing for very large busts. I want to stomp my feet and throw things when someone says something like "Drafted for a D cup, so no FBA needed!" I think that HotPatterns comes the closest, in that Trudy tends to draft a lot of hidden bust shaping into her patterns via shirring and darts that double as design features and other details like those. And she drafts for a larger cup size, too (D/DD in the plus size part of her range), so if you still need an FBA, there are usually pretty obvious places to rotate the dart.

      The lack of basics is something that irks me, too, especially among the "fitting niche" designers who design for specific body types. They really should all have a pair of pants, a pair of jeans, button-down blouse, a t-shirt, a jacket, a coat, and a couple of dresses as part of their lines. I think that StyleArc does the best job of making sure that all of the "basic" bases are covered.

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  13. What an interesting post! I'm coming at this from the very fortunate position of being practically a standard Big Four/Burda size so indies have to offer something really unusual style wise to be worth the risk of trying something drafted from a different set of blocks. Sewaholic's designs are never going to fit me out of the envelope but her jacket patterns are nonetheless very tempting.

    Another company I think will go the distance is Named. They seem to be offering a modern look I've not seen anywhere else.

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