Thoughts on Patterns

It’s quite interesting how a formerly happy user of Big 4 (Big One?) patterns like me has shifted to almost exclusively using Indie patterns over the last couple of years. Or hacks of Indie patterns. Or rub-offs of beloved old RTW. Or completely self-drafted patterns. Or pretty much anything really besides the “pattern company formerly known as Big 4”. How did that happen?

I know there’s been some…okay, a lot of debate on Big 4 vs. Indie pattern companies on social media. And each will have their fans for whatever reason. I do know that when I learned to sew back in the Dark Ages, there wasn’t any real competition for your pattern dollars. There was Simplicity, Butterick, McCall’s and (if you could afford it) Vogue and that was pretty much all that was available at the fabric store. Anyone remember those big metal drawers? Huge catalogues to flip through on top? Tissue patterns that only came in one size per envelope and they usually were out of yours? Just little old me?

Now there are so many new designers with patterns for sale! Some are actually printed and packaged but by far the vast majority are available in PDF. Instant gratification – except for the part where you have to print and assemble the pages. All sizes in one pattern and if you need a different size or multiple sizes you can just print it again. I’m especially enamoured of the ones with layers so you can print the size(s) you want without all the extra lines getting in your way. Of course that depends on whether they actually include your size. Happily many designers are increasing their size ranges to accommodate more bodies. This response to the demands of the current market is what I believe really puts independent pattern designers far ahead of the Big 4. And we haven’t even discussed diversity which is another whole blog post itself.

Of course there’s still a lot of same-old same-old in the offerings. Nearly everyone has a simple knit tee or woven top, easy skirt, pop-over shift dress, pull-on elastic waist pants, a boxy sweater or robe. Each sewist seems to embrace their own favourite TNTs (tried’n’true) patterns for basics. I think it’s wonderful that some designers have specialised in a certain niche that may have been previously underserved such as lingerie, men’s garments, curvy or larger body sizes, gender neutral styles etc. Better pattern testing and quality control by a range of sewists eliminate a lot of the mistakes that so easily slip by when everything is done in-house. Another advantage of PDFs is that any revised versions can be easily delivered to the original purchasers. Online tutorials and videos as well as more detailed sewing instruction booklets can really help beginners or those for whom a new technique might be confusing. If you learned to sew with Big 4 the Indies’ generally clear and modern sewing instructions are absolutely wonderful in comparison.

However, my very favourite part of sewing isn’t actually sewing at all, though it’s an important part of the process. It’s printing, assembling and fitting the patterns to my body. It’s like a really enjoyable puzzle! And it gets easier as I get more familiar with what works on my body. Sometimes it can be frustrating and takes some chopping and reassembling to get it right especially if it’s a more complicated pattern, an unfamiliar silhouette or a new-to-me designer. Very occasionally I might have to reprint and start over if I really screw it up. I often use my personal basic blocks to trace shoulder slopes, armholes and sleeve caps and to check waist and hip widths so I ‘m pretty sure the finished garment will fit me in the most important areas. I confess I never make a muslin/toile but dive right in to a wearable garment though if I’m not quite sure I got it right, I might use fabric that has been lurking in the stash for a long time instead of something more precious. Often I never get around to making another “better” version!

Right now I’m on a big Pattern Play roll. I just learned a new-to-me technique of just snipping off the corners when assembling PDF sheets and it’s a game-changer. Speeds things up a lot even from when I was using my big paper cutter. Here’s how it works. For me anyway. Itch to Stitch goes in the opposite direction and cuts off all the corners. Johanna of The Last Stitch tests 4 different methods of assembling including this one and gives pros and cons of each.

Cutting corners

This technique only works on the type of patterns that have a border around the pages, not the “no-trim” ones (more about that later). I’m right-handed so you might want to go check out Itch To Stitch’s post if you are left-handed and don’t want to reverse my instructions. Could get confusing! Rows go from left to right and top to bottom and you are just cutting across the corner right at the border using paper scissors. I tried using my rotary cutter with a blunt “for paper only” blade but scissors were actually easier and quicker! The angle of the cut doesn’t have to be perfect but don’t cut off the border at all. You’ll be using those corners as your important match points.

Row One: The first sheet (on the top left) is not trimmed. The second sheet is trimmed on the top left and bottom left corners. The third and subsequent sheets of the first row are trimmed the same as the second sheet. Using a glue stick, glue each page in order one at a time, matching the corners top and bottom. You don’t even need to look at the pattern lines or anything else, just the corners. So easy!

Row Two: The first sheet of the second row (on the left) is trimmed at the top left and top right corners and glued to the bottom of the very first sheet. The second sheet of the second row is trimmed at the top left, bottom left and top right corners. Third and subsequent sheets are trimmed the same as the second sheet and glued on the top and left sides across the row.

Trimming the corners
Applying the glue stick

I match the top left corner first then the top right and lastly the bottom left should just line up nicely where it belongs. The only drawback I’ve found to this method is that sometimes part of the pattern lines are obscured under a layer of paper but unless they are very light or you use a weight of paper heavier than 20-lb you should be able to see them easily through the sheet. Or you can hold the pattern up to the light so the lines show up and pencil them in on the top layer. You also might not like that the patterns are bulkier and don’t fold as easily but I kind of appreciate how sturdy they are.

The wrinkles mostly disappear when the glue dries

This technique uses a little more glue stick because the paper overlap is wider than if you trimmed off the whole length instead of just the corners. I buy mine at the dollar store or office supply store in boxes of 24 or 30 (sometimes marketed for school teachers). I prefer the smaller size sticks because I can manipulate where the glue goes much better. You can actually use a whole stick for just one pattern depending on the number of pages though so it’s worth stocking up! You might find bigger sticks a better value but watch the prices because they are all over the map on every size. I believe it might be cheaper than tape (depending on source and brand) and also makes the patterns more easily recyclable. Plus you can safely iron them if they get crumpled. Just FYI, where I live tissue paper is not accepted in paper recycling so only the envelope on those type of patterns is recyclable.

No-trim pattern pages

As I mentioned, no-trim patterns aren’t amenable to the corner-cutting technique. These are supposed to be easier to stick together because you just overlap pages up to the line. However in practice I’ve found that the edge of the pages varies a little due to the way the sheets are fed into the printer so accuracy can be somewhat off. And the printer can’t print right up to the very edge of the page either. You can’t really tell if the edge of the page is in the right place so you have to go by matching up the pattern lines. It’s not a deal-breaker but it isn’t quite as accurate as cutting corners. As an aside, Love Notions Patterns (of which this is an example) attempts to save you paper by overlapping pattern details, such as two different necklines on the same front or back half-pattern piece, instead of having you print two different pattern pieces. Also sleeves are often just a half-sleeve and you’re directed to place it on the fold. Since my sleeve cap’s front and back edges are not identical and I prefer a whole sleeve pattern in order to place it on the fabric accurately, I end up tracing another sleeve half anyway so nothing is actually saved there. This is just personal preference however and not actually a complaint. It’s just a different way to do it than usual.

So back to it then. Currently I’m trying to franken-pattern two different printouts of the same pattern: Closet Case’s Sienna Maker Jacket. As usual I fall between the two size ranges. Sigh. The smallest curvy size 14 has the better fit for me at the bust especially because it has a dart although I have to grade out to an 18 at the waist and hip which is an easy fix. However the upper chest/armhole/sleeve area is too large so I need to graft on the size 12 from the regular range because the curvy range doesn’t go down that far. I spent a lot of time dithering between the two size ranges and this is the best way I can see to make it fit. I don’t feel like redrafting the upper area which is the hardest part to do and the most important for how a garment looks and hangs. So I printed out both patterns and will probably end up assembling both of them completely before I chop and reassemble parts. It will be interesting to see how much they differ, won’t it? That lesson might be worth the wasting of time and paper. Yeah, I’m weirdly curious like that. Heh.

And Another Month Gone

Again! Is Covid-time faster than normal time? I think so! The weather has been really changeable and although we’ve had a few warm days it’s mostly somewhat cooler than usual for June. I’m even wearing a sweater today! At least I haven’t had to water the garden much. I really don’t feel as if I accomplished much this month at all. I mostly just read more books, pulled a few weeds and picked some produce. What does it say about me when my most exciting day is Laundry Day twice a month? Yeesh. Still no new Finished Objects to show. No knitting and very little sewing happened. I did repair my bug-munched top so I could wear it though.

Visible Mending

It took more time to choose the repair fabric than to actually perform the fix! I finally chopped up a dyed and stamped swatch from the scraps drawer and did some sloppy sashiko stitching on it and I think it looks passable. Hopefully I can get a few more years’ wear now. Loved clothes last!

Wearing it: front view
Wearing it: back view

When this thing finally gives out, I’ll probably make a new version. I still have the pattern I made. Or maybe I won’t wait until it dies to sew it again! It’s a great way to use up fabrics that are too small for a full garment. I think the design has held up well considering I saved the original inspiration photo nearly 10 years ago. Good wearable styles don’t date quickly.

However some things do get dated! I’ve been working on refashioning my indigo hemp jacket from the mid-’90’s. It absolutely did not fit anymore: drop shoulders, deep armholes, too long sleeves and tight waist and hip. Just wait until you see the “before” pics on me! But I absolutely love the funky fabric and the dyeing is a memorial to an epic indigo vat that my friends and I made one year. I’ve never been able to get something this large dyed that evenly since. Here’s a hanger shot just to whet your interest.

Indigo Hemp Jacket (before)

Notice that even the horn buttons dyed beautifully as well. (It was a wonderful vat!) Eventually I ended up picking out nearly every seam except for the collar and front placket. The thread I sewed it with was cotton so it would take the indigo and they are all flat-fell seams too so really sturdily stitched! Took ages, a sharp seam ripper and good light but I couldn’t figure out how else to reshape it. It needed extra fabric under the arms and down the side seams and I don’t have anything remotely similar in stash to piece with this it. I did find some denim that matched the colour pretty closely but wisely decided that it was too heavy and stiff. This hemp is thick and coarsely woven but drapey and fairly soft after being washed many times. So I went with something different but not too contrasting that just felt right. Not finished yet though so you’ll have to wait for the big reveal.

On another topic entirely I just wanted to mention the new Ravelry interface. Have you seen it yet? It’s been a big topic of conversation on my Instagram feed and there is quite a contingent of users who absolutely abhor it! Apparently it’s been an issue for those who suffer migraines and seizures. Personally as a senior and a migraineur, it did give my eyes the collywobbles at first too. However, after I discovered that they had eventually made some of the annoying things optional such as getting rid of the horrible drop shadows and changing the text font (which sort of solved my particular problem) it was passable. Barely. The text, icons and buttons are still too small especially on my iPad screen and there’s no permanent fix for that. I can zoom with the two finger spread of course but have to do that on every. single. page. The stark white background with skinny black type is still there. And yes, you can switch to “classic” Ravelry, which apparently isn’t actually Old Ravelry and is still a problem for some people. It’s not a forever option either. Not that anything is ever permanent on the Internet. (Unless it’s something you don’t actually want to be permanent!) FYI, I’ve been a Ravelry member since October 2007, nearly 13 years. I joined back in the days when you had to request a membership and wait until they issued you one. Yes, I’ve seen quite a few changes on there and most of them were changes for the better. Until now.

I really thought that Ravelry didn’t handle the criticism very well at all. I know change is hard for some people and some push-back is inevitable. But if a significant number of your users are complaining of physical discomfort or actual harm then maybe they have a real concrete reason for it? Brushing it off with a few quick optional or temporary fixes that you have to get on the site to access first is just plain ableism, people! And then patting yourself on the back for how well your site has done with sales and sign-ups since the rollout. Consider one explanation for that could be that everyone is stuck in the house, boredom is setting in and they want to fill the void with a useful craft? Doesn’t really prove that everyone loves it. So Ravelry currently has a questionnaire up. Which again you have to get on the site to access. I filled it out. Who knows if it will help at all? Meanwhile since I have all the patterns I need for the moment, don’t use the forums anymore, and haven’t really been knitting lately anyway, I’ll just leave them to it for now. At least I got my opinion out there. Use your words! My new motto.