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.

Sewing Exercises

Been awhile, hasn’t it? Time flew while I was having fun! You know they say that older people need to exercise both their body and their brain, right? I’ve found that running around my cutting table is definitely physical. Pasting patterns together, making fitting changes, straightening fabric folds, organizing pattern pieces and cutting them out makes quite a workout. The brain gets fully engaged too: deciding on pattern/fabric combinations, how to make it fit me correctly, getting the most economical layout of pieces and making sure I have them all on grain. Serious body/mind engagement! And I haven’t even started to actually sew any of it yet.

Pattern development

As you might have noticed I tend to work in batches. I mess with patterns for awhile, then I cut out for awhile and then I sew for awhile until I’ve sewn up all the current pile. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Self-drafted tunic top

So far in the last couple of weeks I’ve assembled 4 PDF patterns: In The Folds Rushcutter Dress, a revised Grainline Farrow, Thread Theory Jedediah pants and Wardrobe By Me Chinos but I’m not going to cut and sew them quite yet. (The last 2 are for Thom.) Instead I’ve also done a rub-off copy of a pair of cropped knit pants that I’ve had for at least a decade. They’re sadly wearing out so I wanted the pattern before they do. And I drafted a new knit tunic pattern based on my personal TNTee. It’s got shoulder-princess seams and I’m calling it the Big Pockets Tunic for the obvious reason. The pockets are so big that I didn’t have enough fabric to cut them on the straight grain so they’re cross-grain instead. No biggie. (Hah! See what I did there? Punny.)

Grey on grey

There were two different grey knit fabrics in the stash so they’ve become my wearable toiles/muslins for the Croppies and the Big Pockets. Of course there was enough fabric to cut out another garment from each. I like to use up as much as I can! So the slightly heavier knit (on the left in the photo) will also become a Katherine Tilton B6101 top. I’ve made this one before and wear it so much that it’s starting to pill. All I had to do was press the wrinkles out of the pattern. Have you sewn one of Katherine’s (or her sister Marcy’s) patterns? They are often an exercise in cutting a gazillion asymmetrical pieces single layer and then piecing them all back together again. Must keep your wits about you! They also are not at all economical with fabric though I managed to get it all cut out with a little room to spare.

This fabric’s fibre content is lost in the mists of time. I think it’s a cotton/poly blend and there may or may not be a hint of Lycra in there. Dunno. Anyway, I actually like the reverse side better with it’s one knit row black/one knit row tweedy grey. The “front” of this interlock knit is softer and more blended. You can see it on the wee top square here. Anyway, I’ve decided to use the striped side as “public”. That leaves the softer side next to skin. I like that.

Tweedy interlock knit

Even tighter of a cutout was the second grey knit (the one on the right up there and a little darker than the first). I first cut a dress version of my slightly modified Hey June Lane Raglan. This pattern is my raglan TNT shirt and I’ve been wearing the heck out of 2 previous dress versions so another would not go amiss. This one has my favourite 3/4 sleeves. This single-knit cotton jersey (no Lycra) came as a very wide tubular fabric and, boy-howdy, it did NOT want to lie flat! I ended up cutting it down as close to a straight selvedge as possible and then into two pieces so that I could get it as straightened as I could. Whatevs. I did my best. Hopefully it will be wearable. The second garment from this wonky stuff is the test of my self-drafted Big Pockets. Same issues with the grain. As I mentioned above I ended up cutting the pockets sideways. We shall see how it goes.

I still have more patterns to mess with and of course lots more fabrics in the stash. I’m trying to work with what I have for now and see how far I can go before I need to go shopping! Speaking of stash, my sister from Haida Gwaii came to visit and took all the rest of my beads and about half of the leftover books with her. Yay! At least they were driving so not having to deal with airline weight restrictions. Heh. And the rest of the books, magazines and even my poor old Pfaff sewing machine went to the salvage. Hopefully someone will get some use out of them. Apparently they were quite happy to receive craft stuff so I know where to unload anything else I decide to de-stash if nobody wants it. I’m not done yet. There will be more. As soon as I get over the trauma of that last lot!

So the weather has been quite cold at night still. There was even some frost on the roofs and cars this morning! Yikes. My plantlings are being held too long without going into the garden beds and are starting to show signs of stunting. I’ve had to bring everybody in from the greenhouse every evening. Bleh. My min/max thermometer in there only registered 2C on the minimum this morning! Everything is still running quite late and I’ve kind of lost some enthusiasm at the moment. You watch, I’ll be complaining of the heat in another couple of weeks. No pleasing some gardeners, I tell you.

Sewing stuff is easier right now. So that’s what I’m doing. Avoidance maybe?