Whose pattern is it anyway?

I’d like to comment on a legal issue currently stirring online in the independent pattern design world, and that is: “When a pattern designer is employed by a business, or is an independent contractor hired for a business,  who owns the patterns she designs while working there: the designer, or the firm for which she works?”

Obviously, I’m not an attorney. However,

  • My mom was a paralegal (so I learned a lot about the legal system).
  • I’ve been on several juries in Manhattan and Boston (all civil cases, not criminal)
  • I’ve received a Cease and Desist (from Gerber, for using “Onesie” in an Etsy post)
  • My husband was sued for intellectual property infringement (he won).
  • I’ve been in the apparel business since I was  a teenager. I’ve worked part-time, full-time, freelance…in retail, wholesale, product development, patternmaking, and design. I’ve been interrogated on what I knew involving suits involving copyrighted fabric prints (at Victoria’s Secret) and price-fixing (at Saks Fifth Avenue).

So I know a little bit.  Caveat: this won’t be pretty. No pictures. But it’s not a pretty situation either.

The specific designers currently involved have both posted screenshots of previous conversations, so there are concrete facts to go by. (Keep in mind what Aristotle said: “Law is reason, free from passion“).  So, this this will be rational, non-emotional. Just as I write pattern reviews from a technical viewpoint, this post is based on facts (screenshots of conversations between the parties involved, not hearsay), plus my own experience.  I don’t know either of the designers personally, although I’ve purchased pdfs from both of them, and reviewed them in previous posts. Nobody asked me to write this.  But I will anyway, in the hopes that a very damaging lawsuit might be avoided.

Unless there is a specific agreement stating otherwise, design work done on the job, as part of the job description, using the company’s tools/software, as an employee or independent contractor hired by a business belongs not to the employee but rather to the company.  Designs become assets of the firm, and should the company be sold, the asset portfolio goes along with it. It’s not just visual design work….this also applies to:

  • patents for inventions created on the job
  • scientific discoveries
  • concept art and character development
  • stories and plot development
  • recipes and menus
  • architectural blueprints
  • logos and letterheads
  • trademarks
  • copyrights

This is an essential element of contract law, and also private property law. Without these legal rulings there would be chaos. No company would hire anyone for creative work, fearing that their employees could leave at a moment’s notice and create competition for the identical product. Businesses wouldn’t train their staff. Established designers wouldn’t share their knowledge. Fledgling designers would have less opportunity to learn from established designers, which is sad because mentoring is one of the best ways to learn.

Corporations would fold, and everyone would be forced to be a sole entrepreneur, which is not financially feasible for the vast majority of people who depend on others to establish companies and provide jobs and paychecks. Starting a business is expensive, unpredictable, and extremely risky. Most new businesses fail.  Most people don’t have the finances or the stomach for entrepreneurship. Don’t think so? Go watch Shark Tank.

There have been unusual legal cases regarding employee ownership of intellectual property, if the work was done outside of the job . The most famous is probably the  Mattel toys vs. MGA Entertainment lawsuit, also knows as Barbie/Bratz . A toy designer at Mattel toy company had an idea for an anti-Barbie and developed the concept art. He presented it to Mattel, they decided not to pursue it, and he later left Mattel to start his own firm, MGA . When his Bratz dolls became successful, Mattel sued, saying that it was their intellectual property, since he had the idea while at Mattel. The lawsuit and counter-suits went back and forth for years, and as usual the winners were the attorneys.

There’s also the question of work done after employment ends, but during the “non-compete” period (the designer in question had signed a non-compete clause) . My husband was sued for intellectual property during the non-compete phase. Peter is a physicist in the high tech semi-conductor field, where design secrets are protected just as in apparel design.  After being downsized from one company, he was enrolled in grad school (since he had a 1-year non-compete clause, he could not take a job in the same field). While earning his MBA, he came up with an idea for a revolutionary product. The prototypes were made at home from card-stock and brass brads taken from my scrap-booking stash.  He filed for a patent. After getting his degree he formed a new company, based around the new product. His former employer sued him, claiming that he had taken the idea from them while working there. The lawsuit was thrown out as being frivolous, since the firm had no records of developing any such product, and in fact the judge ruled for punishment damages: the firm had to pay my husbands legal fees in triplicate.  (This suit is now used in law schools that teach by the case method.)

What about the more cut-and-dry obvious issue of work completed while on the job, working for a company, under their directive, using their tools? Unless there is an agreement stating otherwise, all work done by employees or independent contractors while on the job belongs to the employer. Signing/cashing a paycheck implies agreement of payment-for-services. Even if there is no money involved, let’s say in an internship situation, showing up for work (in person or online) and working on projects construes employment, with all of the protections (for employers and employees) involved.

The work continues to be the owned by the company after the worker leaves. It makes no difference how the job ends: whether the worker left voluntarily, on good terms or bad, was downsized, or fired for cause. Taking any files, samples, reports, etc away from the place of employment is theft….whether real property or virtual. Even if the worker felt that they were underappreciated or underpaid for their work*, there is no excuse for trying to “balance” the compensation by taking what is owned by the business. The only thing worse than taking what is not yours, is using it to compete with your former employer.

*(If a worker feels they weren’t compensated correctly for work, then they should stick to that issue, and deal with it in the proper manner, whether that is through your Payroll/Human Resources department, or through Small Claims Court. )

In the particular pattern case, the designer created a pattern while working for a pdf company, under directive of the business owner, using the company software, and the pattern was published by the company she worked for, as a product of that company, on the company’s website.  Clients purchased the pattern from the company, under the company name….they did not purchase from the designer. As a pattern customer, I remember :

  • when she started out, selling custom apparel
  • when she was a tester for the pattern company
  • when she became a Brand Ambassador
  • when she joined the team as a designer
  • when the designs she created as part of the company were released
  • when she announced that she was leaving her employment
  • when she published patterns under her company name

I have followed both businesses (the one she worked for, and the one she owns) on FB, IG, Etsy, and their own websites.

She now says online (in a Facebook group) that she didn’t sign a contract stating that her work was the property of the company.  However, a “contract” does not need to be a specific piece of paper explaining every possible situation. Contract law includes implied consent. For example, if you sit down at a hair salon, or a restaurant, or a dentist’s office, that is an agreement that you will pay for services rendered. Sure, you may see signs in some medical offices explaining that payment is due at time of service: the reason for this is that most people (in the U.S.) “pay” for their medical bills through insurance plans, and therefore don’t expect to pay out of pocket. Depending on the billing methods at each medical facility, they may choose to have the clients pay upfront, then get reimbursed by insurance….or they may choose to submit bills to insurance companies first, then bill the client for the difference later. But either way, the contract remains: if you visit the doctor, you are agreeing that the doctor will be reimbursed by you or your insurance company.

In a cafe, a barbershop, a hot-dog stand….it is implied under contract law that if you request products or services and then partake of them, you will pay.  No paper signed “contract” required beforehand. Again, without this, life would be chaotic.  Imagine the wait at the McDonald’s drive-through if everyone had to sign a contract before placing an order.

Back to the pdf pattern issue. The designer in question worked (for a year) for an established indie  pattern company:

  • The company announced online her joining the company
  • She had an email address at the company,
  • She received drafting training by the company owner
  • She received public credit in the firm’s social media for the work
  • And she was financially compensated.

She then  left the company to start her own firm. Under what circumstances, I don’t know and it’s irrelevant. What IS relevant is the screenshot that I’ve seen where she sent a message to the company owner, endorsing their agreement that:

  1. The designs she worked on were the property of the company
  2. She would receive commissions on sales for a specific, limited, mutually agreed upon length of time.

Note that these are two very different contracts.  Any issues arising from #2 can easily be resolved in Small Claims Court.  Not so with #1….to reverse ownership both parties would need to agree upon a purchase: a transfer of assets.


Then she proceeded to release a pattern  identical to one that she had designed while working for the previous business, but now under her new label.  Not just a design inspired by styles she worked on (this is a tricky area in all design work..how can you shut off your brain completely from the influences and trends surrounding you?).  Rather a duplicate, “put the new pattern piece on top of the original and they are the same“, identical copy.

You can’t do that.  Okay, what’s to stop you?

  • ethics
  • honesty
  • common sense
  • understanding of property law
  • appreciation for the mentoring received
  • fear of lawsuit from the owner (a Cease and Desist from the business you worked for)

Graphic designers cannot take a font they developed on the job, and use it in their own independent work. Chefs cannot take a recipe they created while working at a restaurant job, using the restaurant’s kitchen and materials, as part of their job description and for which they were compensated, and serve it while freelance-catering. It’s unethical, it’s unkind, it would bar you from the industry for life.  Anyone doing this is branded as unemployable. Who wants a staff member who thinks it’s okay to take company property? In the design world, indeed in any business, intellectual property is the most valuable asset of all.

Yes, employee theft of steak and liquor in restaurants is a problem. Yes, fashion design firms have to deal with staff borrowing shoes and dresses to wear to events. But stealing a recipe, or a pattern?  A lesson I learned in merchandising school: Technical errors are usually forgiven; judgement errors are rarely forgiven. We all make technical mistakes at times, and they can be fixed….but poor judgment is a mark of character, which is deeply ingrained.  Or, as many a Human Resources professional will tell you “We hire for character and train for skill”.

In the apparel industry, there is really no such thing as identical patterns between businesses. All pattern departments start out by developing a basic fitting block. Then individual designs are created from those blocks. So whenever an employee goes out on her own, even if she carries ideas in her head about styles and trends that she’d like to develop, the patterns will never be the same as those from her previous job, because the fit will be be her own.

If Raf Simons leaves Jil Sander to work at Calvin Klein, he may design similar styles…but the patterns will be different, since each is based on the firm’s block, or base pattern. A pattern that is identical between firms can only be achieved through direct copying…which is theft.  That said, I don’t think the particular pdf pattern designer in the current brouhaha imagines herself to be doing anything wrong.  It seems to be a matter of absence of malice: she genuinely believes that since she designed a pattern, that she owns the copyright.  (On the other hand, maybe she doesn’t understand copyright at all: her pattern instructions include detail illustrations cut-and-pasted from published textbooks….)

I believe in the better part of human nature. I would like to believe  that the worker who re-published the pattern in question, did not do so with the intent to harm her former employer….the person who trained her, mentored her, gave her publicity, essentially launched her pattern career…and who was a close personal friend.  I hope that there was no malice intended, and that she just wanted to earn some money from the very successful style that she had worked on. I would like to believe she simply did not understand the nature of employment and contract law (even though she did have a non-compete agreement ).

Above all, I hope she drops the idea of a lawsuit (yes she has already “lawyered up”), and here’s why:

  • She can’t win. Selling a product that belongs to somebody else is against contract law.  All of the factual evidence supports that she was working for another company when she designed the pattern.
  • She may think that the profits from selling this pattern under her own label will be financially lucrative, but any income made by selling patterns will be cancelled out ten-fold by legal fees at several hundred dollars per hour. A lawsuit would require her to travel to the jurisdiction of the business where she worked for all court dates*, which can be extended for weeks  if not months. The emotional costs to her family could be enormous (been there!)

*Again, not an attorney here, however from what I’ve researched online, the lawsuit must be filed in the company’s jurisdiction.  The reason for this is to prevent frivolous suits. “In general, I believe the suit must be brought in the country where the person/company being sued is located. The law followed is the law of the jurisdiction specified in the contract between the parties–this is usually the location of the company being sued. So, if you’re in Britain suing someone in Virginia, US, it would be Virginia law.”   http://www.webhostingtalk.com/showthread.php?t=51381

“If you want that lawsuit to have any effect on the person you wish to hold accountable,
then you’d have to sue in that person’s location.” https://forums.digitalpoint.com/threads/is-it-possible-to-sue-someone-in-other-country.2215649/

It might be possible to file a case in small claims court, if it is a simple monetary matter of “I don’t think that I was paid enough for my work”.  But if the case is something more complicated such as “I think that I own the rights to this work and therefore can sell the pattern on my own site” then the judge would likely  decide that the case should go to trial. This is when the costs rack up rapidly. Both attorneys are allowed to question each potential member of the jury pool to see if they have any biases for/against businesses: “Do you own a business, have you worked for a business, do you like your boss, have you ever taken anything from your place of business.?” Both the plaintiff and defendant are being charged for  every minute of these interviews, at enormous rates.

Next is the discovery phase. Both attorneys may be  allowed access to all records and conversations that might have any bearing on the case. In my husband’s lawsuit, this meant that our computers, phones, banking statements and income tax bills were seized. Every file and email  was scrutinized. I was interrogated at length about what I knew of my husband’s business, his former employer, the employees he worked with there, my relationship to their wives, etc.  (In our case, we had close personal friendships, so this was emotionally brutal.) Once again, the lawyers are charging by the hour for this.

When the case finally comes to trial (depending on how many motions are filed, this can be months or even years later), the court case can drag on for days or weeks, meaning lots of travel, and expensive city parking, and repeatedly waiting in lines to go through metal detectors in and out of court buildings. If the case is not in your jurisdiction (not your choice!), you are responsible for travel and accommodations.

During the trial, both attorneys will likely bring in expert witnesses, at an additional several hundred dollars per hour (plus compensation for travel and accommodations).  this is added to the attorney fees.  Add it all up, and we’re talking about thousands of dollars per day.


I genuinely hope that this never goes to court. Even in the “best case scenario” for the plaintiff (the former employee), even if she wins the rights to the patterns she developed while working for a company….should she ever decide to go work for another design firm, nobody in their right mind would hire her. She would be banned from the industry. Talent and ability would not matter…refer back to hiring for character, not for skill.  Sad, because she does have talent.

Final word: as a customer (not an attorney) and as someone who has seen the IP-lawsuit process up close,  I would encourage  the staff-member-turned-independent-designer to please, for your own sake and the emotional well-being of your family:

  • Stop selling the pattern(s) in question.
  • Reimburse every customer who purchased it, along with an explanation that the design did not belong to you.
  • Submit the funds to your previous employer.
  • Publicly apologize for the misunderstanding.


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How to Upcycle a Wedding Gown into a Christening Gown

Up-cycling is one of my favorite sewing challenges:

  • It’s good for our environment to use existing materials, instead of producing more landfill
  • Working within limitations can boost your creativity (as Tim Gunn says on Project Runway, whenever the designers have no more chance to use different fabrics “Make it work!” ….with what you have)
  • If the materials have sentimental value, then giving them new purpose can be emotionally rewarding.
  • It can be financially rewarding as well, but only if the value of the fabrics is high and the time it takes to upcycle is low….which often is not the case so this should be not be the first consideration.

Lately I’ve been up-cycling wedding gowns. What started out as a volunteer venture (sewing Angel Gowns for preemies who don’t make it home from the hospital) grew into a custom Christening dress business, as clients approached me to up-cycle a family heirloom.  If this sounds like something you’d like to try, read on!  If you’re not in the market for a baptism gown but have a wedding dress to play with, consider using the fabric and trims for  all sorts of items, especially suitable for holiday decorations and gifts:

  • holiday gift stockings (a nice way to spread a family heirloom among siblings)
  • a tree skirt, a table-runner
  • tree ornaments: sew little stars or mitten shapes, or embellish a styrofoam ball
  • throw pillow or decorative sham (beautiful in the master bedroom)
  • clutch purses or jewelry bags or fragrant sachets (lovely bridesmaid gifts)
  • a bridal garter (instant “something borrowed” and “something old”)
  • Communion dress or  flower-girl dress
  • a capelet or muff
  • headbands and hairbows
  • doll clothes
  • a satin baby blanket..or a bassinet skirt
  • baby bonnets

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Why are Indie Patterns Tested in Every Size?

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that my pet peeve is inconsistent pattern grading. I’m annoyed by it, confused by it, and continue to ask “HOW does that happen? It’s not even possible to have inconsistent shapes and angles if using an automated grading program, or if manually grading by shifting on an x/Y axis.”


Inconsistent grading seems to be a problem  when “computer grading” is done in a general-purpose vector program. But I’m still learning WHY it happens. This week in a Facebook group I saw this screen shot of a leggings pattern by an indie designer; please note the wildly inconsistent grading along the size range:


One of the Facebook group comments was “I recall someone saying that this designer drafts her patterns to each individual tester”.

So my question is “Why would you do that? Why do indie pattern companies FIT test in multiple sizes?”

(Postscript: My thanks to reader Debbie Cook for this clarification point: I’m referring here to Alpha-testing, not Beta-testing. Beta testing (checking to make sure the average consumer can easily download the pdf file, and follow the cutting the sewing instructions) should be done by a variety of sewists at every skill and experience level.  Alpha-testing (checking the pattern for accuracy in fit/measurements/ease, walking the seams, seeing if the corners are trued) should ideally be done in-house by professionals. Of course this is expensive, and so it makes sense that indie designers would take advantage of the skills of volunteer sewists….however sometimes “too many cooks spoil the broth”: if the designer listens to fitting feedback from a variety of testers having different proportions AND THEN GRADES TO THEM, the resulting pattern can be a mish-mosh. More on Alpha and Beta testing here: http://7pinedesign.com/alpha-testing-measure-walk-true/ )

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Bloomers versus Diaper Covers: What’s the Difference?



Bloomers have been “having a fashion moment” as they say in the apparel business, reincarnated as “bubble shorts” or “puckers” in kids  clothing, and often the bottom half of rompers.  It’s interesting to me that bloomers have something of a sweet innocent vintage vibe to them, considering they were once a risque progressive fashion choice.

“Bloomers” are named after Amelia Bloomer, a women’s rights activist who sported “Turkish trousers” in 1851 as a statement of gender equality. They looked like an easy-fitting trouser, worn under dresses to allow the wearer to ride a bicycle or participate in active sports:


But many people think of bloomers as something worn by Little Bo Peep:


And therefore bloomers have something of a fairytale, children’s book quality to them. I personally make bloomers fairly regularly, to go under costumes, but for some sewists they may be something new. Recently I read a comment in an online forum regarding the Duchess And Hare “Love Pattern #9”, specifically about the romper version’s bottoms:


This was her FB comment:

“The size 3 crotch panel is tiny and doesn’t cover anything! Yet the size 12 is huge and would dig into their legs and bunch up?”

It seems that she was confusing the inseam of the BLOOMERS….with a crotch width for DIAPER COVERS.  Although the terms “bloomers” and “diaper cover” are often used interchangeably (for example on Etsy I use both terms because you never know what the customer will type into search) they really are quite different:

  • different silhouette (see definition above: originally bloomers extended to the knee)
  • different drafting of rise shape (more in a minute on this)
  • different inseam (bloomers have inseams, briefs do not)

Bloomers (LEFT) are drafted as a pant or trouser.

Diaper Covers (RIGHT) are drafted as a panty or brief.


Marketing lingo (especially online) favors the term “bloomers”…it sounds so much more charming than “diaper cover”.  And so plenty of small businesses are selling diaper covers and calling them “bloomers”, even naming their shop with “bloomers” or “bloom” in the name.

To clarify the difference, let’s look at some free online patterns. Compare a standard bloomer pattern (LEFT) with a typical diaper cover pattern (RIGHT):

First look at the shape of the RISES  (red):

  • BLOOMERS (left): curved like any shorts/pants
  • DIAPER COVER (right): straight vertical line


Then compare the shape of the INSEAM (blue):

  • BLOOMERS (left): similar to a pants shape and angle
  • DIAPER COVER (right): like a panty/brief, the inseam forms a “crotch width” which doesn’t extend down the leg at all:


How do the rise and inseam shapes translate from pattern to garment? Again look at the BLOOMERS (left) and DIAPER COVER (right):


Let’s compare how they look when worn.  BLOOMERS (left) and DIAPER COVER (right)….see how even a small bloomer inseam length can make a big difference when worn by short little baby legs, keeping in mind that the rise for all infants-wear must be long enough to cover a diaper:


You may wonder  “How can such differently shaped patterns both end up in  a similarly functioning garment?”  Here is how a Bloomer pattern can be “slashed-and-spread” to create a Diaper Cover pattern. Look at the free Bloomer pattern  (LEFT) and free Diaper Cover pattern , both from Creativa Atelier:


I printed them in half-scale to show pattern manipulation (Bloomer on the left, Diaper Cover on the right):


Okay I’m going to flip over the Diaper Cover pattern (on the right) so that both have the front facing to the right and the back facing to the left:


Now through the magic of slash-and-spread, the bloomer changes shape;


to become a diaper cover:


They’re not exaclty the same of course because IRL they would be drafted separately, but this may help show how one pattern can be converted into another;



Going back to the sewist who was confused by the Duchess and Hare “Love Pattern #9” pdf, she was expecting a romper with a bottom like a DIAPER COVER, however the pattern is for BLOOMERS. Does it matter?

It depends on what you want regarding fit. If you are looking for true BLOOMERS, then the Love Pattern #9 pattern is what you want.  It’s currently a popular children’s silhouette. However there are also rompers (especially for infants and toddlers) with a DIAPER COVER bottom.  For under mini-dresses I prefer diaper covers for babies with their short little legs,  because  the leg opening is high up at the top of the thigh (you can always swap out the bottom half of a romper pattern from Bloomers to Diaper Covers). But for toddlers who are potty-trained, or on the cusp of being potty-trained, a Bloomer is better….because a Diaper Cover on a child not wearing diapers can be bulky/droopy at the crotch.




…. make sure the child’s diapers are covered, and the bulkier the diaper, the wider the crotch width needs to be (cute DIAPER COVER photo from the free Made Everyday diaper pdf) :


When in doubt, and if possible, it’s a good idea to measure the child’s crotch width while wearing diapers, and check that measurement against the pattern. On a rough average, crotch widths while wearing diapers range from 4″ for Newborns, up to 5″ for 2-year olds.



…make sure that the inseam is long enough to act as a crotch width (at least 2″ inseam) ….but not so long that the finished product impedes baby’s movement:


One last note: when choosing  a Bloomer pattern for littles still in diapers, be careful to avoid patterns with a sharp crotch hook to avoid an unfortunate “crotch-bight” or “camel toe” effect (sorry!):


You can avoid this by staying away from patterns with a sharply curved hook in the  rise (LEFT), and using a pattern with a more gentle curve and less sharp hook in the  rise (RIGHT):



I hope that shows you the difference between bloomers and diaper covers, let me know if it’s not clear!

Happy sewing,







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The reason behind “jumpy” pattern grading

September 2017: Re-Posting this because today I just read a simple comment in a FB group that explained so well, why patterns are sometimes graded so “jumpy”.  The question was “Can someone teach me about proper pattern grading.  I hear some people saying that sizes need to be graded even amounts through the sizes.”

And the best answer ever came from Sandra Bryans , owner of Sewanista Fashion Workshops in Western Australia and previously a professional pattern grader at a childrens-wear firm. She explained “There’s a difference between a raw measurements chart and a grading chart.  Sometimes there are uneven jumps because that’s how the data panned out, but for grading it’s much better to be consistent.”

This is what I’d been trying  to explain: the raw data is the body measurements chart, which can have jumps between sizes.  If the pattern grader  follows each size measurement too literally, you can end up with a jumpy pattern.  It’s far better, for the purposes of sewing or shopping, to have a smooth, consistent grade between sizes.  As Sandra says “If the grading is consistent then the parent can buy the next size when the child needs it rather than according to a hypothetical growth chart.” The same is true of adult apparel: if we change sizes, it’s helpful when sewing or shopping to have consistency between sizes so that each size up is larger by a consistent amount.

Thanks so much, Sandra!



This is the original post (February 2017):

Have you ever used a pattern that “jumps up and down” in the grading between sizes?  Recently I was trying a pattern that had grades jumping between 1/4″, then 1/8″, then 3/8″:


Since I come from an industrial background where this would never happen, it  makes me wonder not only why this is, but how did it happen? Grading is a simple matter of sliding the master pattern up-and-over by a consistent measurement “rule”, so why are there inconsistencies?  After all, garment industry patterns have consistent grading, Big Four paper patterns have consistent grading…..the grade may be smaller within the smaller section of sizes, and larger within the larger sizes, but never jumping up and down. Why does this happen so often in indie pdf patterns? I have a theory…..

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Pattern Review: Ikatee “Sakura”

Ikatee is a new-to-me French pattern line, designed by Stéphanie Godefroy.  I stumbled upon her business when I saw this Bohemian style that reminded me of the most comfortable dress I owned in the ‘seventies:


I wasn’t familiar with the designer….turns out she has extensive background in the children’s apparel business. Stephanie offers a free pattern for all new customers, and since I’ve been disappointed so many times by indie patterns, I requested and downloaded the free pattern before buying one.  You have a choice of girls/boys/infant/child patterns: I chose the infant’s top, a simple “pillowcase” style that I could draft myself….but it let me see that the drafting and grading are good. And so I purchased Sakura.

As with every pattern, I see little things that could be adjusted to make life easier, but I am happy to say that overall I am very pleased with the Sakura pattern.

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Are we Sewing Too Many of the Wrong Clothes?

When you sew all day, your mind has a chance to wander and wonder. Things that make me stop and THINK include the morning newspaper, stuff I read online, movies, music, videos….usually 2 or 3 different ideas combine to create a single question, and today the question is “Are we sewing too many clothes?” More specifically, are we sewing too many “quick-sews” that will be worn only a few times, as opposed to better-quality clothes that will last and get lots of wearings?

Here are the sources that got me questioning my sewing goals, and how they fit into the Big Picture of using the earth’s resources:

  1. This interview with Latvian designer Arta  of MimiiKids (“I always keep in mind that my designs need to be both chic and simple so that they can be worn for more than one event and more than one season; I like the idea of making clothing that children can keep wearing as they grow.”)
  2. A post on Facebook: “I am sewing to avoid fast fashion, not to make it. ” (Thank you, Lenka Uzakova!)
  3. Hurricane Harvey, and people collecting clothes for those whose homes were flooded in Texas (I’ll explain in a minute where this comes into play.)

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Posted in Blog, Charity Sewing, Sewing Tips | 19 Comments

What does Grading Quality tell you about Pattern Quality?

I hear this all the time: “Why should I care if a sewing pattern is graded well, as long as the size I’m making fits?”

Plenty of people don’t care, obviously….since there are many inaccurately graded patterns out there, and some extremely popular indie pattern companies routinely publish and sell enormous quantities of poorly graded patterns.  The web is full of photos of garments that don’t fit: bubble crotches, straining sleeves, digging armpits…and many people seem to be blissfully unaware, until the fit problems reach the breaking point of total unwearability: a garment that won’t fit over your head, or that you can’t zip up the back.

Ever since the decline of the upscale department store (where an alterations department was always available), our clothing shopping has moved more and more to mall chain stores, big box  stores (Wal Mart, Target, KMart), discount stores (Kohl’s, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s)….and people forget that alterations are even an option.  Collectively our “eye” has become accustomed to seeing poorly fitting clothes.  But sewing means that YOU control the fit, so why not go for better fit than off-the-rack? Why not use the most professionally drafted and graded patterns that you can?

Studying a “nested” graded pattern is a clue as to whether or not the pattern itself was drafted well. Yes, drafting and grading are different skills, however:

  • Not many pattern drafters know how to grade, and yet:
  • Most pattern graders know how to draft.

This is because professional-quality grading requires knowledge of how patterns are drafted in the first place. Learning to grade is the logical step AFTER learning to draft.  I imagine that for every 100 pattern design students, maybe a handful go on to practice grading in industry.

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Angel Gown Update: using Clear Patterns

Update from this previous post about making Angel Gowns: burial dresses for preemie infants: http://7pinedesign.com/charity-sewing-how-to-make-angel-gowns/

Sharing a studio with my daughter (when she’s not away at school!) lets us bounce creative  ideas  and challenges off each other.  The other day I was telling her that although my Angel Gown pdf pattern  has been downloaded hundreds of times from sewists all over the world, I do get requests for vector images to make clear laser-cut Lucite patterns. Often the gowns are cut out from donated weddings dresses, and clear patterns make it easier to center or place embellishments and embroideries that are already stitched into the dress fabric.

screenshot of pattern

Unfortunately I don’t have the software to create vector images (I use my daughter’s old hand-me down computer). Her immediate answer: “Why not just trace the paper patterns onto clear sheet-protectors?”

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“Shorty Shorts”: don’t cut that inseam TOO short!

According to the Wall Street Journal the other day, this is the summer of the Shorty Shorts https://www.wsj.com/articles/who-wears-short-shorts-not-my-daughter-1502295345  (sorry you may need an online subscription to read the full article). According to the story:


This is the accompanying visual to the article:


The photo brought back a memory from college days (yes, in the ’70’s!): my summer-school roommate, Sue Kent  tried 3 times to cut off jeans into the perfect summer shorts. The first time, she started cutting from the out-seam, estimating the shorty length she wanted, going straight across the cross-grain and ended up with no crotch at all:


Those went in the trash.  The second pair, she again cut from the out-seam but lower down….still cutting straight on the cross-grain:


….this time there was a crotch inseam left (yay!) but she wasn’t happy with them:

  1. She still felt they looked too long
  2. The tiny 1″ inseam didn’t cover her panties
  3. The crotch seam fell completely apart in the laundry!


The third time I advised her to start at the crotch (NOT at the side-seam) measuring the least amount of inseam that would cover her underwear (about 2 1/4″), but she wasn’t happy with the out-seam length (not shorty-short enough):


The trick of course is to cut the hem at an angle, and curved, to expose the upper thigh a la Daisy Dukes (if this is indeed the look you are after, which she was):


Sue Kent was able to tweak the third pair into just the short-on-the-thighs look she wanted.

So, for anyone interested in making your own shorty-shorts (unless you want to spend $30 at the mall stores where they sell them already cut off):

  1. Start cutting from the crotch NOT the side-seams
  2. Make sure you leave enough inseam to cover your panties, keeping in mind the denim will fray in the wash
  3. To get the shorty look, cut at an angle or on a curve, not straight along the cross-grain

What about making shorts from fabric? You still should pay attention to inseam length, to make sure that undies are being concealed: 2 1/4″ is the shortest that the mass-makers are going this season for kidswear.  I wouldn’t grade that any shorter for toddler/infants sizes either (more on babies shorts in a second). And in the same concept as the shape and angle of the jeans-shorts leg opening above, keep that curve and angle in the hem when sewing shorts from scratch.

Covering the undies is especially a problem in little kids’ clothes: often in patterns, the inseam is graded shorter and shorter as sizes go down…even through the infant sizes, which require MORE crotch coverage for diapers. On of the biggest complaints I read about from moms is that bloomers and rompers don’t cover the diaper at the crotch. Babies aren’t known for “sitting lady-like”!

Here’s an example of an inseam that is not going to work: the super-popular “Coachella” short from Striped Swallow has a finished inseam measuring 1/4″ after deducting the rise seam allowance and the hem  in the smallest size (6 months). That is IF you could actually stitch that hem….which you can’t….it is physically impossible to stitch a 1/2″ hem on a 3/4″ seam:

CORRECTION 8/20/17: although the pattern piece says 1/2″ hem, the instructions say 3/8″, so it is indeed possible to sew this ….you will end up with a 3/8″ inseam:



Obviously a 1/4″ inseam is not going to cover a diaper. So if you want to maintain the side-seam length for shorty-shorts, you can cover the diaper by increasing the inseam; just curve the hemline and adjust the inseam as shown:


Now you will have an inseam that better covers your little’s ones’ undies! (You also now have a trued 90-degree hem corner.)



Another example: Bella Sunshine’s “Tess Tulip” short: this finished inseam is longer at about 3/4″ but still too short to cover a diaper:



Curve the hem to increase inseam length


….and you’ll get a longer inseam with better coverage (and again , the corner is now trued at a 90-degree angle):


Going slightly off-topic now from the original idea of shorty-shorts, if you sew for toddlers and infants you may realize here that covering a diaper at the crotch is probably easier with a bloomer than a short, since a bloomer has elasticized leg openings. As with the above angle/curve of the hem concept, a bloomer pattern with a curved hem generally fits best, because it can cover the diaper while not being too long at the side-seams.  With their little legs, it’s easy to get swallowed up by too much fabric….this poor kiddo can hardly move!:


Compare the shape of these free pdf’s  along the hemline.  To cover the crotch yet be short on the side-seams, the straight-hem pattern on the LEFT (Marie Claire) will not fit as well as the curved-hem pattern on the RIGHT (  from Creativa Atelier ):


Creativa Atelier goes up to 12-24 months sizee.  For sizes 2 and up I’d suggest  the curved hem design by Duchess and Hare “Free at Last” (free to members of the FB group):


The only tweaks I’d make to these patterns are these:

  • Creative Atelier seems too long in the rise, I removed 1″ from overall length:


  • Free at Last, I tweaked the angle of the inseams to create trued right-angles at the hemline :


These two patterns, Creative Atelier for infants and D&H “Free at Last” for toddlers and girls, are very similar in shape and should make a nicely fitting bloomer!



Stayed tuned for a related post on the difference between bloomers and diaper covers…


Happy Sewing!

Best, Janet








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