Yesterday I was accused by an individual in a public online forum, of being biased against 3 specific businesses whose products have disappointed me. It got me thinking…who is being biased here? The person who says “But I know this patternmaker personally and she’s so nice!” Or somebody like me, with no affiliations whatsoever?
I’m not a tester, or a brand rep, or on any “teams”. I don’t accept advertising. I receive no free patterns, I’ve never met any of the indie patternmakers, and I keep it that way to remain objective. (Every patternmaker that I know personally works in the garment industry, not the pattern industry). I never critique the designer, only the PRODUCT. Since when did product reviews become emotional?
Do I prefer some styles of instructions over others? Sure. Have I been disappointed when a particularly gorgeously merchandised and heavily-promoted pattern turns out to have obvious technical errors? Absolutely…just as you would be if you finally got reservations at a much-hyped restaurant, only to find out that the chef doesn’t know the difference between a souffle and an omelet. Or that there is no chef! Hardworking line cooks, but nobody with any culinary training.
As a Technical Designer, what truly matters to me is the pattern itself: the drafting and grading. Pretty printouts cannot mask errors in drafting, any more than pretty plates can hide badly cooked food. Patterns that have been released before being measured/walked/trued are a pet peeve of mine, because they waste the customers’ time, and worse: they can make the sewist feel unqualified through no fault of her own. In this sense, I care more about the customer than the seller. That does NOT equate to being insensitive to the patternmaker, however patterns are products that are open to critique just like any other item we pay for. If the patternmaker has finished design school, she’s been through hundreds of brutal critiques. As Michael Kors famously says “Fashion is not for sissies”.
One rebuttal that I hear over and over again in online pattern discussions is “Well I had no problem at all with that pattern!” I’m sure you didn’t, and that’s fine! However, consider that fit and construction issues are what I am professionally trained to see. Just like a hair stylist who itches to do a make-over on every bad cut she sees…just like an interior decorator who would cringe at my kitchen with the old cherry cabinets and tarnished brass handles that I’m perfectly happy with. Heck, my own sister can’t believe that my husband and I have a rusty 25-year old refrigerator that’s white (horrors!) and doesn’t make ice.
But just because I might notice a problem that you didn’t see, that does not equate to me being biased against a designer who I don’t even know. In the garment industry, the Technical Designer must be objective: not influenced by color or trim, or style, or fashion trends, or who the designer and patternmaker are:
- It makes no difference whether or not the garment is something I would ever wear.
- It makes no difference whether it’s for men or women or children or pets.
- It makes no difference who designed it.
The professional Technical Designer looks for fit and construction issues, and also how they relate to costing and delivery…but never subjectively. Nobody would even listen if I said that I liked a style, or hated it. Same as with the fit models: nobody cares what they think, unless it’s a fit/comfort issue. Factories have no interest in what style they make, or who designed it, but if there’s a construction issue, they are very vocal. None of this is personal. It’s technical.
So, back to sewing patterns….let’s break down the parts of a review:
- Fit: subjective, but the more you do fittings, the more critical your “eye” becomes as to proportion….however, uncomfortable apparel always indicates fit problems
- Drafting: there’s some leeway here, but also some issues that are just mistakes
- Grading: the most objective and measurable of all pattern areas
- Construction: subjective, often the subject of endless factory costing meetings, and a point of discussion between sewists who prefer fine-finishes versus quick-and-dirty
FIT: At least you get to “see” the fit on models before you buy. As a young child, my mother sat me down at the pattern table in the fabric store to peruse the catalogs, and taught me to take the fashion illustrations with a grain of salt and pay attention to the photos. Sometimes I look at the photos on pattern covers, and on tester posts, and see fit problems screaming out at me: sleeves that are tugging at the armscye in every tester photo because the sleevecap is too short, Peter Pan collars that are flipping up because they were drafted with the same curve as the bodice neckline*. Obviously others don’t see these issues, as they must be happy with their photos. And if you are a sewist who is thrilled with what you have made, then you obviously don’t want to hear that the pattern could have been improved. Time and again, I read defensive posts online: “It worked fine for me! I don’t know what you’re talking about!” And I understand that, I really do, because fit is subjective. It’s a matter of personal taste.
(*This is the professional way to draft a Peter Pan collar: http://nicoleneedles.blogspot.com/2013/03/drafting-peter-pan-collar.html)
Look at it this way: my husband won’t go to Olive Garden, because he grew up in Italy, eating authentic Italian food. (I lived in Italy too for a few years, but I’m not as fussy as he is.) Does that mean Olive Garden’s food is bad? Of course not, it’s a hugely successful business and plenty of people must think my husband is nuts. “We went there and it was fine! I don’t know what he’s talking about!”
Well, the food is not what you would be served in Italy. It just isn’t, no matter how many television commercials tell you that the Olive Garden chefs go to Italy for training. The menu has been “Americanized” to suit local preferences. The bread is soft, the garlic and oregano overpowering, and there’s cheese on almost everything. Obviously, this is subjective, and if you’ve never been to Italy, you would have a different opinion about Olive Garden than if you were native-born Italian.
A similar situation can happen with sewing. We all experience things from our own individual point of view, based on the entirety of our personal unique life experience. And just as your own viewpoint of Olive Garden might change after a trip to Italy, there’s a chance that you might look at a sewing pattern differently after seeing what a few tweaks can do to it.
DRAFTING: Sometimes I’ve purchased a pattern that looks fine in the photos, but then issues arise when cutting out the pattern: there are drafting issues. Possibly if you are planning to sew the pattern just once, such issues mean nothing to you, and that’s okay! For example, in my last post I showed a pattern in which the side-seams do not match up front to back:
Do you consider this a problem, or not? Would you overlook it, and just trim off the excess after stitching? Would you adjust the pattern before cutting out your fabric? If the error was pointed out to you, would you say “On my pattern there was no problem”? And if you did, who is being biased? It’s an objective, measurable error. It’s not a matter of opinion. Side seams should be walked before the pattern is published.
GRADING: Other times, the pattern grading is not done to a standard grade rule: the size increases are not smooth but rather “jumpy”. If you sew only one size at a time, this is of no consequence to you. If you sew multiple sizes, for example if you sew to sell, this is far more important of an issue. In factory sewing, it would be unacceptable because the retailer would reject the shipment for being off-spec. So, depending on your particular situation, there are degrees of problems in patterns, and everybody has a unique tolerance for what can be overlooked.
CONSTRUCTION: Sometimes there are issues with how the garment is put together. On the same pattern as above, the instructions have you stitch through 20+ layers of fabric and elastic at the leg openings of the crotch seam:
Unless you are using an extremely lightweight fabric, it can’t be done. The patternmaker recognizes this and even states “this at times can be hard to go through all the layers where the elastic is overlapped. If so just skip sewing the bias tape layers and sew only in the middle where it is just fabric”. The question then becomes, is that acceptable to you? Do you want to dress your child in a diaper cover that isn’t completely stitched across the crotch? Maybe that IS okay with you, but what if you sew to sell: would your customer accept that? Or would you consider that a flaw in the instructions that should have been corrected, as it would need to be if sewing in the garment industry?
The bottom line is this: if you’re happy with a pattern as it is, then be happy and don’t read any pattern reviews. But if you DO choose to read a review of a pattern you’ve made and are already happy with, please don’t shoot the messenger. The messenger did not draft the pattern.