“Which pattern is this?”

There is a big difference between:

  • Industrial patterns designed for the garment industry
  • Commercial patterns designed for the home-sewing market

…and it goes way beyond the topic of my last post about notches.

Before I worked in the apparel industry, I wasn’t aware of the difference.   I knew from a young age that the selection of home-sewing patterns was MUCH smaller than what was available in ready-to-wear…. I often visited the pattern counter with my mom, looking for a pattern similar to an outfit that a friend had worn to school or church, only to come up empty-handed. But until I worked with factories, I didn’t realize how much more detailed and professional that industrial patterns need to be.


In online forums these days I often read the question “What pattern is this?”  or “Who has the pattern for this?” (together with a photo of a mass-manufactured piece of apparel that the OP wants to make at home).  Given my background, my gut reaction is, “Why would anyone assume there IS a home-sewing pattern available? Only a tiny fraction of the factory-made apparel styles are ever copied into a commercial sewing pattern.”

And then I remember that relatively few home-sewers have had the opportunity to work in the fashion industry, so it makes sense that many people assume that industrial patterns and commercial patterns  are the same. Nobody else blinks at this question, and people are helpful to suggest patterns. For example, if you saw this Nelly Stella dress:


…and asked :“What pattern is this?” …you’d get replies saying “You can use the VFT London” (left), or “Try Duchess and Hare Sweet as Pie” (right):


..or even this vintage Simplicity:


…which most likely was inspired by a mass-manufactured garment back in the ‘fifties.  Possibly even Nelly Stella style was inspired by the Simplicity pattern: ever since the advent of the Web, the photo files of vintage commercial patterns are more easily accessed than actual vintage garments.

But you’re not going to find the same pattern that Nelly Stella uses, because in all likelihood they made their own pattern, to their own specifications.


The timing and development process of industrial patterns is  quite  different from the commercial home-sewing pattern market. Aside from the relatively few cases of industrial production being inspired by vintage commercial patterns, the process usually works the other way around. Fashion inspiration generally flows from high-end to mass-market to home-sewing:

  • high fashion couture, to:
  • bridge/middle-market, to:
  • mass-market department store brands, to:
  • home-sewing market

There are some exceptions, for example when a commercial home-sewing pattern company such as Vogue partners with designers to bring styles to the home-sewing market before they are watered down to the mass-market retail level.   But in general, there is a consistent trickle-down flow of fashion, and silhouettes, and color trends….as explained  so well by fashion Editor in Chief Miranda Priestly to her rooky assistant Andrea in “The Devil Wears Prada”:  “that sweater is not just blue, its not turquoise. It’s not lapis. Its actually cerulean. And you’re also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then i think it was Yves Saint Laurent – wasn’t it who showed cerulean military jackets?And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner”


Also look at the time frame: it takes about 5 months for a design to go from sketch to store in apparel manufacturing. Roughly you need a month for each step of the process:

  • a month for design development and approval
  • a month for patternmaking and testing and fitting
  • a month for sourcing fabrics and trims, and getting dye lots approved
  • a month for Cut-Make-Trim (factory sewing)
  • a month for packing, shipping,  customs clearance, distribution

By the time a style hits the selling floor, the garment manufacturer is developing the next two season’s ahead.  But the home-sewing market often waits until the styles are already at retail AND selling trends are established. The commercial home-sewing business just doesn’t have the resources to expend on styles that may or may not be popular. While the garment industry has much bigger budgets and can take more fashion chances, the home-sewing market plays it pretty safe. Which is why commercial patterns often seem a step behind.

Indie patternmakers can afford to be ahead of the Big Four schedule-wise since small businesses do not go through all of the corporate committee meetings and approval processes to finalize a style range…and PDF makers  can be even faster since they bypass the paper-printing  process.  Still, the  commercial (non-industrial) pattern business, whether paper or pdf, is almost always slightly behind the retail fashion garment business.

So why would an apparel factory NOT use a commercial home-sewing pattern? What are the differences between industrial patterns and commercial patterns?

  1. The timing is different (see flow above). Industrial patterns must be completed according to the schedule of fashion Market Weeks, and missing deadlines means huge repercussions for factory production….commercial patterns may also be rushed for release, but the patternmaker faces fewer financial consequences for lateness (only the loss of sales of the pattern, not of garments).

2. Industrial patterns  must be thoroughly tested (measured, walked, trued.)

3. Industrial patterns are drafted to fit well into a production marker for most efficient use of fabric:


3. Most importantly, the fit wouldn’t be correct.  In the garment industry, manufacturers fit to their own blocks for fit consistency throughout the collection.  The production development system within apparel manufacturing companies goes like this:

  • body measurement chart is established
  • basic fit blocks are drafted to fit those body charts
  • researching fashion and sketching each season’s styles
  • developing patterns of those styles based on the fit blocks

For a garment manufacturer to purchase a commercial home-sewing pattern, that would be a total waste of time, because it often takes more effort to revise an existing  pattern than to draft a new one to your fit block (just like altering a garment often takes more time than sewing a new one).  Also, apparel manufacturers have their own professional patternmakers, who are trained to draft/drape  from sketches.  If the patternmakers could use home-sewing patterns, they wouldn’t have jobs, right?


For awhile I thought “Oh I must be misunderstanding the question….maybe they’re not asking for THE pattern that was used in the garment industry, maybe they’re asking for A pattern in the same style”.

But then this week  I read a curious discussion online, reinforcing the misconception that a manufacturer would need to use a commercial home-sewing pattern. A Dutch indie pdf style had been copied (and the designer’s photos stolen) by discount importer Aliexpress:


….and D H Gate:


…and another China importer on Ebay:


Many importers scour Etsy and Pinterest and Instagram for photos.  They list popular styles for sale, and accept purchase orders for as-yet-unmade garments, taking a chance by showing a picture of something they did not sample and have never made.

Anyway the discussion veered towards the question “How do they make that if it was somebody else’s pattern? ” I posted in reply “They don’t need the original pattern, every factory has their own patternmaker, they make their own pattern from the photo.”

But I couldn’t seem to explain that well enough for the poster to understand. She kept asking how they got the pattern.  Well if they really wanted to, they could just order the pdf online from the indie designer they stole the photo from.  But the point is, they don’t need to.  These days, almost all factories have their own patternmaker who is dying to show off their skills in drafting any design idea thrown at them. Especially in Asia,  these workers pride themselves on being able to make any Western style.

Back in the sixties and seventies, patternmaking for the American  market was done  in the fashion capitals where product development took place. The designers, sample-hands, fit models, technical designers, and patternmakers  were all located in New York, LA, Chicago etc, and the process from concept to sketch to fit-sample to pattern took place within the design office. Then the patterns were sent to the garment factories (which used to be local). At the factory, the product development department would make production-samples using the patterns and send them back across town for approval.

In the eighties, this domestic patternmaking process continued even as globalization moved production “offshore” to 807 countries (so called because of the regulation code number for programs cutting out garments in the U.S. and then sending to Caribbean countries for sewing, then bringing back without paying import duties). The advent of affordable computers allowed better communications,which encouraged businesses to  move production  to Asia,  saving even more money .  Then in the nineties a big change occurred: just as it was cheaper for the sewing (cut-make-trim) to be done overseas, manufacturers started to shift technical design and then patternmaking overseas as well.

These days it’s common for the production-country factories to have the blocks, to draft the patterns, to make the fit samples….often the only parts of the product development process done in the home-country are the sketching and editing of the line, and the fit and construction approval.

Bottom line is this: if you see a mass-manufactured garment and want to find a commercial home-sewing pattern to reproduce it, I guess the more accurate way to pose the question is to ask for “a” pattern, not “the” pattern:

  •  “Any suggestions for a pattern that looks like this?”
  •  “Has anyone seen a pattern for this style?”

Happy Sewing!

Best, Janet

PS: There’s also a difference between industrial printers, and commercial home-computer printers. I received a comment/question today about a pattern not matching up, so I checked my own copy and it did match up with about 99% accuracy.  Every home-printer I’ve ever used (right now I have a Dell, an HP and an Epson) is ever-so-slightly off-skew, not because of the data but rather because of the mechanics of the printing machine itself. So even “perfectly drafted” pdfs will match up with about 99% accuracy when printed at home.  If you want 99.9% accuracy, I suggest using the one-sheet print-shop options available on many new pdfs.







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Why are Pattern Notches Missing in PDF’s?

Why don’t (most) pdf patterns have notches?

I grew up sewing with “The Big Four” paper patterns, moved on to Burda and Kwik-Sew, and they always had notches to help you put together the pieces correctly.  In design school, every pattern was required to have notches, and a notch-puncher was part of the required toolkit:


I spent several decades in the garment industry making and using professional patterns. They always  had notches:


However, if you’ve been sewing apparel using only indie pdfs, you may never have seen notches. If you are self-taught, and haven’t read a basic “How to Sew” book, maybe you’re not even aware of them, or know what they’re for.  Maybe you’ve seem them in commercial home-sewing patterns and ignored them.  All things are possible!

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Continuous Bias Tape using your Rotary Cutter

Yes you CAN make continuous bias tape without using scissors!

Previously I’ve written about the most efficient method of laying out fabric for making your own homemade bias tape, with the fewest annoying seams; this time I’m sharing  a trick that makes it even faster: using your handy-dandy ROTARY CUTTER instead of scissors! Now, you’ve probably seen many sewing tips (and videos) online, showing the 2 basic methods of making bias binding….what my fellow F.I.T. alumnus Liesl Gibson calls the “Traditional Method” and the “Continuous Method”…and as she explains, they both have drawbacks:

  1. “Traditional Method”: ROTARY-cut bias strips and then stitch the strips together one by one to make a continuous strip (the sewing is time-consuming,  it’s so much simpler to stitch one long line than many tiny ones)
  2. “Continuous Method”: Stitch fabric into a tube, then SCISSOR-cut a long continuous strip (scissor cutting is tedious and gives me carpal tunnel).  Liesl explains the drawback : the strips need to be cut entirely by hand, so you can’t use a rotary cutter” . There is a hack that let’s you slide a very small cutting board inside the tube and then ROTARY cut, however it’s awkward to keep manipulating the cutting board as you rotary-cut small sections at a time.

Left: “Traditional Method”, Right: “Continuous Method”:


I was determined to figure out a way to use a rotary cutter  while the fabric is still flat on a large cutting board, but still use the “Continuous Method”.  After plenty of brainstorming, I’ve got it!

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Pattern Hack: how to make the Mini Romper Dress

If there’s one look that’s the epitome of “fresh vintage” for little girls, it’s the 1950’s short dress with full skirt:


Originally these styles were designed as two-piece outfits:

  • either a romper plus a wrap-skirt
  • or a dress plus matching bloomer

Recently this silhouette has been updated as a one-piece-circle-skirted-romper by coveted children’s-wear designers such as (Pinterest pics left-to-right):

  • Little Minis
  • KaiKai Creations
  • Liboosha   “Peggy”
  • Well Dressed Wolf “Innocent”


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Trueing the Waist: Sansahash “Imari” Shorts

I’m always on the lookout for a good kids’ shorts or pants pattern. Compared to the sheer volume of children’s dress and skirt patterns, pants are few and far between. Well-fitting ones are even more elusive. The newly-released Sansahash “Imari” shorts pdf is a very cute style which comes in bubble and regular versions. The pattern prints out and fits together perfectly.  However, the center-back seam is not trued at the waist, which makes it difficult to stitch on the waistband, and a challenge to fit smoothly along the back waist. There’s an easy fix for this, which I’ll show you.


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Why Indie Pattern Quality is Improving

Short answer? Competition       Reason? Style sameness

Does it seem that multiple designers release very similar styles, sometimes at close timing to each other? It does make people wonder if they coincidentally came up with the same concept, if they read the same trade magazines, watch the same fashion runway shows. I was thinking of this while pondering the new release of Bebekin’s “Robin” pattern.  I already had Ikatee “Stella” on my wish-list.  Did I need both? And if not, how to choose?

(left: Ikatee “Stella”, right Bebekins “Robin” just released)


I’m sure that most times the similarities between patterns are a matter of “great minds think alike“.  Other times there are, unfortunately,  hints (even conversation screenshots) of questionable actions behind-the-scenes…inside info on who is designing what, which styles are in test mode, patterns that are rushed  to release before adequate testing.  It’s difficult to know whether style-sameness is accidental, or intentional. But here’s the good news: Competition improves Quality.  What’s true for airlines, restaurants, cell-phone services and schools, is also true for sewing patterns.

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Pattern Review: Duchess and Hare “Sweet as Pie”

In the movie “Working Girl”,  account executive Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) and her secretary Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) both claim to have come up with the same idea for an acquisitions merger.  When confronted by the owner of the conglomerate, Katharine has no answer as to where she got the idea . On the other hand, Tess can produce her notes plus the newspaper clippings that inspired her concept.

I thought of this when reading a blog post from Duchess and Hare. She  sampled what would become her  “Sweet as Pie”  pattern last year* ,  inspired by this dress from Nelly Madison:


I say inspired by deliberately, because Duchess and Hare did not copy line-for-line, but rather studied the silhouette,  changed the bodice to a new shape, then created multiple style options.

*You can scroll back to a year ago on her IG to see the first sample dress.

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Pattern Review: Violette Field Threads “London”

Some say there’s “nothing new under the sun” in fashion, and that it’s all been done before. However, style evolves constantly.   Case in point: the classic tie-shoulder girls dress.  If you regularly sew children’s clothes, chances are you already have the Oliver and S “Popover” or The Cottage Mama “Picnic Dress” (both are free downloads).   I’ve been selling this  self-drafted design in my little Etsy shop for so many years that my once-little models are now in Middle School:


Violette Field Threads new “London” dress pattern is a classic in the same vein as all of these, however it is more a line-for-line repeat of Simplicity 5593 (same sweep, length, bodice shape, tie straps, little ruffle):


Could you take a pattern that you already have, and increase the sweep?  Of course…but since this pattern is free (if you join the VFT Facebook group) why bother with all the calculations?  Why not just get this one?

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Pattern Review: Chalk and Notch “Cascade”

This review is dedicated to the critics who say that I am too hard on indie pattern-makers. My goal is to be as objective as possible. As always, I receive no compensation in any way, and I have no personal connection to any designer.  If this review seems more “glowing” than others, it is purely due to a superior product.

In my quest for boho looks, last September I purchased the “Cascade” maxi-dress from Chalk and Notch (girls sizes 2 through 12). I’d never heard of this designer, however every tester photo looked great.  No gaping, tugging, pulling….and I don’t even personally like high-low hems!


What I found intriguing about this design is that it could not have been flat-pattern-drafted from measurements…because of the bias-cut and the hi-low hem, it had to be designed by draping a muslin on a dressform first and then transferring the results to paper (or computer) pattern.  This indicates a level of professionalism not always found in pdf-world. Sadly the pattern went into the “some day” pile. Yesterday I finally pulled it out.

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Pattern Review: Pickle Toes “Daisy”

Here’s a quick review of an even quicker pattern!

The criss-cross back jumper/apron/pinafore is a classic style that I remember from my childhood.  I lost my vintage paper pattern for it while working on a project making art smocks for my child’s school, and then acquired this McCall’s version somewhere along the way:


..however the fit is way off.  It looks like it’s falling off of the model’s shoulders!  Fixing the fit on this style has been on my endless “to-do” list…along with grading it for a more extensive size range…and then this week Pickle Toes released their “Daisy” pdf pattern, in sizes Preemie through Girls 16:


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