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)

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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.

The more that pattern-makers release same/similar styles, the more they must compete on other factors.  

As an Etsy seller, I read the same question over and over gain on Etsy Teams and the Etsy Sellers FB group:  “I have a new shop but my items are not selling”. Usually the problem is that they do not have original products. Instead they are copying what is already a best-seller, whether baby hair accessories, beaded necklaces, or monogrammed Yetis. If you are not competing on product uniqueness, you must compete on:

  1. price
  2. delivery speed
  3. product quality
  4. service 

How do pattern-makers compete, if they sell similar products?  Speed is an non-issue for pdf files, so that leaves price , quality, and service. Price is highly emotional/irrational, as proven by tests that show customers are motivated by $.99 pricing (rationally you know that $1.99 = $2.00, right?)…and “Sale!” signs, especially time-limited “sales”.  Rationally you must realize that the price of a sewing pattern is dwarfed by the cost of fabric and the value of your time.  And yet “introductory pricing” pulls in lots customers…. me included…sigh.

(left: Pattern Emporium, right VFT just released)

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That leaves product quality, and customer service. What makes you as the consumer choose one pattern over the other? Some factors may be superficial but compelling, based on emotional response to visual stimuli (tester photos) without having access to the product itself:

  • release “buzz”, tester photos
  • brand marketing, professionally staged photos of modeled garments, sometimes  made with the latest fabrics donated as part of a merchandising collaboration

Other factors are more rational, less emotional, and require access to the actual product.  Since you are “shopping blind” with pdf files, product quality is best evaluated through product reviews, or your own previous purchases from the designer. Product quality in sewing patterns involves:

  • accurate drafting
  • well-fitting shapes, especially at neckline, armscye, crotch
  • measurements that correctly correspond to the finished garment chart
  • consistent grading

You may be more concerned with how to put the pattern together, and be looking for:

  • clear, concise directions
  • no missing steps
  • accurate illustrations

Since most pdf pattern are generally not returnable/refundable, there is a certain amount of  chance involved  regarding product quality. Here you have a choice of:

  • taking a chance, or maybe trying a designers free pattern first
  • relying on testers…although their comments tend to be overwhelmingly positive, especially during the “introductory discount” window
  • do your own testing and editing of files, curating the best-quality patterns and tossing the ones that require too much correcting

(left: Purl Soho, right Blank Slate just released)

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The fourth factor in decision-making is the most elusive: customer service. Many customers find out only after they purchase a product, whether or not the company stands behind  it. Fortunately, consumers are becoming more and more vocal about their experiences, and sharing them  in the hopes  that other people can avoid wasting their money.

Finally, when all other factors are equal, what sets the best companies above others is business ethics. Are the members of the business honest and kind? Are their product development practices done with integrity, being careful not to hurt other businesses, or do they believe that “All’s fair in love and war”? Do they encourage kindness and empathy within the ranks, or do they look the other way when associates and fans play White Knight? Business ethics goes far beyond the standard “We give to charitable causes“. (Who doesn’t?)


Right now there is an explosion of new indie patterns available, more than anybody has time to use. I predict two trends in the future :

  1. Product quality will improve through competition. For example, layers function used to be rare but is now common. Pages that don’t line up drive people crazy and are called out online regularly.  “Just connect the lines” is no longer acceptable.Customers are becoming more aware of badly drafted or inaccurately graded patterns; they realize that hype and pretty photos do not necessarily equate to well-drafted patterns.
  2. Customer service will gain in importance, as other factors (product quality) become “flatter” (more even across-companies). Customers are paying more attention to the product experience: follow-through and problem-solving, response to issues, communication with the company. Ethical business practices are being more scrutinized. Kindness and honesty will become more important as deciding factors in customer purchases. Companies are being judged not only by the actions of their founders, but also by their followers and fans.

What did I end up buying?  Both:

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Happy Sewing!

Best, Janet

Post Script: to anybody who thinks that ethics are not critical, I’d suggest a quick search into the Bijoux Sauvage situation.

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6 Responses to Why Indie Pattern Quality is Improving

  1. Tibeca says:

    I really hope that competition really helps bring the good ones to the top. Some designers I will gladly pay full price. Others, I won’t even sew their free patterns.

  2. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    Totally agree, I would be willing to pay a premium for really great patterns. And I’m seriously getting wary of “free” ones: if they are good then that’s a lovely way to try out a new patternmaker..but so many of them are not worth the time (and fabric).

  3. JustGail says:

    As one who’s hesitant to try indies partly due to cost (I admit I’m totally spoiled by the chain store sale prices), the bigger issue to me is the wide variation of pattern drafting experience and quality. There are a few independents that have been around a while and have a good track record I suspect I will try once I get over my cheap pattern addiction. And there are a couple of indies I will never try due to their pattern issues and their behavior.

    I wonder how much influence forums like GOMI have on improving drafting quality.
    They certainly don’t pull punches over there on either pattern quality or company behavior. And reviews on Pattern Review – sometimes I’m not sure if the adjustments made are due to bad drafting, normal fit issues, or personal choices.

  4. fat_lady says:

    The price point of most indies, for those of us in Europe and Australasia, compares well with that of Simplicity and BMV. Sales of these are not common, and even when they do happen, here in the UK we will get at best 50% off for a few weeks, once or twice a year. In much of Europe, the US paper pattern brands never go on sale. Of course we’ve long had pattern magazines, which work out very cheap indeed, and good old Burda was an early adopter of downloadable patterns.

    However, and it’s a big ‘however’ in the present day, the indies are generally flying ahead in the field of ‘buying experience’, presentation, marketing and step-by-step illustrated dumbed-down instructions. Examples of the sort of sales blurb which appeals to today’s ‘new sewer’ – ‘receive a gorgeous packet from your friendly postman!’, ‘no confusing secret jargon in our patterns’, ‘beautiful full-colour photos with step-by-step instructions in five languages, to use on screen, or print out in easy-to-read booklet format . Forget searching through those massive, puzzling sheets of paper like your grandma had to do !’

    The world of patterns on this side of the pond seems to be separating into two halves – professionally-made patterns with instructions which presuppose a certain level of basic knowledge at least, or mainly-doubtful patterns with extremely simplified, chit-chatty instructions produced by people with vague, or no, technical education or expertise. There’s a bit of overlap here and there, but not much.
    BTW, I know that last summer, I saw a *very* similar pattern to the Stella and Robin above, for download from Burdastyle.de; I almost bought it, but bought something else instead.

  5. 7pinedesign@comcast.net says:

    “extremely simplified, chit-chatty”….oh my goodness yes this exactly! I wouldn’t have a problem with this IF the patterns were well drafted/graded, but sadly the designers of this super-popular type of product just don’t have the technical background needed to make a quality product. Somehow they get away with it, as the new sewists don’t know what to look for, or how to recognize problems. I do hope that with more designers entering the field, that eventually the customers will learn by comparison, which products are well-made and which are simply not.

    Yes I totally agree that there does seem to be this split going on, between better-quality patterns from indie makers who do know their craft…..and the “fast fashion” patterns being cranked out faster than they can be checked for quality. I imagine the customers likewise are being split between those who care, and those who just want a quick project….disposable clothing.

    As far as the prices, yes in the U.S. we do have this ridiculous strategy where the Big Four, pre-ticketed at $9.00 to $19.00, go on clearance for 3 days each month at $1.99. It makes no sense. I would understand if they were discontinued styles, but they’re not! The price jumps right back up again! Then it never fails that when you “need” a particular pattern, they’re not on sale and so you feel stupid for paying full price. I’d much prefer an honest this-is-the-true-price-every-day strategy.

  6. Bunny says:

    ” Forget searching through those massive, puzzling sheets of paper like your grandma had to do !’” I really hate it when indies market by trashing the traditional paper pattern this way. I’ve been using these since ten years old and never felt the sheets were “massive” or puzzling. And as for Grandma, she made all her own patterns. There are good reasons out there to go the indie route and good reasons to go the paper route. “confusing jargon”? It’s called sewing, people and all crafts, hobbies, workplaces and experiences have their own jargon. It shows mastery of the subject. This sort of marketing dumbs down sewing for all to come and they deserve better. Thank you, Janet, for putting this in perspective.

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