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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3 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.

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