Pattern Reviews,  Sewing Tips

On Objectivity and Pattern Reviews

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:

  1. Fit: subjective, but the more you do fittings, the more critical your “eye” becomes  as to proportion….however, uncomfortable apparel always indicates fit problems
  2. Drafting: there’s some leeway here, but also some issues that are just mistakes
  3. Grading: the most objective and measurable of all pattern areas
  4. 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:

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.


  • Cathy

    Hi Janet. I didn’t see the discussion, but love your reviews. I find they are factual based and gently delivered. Have you considered a business where you proof patterns for designers? Lol. I saw an online knitting designer that offers that service for a fee.

  • Siobhan (Chronically Siobhan)

    “Since when did product reviews become emotional?” Hm, probably since pattern testing became more akin to promotional blog tours than actual, objective testing.

    But seriously, you are one of the most objective reviewers I’ve seen in the blogosphere. If anything, I think you demonstrate generousity towards those designers whose patterns you test by offering expert advice (especially when you purchase patterns out of interest to test). It’s a shame that a hardcore designer fan used their ignorance and bias as a reason to lash out at you.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you so much for your insights on bought patterns. I have occasionally used a pattern and encountered ‘fit’ or “shaping” difficulties but always assumed that it must be me, not the pattern that was at fault. After all, they are the experts. I love to read pattern reviews, and now always do so before buying online. Thank you so much for providing unbiased advice. Everyone should appreciate your ability to dissect and evaluate a pattern, as it’s a real skill!

  • Cindy

    I read and re-read your posts because of your identification and explanations of technical errors and the possible remedies. This has helped me identify more clearly errors I make in sewing vs. possible errors in the pattern. Additionally because of your explanations I have developed a more critical eye when viewing the photos as well as looking at the pattern pieces.

  • Kristy

    Great post. This is why I stopped doing pattern testing – I realise that I have no idea about the technical aspects and was only reviewing how the pattern worked for me which isn’t of much help to anyone else. Plus the fact that blogger pattern testing is just advertising for and not critiquing of the pattern for improvement anyway

  • Linda T

    “Since when did product reviews become emotional?”…………….. you ask? Short answer: in my opinion – is about the same time children no longer were allowed to “win or lose” but only to receive a “participation trophy.” Snowflakes these days.

    Well written post which I appreciate very much! Thank you.

  • Christine chin

    Thank you for the valuable perspective you offer! Your knowledge and experience is a real asset to the community. Being able to take constructive criticism is so hard for many people, but it is such an important skill.

  • Ellen

    Thanks so much for all your articles. So many sewists do not realize that one day a person is a beginner then six months later, they are designers and patternmakers. I’m tired of throwing good money down the drain.

  • Theresa in Tucson

    Good rebuttal. I always read your pattern reviews even if they are on children’s clothes as I always learn something. Thank you for an enlightening post.

  • rita

    Eloquently addressed and although I can see it bothered you that perhaps you had ‘sinned’, you strike me as having enough confidence to not let one person’s ill-informed opinion worry you.

  • Sarah

    Great read. Objectivity can really be missing amongst the customers of the independent pattern world. I doubt many would jump up and down if someone pointed out errors in a Big 4 pattern. I very much enjoy your knowledge and objectivity!

  • Caroline

    love your reviews and you have made me much more aware of things to look for when purchasing PDF patterns. Thank you for your hard work and for shring your extensive knowledge with us.

  • [email protected]

    Very true, people consider the Big Four to be impersonal corporations, and are protective of small business. Yet anyone selling a product, even at a flea market or on eBay or Etsy, has to be willing to take feedback. It seems to me that most reviews are more like cheerleading….every customer LOVES each pattern and never has any problems….kind of unrealistic!

  • [email protected]

    Thanks, I just wanted to use the opportunity to clarify my approach to patterns. Although sometimes I think to myself “I can’t believe this pattern got past testing with these errors!”, I try to stay calm and just explain the problem…and hopefully how to fix it.

  • [email protected]

    That would be a miracle if anyone could master a trade in 6 months…or a year! It simply takes much longer than that to become skilled enough to make a product worthy of selling.

  • JustGail

    I appreciate your reviews and pointing out the problems and how to correct them. It’s the things you point out that make me avoid independents, considering how much they cost!

  • [email protected]

    I hope that indie designers are getting better….I truly want everybody to succeed! But it is a case of “buyer beware” and it seems very few customers are willing to point out problems.

  • [email protected]

    “Special snowflakes”…it’s a real problem! “Safe spaces” on campus, really? How is that preparing anybody for the real world? When I went to design school, the critiques were tough. You felt like the entire class, plus the professor, was ganging up on you! But it made all of us better and stronger. And I do understand that people are reluctant to criticize a small business…but constant cheerleading isn’t always helpful….any more than “participation trophies”.

  • [email protected]

    It’s a bit sad, I read a tester call last week that gave only one requirement: taking great photos. How is that testing? If all you want is blogger cheerleading, be honest and ask for Brand Reps, not testers. See, you SHOULD be a great tester, Kristy…the customer shouldn’t need to have technical knowledge. The technical issues should have been figured out in-house….the final customer testing should be just that: noting any final typos or missing steps. I think the real problem comes when designers don’t want feedback. Plenty do, which is great…but some just don’t. The pattern is days from being released and all they want are photos and endorsements.

  • JustGail

    I understand wanting to support the (usually female run) independent pattern companies. But I don’t see how not calling out inferior products helps change the image of independents. Not doing so does nothing to help the company improve their product. There are a few companies I will not buy from because I can’t trust the reviews glossing over fundamental drafting issues as “probably my sewing skills (or fabric choice, or….)” because they dare not point out the pattern drafters’ (lack of) skills, even when the sample garments are…less than optimal.

    On the other hand, there are a few independents I’ll probably kick myself for being so hesitant to try. Not only because of good reviews, but because they also seem to have a good record of being responsive if problems are encountered, whether it’s questions on the pattern drafting or trouble with instructions. And by responsive, I don’t mean replying with “no one else has complained”. I mean either a clarification/explanation, or if there really is an error – admitting it, correcting it and if possible letting those who purchased the pattern know or have a section on their websites listing known issues and how to correct them.

    As for the special snowflake/safe spaces, I recently heard (on NPR?) that now they are realizing that method of children must be the center of the family and every one must always be a winner, is not quite so wonderful. It doesn’t allow kids the joy of working for a prized reward and more importantly, it deprives kids from learning how to handle life’s disappointments.

  • Curvy

    I certainly agree if you are not with the “in crowd” of those pattern designers you are not a part of the crowd.. all patterns are not created equal and certainly not its instructions. I got into it once with a online pattern company who wanted sewers creative ideas to turn them into patterns with no compensation but a free pattern.. Say what are you serious.. Keep doing what you do!

  • Mina

    Add me to the list of people who always appreciates your honest reviews. I don’t make (much) children’s clothing, but I think the technical errors you point out and how to fix them are applicable to adult patterns as well. Your reviews are very educational posts all-round.
    I also think you’re always very clear on when something is a mistake in the pattern and when it is a matter of your personal preference, which I appreciate.

  • [email protected]

    Thank you so much Mina! I really do try to give the designer the “benefit of the doubt”. In my perfect world all patterns would be easy to use and give the best results possible.

  • [email protected]

    Oh I am definitely NOT part of the In Crowd! But that’s fine with me…if being in-with-the-in-crowd means that you can’t help the designer improve the product, then it’s just cheerleading…and I was finished with that in middle school.

  • [email protected]

    Totally agree: what is the point of NOT telling the designer that something can be improved? Fear of being kicked out of the group, and not being invited to test again? I always wonder, how did certain patterns ever get past testing? Were ALL of the testers afraid of mentioning that the seams didn’t line up, or did they say something and then were told the same story as customers: it’s YOUR problem, lack of sewing skills, etc.

    I do worry about my daughter’s generation…their feelings seem to be hurt so easily. Everything has to be “fair”…they expect equal outcomes, not just equal opportunity. Everybody gets a prize. And then what happens when they enter the workforce? Real life is full of disappointments. I tell my kiddo “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”.

  • Kate Moore

    I’m with you all the way Janet.

    Although there are still far too many “designers” that don’t know one end of a seam ripper from the other, there are others that seem to have cottoned (pun intended) on to the fact that a hell of a lot of seamstresses do actually know what they are doing, are not afraid to tell it like it is and won’t accept crap patterns. Some have upped their game and others have (thankfully) fallen by the wayside.

    The common theme with the “in crowd” designers is that they understand marketing better than drafting – they should be giving lessons in that instead. My maxim is the bigger the hype the worse the pattern.

  • Julie

    I love your blog! I don’t make children’s clothes (despite having three boys) but I’ve found that your advice has helped me with sewing my own clothes.

    I am interested in this line from the post “Peter Pan collars that are flipping up because they were drafted with the same curve as the bodice neckline.” How do you draft good Peter Pan collars? What does the curve need to look like? I tried to draft my own (I’ve only read books on drafting) and they flip and roll and never sit right.

    Thanks for your blog and for sharing your knowledge!

  • [email protected]

    Hi Julie! The inside curve of the collar should be tighter than the curve of the neckline. This creates the neckline “roll” and ensures that the outer edges of the collar hugs the garment. There are MANY tutorials for drafting PP collars that simply mimic the neckline shape, and if you check the photos closely, you’ll see that the edges of the collar have a tendency to flip up. The “correct” way to draft a PP collar is to slide the shoulder seam so that the front and back overlap slightly:

  • [email protected]

    Hello Kate! Sadly, I fell for the hype and purchased quit a few indie pdfs before I actually had the time to really take a look at them….and most of them have now gone into the rubbish. It simply takes too long to correct the drafting and grading errors. I do hope that the designers improve over time. Nothing would make me happier than being confident in purchasing every pattern!

  • fat_lady

    This is an excellent post, as usual! I rarely sew from ‘normal’ patterns these days, either Big 4 or Indies, but occasionally need to do so. It’s always a bit of a shock, tbh, when I flat-pattern measure or walk the seam lines, to count up how many discrepancies I find, and/or how many head-shaking moments I have.

    If I, as a person *with a visual impairment* and only the most basic knowledge of the techniques of pattern drafting (and that from long, long ago), can find multiple issues with so many patterns in ten minutes spent with the pattern spread out on the table, and a ruler in my hand, how many *more* issues are actually present, and why are so many people willing to pay so much money for these inaccurately-marked bits of paper?

    Slick marketing, that’s why. The very same techniques as used by tbe snake-oil salesmen of old, updated to slot neatly into the new media.

  • [email protected]

    “Head-shaking moments” indeed! Doesn’t it make you wonder why the testers didn’t have those head-shaking moments? How patterns go to press with obvious errors is a mystery to me.

    And yes, the slick marketing does work wonders to entice the customer to “look the other way”. See all the pretty pictures?? I was hooked into purchasing MANY patterns before I got smarter and actually took a good analysis of the product. I’d like to think I’ve wised up a bit…hopefully.

  • knitbunnie

    Every time I’ve read one of your reviews, I’ve learned something new. You’ve made my sewing better. I just made a fit-muslin from a book on children’s dresses – a mix & match sort of book that I wanted to love. I do love the book, and the pattern fit my granddaughter really well, except for the flippy collar. Now that I’ve done a fit-muslin, my next one will be a “7-Pine” muslin, and I’ll fix that collar. Thank you!

  • [email protected]

    Thanks, that’s so nice to hear! Is your collar from page 110? If so, it will be less “flippy” when you overlap the shoulderseam as on Nicole’s blog (the link in the blog post). Try making a neckline muslin from the book (just the top of the bodice) and then play with collar muslins. You can create your own supply of collar patterns in all different shapes and proportions for your truly one-of-a-kind dresses for your granddaughter! How fun to have a precious little to dress up….I will always remember fondly the outfits my grandmother sewed for me and for my sister…..

  • SewingForLife

    I have done pattern testing for a few different independents, one of them consistently comes out with decently fitting childrens clothing, the other comes out with ones that are super unprofessional. They have all the problems. Bad drafting, bad instructions, bad fit. I attempt to show her how to fix as many problems as possible, but she never listens. She usually ignores my feedback or makes the excuse that nobody else had that problem, as in it was my deficiency of skill. The thing is, I have tons of experience and lots of professional training, and my former job was as a tailor for bridal/formal wear. It drives me nuts! I don’t test for her anymore. The last test was for trousers with welted pockets and they were intended to be skinny pants. They turned out so bad by following her instructions that I wouldn’t allow my photos to be used. They had hideous welt, belt loop, and fly instructions and were tight at the calf and baggy around the seat, but still managed to ride up. I actually feel like never doing testing again for anyone after that. I don’t understand how she keeps selling patterns.
    I have seen your comments on different reviews, and always think, how could any person who really is here to sew lovely well made clothes complain about your honest reviews, so these reflections you have written here are very refreshing. Thanks for taking time to teach us! It is so valuable to so many.

  • [email protected]

    Isn’t it amazing, that designers who consistently release products with problems in drafting/grading/instructions/fit keep selling?? It’s baffling to me….but then I suppose there are always new customers who don’t know the difference or don’t care, so the patterns keep selling. Especially if they are well marketed and supported by social media.

    What’s truly unfortunate, is when a designer is averse to feedback, as you experienced (what is the point of testing then, just to get pretty photos?) OR even worse, tells you that any issues are only your personal problem. Yes I’ve been told the same, when asking a question: you must not know how to sew very well. Seriously? I’ve worked in bridal too, and I doubt that bridal shops would trust their gown alterations to amateurs!

    Thanks for reading, and for your comments. I do try to be as honest and objective as possible!

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