Indie Pattern Companies or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Big 4, Part I

Warning: this is a long post, as I coalesce thoughts that I’ve had for a long time into words. I’m sharing this in two parts, as it ended up much longer than I expected. Bear with me – or not! 

 

A man riding a nuclear bomb. From Dr Strangelove.
My feels writing this post.

Indie sewing patterns: you either love them or you….love them. In the online sewing community, there seems to be little choice: the narrative is one of the Nasty Big 4 Corporations (McCall’s, Simplicity, Vogue and Butterick, alternately known as McVoguerick) wielding their industrial might to crush the little guy, indie pattern companies. They are the hero of this story, the hard-working small business owners come good. For a long while now, I’ve suspected that the success of indie pattern companies is built more on hype than good drafting, and the release of Colette Pattern’s Rue dress has brought these thoughts to a head.


But first, independent pattern companies. They are generally defined as anyone selling patterns bar the big names. Recent examples are Christine Haynes, Grainline Studio, Sewaholic Patterns, Oliver + S, By Hand London and the aforementioned Colette Patterns. Lines blur when independent companies become big enough to compete with the big guns, in some cases lasting for decades, such as Jalie, Hot Patterns, and Kwik Sew. On the other side of the spectrum lie Facebook and Etsy start-ups. There are too many to name, and as they are mainly popular with SAHM FB groups, I am not entirely familiar with them. But they have a cult following among their customers (some with upwards of 20,000 Facebook fans).

Indie sewing patterns share characteristics common to other cult products (more on that below): good marketing, a strong brand, a higher price point which customers are willing to pay because they believe the product is tangibly better than alternatives, and a brand awareness that stops at the borders of online communities (if I was to mention Grainline Studio in my local Spotlight, I would be met with blank stares).

I do live in a town where Maccas runs on horseback regularly makes the news, so maybe I shouldn’t expect our businesses to be on trend.

What is problematic is the lack of drafting knowledge or professional testing that is evident in some indie companies. Much has been written about the dubious practice of blog-tour style pattern testing, which is more akin to a promotion tour than a rigorous assessment of the technicalities of the pattern draft. There is some question as to whether a review that is done as a favour can ever be ethical* or a true critical test. It is also apparent that some indie patterns undergo little to no professional pattern testing.

Back to Rue. Colette made much of their new release, harking it as a “return to vintage.” I had high hopes that their brand, which had in the past been diluted by their Seamwork offerings, would be restored. At first blush, this seems to be the case: Rue is a unique dress pattern, with the kind of design details that shine in vintage dresses, and that Colette was known for. A closer inspection of the samples sewn so far proves less promising.

In the past, Colette had come under criticism for their too-wide necklines, and short, ill-fitting bodices. Obviously no sewing pattern will fit everyone straight out of the packet, but if a company is repeatedly receiving criticism for the same problem, then the problem most likely lies with the draft itself. Rue, unfortunately, repeats this issue with a neckline that is so wide, it is basically an off the shoulder design. The bodice seaming, which would make sense if used below the bust as a shaping feature, is visually jarring hitting so near the apex. And the sleeves seem incredibly constrictive, probably due to a bizarrely-shaped armhole.

A woman modelling Colette's Rue dress.
Courtesy of Colette Patterns.

Sarai, Colette’s founder, is short-waisted and wears a wide neckline well. It takes no great leap of logic to realise that Colette patterns are drafted to fit her body. And, true to form, her plaid Rue is the only one I have seen so far that comes close to fitting its wearer. It is so dramatically different to the other Rues, including the Colette samples, that I suspect the pattern has been significantly altered to look good on Sarai. Her claim that the good fit was due to the fabric stretching, with only a minor FBA made, doesn’t quite wash.

There is nothing wrong with an accomplished seamstress altering a pattern to fit her body. But it seems disingenuous to promote a pattern using a sewn sample which is not representative of what would be created using the pattern as-is.

The crotch area of Colette's Clover pants. The curves are strange and the hip curve quite dramatic.
Colette’s Clover crotch area. Notice the large hip curve and WTF IS GOING ON IN THE CROTCH I DON’T KNOW

This is not the first time I’ve taken issue with Colette Patterns. My Clover pants were a disaster, mainly due to the strange drafting. As you can see above, compared to other pants, the Clovers have a dramatic hip curve and unusual crotch – straight at the front, janky at the back. As Fashion Incubator illustrates, a straight crotch curve is a one-way ticket to camel toe.

Below is an illustration of how the wild hip curve works on someone who doesn’t have much weight in that area. Mum and I are about the same size, but different shapes: I carry my weight in my hip (high and low) and she carries hers in her waist. (Note that I altered the pattern slightly in the crotch and added an elastic waist.)

Two women wearing the same pants: on the left, a poor fit with many hip wrinkles. On the right, a better fit, but wrinkles still present.
Mum on the left: a hot mess. Me on the right. I cropped our feet to stave off fucking foot fetishist creeps.

And just to prove we are the same size, and a well-drafted garment can fit us equally as well:

Two women wearing pants; they fit each woman equally well.
Stretch pants from The Laboratory. Same style and size. Some wrinkles, but a much better fit overall.

I had to turn the light way up to see any detail, and the quality is truly potato, but you get the picture.

I don’t mean to single out Colette in this post, and I do truly admire Sarai, both as a businesswoman and designer. Crotch issues are a recurring meme in the world of indie designers. The muslin I made of Striped Swallow Design’s Coachella Shorts was one safety pin away from a nappy. The near-symmetrical crotch curve caused bubbling in the front, and a wedgie in the back. (See 7 Pine Design’s review for how to fix this issue.)

Two crotch curves: on the left, the Coachella crotch is straight and near-symmetrical. On the right, the Burda crotch is more curved with greater differentiation between the front and back.
Coachella crotch curve on the left: as straight as Cory Bernardi. Compare to the deeper curves from Burda’s similar Blossom Shorts.

What is truly sad about poorly-drafted patterns is that they can zap the confidence of beginner sewists by making them think they are at fault, rather than the pattern. The number of blog posts I have seen where the writer bemoans their inability to fit their clothes while using a pattern that was clearly not drafted for a human body is depressing. Reading pattern testers for Rue blame their lack of skill for the fact that they can’t move their arms in the dress, or fit their boobs in the bodice, is disheartening. The number of sewists who couldn’t make Tilly & The Buttons Bettine Dress fit was less due to their sewing, and more due to the fact that the front and back pieces of the dress were exactly the same.

Even I have been put off by a fight with a bad pattern – Megan Nielsen’s Brumby Skirt managed to body shame me (by making the XL far, far smaller than my Aus size 12 waist); make me feel crazy because I couldn’t fit the pattern pieces on my fabric, which was a good 1.2m longer than the requirements; and to top it off, the metal zip which was mandated in the instructions fell open due to its weight on the also-specified lightweight fashion fabric.

A woman wearing a chambray skirt (Brumby Skirt) and yellow top.
FUCK. YOU. BRUMBY. (A much-altered version)

Imagine how a beginner sewist feels when they sew something from a pattern that all their peers have promised is the Best Pattern Ever, only to find it looks like shit warmed up on them. It would be extremely discouraging, and I hate to think of how many potential sewists have been turned off sewing forever by a badly drafted pattern.

Ultimately, sewing patterns have to be body-shaped to fit well. This isn’t an easy task – pattern makers study for years to develop the skills of drafting a well-fitted pattern. I have the utmost respect for pattern makers and the hard work they put in to create something which looks effortlessly simple. Not coincidentally, it is pattern companies that are founded by those trained in the fashion industry which have reliable reputations: Jen of Grainline Studio studied fashion design and worked as a patternmaker for clothing labels, including her own. Style Arc patterns have a philosophy based on industry pattern design, as does Pattern Fantastique, and before she left Sewaholic Patterns, Tasia had worked in fashion production. Others, such as Jenny Rushmore’s Cashmerette, are run by blogging stars but hire professional pattern makers to realise their designs.

So don’t read this as a polemic against all indie pattern companies. I’ve sewn, and loved, plenty of indie patterns. Many sewists craft their dream wardrobes entirely from them. There are many, many badly drafted patterns out there – some indie, some not. I just feel some patterns more than others have been spared analysis by a critical eye.

A woman wearing a polka dot button up shirt and floral skirt.
My favourite skirt, Sewaholic Crescent Skirt. See? I’m not a totally hardened, indie-pattern hating bitch.

The most egregious case of brand loyalty gone too far is By Hand London. They built up their company selling vintage-style party dress patterns before deciding to branch out into custom fabric printing. Despite only being in operation for 2 years, they opened a Kickstarter to raise the £35,000 needed for their project. They raised just over their goal, at £37,033, by promising custom prints and a curated gallery of ready-made designs. Their fabric range launched November 2014, and by April next year, BHL announced the printing business was not viable, and they were unable to fulfil all Kickstarter rewards. It seems truly bizarre that a company that had only just started to earn enough to pay salaries and rent, and still found themselves running losses, thought they were in a financial position to start a new enterprise like fabric printing. I guess that was the point: they weren’t in a financial position to do so, hence the Kickstarter. Their fans could pay their business expenses instead of them.

If I was a Kickstarter backer for BHL, I would feel cheated – especially those poor chumps who pledged over £100 (32, according to Kickstarter). Yes, the nature of Kickstart campaigns is intrinsically uncertain, but I feel the team at BHL played on the goodwill of their customers with this campaign. The admission that they basically had no idea what they were doing, then realised they didn’t even have enough capital to print paper patterns, suggests that the campaign should never have been started. I can’t see Simplicity patterns frittering away nearly £30,000 of their fan’s money.

monorail-full
An artist’s impression of By Hand London’s business plan.

And as for the dreaded Big 4 patterns? I understand some criticism, such as producing out-of-date designs, including excessive ease, and not having easily accessible PDF patterns. There is a fair argument to be made that they do not adequately cater for plus size sewists, as after a certain size range, the grading gets really funky (such as armholes down to the wearer’s waist). But as for their behemoth reputation, McCall’s only employs 80 people – not many when you consider they publish over 700 patterns each year. They are also collaborating more and more with big names in blogging, blurring the line further between independent designs and big name companies.

Pattern image of Simplicity 2828: two girls forced to dress as unfashionable cossacks.
This was the image they chose to showcase this pattern. Really.

Wait for Part II, where I finally put my psyc degree into practice.

UPDATE: Part II is published!

*There is whole other argument to be made about the systemic devaluing of what is traditionally considered “women’s work,” but that’s a topic for another post.

Author: Siobhan S

20 something, living in country Australia. Spoonie profile: ME/CFS, dysautonomia, anxiety. All about sewing, knitting and food. Unapologetic feminist and disability advocate.

39 thoughts on “Indie Pattern Companies or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Big 4, Part I”

  1. Completely agree! I can see there is definitely a bit of a “cult” mindset, not just with Colette, but with a lot of indie pattern companies. I think that because we can see the people behind the company, have gotten to know them through their blogs and often feel like they are friends, people tend not to want to critisise them as much. Unlike the Big 4 which are just evil corporate entities 😉

    I think the positive thing about indie patterns is that they do tend to design for a different body type to the Big 4, and if you find your “match”, you are set. For someone with a body shape like Sarai, Colette patterns might fit straight out of the envelope and be awesome! Personally I am a Sewaholic fan girl – the only adjustment I generally need to make is adding a bit of length to the bodice. So there is definitely a place for them in the sewing landscape. But maybe they shouldn’t be revered quite so religiously 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do love Sewaholic! Even though I’m not their body type. You’re absolutely right about finding your body pattern “match” – mine is Burda so I tend to fangirl over them a bit.

      There is definitely a place for indie patterns as you say, I just feel they should be regarded with the same critical eye you would use on a McCall’s pattern, for instance.

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  2. Agree with most of this. I’ve noticed something else a little bit strange lately. I bought a sew simple magazine which came with a ‘cotton + chalk’ pattern called the Rosie dress, which is _exactly_ the same pattern as kwiksew 4068. Threadcount 1610 from Simply sewing mag is a rebadged kwiksew 3929 and the earlier threadcount 1501 is Butterick 5982. What is with this ‘indifying’ of Big 4? Maybe it’s not so strange. Big 4 licensing patterns to the sewing magazines so they can rebrand them in an indie style and sell them as something a bit different.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is really bizarre. I guess, props to Kwik Sew and Butterick if they can increase their customer base like that. It might be telling of the appeal of indie patterns if Kwik Sew et al can dolly up their pattern art and sell to the indie crowd.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Do we know for a fact that the Big Four have licensed these designs to magazines/Indies? I would be careful about promulgating that sort of information without substantiation from the Big Four. Is there any?

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  3. I’m nearly afraid to admit how much I enjoyed reading this, LOL! xD I feel like I have enough thoughts and opinions on this particular topic to write an entire blog post (or Dog help us, SERIES OF POSTS) of my own, but will try to keep it short here in your space! =/

    You are very right that the indie pattern companies seem to get the “kid gloves” treatment while many people feel entitled to be more critical of the Big 4. I think it’s partly to do with the positioning of many indies as their customers’ friends or online gal-pals rather than as business entities (which is what they are, if they charge money for a product!) and then hiding behind pseudo-feminist tropes about how women should be supportive of other women and not be meannnnnn and blah blah fucking blah (a personal bugbear for me anywhere, but in the sewing world, especially in light of dust-ups about pattern testing and criticism of indie drafting, etc.).

    BMV and Simplicity have stepped up their social media efforts in the last couple of years, and I think that’s a great choice for them to humanize themselves and connect with their audience, both existing and potential. But at the end of the day, if you sell something to someone for money, you are a business; you have a responsibility to your customers, and we as customers have the responsibility to the businesses we patronize AND to other consumers to give honest feedback that is rooted in truth and facts and in a good-faith effort to make things better for all parties involved. That has to go for indies AND the Big 4!

    I for one appreciate the willingness of some folks–including you!–in the sewing community to be critical or skeptical out loud, especially if they have experience and technical understanding of drafting and design. I am not very good about that myself but am wondering if I am helping to do a disservice to new sewers who end up feeling how you describe above: like THEY are the problem rather than a pattern, simply because almost no one will speak up and point them to better resources or help them learn how and when to be critical, and what exactly it is they should be critical OF vis a vis pattern drafting and design.

    Similar to some of what you say above, there are certain “indie” companies that I really respect because they clearly have the technical knowledge backing them up–Named (who solidified my fangirl-dom by releasing a free sleeve piece AND a modified shoulder/armhole section for their Kielo dress, which is designed to be sleeveless originally; that shows a very concrete understanding of drafting and design sensibility AND a certain respect for their customers), Grainline, Sewaholic, Style Arc, and a few others come to mind. (And while I know there is a HUGE difference between designing and drafting, Grainline sometimes baffles me with their often-very-simplistic design aesthetic even though I know the drafting is there, LOL.)

    Anyway, I’m sorry this ended up being sooooo long. (I feel like that random woman in Mean Girls who just has a lot of feelings, LOL.) Thank you for sharing your point of view and starting/refreshing this conversation here on your blog! I’m looking forward to future installments for sure, hehe! =)

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    1. Hey, no apologies needed – I loved your comment! I wanted to start a discussion and I’m glad so many have felt free to contribute their thoughts, here and on Instagram. Yes, yes yes! To the feminist reading of this issue. I completely agree that women are expected to be “nice” and keep their true thoughts and opinions to themselves, lest they be know as bossy, bitchy or a nag. And having indie companies who may start off as a blogging pal, then launch a business, really muddies that waters. It is frustrating to read pattern “testing” in which the blogger dances around the fact that she has sewn a wadder which will never see the light of day again – they are too afraid of not seeming nice to share their true feelings.

      I love Grainline, Sewaholic and Style Arc, and have been impressed so far by my experience with Pattern Fantastique’s Aoelian Tee. Jalie also have really solid patterns. And like I said in the post, I totally respect bloggers who recognise a niche and start a company, but are aware they don’t have the technical drafting skills to fulfil their vision, so they hire a professional patternmaker (like Cashmerette). That also shows respect for their customers.

      I haven’t sewn Named yet, but am very keen to try!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Completely agree on those folks who find an under-served market and cater to it well, a la Cashmerette–I am very impressed by that level of self-awareness and determination to provide a quality product/experience, for sure. =) And thank you for sharing some other companies that you’ve had good experiences with: I will have to check them out! (In the case of Style Arc, I actually have a handful of patterns but haven’t gotten to them yet. Having a mile-long “to sew” queue will do that, LOL!)

        Testing posts in my feed tend to just get marked as read anymore–it’s not a proper “test” scenario if you show it to everyone like it’s the final version that’s for sale! And if you did test it and have a garment to share from the *finalized* version of the pattern, that’s fine! Awesome! Great! Show us! Just don’t call it a “test”: call it a free copy for review or in exchange for testing the test version, which is private because IT WAS A TEST. Gah! x’D

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  4. I couldn’t agree more, especially as regards the Rue and By Hand London. When I first started sewing clothes, I thought I preferred indies because of a string of fails with Big 4 patterns and a few successes with indies. I’ve come to appreciate the Big 4 because of the great value for the price compared to indies (at least in the US; I understand that they’re not as cheap elsewhere). I’ve also begun comparing patterns to those that I know fit me well so I can make flat pattern adjustments before making a muslin, and that’s helped immensely. I honestly don’t know what people are talking about with excess ease in Big 4 patterns, but maybe that’s more of a problem with the smaller sizes. I’m usually at the top of the size chart, and I often have to *add* ease for my waist and hips. I do always cut a much smaller shoulder/neck and do a cheater or real FBA, so if the ease complaints have to do with the upper body, I do get that.

    The Rue is truly bonkers, and I cannot understand what Colette was thinking. They seem to be too insular and self-congratulatory regarding their ideas, which leads to bad products. They seem to think the Rue is a fabulous idea, but anyone who knows half a thing about pattern drafting knows those gathers make no sense coming from the apex of the bust. Sarai’s version with the gathers under the bust is actually great, but if she’s telling the truth and the bodice lengthened unintentionally, that says bad things about both Colette’s drafting and her sewing skills. I am truly so baffled by this dress, including their advice in the sewalong to choose a size based on your waist measurement. It really makes me wonder if they’re all experiencing a mass delusion over there because that advice is so wrongheaded and the pattern is so ill-shaped as drafted. They seem to really be digging in their heels over this one and refusing to admit their errors, but I guess I’d probably do the same if I was whack enough to come up with such an idea for bodice seaming in the first place. I’m going on about this at quite some length, but I really just cannot understand it. And By Hand London, ugh. I will never buy anything from them based on complaints I’ve seen about their drafting and more importantly, their unethical business practices. I am disgusted that they thought it was okay to just abscond with 30k of other people’s money.

    I think that in general, when indies use their founders at fit models, things go awry. We’re all uniquely shaped, and using a single individual to shape a pattern can lead to lots of fit problems for everyone else. With Sewaholic, who I love, I think that Tasia drafted for her shape, but not her particular body, if that makes sense. Her patterns fit so many people so well that I don’t think her draft was based on the quirks of one particular body. Jen of Grainline has also said that she’s not the fit model for her draft and she has to make alterations to get her own patterns to fit her (or alternatively, that she has to actually draft a pattern rather than just grading her version up and down in the cases where she publishes patterns that are garments she’d been making for herself like the Penny raglan). Jen, Tasia, and Chloe from Style Arc have training in pattern drafting, but I’ve never been able to ascertain what experience or credentials Sarai has or if she even drafts her own patterns. I haven’t sewn any Cashmerette patterns yet (I do own one), but I respect her business plan to use her ideas for patterns and her business know-how but get a professional to draft the patterns unlike so many small pattern start-ups. Pattern drafting is not easy, and I don’t understand why so many people feel they can just jump into it with no training. Perhaps it’s because I’m a lifelong student (though I hope to be done soon!), but I would never presume to be an expert in an area where I’ve had zero training.

    I’m really ranting now, so I’ll stop so I can go read part 2, but suffice to say that I think you are right on, and anyone who takes issue with what you’re saying here is not looking at this issue rationally. And as you say, it concerns me that people might be turned away from sewing because they think they’re bad at fitting rather than recognizing that some of these patterns are just garbage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate the rant! You’ve summed up my thoughts on this issue. I also have no idea what people are talking about when they bag the ease in Big 4. Sometimes I think it is people who are used to super-fitted bodices and they don’t understand design ease (a tunic is never going to fit closely to the body, nor should it).

      Everything about Rue is perplexing to me. After her post on listening to criticism, I thought they would really make some changes, but apparently not. Choosing a size by your waist measurement? Really? And one look at that armhole on the flat pattern tells you it is not drafted correctly. Sometimes I wonder if there is anyone who actually knows pattern drafting well at Colette, or if they are all stuck in a whitebread hipster echo chamber.

      I am so, so shocked at the lack of criticism directed at BHL about the Kickstarter. THEY TOOK YOUR MONEY! Again, these ideas for printing fabric and extending beyond their means were probably formed in an echo chamber where criticism is frowned upon in favour of being “nice.” I’m super suspicious of their drafting based on their ease – most patterns have about 1″ or less ease throughout, which is hardly enough to breathe!

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      1. Love this blog post, your writing skill, your subject matter, and your honesty. Well done. I just found your blog and am looking forward to reading part 2 of this topic next and then exploring the rest of your posts.

        I did want to question this, though … “Lines blur when independent companies become big enough to compete with the big guns, in some cases lasting for decades, such as Jalie, Hot Patterns, and Kwik Sew.”

        I understand KS being in the “blurred lines” category, especially now that they are part of the McVoguerick evil empire (tongue in cheek), although they did start quite small and became very popular due to their focus on knits when knits were new, techniques, solid drafts, and the best instructions around (pffft to the current indies). But Jalie and Hot Patterns are still the literal definition of “indie” patterners. Trudy and Jeremy (married to each other) run HP out of their house. Jalie is a mom/daughter operation; Jeanne (mom) and Émilie (daughter) run Jalie from their native Canada location very efficiently and successfully but still small-scale and independently.

        Just thought you’d want to know.

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        1. Thanks for your kinds words Debbie – it means a lot coming from someone who I know has a lot of sewing experience and isn’t afraid to be honest in appraising patterns.

          Perhaps I phrased that paragraph poorly – I am aware the Hot Patterns and Jalie are very much indie companies. I meant to use them as examples of indie companies done good, as they have lasted for many years and have solid business practices which can make them competitive to the Big 4 (especially in terms of specialist active wear etc). I was trying to make a contrast between them, indie companies which may be doing well now but have a questionable lifespan, and the dodgy, innumerous Etsy and Facebook sellers who seem to pop up like mushrooms after rain.

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      2. I’m petite and have never found this mythological ease issue in any of the Big Four patterns I’ve used. I really think this is more a matter of vanity self measuring and not knowing how to pick out the correct size pattern. I have seen Indie sites where this myth is reinforced over and over without proof by faux designers to their followers. Many fangurls won’t touch the Big Beasty Four because of all that nasty ease and really don’t know what they are talking about. Until you’ve made a few garments from the correct size pattern this is all “fuzzy math”. But isn’t it all so much easier to blame than to try?

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        1. Absolutely, Bunny! By Hand London is an especially bad case of this – their patterns contain about 1″ of ease all around. Really that isn’t even enough to breathe in a woven garment. Indies definitely promote this idea of a very fitted garment, and that patterns shouldn’t contain much ease – but really it is down to the design. I feel like a lot of the criticism of ease in the Big 4 comes from people not understanding that different designs require different amounts of ease. I might have said this in another comment. If you’re making a tunic dress, don’t expect it to only have 3cm bust ease, and if you choose a size based on that finished measurement, there is no way the armhole will fit.

          I might add I’m guilty of vanity sizing myself 😉

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  5. Thank you for your comments on the Clover pants! They are the first pair I tried making, only to give up in despair. I’ve been scared of making pants ever since.

    I think Colette’s main problem (other than stubbornness, head in the sand, and denial) is incompetence on the part of the team. They are too busy doing yoga, eating cake, going swimming, squealing about cat fabrics, and hosting read-alongs. I suspect that they were hired more for their “hipness” or aesthetic instead of their actual skills, qualifications, or training in design or pattern drafting. Most of their blog posts say nothing of substance. They also over-extended whatever skill base they do have by trying to do a magazine and monthly patterns on top of running their main business-Colette. . Any semblance of quality is going to decline if there are too many projects.

    I also wonder if they went “basic” (a la Seamwork) to cover up or deal with a lack of technical skill on their part. Then the sewing community got upset because it left its vintage aesthetic and Colette rebranded again. But lo and behold, they discover they don’t actually know how to draft something as complex as the Rue. The brave thing to do would be to do some firing and hiring – of actual, skilled pattern drafters, even if they are 53 years old, dumpy, and will never wear the clothes they design, let alone be photographed in their patterns or do yoga for the blog. Instead, Colette is choosing to deny there is any problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh god, the yoga. What was that even about?! I’m not sure what their skillset is but Colette’s staff have a very definite ‘look’ and I suspect they are hired to fit a profile.

      I’m sorry about the Clovers, but don’t give up on sewing pants! It is actually really easy – my first ‘proper’ sewing project was a pair of Burda shorts. I highly recommend Style Arc’s Elle pant – it is well-drafted, true to size, and easily accessible as a PDF download from their Etsy store (though they don’t layer sizes). As long as you use the recommended fabric or one with an equal amount of stretch, you’re bound to have a winner. I’m wearing mine right now while sewing another pair!

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  6. +1
    When I started sewing (3.5 years ago), I would see some new indie pattern and people would lose their minds and I would be so confused. So. Confused.

    And then Tasia released the Tofino pj pants and people went Gaga for them and I said something about it and the fan girls came down on me.

    So I patently avoided Indie patterns and Indie pattern releases because it was crazy! The comments? How nice of a person Tasia was.

    She does seem to be and I do like many of her patterns (the Minoru is amazing). But I didn’t understand what that had to do with $17 pajama pants that looked no different than what Butterick has 20 patterns for.

    I love Big4 and Burda mag. I know what size to use and what adjustments to make. I will never in life make 5 muslins of a pattern. It isn’t that serious for me…

    But I still shy away from buying Indie patterns. I feel there is very little that I can’t find with Big4 or Burda. And being in the US, very little to make me part with $15-25 for a single pattern. Oh I like Style Arc too but their instructions are so bad!

    I just realized most of my Indie patterns (aside from SA and Jalie) are for outerwear. I have the Minoru, Clare coat and Cascade. But I feel like those were truly unique offerings and worth jumping on. I’m gearing up to sew the Clare next month. Fingers crossed.

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    1. Yeh, I do admit to liking Sewaholic but those PJ pants were a bit WTF. They just have seaming and piping …. Not worth the big bucks.

      I think a lot of the appeal of Big 4 + Burda is consistency – you know what size you are in them, you know the draft will be generally good and of the same quality, and you won’t have some batshit crazy ill fitting garment that some indie patterns can spring on you.

      Good luck with the Clare coat! I’m looking forward to seeing yours made up.

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  7. “they are all stuck in a whitebread hipster echo chamber”

    So. Much. This!
    Sarai is trying to turn Colette into the Portland Martha Stewart Living. She’s trying to create the next big lifestyle brand. I’m waiting for the inevitable BHL-style implosion.

    When Colette first came out, I made a couple of their patterns. The Negroni was an absolute waste of fabric. I had to do so many alterations to get it to fit my husband and I hated it with burning passion by the time I was done. The Rooibos dress was a disaster, though I originally thought it was because I was wishful thinking that the style would look good on me. The last straw was the Lady Grey coat. I never made it past the muslin stage because it made me look like I’m a mile wide and the proportions were terrible. Yet everyone on the Pattern Review site was raving about how great it looked. I thought, did any of them look in a mirror? All but one looked like the dog’s dinner. And yes, while they make noises about wanting feedback and honest criticism, Sarai and the Colette coterie’s actions speak louder than their words.

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    1. I always feel sad when I think of the wasted fabric, time and energy poured into patterns that weren’t worth it! I had been holding out hopes that the Rooibos might be OK, so thanks for letting me know it’s another disaster.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if companies (and fans) were open to feedback and constructive criticism?

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  8. I whole heartedly agree with everything you’ve said here. It’s been on my mind for a few years actually and it’s something that, personally, I’ve been afraid to speak up about. I have tried a lot of Indie Sewing Patterns and I’ve had many many more fails than jackpots. I rarely talk about the fails though and I probably should. I’m not just talking about fitting problems either because we all have those with every pattern. But there seems to be a correlation with not only fitting disasters, but poor drafting workmanship AND major design flaws (Rue I’m looking at you and those crazy bust tucks that are in a very odd place on the bodice), especially in regards to Indie’s. Yes, not all of them are this way, but several are.

    I also have to admit that I hear all the time about the excessive ease situation of the Big 4. I’ve even written here and there about it because I’ve bought into the idea that they have excessive ease, but I’ve felt differently about it lately. If I’m being honest, I have to say, the size I pick according to Big 4 charts that corresponds with my bust/upper bust measurement really does give me a pretty good base to work from. Sure I have to make several fitting alterations/adjustments, but I’m only 1 inch off from my waist and hip measurements (I’m in between sizes) and the pattern itself still works quite well. I’ve made a lot of Big 4 patterns and while I’m not sold on envelope art, I’ve learned to look past that and focus on design – even though I have to say that it’s nice to see a live model in the dress just to see what’s going on. I would like to add that in more recent years, I’ve personally kept my main pattern purchasing to Big 4. A lot of the indie designs end up being found in the Big 4 catalogue anyway and then I don’t have to deal with serious drafting problems, leading to major fitting problems or poor design choices (or can we talk about bad advice – like Colette saying that you should determine your pattern size for Rue based off of your waist measurement????). I did fall for Rue (I didn’t think those were bust tucks, but a design line based off of the dresses on the model) and then I saw the “pattern tester/advertiser” versions and wanted to cry because I had shelled out my own good money for it.

    It’s my personal opinion that since the McVoguerick has been doing this for sooooooooo long, they must be doing some things right. I feel like for the most part, they make pretty solid patterns and they have pretty solid offerings. I feel they could definitely work with someone to update instructions, but on the other hand, get a book specifically for sewing certain things like jackets or knits and you’ll learn heaps more than ANY pattern instructions could give you – except for maybe Claire Schaeffer’s Vogue pattern instructions. I’m a Burda fangirl too. Especially their pants which are expertly drafted in my opinion.

    Thanks so much for writing this – I look forward to reading your next installment!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It can be natural to not want to share your fails – I have that tendency too – but it is so beneficial to other sewists to see when a pattern goes wrong.

      I mentioned before I don’t quite get the excess ease argument. The only time I’ve run into that is in children’s costumes, which had about 10cm ease all around, but I figure kids need a lot of room to move (especially when they are pretending to be cheerleaders etc). The Big 4 are slowly improving their pattern art and styles – I really like Cynthia Rowley’s range and the repro patterns.

      That waist measurement thing is like the ultimate in WTF-ery. Way to ensure that every beginner who sews your pattern ends up with a wadder.

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  9. I’m so loving your blog — I really enjoy your honesty and logical arguments!

    I haven’t been sewing apparel for very long, and I started out with indie patterns, so I think that I’m guilty of brainlessly subscribing to the idea of Big 4’s excessive ease. I should make up more Big 4 patterns before letting my opinion solidify! 😁

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  10. You’ve totally hit the nail on the head!

    The issue here is really simple, as I see it. People are either professional or they are not. Professional means you have real training, have spent time working in the industry learning how real companies do things, and you have knowledge and experience about what you are doing.

    So many indie pattern companies have been started by people who are NOT professional. They learned to sew and they had a dream to start their own line of sewing patterns. Knowing how to sew, knowing how to design clothing, and knowing how draft patterns are three very different things! Just because you can do one does not mean you know how to do the other two. And people just don’t seem to get that.

    So kudos to people like Trudi from Hot Patterns and Liesl from Oliver + S/Liesl + Co. who really know how to design and draft patterns because they have the training and experience in the industry. And kudos to Jenny from Cashmerette who realizes that because she can sew DOES NOT mean she can draft a pattern so she hired a professional to do that for her! But shame on people like Sarai who has no background or training in pattern making and on all the SAHMs who don’t either who continue to make and sell product that no professional would ever be proud of creating.

    With so many indie pattern companies, the real skill sets lie in photography and marketing, not in product development of the type of product they are creating and selling to us. I hope people wake up to this soon. Your post may help some people see that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you mentioned Liesl, as I really admire her patternmaking skills and business acumen. She and Todd are the definition of professional in how they run their business, and she is very good at designing to a certain “image” – all her pattern lines have a very distinct look and style to them. Even Lisette for Simplicity is different to Lisette for Butterick. And she doesn’t fall into that trap of designing for herself or her body.

      I wish there were more indie companies run by professionals!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and I found your post through Carolyn’s amazing post as well. You’ve both touched on what I’ve been feeling about for a long time, and thank you for writing this!

    For the Rue dress, I was tempted to buy this, oh so tempted! I loved Sarai’s plaid dress, the fit was amazing. I waited a little bit longer and they had a post where they showcased other makers in their Rue dress. Oh my, that seam was not where I expected them to be, nothing like Sarai’s plaid dress. In my head, I tried to figure out how to lower the seam. As much as I love solving puzzles, I figured it wasn’t worth it.

    I recently conquered the Laurel dress again. Previously, I made three muslins to try to get the right fit. I threw it aside because no matter what I did, it didn’t fit. I figured it was me and my skills. (I had recently got back into sewing) Fast forward 4-5 years later and three more muslins, the fit is better, but the neckline is still wide. It’s a minor problem, if I take into account all the changes I’ve made to it. When I looked at the sleeve pattern recently, I thought it looked weird, but chalked it up to me not knowing any better because I’m not a pattern drafter. There’s something about that shoulder line that I can’t pinpoint. It doesn’t fit right. Would it have been easier to alter a big 4? Probably. I wonder if someone else was in my position and how frustrated they would be trying to make it fit.

    I do love Sewaholic’s patterns! Their bottoms fit me because it’s designed for pear shaped bodies and all I have to do is a FBA and I’m good as gold! I’ve never ran across any issues with their patterns. May be I should alter the Alma into a sheath dress very similar to the Laurel and add the ruffle sleeve detail that I love. I’ve always wondered if it’s wrong to take elements of an indie pattern that I like, such as the ruffles, and apply it to another pattern that fits, Alma. I’ve thought it was always wrong because I’m pirating someone’s idea. That’s a complete tangent.

    Thank you for your post! You and Carolyn voiced concerns we’ve been all thinking about and by doing this you’re allowing us to have a great conversation!

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    1. I’m really glad that so many people in the SBC have been open to having this conversation. I think it marks a big change in attitude towards indie patterns. Do check out Crabigail Adam’s blog as she has also written on this issue with a scathing review of Rue.

      I use well-fitting patterns as the base for others all the time! It’s nowhere near pirating; in fact I’m sure the pattern maker would be pleased as it is ultimately promotion for their design. But if you want a well-fitting shift dress, try Simplicity 1609 or Burda 09/2012 #107 (available as a download from their website). They both have incredibly flattering features such as French darts, are well-drafted, and I think look good on whoever makes them. I’ve made the Simplicity pattern for friends and the Burda multiple times for myself.

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  12. Thanks for writing this! I have been bemused by Colette’s behavior for so long — the podcasts, the magazine, the seamwork pattern — when they couldn’t even get the basic draft right. And yes, I do remember the Dahlia with a neckline that fell off everyone, and the Wren with its gigantic armscyes. I think that they were fully planning to ignore comments on the Rue as well, only it was given to the Pattern Review Sewing Bee contestants and then they couldn’t ignore how every single contestant had problems with this dress. That said, if the Rue had been drafted well (with those curved lines and tucks below the bust) it would have been quite lovely, so I’m planning to recreate it starting with a well fitting bodice.

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    1. I’d forgotten about the Dahlia! Ah, what a train wreck that was. I look forward to seeing your self drafted Rue – something tells me it will be better than Colette’s version 😉

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  13. I cannot thank you enough for this well written, thoughtful candid post. I am one of those beginner sewers who has gotten pulled into the indie pattern rabbit hole.
    I acknowledge I have a lot to learn — I certainly can’t blame all my mistakes on poor pattern drafting, but it is helpful to read there’s nothing wrong with viewing a pattern (indie or otherwise) with a critical eye. I am returning to sewing and hope to learn from bloggers like you how to gain a sense of what patterns will be a good base/starting point for my body type.

    Even before the Rue débâcle, I was becoming less attracted to Colette patterns. The blog and website is obviously geared towards a particular look and demographic. I felt the company was focused more on engaging readers towards a lifestyle and less on developing well drafted, well tested patterns.
    Thanks again.

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    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Cynthia, I’m glad my post resonated with you. I wish you the best of luck with returning to sewing and hope you find many patterns you can make and enjoy!

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  14. Hey Siobhan! Charlotte from By Hand London here. I think it’s safe to say the power of hindsight makes it clear to us that we were in no shape to take on a facet to the business as complex and capital intensive as textile printing…. However, I really reeeeeally want to emphasise a point about the Kickstarter rewards that perhaps we didn’t make it very clear in this post back in 2015:
    https://byhandlondon.com/blogs/by-hand-london/17991392-some-heavy-hearts-and-some-pretty-big-news-from-us
    We were always adamant that, if we were successful, priority no.1 was to fulfil our rewards. And, to the best of my knowledge, all of our backers – bar a handful only – who were owed and wanted their reward received theirs. That handful that didn’t receive theirs was because they didn’t reply to my emails asking for their postal address or to upload their custom fabric designs before we sold the printer on.

    C.

    PS
    Slightly separate, but since you address it in your post here I just wanted to point out something about our pattern drafting. Bar our first print run of the Charlotte Skirt and Elisalex Dress (our first ever patterns), we do the design only and have always used a professional pattern cutter who has over 30 years experience working for British high street brands. And we do that because we learned the hard way! That first run was not right, a fact pointed out to us on a sewing blog (House of Pinheiro) and which we took super seriously, redrafted with a professional, reprinted and resent out to all wholesalers and direct customers.

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  15. If only I could join the gorgeous design of indie patterns to the pattern drafting of the big four! I have resorted to using big four patterns as a starting point to draft my own designs. I am happy someone is talking about this issue, I recently cut muslins for an indie dress pattern and was shocked at how strange the darts were. I was more shocked that although my measurements were exactly the same as the size I cut out, the bodice did not fit in any way, I couldnt even close the front it was so small. Was the pattern even tested? Three muslins later and ive thrown the pattern in the bin. Not happy after spending $30.

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