Mean Girlzzz: How dissenting women are silenced in the online sewing community

An image of the Mean Girls cast, with fingers to their lips.

From a young age, women are taught to suppress their voices. Women who offer opinions in the public sphere or voice dissent risk being labelled “shrill”, “nagging”, or “bitchy”. It is disappointing, but not surprising, when men try to silence women with dated stereotypes. What is truly upsetting is when women join in, and become complicit in their own oppression. Yet I believe this is what is happening in some pockets of the online sewing community.

We have internalised misogynist stereotypes about women, to our downfall. Some women in the online sewing community feel unable to criticise or be honest about their experiences with patterns, lest they be perceived as damaging friendships or being “mean girls”. These stereotypes are perpetuated with faux feminist campaigns that are so anti-women they would make 70s Germaine Greer weep.*

A cover of Life Magazine from the 1970s, featuring Germaine Greer with the title, saucy feminist that even men like.
Hmmmm.

I previously addressed some issues I had with attitudes towards indie pattern companies in the posts: Indie Pattern Companies or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Big 4, Part I & Part II. Now I wish to delve into the reasons I believe the online sewing community has, at large, been so fearful of criticism.

The online sewing community is largely dominated by women. I do not mean to say that men don’t exist in the SBC, or are unwelcome (I wish more men would take up sewing!), just that they are far and few between. This means that the overall tone of the sewing community is also dominated by women, and by society’s perception of women.

More often than not, this is a blessing. In Fight Like a Girl, Clementine Ford talks about her “girl gangs” who support her through thick and thin, and help her find pride in her womanhood. The girlfriends I have met through sewing have been some of the most amazing, clever and supportive people I have ever known, and I am grateful for their friendship.

An image of the Spice Girls.
Ah, Girl Power. The refrain of my childhood.

However, this blessing can become a curse when internalised misogyny rears its ugly head. When our friendships become forced or perverted by those who would commodify our relationships. And when our criticism is silenced by those who would have us believe that friendships with other women (or “girls”) are mutually exclusive with honesty.

As I mentioned above, the friendships shared through the online sewing community are one of its greatest assets. But what happens when your friend creates a business from their blog? Are you free to criticise their work freely, as you migrate from friend to customer? Or are the lines now so blurred that you feel unable to offer an honest opinion of the product they are selling you?

Lionel Hutz.
There’s the truth….and the truth.

This issue came to a head with the release of Colette Pattern’s Rue dress. A summary for those on the sidelines: Colette made a post about listening to customer complaints and going back to what they do best, that is, releasing interesting, vintage-style patterns. Their following pattern release, the Rue dress, was a clusterfuck. It was poorly drafted. It didn’t seem to fit anyone well except Colette’s founder and current owner Sarai, who claimed to make no adjustments to the pattern. Colette was tone-deaf to criticism until Pattern Review, possibly the world’s most influential sewing website, announced that all contestants in their 2016 Sewing Bee had to make a version of the Rue dress.

One of the most stunning iterations of the Rue Dress, by contestant Jholstro. Much altered.
One of the most stunning iterations of the Rue Dress, by contestant Jholstro. Pattern much altered.

Shit hit the fan when the contestants, who are generally experienced sewists, reported an unworkable pattern. Those who succeeded in creating a workable finished garment either drafted Rue’s style lines onto their own block, or made up to six (SIX!) muslins.** Forced into a corner by public pressure, Colette announced a retreat, of sorts: anyone could download a revised bodice pattern, and those who purchased printed patterns from them would get a new pattern sent out.

However, there was no mention made of refunds and very little fault admitted. The apology which followed this announcement did nothing to quell my concern about the tone of Colette’s concessions.

To my eye, Sarai’s apology on the Colette blog was more about eliciting sympathy than offering genuine contrition. No matter how many times she used the words “mistake” and “regret,” the overall tone was one of someone who made a bit of a boo-boo and deserved a pat on the back for being #sobrave to come forward about it. No mention was made of the fact that it was external forces only which compelled Colette to do something about Rue, nor was an appropriate apology offered to those who had spent big bucks on what was essentially a fraudulent product, including those contestants on Pattern Review who were compelled to sew a copy to remain in the competition.

The essence of Colette's apology.
The essence of Colette’s apology.

The comparison of charging a premium for a defective product to setting in a sleeve the wrong side round was insulting. Most of the post seemed lost in marketing babble. The crux of the apology, that Colette is now hiring both a professional pattern-maker and a plus size fit model, is welcome but raises more questions.

Who exactly was doing the pattern drafting for Colette before hiring this professional? When Sarai alludes to the fact that many cooks (ie, her six colleagues) spoil the broth, what role did each team member play in the pattern drafting process? This question becomes more important if you consider that potentially none of these team members may have experience in pattern drafting. And why was the plus size fit model not mentioned by name, despite several references to Hilary, their current fit model?

An image of Hilda, the plus size pin up from the 50s. She rides a broom naked, with her privates strategically covered.
Until evidence is produced to the contrary, I’m picturing their fit model as being Hilda the plus size pin up.

I put some of these questions to Sarai in the comments, and as yet, they remain unanswered. To be honest, I was surprised my comment was published at all, given Colette’s reputation for “moderating” even vaguely critical comments. So as much as I wish Colette has turned over a new leaf, I fear from the tone of Sarai’s post that they are continuing to do what they have done in the past: put on a slick marketing front and let substance fall to the sideline. The fact that they released a premium “sewing planner” in the midst of this debacle, which could be purchased for the low low cost of $28USD and up to $62.45AUD, only confirmed these suspicions.

A scene from the Simpsons, of Homer's head. Caption reads, twenty dollars can buy many peanuts. Explain how.
I think I’d rather buy many peanuts.

What was even more concerning were the revelations coming from a prominent sewing blogger about Colette’s attitude towards pattern testers. Sunni of A Fashionable Stitch wrote on the Pattern Review and GOMI forums that she was an original pattern tester for Colette, and when she raised concerns that pattern testers’ feedback was not being incorporated into the final product, she received “an email from Colette that basically emotionally blackmailed into thinking that I was all over the top wrong”.

Sunni revealed more in an email to me:

The email I was sent from Colette changed the way I blogged. I didn’t feel confident to bring to light any indie pattern disaster I experienced because I would be called out as not being supportive or encouraging. After this whole Rue debacle + the planner + the photoshopped Wren and the pattern testing issue, I have lost all confidence in anything that Colette does. I will likely never purchase another product from them.

To treat someone who was not only a customer and friend, but a colleague this way is unprofessional, to say the least (Sunni ran an online sewing shop for a time, which briefly expanded into a bricks and mortar retail store). That Colette would suppress criticism and attack one of their pattern testers for offering an opinion hints at a nasty underbelly that lurks beneath their kinfolk, yoga-practicing, hipster image.

Colette’s problems are ultimately that of a business failure: not enough expertise, too many staff hired too quickly, with very little definition of roles, and a culture inured to honest appraisal. But their continued attempts to silence critical voices, often under the guise of promoting blogger “relationships”, is indicative of a wider issue within the sewing community. Sunni stated in her post, “this is so unsettling and very, very upsetting.” I agree.

An image of a group of women performing downward dog.
Colette Patterns: too much yoga, not enough introspection.

As a beginner sewist, I devoured the insightful posts Gertie would share on her Blog for Better Sewing. Much of what I learnt from sewing came from her attempts to recreate vintage looks, and she often prompted interesting discussion amongst her readers on topics from feminism to vintage underwear. But her latest offering left a sour taste in my mouth.

Gretchen Hirsch's Instagram, featuring Gertie wearing a tee that reads

On Instagram, Gertie recently spearheaded a #girlssupportgirls campaign. Over the course of a month, she featured a girl a day who inspires her. She introduced this campaign with a spiel about the apparently inherent nature of women:

“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how normal it is for women to cut each other down, almost on reflex. This isn’t a newsflash, of course. Women have been characterized as catty and conniving centuries before Instagram was a thing. I think we’re somehow taught from a young age that belittling other girls is normal…It’s also, obviously, toxic to see the amount of “snark” women engage in on the internet.”

Girls supporting girls (or women, perchance)? Yes. Paying tribute to the women who inspire us? Hells yes! Having to justify your actions because women are somehow inherently catty, nasty and out to get each other? NOPE.

A GIF of Liz Lemon. Caption reads, shut it down. Dealbreaker.

Is it normal for women to tear each other down by nature, or is Gertie merely repeating tired old sexist assumptions? Are women who are honest “catty”, or just doing something that no man would be criticised for? Are we so desperate for male approval that we must prove that we’re not like those other girls to earn a seat at the table? Trying to shut down other women’s voices with faux-feminism, or promoting businesses based on commodified friendships, is far more “toxic” than a woman who is not afraid to offer an opinion.

The online sewing community has so many positive attributes, but I believe it has the potential to be even better. If companies like Colette treated their customers with any modicum of respect, they would offer a frank apology, cull some staff, and get down to the business of redrafting their block. Meanwhile, it is vital that the average online sewist feels free to express their opinion, even if it is an unpopular one. I know I will never improve unless I receive constructive criticism of my sewing, and the online sewing community will stagnate unless there is open discourse, free from fear of retribution.

Let’s make it happen.

A scene from Beyonce's video clip. Caption reads, who run the world? GIRLS.

 

*Not today’s Germaine Greer, as she has apparently morphed into someone who will readily criticise another woman’s appearance on live television.

**One Pattern Review contestant posted a particularly pointed blog post, which concluded with the warning, “Friends don’t let friends buy the Rue dress.”

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.

51 thoughts on “Mean Girlzzz: How dissenting women are silenced in the online sewing community”

  1. When I first read this title I flipped! I thought, WHAT!? But I read it right through to the end. You are an impressive writer; from the first post of yours I read, you struck me as extremely inteligent. This post was eye opening. I didn’t realize the online sewing community and indie pattern companies was such a THING. I feel like all I ever do in my blog is bitch about my pattern issues! Lol! I will certainly look at things differently in the online sewing community now after being educated by this post.

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    1. Thanks for your kind words! And following through after the title haha. I do mostly think the online sewing community is AMAZING. There are a lot of clever and talented sewists out there supporting each other. And most indie pattern companies do respect their customer base. But this particular issue had become too big for me to ignore.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And I, for one, am delighted you say it as it is. I have noticed the tendency a lot of bloggers has to immediately assume it’s their fault if a pattern doesn’t work for them. It’s pretty darn rare to read “frankly, this pattern is crap” even when it seem obvious that this is the issue, not lack of sewing ability.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Amen! I’ve been all squirmy and grrr at the faux girls support girls crap but haven’t been able to put into words quite why I’m so uncomfortable with it. Thank you for succinctly covering this issue. I’m sick of being sold lies and sick of being silenced. I do want a happy supportive world but I want a real honest one warts and all not a fake fifties housewife on Valium one. Ok my rant stretches well beyond the online sewing community but this topic really summed up issues I have with the perception and expectations of women in modern day society.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Preach it! I could talk all day about the shitty expectations of women in modern day society. Like, they are bad enough, do we have to put them on ourselves? That’s why I’m really enjoying the book I mentioned, Fight Like a Girl by Clem Ford. It’s pretty full frontal but also so refreshing in its approach to women.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As always, I really love reading your opinions and as you know, I am no fan of Colette patterns. The free Sorbetto pattern found me first and I was silly enough to buy the Jasmine blouse and Clover pants patterns. If I hadn’t been sewing for 40 years I would have given up there and then. But I would read all these glossy comments about how wonderful these patterns were and I thought they simply weren’t for mature women. I haven’t spent another cent on a Colette pattern and luckily I didn’t give the Rue a second look. And I do tell the younger girls in my sewing community to give these patterns a miss. Start with the big 4 easy patterns. They may not always be perfect but their drafting teams are highly professional and the grading of their sizes much more accurate. Keep up the good work Siobhan; you write beautifully and with well researched content.
    Now, when are you going to write a novel?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh boy, the Sorbetto was such a huge failure for me. I felt like a pretty rubbish seamstress when I made it as it was so wide and short on me, but now I realise it was the fault of the pattern. Not that anyone was talking about it at the time, only good things were said of it.

      I agree with starting with Big 4 patterns. I always recommend them to new sewists, as they are easy to understand and have instructions that you can learn from if you have never sewn anything before. I think they fit better than people let on, too.

      Hee hee, well if every politician and his dog writes a novel, maybe I should too 😉

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  4. Hi Siobhan! I too think that there is a problem with how we criticize each other and how criticism is perceived by us. I think the problem behind that is that criticism is often made and/or taken personal. Therefore it is important to always try to leave insults and accusations out of the debate and try to understand the other party. We have to try to be constructive in our criticism in order to be taken seriously and in order to change something to the better.
    I for myself find that your post lacks constructiveness. It seems like you are emotional on this topic and are only able to see things from your side. I was a pattern tester for Rue too. From the beginning it was made clear to me that I was testing a finished product. When I pointed out things I didn’t like Colette were professional about it. They thanked me for the criticism and adressed some of the issues in their sew along.
    You mention that Colette people delete comments. But your critical comment is still there. How you can be sure that those people who claim that their comment was deleted didn’t insult in the comment or wrote it anonymously? I think in those cases it is okay for Colette to delete comments.
    Also I think it is a positive step to admit a mistake, apologize and improve. That has to be respected and acknowledged.
    Just to be clear : I’m not saying Colette is great, I’m just saying that looking at this issue from only one perspective emotionally won’t help improve the situation.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your perspective as a pattern tester for Rue. Regarding testing a finished product, I got the sense from reading the comments on the apology post that many testers felt they were recruited as, well, testers and that their report would be incorporated into the finished product. I don’t know whether this was regarding previous tests and things change for Rue but if you read the comments there are quotes from Colette specifically stating they are recruiting for feedback, not for promoting a finished product. So I feel it was disingenuous for them to pretend otherwise.

      Yes I was surprised my comment was approved. Unfortunately many people have screen shotted comments which were not approved in the past which were actually very valid criticisms and questions regarding the post they were commenting on. It is an issue that is often discussed on Pattern Review and Instagram if you are on either of those platforms.

      For what it is worth I felt your test of Rue was an even handed blog post. I just feel sad that so many were treated badly by Colette.

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      1. Thanks for your reply.
        The thing was that Colette was very vague about the testing thing. You got like no information or instructions what to do with the pattern they sent you and to me it seemed like since I had applied once they left me no choice but to test sew the pattern. So I wrote an email back and asked them about that. From their reply it was clear to me that the problem was the bad communication not Colette’s attitude. They clarified that they only wanted to know if people liked the pattern and what they think about it to get a feeling about how it will be perceived. I had the impression that they were kind of shocked that I could have thought I had to test the pattern. So I really have the impression that this issue was a misunderstanding and a week ago or so Meg apologized to my by mail about not being clear about that.

        Okay, the thing is, that I don’t use social media. That might explain why I haven’t seen the screenshots of the deleted comments. It would be great if you could refer them in your post. I have read about this issues a lot. People say their comments have been deleted. Colette says they only delete comments that are against their commenting rules. And as there were a lot of critical comments on the Colette blog that obviously were not deleted it seemed to me that Colette was right. So I’m not saying Colette is not guilty of deleting valid criticism, I’m just saying that if someone accuses them of that there should be some kind of proof that everybody can look up to form their own opinion.

        I think this whole issue is a communication problem. When Colette deleted comments without notice that obviously is on. When people think they’re testing something but in fact they’re not that is one too. But I’m not convinced that this is 100 % Colette’s fault. As you said: a lot of people don’t dare criticize their friends. So what I’m guessing is that more people thought it was their fault that the dress wasn’t sitting so well and didn’t dare say anything. Or like me they thought ‘well the dress looks like the one worn by the model, great!”. If only let’s say 2 in 10 people complained that is not enough to tale the pattern from the market and change it. And once there were more people criticizing the pattern Colette pulled the break.

        You see, the thing is, I work in a field were people can call and complain about the programs I write. If I would change everything that a costumer doesn’t like immediately I would not be able to do anything else. So what i do is to write the things down and if somebody makes a very good point or some more people have the same issues I go and talk to colleagues about that and eventually change it. But I have to take my time wit that, because every change might affect something else I didn’t consider. I’m doing my best, I really do, but I will always make mistakes. But if I am always afraid to make them and try to avoid them I won’t be able to make progress. So I need people not to be too rude when I make a mistake. Because otherwise chances are that I either stop admitting mistakes or stop progressing.
        So I try to be compassionate about mistakes other people make with the hopes that they will excuse my honest mistakes.

        So whatever Colette did or didn’t do I think it is wrong to publicly accusing them on doing anything of it on purpose and not because they didn’t know better. Maybe they just deleted the comments because they didn’t know how to deal with the situation. If we know publicly accuse them it gets harder for other companies and people to admit mistakes I think.
        I see how you all react to some faults a sewing pattern company makes. There isn’t that much harm done compared to what a blunder in the programs I write would cause. If I let people react to Colette’s faults the way you do that would mean it would be okay if people tore me apart after I fixed a mistake.

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    2. I am a person who has multiple comments deleted by Colette. I left them on the Colette & Sewalong blogs using this account, which is my real name & links to my blog, which is far from anonymous. One comment that was deleted asked for information on re-shaping the neckline on the Rue dress to make it narrower so it would cover bra straps. I left that comment on the sewalong post about shoulder adjustments, because the adjustments addressed in that post wouldn’t have added the necessary fabric to cover bra straps. How on Earth could this comment be perceived as against the Colette commenting standards? Unless they just delete every post that suggests the Emperor wears no clothes/they don’t understand how to make basic alterations that would render their designs wearable.

      I left another comment in the Colette blog inquiring about a garment photograph that clearly showed that the dress had not been hemmed. I asked why they were showing an unfinished garment on the blog (& claiming that it was finished; it wasn’t portrayed as a work in progress). That comment was deleted.

      Obviously they aren’t deleting comments like, “Great fabric!” or “Pretty dress!” But my personal experience shows that they are really stretching the meaning of the “commenting policy” to justify the deletion of comments that could be construed as critical, or that are coming from people (like me) who have a history of not gushing over everything they do.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Hi Froebelina I am one of those people whose comment was not posted/deleted on Colette’s blog post when they put out the call for ‘testers’. I have taken a screen shot of it where it says ‘awaiting moderation’ but I have no idea how to add this picture into this comment. I can email it to you or Siobhan if you like. Happy to have it posted but I don’t have my own blog. It was not an anonymous quote nor was it insulting in my opinion. It was critical however and it did express my disappointment that their definition of testing seemed to me to be more about free marketing/advertising.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Hari, hi Ciara! Thanks for your feedback. I have heart from a lot of people that comments were deleted and do believe that what you say is true. What I’m still wondering about is why Colette deleted only some of the critical comments. Because if you look at the relevant posts there actually are critical comments. To me now it seems that they in fact did not only let those “Cute Dress!” comments pass. However, deleting any critical but constructive comment at all was a really stupid move. And it seems they’ve done that a lot.

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  5. I feel that there are two separate issues here – one is whether or not bloggers and pattern reviewers are discouraged from giving an honest review because of this strange idea that they should support other “girls” (seriously?!) even if the product is flawed. It is interesting to know why they are doing this – Are they scared of what their peers think? Are they afraid of not getting any more free patterns to test? It would appear to be a sad reflection on modern “feminism” if you should support a business on the basis of the owner’s gender and not on the quality of their products or their professionalism.
    The second issue that I find interesting is why do people get so upset about Colette being a badly run company? What gives you or anyone the right to feel somehow offended that someone else is running a business badly? If this wasn’t a sewing blogger based business would you feel the same? Would you feel personally insulted at how the CEO of a multinational reacts to a poorly made product? I’m pretty sure big, faceless companies don’t sincerely apologize and immediately fix everything they do wrong. There seems to be two standards – one for bloggers and one for “normal” businesses.
    These are my rather rambling thoughts as a non-blogging person who likes sewing and knitting but has never bought a Collete pattern and never will! Although I have been burned in the past buying knitting patterns from “celebrity” knitting bloggers.

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    1. Regarding your first point, it seems to be more a perversion of feminism than anything. Trying to use “girl power” to pressure women into silence is anything but feminist!

      In response to your second question, someone actually asked this on Pattern Review and I responded, so some of this response is copy pasta. I’m not especially personally offended by Colette’s behaviour, as in I don’t think they’ve hurt me. My criticism is more of them as practising a poor business model and being allowed to get away with it for so long based on these “friendship” relationships, so if anything I feel they should be treated more like a business than anything.

      The problem is they *haven’t* been treated like any other business. If another company produced a defective product, I would expect a refund, a recall, and possibly a new product released free from defects. I certainly wouldn’t expect the business to frame any of this as some sort of generosity which caused a lot of hand wringing and soul searching on their part, and I don’t need to them to make me feel like I should feel sorry for them.

      My other point is that their behaviour towards others in the sewing community, such as Sunni, and commenters who they have frequently shut out, is bordering on bullying. That is what inspired me to write this post, because I felt their stories should be told.

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    2. Re: your question about whether Colette is being held to a higher standard than any other business. Over the summer, I had an unfortunate experience at my local TCBY, which is a corporate chain of frozen yogurt shops (for anyone who doesn’t know). I absolutely put them on blast, because, yes, I expect ANY business to live up to a certain minimum standard when it comes to basics like customer service. Corporate HQ personally reached out to me with ideas on how to make the situation right. They are a huge chain with hundreds of restaurants & probably millions of customers, but they still took the time to come to me directly with specific ideas on how to fix the problem I had. That is what a RESPONSIBLE business does. They didn’t ask me to just suck it up & accept that sometimes people are tired & make mistakes & we’ll-do-better-next-time-just-trust-me-on-this. So yeah. I personally expect more from Colette.

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  6. This was a great post. I do find it a little disturbing that you are talking about some issues with Colette gaslighting Sunni and you get accused in a comment above of being too emotional in this post. Or that you are suggesting that Colette be held to the same standards as other companies and another comment accuses you of holding Colette to a harsher standard… Basically, we needed this post more than ever. I think the main issue is that often people read criticism as emotional and “harsh” especially when coming from a woman. Your point about how women are trained to avoid being critical is very apt in how a couple of people responded to your very clear and not emotional criticism. Critical women are treated differently and either they are gaslighted or they are treated like a mega-bitch. Quite frankly, I embrace being a “nasty woman” if it empowers others to speak up.

    The other issue I see in the SBC is that women often take failure as a representation of their skill and internalize it. Another comment above pointed that out and I think it’s a huge thing. I have done it and I see lots of new sewers doing it. Learning how to be critical without worrying about emotional implications is really the key to getting out of that cycle.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I also feel this is a post that is very much needed here in the sewing blogging community! When you actually do speak out on a product that you feel doesn’t passes muster, albeit in a small way like leaving a comment on a consumer’s delightful sewing blog and then you get an email from the company itself who has now become much more emotionally involved in this than they should be, believe me you will think differently. Having been a business owner and from there purchased an existing business from someone who was way too emotionally invested in their company I can see both sides. I also became emotionally invested in my company and after owning a brick and mortar for a year, I found that the lifestyle was completely unsustainable because it wasn’t just draining physically, it was draining emotionally and mentally too. I do think that becoming emotionally attached your business is natural, but unfortunately it’s not sustainable for you or the business. You have to learn to be professional and separate your persona from the business and if you can’t, there are still things you can do but sometimes you also have to make the hard call and get out of it.

      It is also a point worth making that when you are a business person, you don’t get to decide how people feel about the product that you are selling or how they are going to react to it. People get to be as harsh as they want because it’s no longer about being fair or “I just can’t handle how mean you are being” or mushy gushy stuff. Business is business and money is transacted and people get (rightly so) crazy about where their money goes! I know I do. And reality and truth can really suck to hear about your business. Froebelina has a point where you have to take all of this information and put it all together and see how that all fleshes out and with pattern testing, maybe that’s how it works. I can understand that. What I don’t get – saying that you didn’t understand the terminology for “pattern testing” and so you didn’t know what to call them and so decided to call them that because that’s what everyone is used to? That is some serious back pedaling. Especially when you know very good and well what pattern testers are and what they do. I do take offense to that because that is precisely what I was called out for a few years ago and that influenced what I did in blogging – meaning I started withholding bad reviews because I didn’t want to hurt feelings and I started only publishing good reviews.

      The SBC (sewing blogging community) is being called out right now as being too kind and mushy gushy about pattern reviews of indie patterns. Andie is 100% correct when she says that people post on their blogs (I’m guilty of this) that we thought the pattern was not at fault but our bodies or sewing abilities were. I feel like the comments on Pattern Review are especially poignant as to this particular point. I’m not sure that everyone realizes or knows how to get to that forum, here is the address:

      http://sewing.patternreview.com/SewingDiscussions/topic/99390/66

      I would encourage anyone to read through all the pages up to this point. THIS is why many of us are so upset.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Didn’t mean to imply that I’m targeting any one comment here! I agree with what Andie has said and felt the same about the various comments being made. It’s great to read varying view points.

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      2. Thanks once again for sharing your experience, and the link to the Pattern Review forum. I suspect those defending Colette’s actions have not read the forum and are unaware of the extent of Colette’s bad behaviour.

        I think it is natural to become invested in your small business. But when you attach yourself to it to the point that you *cannot* accept outside voices, then it becomes an echo chamber and you lose sight of your customer’s needs. Yes, you have to take on board all criticism, decide what is valuable and what is not. However, Colette were taking on board *no* criticism. None at all. It was drowned out, moderated, bullied away. That is not an effective way to run a business and is morally dubious to say the least.

        The way they treated their pattern testers was truly disturbing, and not an issue of a confusion in communication. Anyone who reads that forum will realise that there was clear deception of the testers in the way they were advertised for (ie for actual testing), when Sarai made it clear in her apology that they didn’t want pattern testers testing. To pass it off as an innocent mistake of nomenclature was offensive.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Hi Sunni!
        I found it very interesting to read your point of view as you have seen both side and I think you make some valid points. I just wanted to make clear, that I do not think everybody should have sent Colette a mail as it wasn’t clear to them what they wanted. I’m not a native speaker and that’s why I maybe have to ask more often what somebody means with what he writes. I just wanted to make the point that the whole ‘pattern testing’ thing might have rather been a “bad communication” (and let me be clear: Colette communicated badly!) than some marketing strategy judging by the answer I got.

        To the whole ’emotional’ thing and not as an answer to Sunnis comment: I think using that against me kind of shuts the conversation down. Saying that what I said is disturbing does that too. I didn’t mean emotional as an insult and it is how I see the whole thing, it is an emotional debate, isn’t that the whole point somehow? And I didn’t say it to shut anyone down, I said it because I hoped to improve the conversation and help understanding each other better.

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        1. I think you bring a good point on the emotional bit Frobelina. Really, really. It’s a very valid point. I got a little passionate there and didn’t mean my comment as a shut down. There was a comment on the Pattern Review thread that addressed this too and she said something to the effect of Colette has rather elicited this kind of response to their business. I find that interesting because I do feel that way about it. If we were talking in terms of Big 4 patterns, do we even know the name of the head patternmaker(s)? Do they reach out to their customers when they receive bad reviews? Do they even have a blog? (They actually might and I don’t know about it, someone correct me if I’m wrong) Not to belabor the emotional point here, but these are, for the most part, questions we can answer in the affirmative for Colette. We all know that Sarai Mitnick is the head honcho – like, we know her name which creates a more visceral response to the company itself. In fact, we know the names of all the people on staff. And they do have a blog where several of them post which speaks more to my personal response to them as a company. Just speaking to my own self education on these kinds of matters, I’m seeing this play out in a way that I didn’t realize it would play out. Maybe these barriers that businesses choose to put up that are kind of like smokescreens to a certain degree aren’t necessarily bad things, ie the Big 4. They shield us from becoming emotionally attached to a business and from there, if things go awry we don’t have the same emotional outcry. Maybe this emotional thing is more tied to the pocketbook. Do I get upset if a Big 4 pattern doesn’t work out? Surprisingly, not nearly as much as an Indie because the cost was so different. There went my $20 as opposed to $1 Joann’s special on Simplicity patterns. So maybe that is the better question to ask. Why are we so emotional about this? Why aren’t some people emotional about it? Just questions and thinking out loud a bit.

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    2. Thanks Andie, I must say being called emotional twice did concern me. And kind of prove my point! It is worrying coming from other women. Have we internalised these stereotypes so much that we aren’t even aware of it?

      You are so right about the internalising of failure. And I think that can be another gendered thing, that women can be held to this higher standard of behaviour or internalised criticism. It can be so hard to discern whether the failure is with you or the pattern as a beginner sewist, which is another reason Colette’s behaviour concerns me. If you make the most amazing, best indie pattern ever, and it turns out terribly, I think you would be more inclined to blame yourself due to the hype. This obviously isn’t a problem exclusive to Colette.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think my initial comment may have sounded a little defensive. I completely agree with you Siobhan. Critical comments and feedback should not be silenced, especially when it pertains to business. This is only how you can get better. I’m surprised at how silencing can be manipulated into making you feel that just because we are girls means that we should support each other no matter what! Ugh. I feel that your article has shed some great light on how this has been done in the blogging community and boy, is it wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for writing this Siohban. Since becoming aware of the Sewing Blogger Community, I have been surprised by the gushing over indie patterns. I never understood the excitement over a pattern, much less the outpouring of love and proclamations of life-changing greatness. They are sewing patterns…not an amazing new ice cream flavor!! Colette patterns in particular have never been unique or different. The Laurel for example, is a darted sheath dress…every Big 4 company has one in their catalogs. No wheels were invented, no need for gushing.

    It is as if the fangirls are trying to be recognized as part of Colette’s in-crowd. A nice review and photos can get your dress up on Colette’s blog. (Your chances are better of course if you are smaller than a size 10.) They could mention your name or say something nice about how much they love your dress. “Squee!”
    It has become a “you like me, so I’ll like you” circle of gushing, and silencing of critics. It is Colette who is taking that to the bank.

    I was right in the thick of the Rue debacle, being a part of the PR Sewing Bee (thanks for mentioning my blog post!). Colette kept evading questions regarding where the seam lines were supposed to fall to the extent that they closed commenting! In the past there have never been any critical comments posted. That’s because they moderate and approve all comments before allowing them to be published. I wrote a critical comment on the “apology” (sorry/notsorry) post. Certain that they would not publish it, I took a screenshot, posted it to IG and called them out both on IG and Twitter for censoring comments. Lo and behold, my comment appeared…5 hours after submitting it!

    There are ways to be critical, and ways to be mean. If both sides treat each other with respect, everyone can benefit.

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    1. Mmmmm……ice cream.

      You bring up a point which is often missing in this conversation. Yes, the gushing and mutual affection is a bit blerg. But ultimately, Colette is a business which is *profiting* from your free promotion of them. They aren’t your buddies. They are a company which sold a defective product and attempted to sweep it under the rug.

      The Pattern Review comp was the last straw IMO. Andie made the point above that it is easy for beginner sewists to blame themselves when a pattern goes wrong. But for experienced sewists such as yourself, it was quite obvious that the pattern itself was faulty. And when a whole group of experienced sewists come to this conclusion, well you know what happened. I honestly think Colette would have gotten away with it had they decided not to “sponsor” that round. Bet they rue that decision (ha ha ha, I crack me up).

      I did see your comment on IG! Which was another catalyst for me to write this post. Your blog post on the topic was amazing. Like, does anyone who defends Colette seriously think it is ok for them to shut out criticism like that? There was no respect in that decision, that’s for sure.

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  8. I’m not a colette customer (not since I bought their book and realised it wasn’t for me!), but I found this whole Rue mess interesting from the sidelines. I think their focus is on the ‘brand’ rather than the technical quality of the product! I’ll pick my favourite, reasonably priced, well drafted Burda over the overpriced and overpackaged Colette, Tilly, etc…

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    1. You’re right, it’s all marketing, style over substance. Pattern magazines such as Burda and of course the Big 4 have no choice but to be well drafted, as they rely on the quality of their patterns rather than slick marketing.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I really think we need to be more explicit about what “pattern testing” involves and what is expected of both testers and pattern companies. I’ve tested one pattern in my life, for a brand-new pattern company, and I just assumed that “testing” meant actual “testing.” How complete and accurate are the instructions? Is there missing information? How is the drafting? So I pointed out things that were lacking in the pattern (finished measurements), things that could be improved (using a fabric with clear right and wrong sides for pattern photos), and other issues, such as the fact that the fabric width that the fabric requirements assumed is not a width that I’ve ever seen in the U.S. The pattern maker was overjoyed to have this feedback (and incorporated all of it in the pattern), but I had the distinct impression that I was the only tester to mention these things! She seemed surprised, actually. A pattern from another small company was reviewed on my blog (and several issues pointed out) and the designer showed up in the comments to say that none of her 9 testers had pointed out the problems I mentioned (if memory serves, there were obvious things like conflicting instructions on how many back pieces to cut and no mention of seaming them). So what the hell did those testers think their job was, if not to find and point our issues like that?

    What I’d like to see is pattern companies telling testers exactly what kind of feedback they’re looking for (a questionnaire, perhaps?) And letting them know that their comments will be used to improve the pattern, as appropriate. And encouraging them to write about the pattern honestly on their blogs if they feel the urge to do so. A quality product can withstand users’ honesty, and we should expect quality from pattern makers, or take our business elsewhere.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your point of view as a pattern tester. I think your suggestions are exactly what some indie companies need. There can be a lack of clarity as to whether it is genuine testing or just promotion. Of course Colette was deceitful in suggesting their pattern testers would be actually testing instead of just sharing nice pics, but I think many indie pattern companies would be more open to actual suggestions from their testers.

      You might find these blog posts from 7 Pine Designs about alpha and beta testing interesting:
      http://7pinedesign.com/alpha-testing-measure-walk-true/
      http://7pinedesign.com/truth-in-beta-testing/

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  10. Great post! I didn’t realise how bad the Colette thing was – I don’t like their patterns anyway – and I’m glad you’ve highlighted the problem and how they’ve responded. It does seem like the business is pretty badly run if they’ve allowed all of this to happen. It’s not like the pattern wouldn’t have been tested and problems reported and to just release it anyway is rather unforgivable…
    (Also I hated the #girlssupportgirls thing. I liked the general sentiment but I found it really struck me the wrong way for a reason I can’t explain. Weird.)

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    1. I think Colette were rely on the strength of their fangirls devotion, assuming they would ignore the issues with the pattern because of their brand loyalty. Look, it might have worked had they not sponsored the Pattern Review comp, where many experienced sewists were forced to make the Rue up. They knew enough about drafting to know that it wasn’t right, and weren’t swept up in the marketing hype so felt free to express criticism.

      I do *like* the idea of supporting other women, I really do. It was just poorly framed and came across more as a girls vs girls type thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. That was one very good post!
    Here’s my two cents – the one and only thing that is most upsetting to me about this whole Rue debacle is that I truly and strongly believe that Colette was aware of how faulty their product is, but yet they decided to release it and charge premium price for it. It’s obvious that not even Colette staff liked the pattern enough to make it as is (aside from pink version made by Sarai), and all their versions are heavily modified. The way Sarai claimed that the plaid version was just a lucky mistake is insulting. That is simply not true – style lines on plaid version are redrafted and that’s plain and obvious fact. The way she insist on “small FBA and fabric stretching” version of the story is embarrassing and in my eyes, Sarai lost all of her integrity because of that. The day she admits that that dress is made with completely redrafted pattern is the day I’ll consider using Colette’s products again. Maybe.

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    1. Agreed. They must have known Rue was a faulty product – if you read between the lines in the apology Sarai basically admits as much. Like I suggested in another comment, they were banking on their fangirls lapping up Rue with an uncritical eye, but Colette misjudged and assumed too much this time. There’s no way I’m buying another Colette product again.

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  12. Thanks for the interesting blog post. I agree that it is important to have a way that criticism (or just comment that isn’t praise) can be voiced in the online sewing community, and it’s very hard with the blurred lines between blogger and business in some instances. I actually think that is something Colette Patterns did well, having a distinct identity for their business rather than basing it on the personality of an individual, as it originally grew from Sarai and her blog. Though obviously, problems have still occurred there 🙂 I do not have a problem with #girlssupportgirls as a way of spreading the word about interesting and inspiring women though when you highlighted some of Gertie’s words about it, I do see how it could look like internalised misogyny, though I chose to read it as a rather clumsy way of introducing the idea. Of course out and out nasty commenting is not acceptable but in the online sewing community it exists in only small amounts – and this ‘snarking’ is different from the critical comment which is really needed. Criticism and comment is needed for ideas to grow – ask anyone who’s been to art school!

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    1. I don’t mind #girlssupportgirls either, in fact I stated in my post that I really like the idea of supporting and building up other women. It was just poorly framed. Even if it was a clumsy introduction (which I agree it was), it can still also contain ideas fermented by internalised misogyny. Our ideas don’t come from no where – we aren’t born thinking women are inherently bitchy and catty, that is a learnt belief. I’m sure it was unintentional, but still promoted unfortunate stereotypes.

      I too believe that true nastiness in the online sewing community is fairly isolated (though I have gotten my fair share of horrible comments). None of us can grow without criticism, however hard it may be to accept.

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  13. I am very late to the party but I would still like to contribute to the discussion. WARNING: this will be LOOOOONNNG!!!! Skip to the end.

    I want to address the question of the standard to which Indie patterns are held vs traditional businesses.

    On the PR discussion posted by Sunni above, someone else asked this very question. Why should we care? Care so much? Care too much?

    As I said on the PR thread about Colette, it is a matter concerning a high-profile, successful women-own business in a field that is a true passion for me: sewing. I come from several generations of seamstresses, self-taught and professionally trained, homeseamstresses and business owners. I care about sewing, a lot.

    It is also a question of principle. I am an idealist, I admit. I do not believe, condone or support emotional or financial exploitation. To me, this is what Colette has done. Their target market is beginners. Their patterns may be a “normal” price for paper patterns (see Big4 regular prices of $12-33 USD), but they are never available at $1-5 such as the Big4 patterns are during chain-store sales at Joann’s et al.

    So, basically, for a beginner to make up a Colette pattern, they are spending easily $40 for the pattern, the fabric and notions. Only to feel like a failure because they couldn’t get their dress to look like that Blue Plaid aka Altered version Sarai made.

    Money, time, energy, wasted because Colette Patterns and Sarai Mitnick lied.

    My feeling from Day 1 of the Sewing Revival of the last decade or so is that most of these indie pattern stars sell a false image of being your friend and wanting to help and nurture your sewing journey. You cannot have a client/business relationship because these indie designers build a personal relationship with you, the sewing public.

    Witness Colette Patterns About page : https://www.colettehq.com/about/


    Our Values

    Grow

    Growth

    We want to help you learn and improve, and to learn from you too.

    Gift

    Generosity

    Surprise people with kindness.

    Heart

    Compassion

    We belive in giving more than what’s expected. Kindness means a lot to us.”

    Complete with little icons, including a heart shape!

    I asked this on PR’s Rue thread. Why does a normal business even need to say these things? If your product is pattern, would it not make sense to say : we have well-drafted patterns with a vintage touch? Instead of all these emotion-based arguments. (Higher up on the page, the quality of the drafting isn’t even mentioned in their Hallmarks list.)

    If you ask people for their emotions, when you let them down, you also get their emotions!

    Further, their tagline is “Patterns that teach”. In the original sewalong post on altering the bodice, Meg tells you to add length in the Upper bodice to lower the midriff section. Yet, that post never spoke of the effect of adding length to the bodice on not only the waistline height but also the *overall* length of the garment.

    Finally, what I find damning, and more and more clear from the recent post re: redrafting their block is that Colette, as Siobhan and others have pointed out, was never a professional company.

    How can a company with near a decade on the home sewing market be only now investing in a standard block? Did they never read ANY of the reviews that alluded to wide necklines/shoulders?

    And I want to repeat something that was very hurtful to me, as a member of PR, but telling on Colette Patterns and Sarai Mitnick’s part: they NEVER ONCE mention offering the Rue dress pattern to PR. Not on the site, the pattern page, their blog or their IG. Not a single time during the Sewing Bee Contest.

    Worse still, Deepika Prakash, the owner of Pattern Review, came on the Sewing Bee thread over there and said on page 11 of that thread, called The 3rd Annual PR Sewing Bee Round 3, Sept. 24-30:
    “I would strongly urge those who are following this contest to cheer and motivate the participants instead of demoralizing them.
    — Edited on 9/26/16 at 9:38 AM — ”

    I replied by pointing out that supplying an obligatory yet badly drafted pattern was not a fair treatment of the participants. 22 members agreed with me.

    Pattern Review is not an open forum, threads are constantly censured, closed or deleted. And other members constently police what you say, eager to identify bullies. I myself have a growing reputation over there for being mean and unfair.

    But I feel that it was a good thing in the end that Colette was arrogant and blind enough to offer their Rue pattern to PR for the Sewing Bee.

    TL;DR: Colette Patterns best skill was marketing, not drafting. And it seems to still be so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your long and thoughtful comment. I agree wholeheartedly. Colette marketed their business based on relationships, hype and emotions, yet they and their fans cry poor when customers criticise them for this? I’ve come to realise that those who accuse commenters such as you and myself of being “emotional” and “caring too much” are just utilising manipulative silencing tactics to dismiss what are, in fact, reasonable objections framed in rational arguments. Deepika included. She obviously has some sort of cosy business relationship with Colette and tries to quash any criticism that she feels threatens that relationship.

      Honestly, if you are perceived as “mean” and “unfair” on Pattern Review I’d take that as a compliment 😉 Ah, and now I realise who you are! I love your comments on Pattern Review – they are fair and honest. Your contributions to the Colette thread in particular have been invaluable.

      You bring up a good point which I didn’t think to address, which is Colette’s attempted obviation of their involvement with the PR Sewing Bee. I think they very quickly realised they had made a huge error of judgement, and didn’t count on PR members being very skilled, astute sewers, who wouldn’t be blinded to Colette’s faults by brand loyalty. Their lack of acknowledgement of the grief caused to the Sewing Bee contestants is insulting.

      From their blog posts regarding drafting their new block it is clear that as you say, they are more interested in marketing than offering a superior product. And it just raises more questions! How on earth did they draft their block before? Did they use standardised measurements? Was there a fit model employed? Do they know what an inseam is? The mind boggles.

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  14. I’ve been saving up reading this, Colette’s “apology” post and the GOMI thread for when I had a bit of time, so I’m a bit behind late getting here. I’ve been completely taken aback by the Rue fiasco even though I’ve long known that Colette’s drafting is garbage, ever since my failed Sorbetto that prompted me, as a relative beginner to garment sewing, to do a trace-off of an existing shell pattern I had that turned out ten times better. The apology is bonkers. “Too many cooks in the kitchen”?? Enough with the cliches. Do they know what bust shaping is at all? Do they know where it should fall relative to the apex? Did Sarai alter her plaid dress because she did in fact know where bust shaping should be? Did they ignore the complaints until the situation had reached a fever pitch? Why does a company who sells patterns have to hire someone to explain to them how garments should fit? What exactly do all the people who work there do? Was their patternmaker hired based on any knowledge of pattern drafting whatsoever? There are so many more questions I have, but these are a good start. The apology does nothing to answer them, and therefore, I have no confidence that they won’t do the same thing again. I don’t usually go for Colette’s aesthetic, but I actually liked the Rue. I seriously considered buying it, but thought I’d wait for reviews based on how wonky the seaming appeared to be. Thank goodness I did. Well done, Colette. One of my first pattern purchases was the Crepe, but it’s sat unmade since my failed Sorbetto. I may have been a return customer if you’d ever gotten your act together, but it seems you’ve only gotten worse of the years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All good questions, and ones that I wished were answered by Colette. I’m most perplexed by the number of staff they have, who seem to have no defined roles? Like, what do they do all day? Social media marketing and yoga?

      Liked by 1 person

  15. sorry I’m late to the party, but I’ve been reading alot of Colette dissent with great interest. I feel an obligatory loyalty to them, because their magazine helped me learn to sew. However, I’ve had a ton of fit issues with their patterns that I’ve always chalked up to my own mistakes.

    But I’ve had a growing feeling that they are their own kind of “mean girls” club. They’ve been perfectly nice when I’ve contacted them in the past about an order. Nice but cold. Very reminiscent of the “mean girls” in my high school 15+ years ago. Also – Seamwork magazine has become very self-serving as of late.

    There are 2 separate articles about wearing their patterns and a new section called “seamworker’s closet” which is just a big marketing ploy. Their call for submissions reads: “You must attach high-quality images of your finished makes and link to your blog or other social media profile.” So basically, you can’t be an average sewist and be featured. You must have a professional camera and blog.

    It’s becoming less about sharing sewing stories and more about selling their shit/ getting free promo images. I was also very put off by how they marketed the sewing planner. They had a bunch of posts about sorting out your style and teasing with an “announcement”. Then they drop the pricey planner and I simply felt duped. Why not be honest about what they are selling from the start?

    I want to give them the benefit of the doubt as a relatively new company, but that’s becoming increasingly more difficult.

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    1. Yeh, it’s seems to be more and more about slick marketing and less about actual substance. The sewing planner was like a slap in the face to everyone who struggled with Rue.

      But how old does a company have to be to not be given the benefit of doubt anymore? Colette’s been around for at least 6 years now, probably more. I mean, at some point they must need to take a look at their block and initial patterns and start doing some heavy revision.

      The other point about photographic submissions for their own advertising is that they invariably feature slim women in their chosen pictures. There are plenty of plus size women hashtagging Colette Patterns out there on Instagram but they rarely, if ever, get regrammed.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I’ve read your post and I’m about to read the PR forum linked above. Anyone who searches my blog for Colette will see what I think of their pattern drafting starting with the free and faulty Sorbetto pattern. No need to repeat my words, my documented photos of my many posted attempts at the Oolong, the abandoned after time Pastille, and the abandoned immediately Clovers tell a strong story. I kept plugging at those first two long after I should have stopped. I knew the patterns were wrong but I still beat myself up over the fact that I couldn’t fix them. The Oolong was worn once and now lives with a teenager I know and the other two have been unpicked and will be recut as other projects hopefully.

    Years ago I wrote a series of designer profiles (for free) on the Coletterie blog and perhaps because of that association I continued to give the company and patterns a try. I had also submitted feedback for the Pastille before the publi cation of the sewing book and had assumed the published version was corrected but a Google search does not show many completed versions of either dress. In all, I owned six patterns from the company and not one of them made it into my wearable wardrobe. I think it is such a shame that the company went down such a bad path ignoring what should have been most important and instead expanding at such a rate before developing a strong and well tested foundation.

    Perhaps they can turn it around (and I truly hope they can) but I have done enough and will never give my time or money to another of their projects.

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    1. The Pattern Review thread is really worth a read! What a saga. I checked out your reviews, all I can say is I’m glad I didn’t follow through with my plans to make the Pastille Dress as a beginner, as I would have been very disappointed.

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  17. This is such a great and thought provoking post Siobhan! Thank you for sharing it. I have to say I was a bit a turned off by Gertie’s post too – I love the idea, but I hate that she’s saying women are usually so catty so let’s be nice, blah blah. So frustrating!

    Like

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