Well, I seem to have set the cat amongst the pigeons a little with my previous post reviewing Vogue 9251. In it I mentioned how I chose this particular pattern over a Sew Over It one. I didn’t say anything detrimental about their Eve dress, I simply chose the Vogue one.
When I posted on Instagram about the new blog I simply commented, “don’t dismiss ‘big 4’ patterns because Vogue have some fantastic designs which fit well and are often fashion-forward”. What I didn’t expect was the number and variety of responses which that provoked. I’d like to try and explore a little more some of those comments here.
When I first learned to dress-make at secondary school the only patterns generally available to me were the big brands, Butterick, Vogue, Simplicity etc. Burda were there too but they were much more challenging because very often you had to trace them off (I’ve never been a tracer, always a cutter-outer) and remember to add your seam allowances. They were frequently more fashion-forward but I think because they are a German brand their styles were ‘a bit weird’ and it wasn’t often to my taste at the time. Their printed patterns now include seam allowance but the magazine still has large sheets which you trace and add the SA to. The designs have improved somewhat too. Vogue patterns were always very much the ‘Rolls Royce’ of the pattern brands and it was always a big deal for me to spend so much money on one (even now I try to buy them when they are on a half price offer) They were often where innovative designs first appeared and then an adapted version would appear later on in Butterick or Simplicity instead. Now a Vogue pattern almost seems cheap compared to indies!
Another source of patterns were free ones provided by post by women’s magazines and newspapers, you’d save up printed vouchers which you posted off and they would then post the pattern back to you. A slow process but actually it didn’t matter much because we weren’t all about instant gratification back then, we were happy to wait because we were getting something for nothing! Some of these patterns were OK, some not so much.
In the early 80’s Prima magazine started giving free patterns included with the magazine. They were the template type we still get today which came on two-sided sheets that you had to trace off and, as a result, they were quite simple designs but they were popular. I was attempting my own pattern cutting by this time before I went to college so these patterns were a springboard to getting me started.
Then dressmaking seemed to fall out of favour and the curriculum all seemed to change at school. There were always a few of us who kept it up, it was how I earned a modest living while my children were small but it became harder and harder to buy nice fabrics at reasonable prices, or haberdashery, and nobody seemed to think it was a worthwhile pastime.
Then, in 2013, the Great British Sewing Bee happened and everything changed. There was always the core of us that had carried on sewing but now a new group were being introduced to it as a hobby and as a means to make the sorts of clothes they wanted to wear. The big pattern companies were still there but for the women who hadn’t been taught dressmaking they were a bit daunting and also a little dull. [I know there are men who sew but, let’s face it, they are the tiny minority] The packaging looked a bit dated and the layout of the instruction sheets inside hasn’t changed in decades. This isn’t a bad thing for those of us who know what we’re doing but to the unfamiliar they can be very confusing and a bit scary. They generally always assume a good level of sewing knowledge before you start so beyond telling you the order of making they don’t always tell you the exact technique or method. The pattern books don’t help themselves because they can look uninspiring with strange fabric choices and not many up-to-date or trend-led styles, or by making it difficult to spot them amongst the dull ones!
I’m not aware there was any such thing as an ‘independent pattern maker’ before about 5 years ago, and if there was then they were well below the radar, but people like Tilly Walnes, who appeared on the first GBSB series and is Tilly & the Buttons, and Lisa Comfort of Sew Over It both started developing their own patterns and began marketing them. Tilly created wearable, simple modern shapes which were beautifully presented and the instructions came in the form of photographs rather than with illustrations. Sew Over It’s aesthetic is vintage-inspired with tea dresses and floaty skirts being more prevalent. Lisa seems to have diversified into a whole lifestyle-thing which I’m quite glad I’m no longer a young mum trying to emulate.
Fast-forward to today and we have masses of new ‘indie’ patterns flooding the market all the time. It seems that everyone who fancies themselves as a designer can have a go at it and create new patterns and clearly some will be considerably better than others. Initially I didn’t go down the indie route because they were usually in the region of £12-£15 or more for a printed pattern, and besides I have a monstrous collection of paper patterns which I’ve acquired over about 40 years! I wasn’t attracted to the new patterns because they were either too simplistic and I could make my own quite frankly, or they were vintage-style which I’m not that into.
I’ve noticed too since making a few indie brand patterns that with some of them if you don’t fit into a certain age or body type then you never get a ‘like’ or a mention if you tag the company in your IG feed. Frankly, if I, my makes and my photos don’t suit your design ideal or aesthetic then I won’t be bothering to tag in future, you need the customers more than they need you and no one likes to feel ignored.
So, where does that leave us today?
The big companies have carried on very largely unchanged for decades and you can usually be sure of a well-drafted product with good instructions (although if you are able to follow them is sometimes an entirely separate issue) The fit of some of these styles isn’t always so good but there’s always going to be some variation according to the style and I’m not saying they are always wrong or right. Let’s face it, we’re dealing with the human body here with all it’s quirks and variations as well as personal taste and style.
I wonder if the fact that, almost without exception, indie pattern styles have names rather than numbers which instantly makes them more memorable? Also, having now succumbed and bought a number of indie patterns I see there’s a wide variety in the form they take and their packaging is definitely part of the appeal. They come in nice packages and they might feature lovely sketches on the cover or fashion shoot-style photos, many come printed on heavy, quality paper and others are on ‘greaseproof’ type paper or even brown wrapping paper, each is trying be unique in what is becoming a crowded market. If you can get yourself in with The Fold Line and an attractive young blogger who will sing your praises then so much the better, guaranteed advertising.
I think that the single biggest difference that the indies have is the availability of downloadable PDFs. We’ve arrived at that very modern phenomenon ‘instant gratification’. You can purchase, download, print, cut, stick, cut out and sew all in one evening if that is what works for you. The PDF is generally a little cheaper [there are free ones too] so you can buy direct from a pattern maker who may live on the other side of the planet if you want to. It’s possible to get them printed at the local print shop too, or by online printers but I’m wondering if that doesn’t defeat the object of not buying a printed version if there is one in the first place? Indies often have a wealth of online tutorials and support which was never possible before. That said, never dismiss a good old text book-the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing (first published in 1978 I think) is an absolute goldmine of information.
In the 4 years or so that I’ve been part of the ‘online’ sewing community I’ve noticed a trend amongst some dressmakers who only appear to use indie patterns and to sing their praises. Is this an inverted form of snobbery? I don’t know but that’s just fine if they are the styles you want make, of course it is, we’re a free country, but a lot of the new styles from some brands are starting to look incredibly ’samey’ and are bringing nothing new to the design table. If you want truly original new styles it seems to me that the Europeans are doing it better, such as Named, Deer and Doe or The Assembly Line.
Some indie patterns are so overly simplistic in the designs they offer that I do wonder why dressmakers are shelling out so much cash for the pattern when they don’t have to. Do they genuinely not realise that there are other, cheaper alternatives?
Don’t get me wrong, there are brands which produce well-drafted, original designs with clear instructions and the designer has worked very hard to put out an excellent quality product but none of the printed versions of these patterns are terribly cheap, many are £20 a pop now (and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be because of course there is a lot of time and effort involved) but, as I return to my original point, don’t dismiss the big companies out of hand because they do still have something to offer, relative cheapness for basics being one of them.
I was particularly saddened, and annoyed, to hear Heather-Lou of Closet Case Patterns say on the Stitchers Brew podcast recently that she thought “you don’t need to take a pattern cutting class” because there are “very few things in life you need to go to school for”. Well thanks a bunch!! I’m so glad that myself and thousands like me took the time to go college to follow our dream and learn how to be pattern cutters because it was obviously a big old waste of time as anyone can do it! In the next breath she says that she now has a professional do her pattern drafting because “she (the pattern cutter) went to school and trained to do it” WTF! I’d enjoyed listening to what she had to say up until that point but that’s plain insensitive and insulting. I know there are some brands, like Maven patterns and The Maker’s Atelier, which have been created by women with years of experience and expertise in the fashion industry but there are other’s who don’t have that.
I could wang on for ages about the benefits and downsides of both types of pattern and in all honesty they will coexist side by side from now on. The big companies have certainly got to stay on their toes and possibly find new and engaging ways to present themselves to be appealing to the burgeoning younger market, but I hate to see newer dressmakers parting with lots of cash for some patterns which are really just a new version of the wheel, the spokes or the tyre may be different but it’s still a wheel none the less.
Part of what we all love about dressmaking is making original, creative clothes that fit and supporting one another in our endeavours, long may that continue. It’s just that we are the customer and always have a choice where we spend our hard-earned money.
All views expressed are my own of course and I dare say many of you won’t agree with me but I know from comments on my IG post that I’m echoing thoughts of others too. I’m not sponsored by any of the brands I’ve mentioned either! I’d be really interested to know what you think about the whole subject too so do please leave a comment.
42 thoughts on “Indie patterns vs ‘the Big 4’-discuss”
Such an interesting post. Thank you Sue! I went back and read the comments on your IG post too. One comment said how many Indies are often designed to teach you, yet I learned from Vogue patterns and I lived to tell the tale, so it can be done 🙂
What kind of saddens me is the fact that as a UK resident and blogger I feel like an outsider because it seems to me that Indies are fashionable (which seems to be anathema as I think the styles are mostly on trend) and the go-to of most bloggers… and I simply don’t feel very drawn to them.
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Thank you Diane, someone else commented that there are dozens of books and tutorials available now which were never there when you and I were first learning. These patterns are fine if you actually need the ‘hand-holding’ but otherwise the sewer needs to trust her abilities, not spend a fortune on fabric and just go for it! What’s the worst that can happen?!
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Very well discussed Susan, thanks for starting the conversation. Luke you I’ve invested time and money to train as a pattern cutter, still am in investing at masters level, and being told it’s not necessary to train stocks in my throat too! Smaller pattern runs for indies do mean packaging costs more, the big 4 own the only tissue printing plants in world and can reduce costs with volume. Sadly their minimums mean most indie brands can’t afford to go that route, and short runs cost more. Definately agree that many new patterns now seem so samey and simplistic. Sadly the volume of indie patterns mean many won’t last as it’s hard to get noticed. Being the wrong age too means I too am ignored in the indie market, although I’m not terribly bothered. Whilst it’s rekarucely easy to draft a simple un-darted body dress and get it graded, the issue I struggle with is that lack of any professional sewing means many are not experienced enough sewers to write good instructions. I’ve helped many of my regular students with quite baffling techniques in indie patterns, that are clearly written by someone with limited sewing experience. Some of the outdated techniques in big 4 are being rehashed in the indies and frankly being diluted, so techniques are not moving on like ready to wear has. The cult of indies is I believe connected to the FOMO phenomenon, we all need to feel we fit in, and that we’re part of something. Sad when sewing for yourself means having the ability to sew ANYTHING you like! If I wanted to only follow trends I could just shop in high street. Not sure what the future holds for indie market as there are sooo many brands now! Nothing recently that’s made me want to purchase that I couldn’t have hdbkef from existing pattern stash. The bee was prompted by a sewing renaissance starting around 2010, Gertie launched that year, as did Tilly and it’s the 2008 recession that’s quoted as the spring board for this latest sewing renaissance. When o launched school in 2009, college was already about, along with Jalie, hot patterns and quite a few other indies. The rise in social media has allowed newer brands who are marketing savvy and have a budget to dominate the market though. Looking forward to following this thread
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Thank you so much CL, I’m really touched and flattered that you’ve taken the time to write such a detailed reply-you’re so experienced and knowledgable and I really respect that. I know my little blog won’t change anything, that wasn’t the point, and I’ve no wish to stifle real creativity but it’s galling to sometimes see so little experience jumping on the bandwagon and passing it off as a quality product. You’re absolutely right about these simple patterns diluting skills, I guess that’s when people come to the likes of you and me to teach them!
Well said !
Clothing usually looks good on stick thin folk – which I was years ago . I now struggle at times to find clothing that fits well and isn’t for designed for old ladies so have returned to making my own. The indie patterns are great but they appear to be mainly catering to a younger , age group not those of us who are of more mature years. ( I am a granny to 2 pre schoolers ) whereas the big brands seem to have a broader age range appeal.
Pdf’s are great but for something you have to print out , trim off and stick together they are on the whole expensive.
I do use a lot of indie patterns , both printed and pdf but also use the big brands . I do agree that a lot of the indie patterns produce slightly different versions of the same design.
I have recently found a few French bloggers who show what they have made and the designs look great. Eglantine and Zoe , Republique de chiffon and cosy little world are some I have found but I haven’t yet purchased any patterns from them. I have also bought from Tessuti , their designs are simple but well priced .
Thanks for an interesting article which is as you say from your view point but i certainly agree with much of it .
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Thank you Claire for taking he time to read and reply. It’s certainly provoked a lot of discussion. A friend of mine has used Republic du chiffon patterns and likes them a lot for their interesting details, although I think the French instructions can be a challenge!
For hobbyist folk who sew it seems to be a very common thing now where people have a lightbulb moment and see it as a potential money making venture, be it with bringing out a pattern range or setting up a fabric shop from their garage or whatnot. Bright, shiny pastels or soft muted naturals seem popular marketing themes for some of the indies on their social media pages and they seem to only acknowledge your making one of their patterns as a customer if you fit in with their aesthetic demographic. For example I’m fat and over forty and despite doing lots of drafting up as I’m out of the size range of say Grainline, in the past I’ve tagged the company in my IG posts (I’ve made lots of Farrows!) but never get any feedback, you can just see someone scrolling past and going, too fat, too old, too bright, won’t fit in to our little set of squares. Like you I’ve stopped tagging designers without any customer savvy, especially those who aren’t size inclusive. I’ve found a few solid exceptions that are embracing diversity but generally find that the limits the indies go is to a size 44 bust and that is their top level, those of us outside this band can burn, they don’t want our money. And they’re not getting it. I find it a very backward attitude. Marketing seems key to popularity of patterns but who wants to wear what everyone else is wearing anyway? I’m not too into the mass sew along approach. The uniform, almost like bland generic high street fashion. There are plenty of sewing patterns, blocks available to design your own, cut patterns using existing clothes that fit, it’s all out there now on the internet to peruse, books to read, classes to attend, relatives to ask. A pattern at the end of the day is a starting point, a framework to build something that is personal, design elements to make it one’s own. I generally can’t stand the way the Big 4 patterns look on the cover but luckily always enjoy studying the line drawings and reading about the features and how I can work it for me. It might help if they went back to illustrations on the front cover rather than using photos of uninspiring garments made up usually in fussy florals and gawdy prints. I love the designs of Marcy Tilton for example but can’t stand the photos of the garments made up on the cover because the fabrics aren’t to my taste nor the styling but I’m hooked on the design lines so see past this for the potential that it will fit with what I like as taste is a personal thing. You can’t see how a garment is made up in patterned fabric really? There’s so many factors to consider when choosing patterns and what might appeal to one won’t necessarily appeal to another, a good starting point for me is that it actually includes my size range and I’m not even that big, luckily the Big 4 don’t make me feel like a lump even before I start. The days are done where I’m spending £18 to grade up amateur drafted patterns. It’s a skill like you say, people train to do it. I wouldn’t dream of knocking out my self-drafted patterns and releasing them on the public for them not to work and then feel really bad about their own body or sewing skills to rectify because it’s not properly considered in the first place. I have lots of respect for those indie designers who are interested in how things feel and fit with the maker, like I say there are exceptions but generally they just want your cash. Thanks for opening up the debate Sue and for keeping it real!
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Josie, thank you so much for your long and considered reply. I’ve been touched and flattered that so many of you have read my blog and taken the time to reply. I doubt I’ll change anything much but I’ve put my head above the parapet and haven’t had my head blown off! (Yet🤣)
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I really enjoyed reading That, Sue.
I like indie patterns as they teach you as you sew and will often explain why you are taking a certain step so you understand the consequences of skipping it or doing something different. I love The sew-a-longs and you can always find bloggers who will helpfully tell you what alterations they have made or give you ideas for fabric or hacks. What does put me off is the price. I’ll often buy the pdf purely to keep the cost down and I’ll only buy when I’m really really sure about a pattern which us a shame as there are a few of love to try.
I do like the big 4 too and I’ll usually choose one as I’ve seen someone on the web give it a go. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there about the pattern numbers. I’ll often Google a paytern I’ve seen a blogger sew only to find its one in already interested in or have. My issue with them is the lack of finished garment measurements and amount of ease included. Indie sizes seem to be a little more in line with my measurements.
It’s a shame when your makes aren’t acknowledged. It only takes them a second. What I like about you is your honesty. You’re not just going to rave about a pattern because you feel you can’t say otherwise. That is really valuable to both sewers and sewing companies.
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Thank Helen for taking the time to reply, I just felt there was a lot to be said after my previous post and the comments that had generated. You already know I’m always happy to try and help you, and other dressmakers because that’s all part of the fun for us, isn’t it?
Interesting post. I love PDF patterns. I also find the indie sewing directions more explicit and better written. Eg. Sew Over It and Megan Nielsen.
This is after a 30 year break from garment sewing. In high school home ec I was sewing Vogue patterns with the teacher’s guidance. Now, I find big 4 patterns unintelligible and vague.
The important thing is that home sewing has been reinvigorated, and sewists now have more options. Sewaholic for pear shapes and Cashmerette(?) for the full figured, etc.
You Tube sewing videos have also contributed to the resurgence. And, are a quick visual info resource I have embraced, rather than looking something up in a book. A book I don’t have, and have no desire to buy.
Books aren’t for everyone and YouTube is a revelation when it comes to instructions. We all learn and take in information differently, the big 4 still assume that the maker has a reasonable level of skill (unless the pattern says otherwise) whereas indies usually come from a less experienced point of view. Either way, there’s room for both and I reckon that will continue to be the case. The important thing is that people are sewing again!
A really interesting read. I definitely used indie patterns more when I started sewing, as they were good for providing more guidance. Big 4 pattern instructions can be hard to read. But I found it harder to fit them because they were drafted to a block that was undisclosed and not standard but very different from my own shape. I still buy the odd indie pattern but it really has to be something that I can’t find anywhere else to make me put my hand in my pocket! So often I see an new indie pattern lauded on Instagram and think, what an anticlimax! No doubt indies are good at marketing and interfacing directly with customers, but look behind that and you’ll be able to find something equivalent in Big 4 or vintage.
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Thank you. That’s one of my points too, if you’re prepared to look there’s always an alternative in the pattern books which don’t have to be so expensive. I know there are those who think we should support these business women and of course I agree to an extent, but only if it’s a product that I feel willing to pay for. If it hasn’t got a certain something then I won’t be buying.
What a great discussion. I use both Indie and big 4. There is a lot of hype around Indies but perhaps that’s the point?
My beef with some of the indie patterns is their poor written instructions and sloppy drafting. I feel if they need a sew along perhaps their instructions weren’t clear enough in the first place.
I appreciate a properly drafted pattern and clever construction methods. I like to learn as I make. Liesl and co patterns fit the bill for me at the mo.
Disappointed to hear poor response from some pattern companies . Vote with your feet?
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I agree Elizabeth, as CL says elsewhere in this thread, if the patterns have been created by less experienced sewers then they don’t have the knowledge to get things written clearly, or in the right order! Sloppy drafting is infuriating too and that’s lack of checking before releasing the pattern. SOI for example seem to have a constant stream of patterns at the moment and I’m struggling to tell the difference between any of them now!
Wow – this is the best posts I have ever read on this topic . Boy – did you hit the nail on the head ! All of it resonated with me but in particular I was nodding in agreement about certain indie pattern makers ignoring posts that tagged them if the post came from a certain age group 😏 ! In a similar vein – I recently visited a certain shop connected to a certain indie pattern company in Essex Road in London recently. I was the only customer in the shop – and the only other person on the shop floor was the owner of the company who delights in posting constant Instagram stories about the minutiae of her life. Er – she totally blanked me – no acknowledgement at all. I was eventually served by another young lady but the whole experience was weird. I had planned to spend quite a bit of money but just bought 2 pieces because the atmosphere was so frosty.
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Oh my goodness, that’s shocking!! Thank for sharing too, I don’t actually get what some of these companies and designers think will be achieved by blanking us or ignoring us? We have money to spend and personally I’ve been known more than once to vote with my feet if a retailer upsets or annoys me. There are plenty of other places we can take our business if we choose to! They want us to advertise and endorse their products for nothing on social media but don’t want those of us with a few wrinkles messing up their immaculate, but often unrealistic, feeds. Hey ho
… excuse my poor style of writing in the post. Should have previewed it instead of dashing off to post it so quickly – but I hope I made my point !
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Haha it’s fine! I definitely get your point and empathise. The person you mention may have just been having an off-day or just be plain rude but the result was that you kept your cash in your pocket-an interesting business strategy for her to adopt!
I have bought very few indie patterns as I find it hard to decide if they will fit my body shape and don’t want to risk spending £15 when 3 big 4 patterns can be bought for that ( when on sale). I also find the dresses and skirts seem too short . I am over 50 and don’t like to wear a skirt above my knees as I often sit on the floor at work to play with small children.
So I also have to consider when looking ,is it worth altering the length as it would change the style.
I would really find it helpful to see someone ‘ like me’ wearing a pattern. I would be much more likely to spend my money then. So it’s a shame that you were overlooked and not included.
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If we all keep plugging away we might bring about a change, but it’s going to take a while. The #sewover50 hashtag is gathering some traction too. Take a look for it on IG if you haven’t already.
Thank you for this post because I don’t get the buzz about indie patterns AT ALL, but hate to contribute negativity to the online world. Speaking objectively though, I can’t understand why anyone is developing V-neck tshirt patterns or button-front shirts or yoga pants when every single Big4 catalogue has these same items, and has had them for decades. New, original designs have a place, but why are sewers buying these indie patterns, and overpaying at that? Either printing or ordering a pattern is more work and delay than picking up a pattern at a store, unless you live far away from one. US sales often price patterns at 99 cents, compared with the fairly astonishing indie prices.
I know many of the popular bloggers are in their 20s, and perhaps the social media aspect and being part of the community are a big part of it. They may have had no home ec courses or older family members to consult, so the ability to ask questions and watch tutorials could be pivotal. But the varied comments here and elsewhere regarding pattern instructions are interesting, as some say indie instructions are better and more detailed, while others say they’re poorly written. But technical writing is actually a profession, and being able to sew doesn’t mean you can describe what you’re doing (another thing worth going to school to learn). As for me, I learned to sew when I was 10 years old from Big4 patterns, and have never been confused by poor instructions, so I’ve been surprised to read that criticism.
In the end, I worry a bit about the lack of support for Big4 companies on sewing blogs. The fact remains that they have the infrastructure to maintain the industry, and will not shut down when an employee is having difficult personal issues or health problems as many indie companies of all sorts do. It is seen as good to support small, independent businesses but they are not always based on a viable model. I want solid companies that will be around long-term, and have the history and experience to make their business work. The home sewing industry is not so large that it can sustain unlimited numbers of designers and pattern-makers.
I feel so sorry that sewers who don’t fit an indie’s “look” are being ignored. I hope it might help to remember that these companies are not hiring models (who would be thin, young, and pretty) or buying ads to promote their products. They are essentially outsourcing their marketing to their users, and choosing the most idealized images–of those who are thin, young, and pretty. Companies small and large are created to sell products. As much as the online world tries to create community, it is not really the mission of a pattern designer to be inclusive, but just to find a way to sell what they’re making.
Thanks for letting me go on and on!
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You put it so well, particularly ‘essentially outsourcing their marketing to their users’. I don’t mind giving a mention to any pattern I’ve used if it’s been a good experience but equally I’m not going to gush if it’s been poor, I’ll tell it like it is. Like you, I was well taught at school so the traditional instruction sheets don’t faze me (although having worked in a secondary school for nearly 10 years I do now realise that not everyone learns the same way and, lack of sewing knowledge aside, they may struggle to comprehend the instructions regardless. Have you read my blog of Marilla Walker’s pattern? She’s an indie pattern designer who, in my opinion, has created a small range of well designed and drafted patterns and is the embodiment, for me, of the quality the indie market could be about, not just the simplistic, poorly drafted patterns that some put out.
There, now it’s me that’s going on and on…haha.
Thank you so much for your considered response, I really appreciate you taking the time to do so.
Hi! Interesting post. I am 41 and learnt to sew with the big four patterns and my Readers Digest sewing guidebook. My first experiences with indie patterns were disastrous! Poor drafting and unclear instructions really put me off for years. I still hate printing PDFs too.
I have a few indie patterns in my stash now that I love, but I know I’ve probably been seduced by the exposure on social media and haven’t been browsing the big four releases as much. Going forward, though, I intend to look for big four patterns first as I am a pretty experienced sewist and I like their prices, massive range of styles, and the fact they are printed! Also, once you know your usual size and adjustments they are pretty consistent across all their patterns.
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It’s certainly true that social media has a big impact on consumers awareness of new patterns in the indie market. It strikes me as a bit bonkers that we’re willing to spend so much on one pattern (which have only a single variation) when at sale times it’s possible to buy several big brand patterns for the same amount. I guess in truth there’s a place for both and personally I’ll never totally desert the big brands in favour of indies.
I was particularly interested in your mention of the Assembly Line as a company “doing it better” because their designs strike me as very very simple, and really expensive– more than Trend, but at least Trend include all the sizes, and with with Assembly, you only get one. Have you made any of the Assembly Line patterns? (sorry, couldn’t figure out how to search your blog to figure it out).
Hi, I still haven’t used an Assembly Line pattern but I know several people who have and they like them. Recently they’ve gone over to producing multi-sized patterns which offer more flexibility but they are still pricey compared to some. In my view, if a pattern is an interesting design, well drafted and with clear we’ll-written instructions that makes the price more justifiable. Patterns are expensive for independents to produce as a printed pattern, these companies won’t last long if the customer isn’t happy with the product or the end result.
I love the question, “Is this an inverted form of snobbery?” The answer is, “Yes, yes it is.”
I have to agree with a lot of your thoughts, Susan. I appreciate that it’s a competitive market in the sewing pattern world and I would always wish a young company good luck, but some of the makes offered by indies lack basic tailoring, let alone any finesse. The rules of what lines flatter different body types have not been learned by some of the indie designers and it shows. I would like to try a Ralph Pink pattern, have you tried any of his – he is an independent with real training and his designs look far more flattering and contemporary that those offered by the hobbyist pattern makers. I guess that’s why I go back to the Big 4 – I want good tailoring, armscyes that will not gape, sleeves shaped to lie properly against the body, necklines that do not shorten the torso etc. Paying £15 to an independent for what amounts to a shapeless kimono sleeve or boxy trouser is not good value and is not encouraging new sewists to make clothes that look good enough to actually wear. I’d rather splash that out on a Vogue Designers pattern that will fit me properly and make several good garments. Maybe they do assume a certain level of knowledge, but pattern reading lessons with real seamstresses are available at various nightschools and private companies around the country and good tutorials are available online if you aren’t lucky enough to have a proper old sewing manual (like the Reader’s Digest and Good Housekeeping ones of yesteryear). I think that picking up some jackets and trousers from a charity shop and taking them apart to have a go at refashioning will teach new sewists more than some of the indie patterns available out there. Maybe I’m a purist, oh well. At least the Sewing Bee on the BBC is attempting to set some good standards. And I recently bought Chinello Bally’s book on Freehand Fashion (marking patterns straight onto the cloth), which looks fun and a fresh approach. I’m new to your blog, having landed through your analysis of the Simple Sew Cocoon Jacket pattern.
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I so agree with many of your points Anna, I think that many indie designers actually lack very much sewing experience or variety in what they sew, or are able to sew, which results in them keeping their own designs very simplistic. This is all fine but if their audience doesn’t move on to more complex patterns they too will never gain the abilities and skills which will give them a lifelong hobby/occupation/activity and that seems a shame. I’m not familiar with Ralph Pink so I’ll take a look, I like indie designers who come from the industry because there’s usually something more interesting about them, although they aren’t always so good at their making instructions! I’ve got Chinelo’s book although for no particular reason I haven’t tried anything out yet, she’s a talented lady though.
Thank you for taking the time to reply, I hope you find my blog interesting and useful!
Such an interesting read! I came across it by coincidence and enjoyed reading about your experience throughout the years. I have to admit, I’ve wanted to sew clothes for myself for a long time, I dipped my toes in it every now and then over the last 15 years or so, and whenever I return to it I’m surprised how much the “landscape” has changed. (Btw, I’ve been heavily involved in the knitting community for a while and have been active as a knitting pattern designer for the last 5 years. I’m pretty sure the concept of indie sewing pattern predates that of indie knitting patterns, and the latter definitely existed about 10 years ago, but they have also exploded since then.)
I have to admit, my sewing has only really taken off since I discovered indie pattern companies that suit my style preferences. I am mostly interested in making activewear, swimwear, underwear, and “street style” clothes like hoodie sweaters. The “Big 4” have always been a mess for athletic clothes. They sometimes have “athleisure” styles, but they don’t seem to be developed by people who understand actual athletes’ requirements. Now there are companies like Greenstyle Creations or Fehrtrade which are run by people who are both athletes and sewists and who put out fantastic patterns for sports bras, leggings, running tops, etc, for results that are on par with fancy RTW brands and often better quality.
Btw, I’m old enough to remember a childhood before the internet, but I really love the convenience of downloading and printing a pattern right away. Preferably with layers so that you can print just the size you need. And even when I take the A0 file to the local copyshop it ends up way cheaper than purchasing a paper pattern, and I can safely store the PDF file on my computer and don’t have to worry about pattern pieces getting lost etc.
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Thank you for your reply Mona, Melissa Fehr is a friend of mine and I know how passionately she feels about creating great patterns for active wear and she’s a constantly revisiting and improving her patterns if or when they need it. I’m pleased to hear you’re dipping your toe back in the water for dressmaking, I admire knitters tremendously but I’ve never been much good at it, not enough patience!
Do you follow the @sewover50 account on IG, there’s a wealth of experience, knowledge, support, inspiration and encouragement there-even for the not-over-50s!
Hi Susan I know this is an old post of yours but boy does it ring true when I read it today!
Like you I took dressmaking in secondary school and kept up the hobby in the decades since. I have always sewn with the Big 4 until this year.
I have my gripes about the Big 4: sizing (!) esp the lack of finished garment measurements (it infuriates me to see on the back of an envelop “finished garment measurements are printed on the tissue”) and they still seem to be drafting for a perky B cup with ultra conservative, long, skirt lengths compared to RTW. Plus the front envelops are off putting unless it’s a Vogue designer pattern (why do they hide the technical drawing and the recommended fabrics on the back envelop?).
Fortunately they seem to be releasing some patterns with A,B,C,D cup size pieces these days so I’m not doing a FBA & a toile every single time.
At the start of this year I discovered Deer & Doe and Closet Case patterns. I just fell in love with the body hugging Givre dress by Deer & Doe (finally! negative ease like RTW) and the Charlie Caftan by Closet Case. I bought both in Printed editions and waited months for the snail mail to get them to the Southern Hemisphere.
Both are very easy dresses to make so perhaps not much of a challenge. I found the instructions, style and the fit to be excellent. No complaints. In fact I refer to the Charlie instructions for side seam pockets when I make other garments because the illustrations are so good. And it’s crystal clear when and where to finish the seams (seam finishing is never clear in the Big 4 instructions imo).
But right now I’m on my 3rd indie pattern. It’s a kids pattern for overalls and I could only buy it in PDF. I payed an extra $4 to get it printed at the copy shop and then spent an hour piecing it together. Uggh. The instructions use photographs (I prefer illustrations) and I was horrified by the finish of the straps at the center back. The strap pattern piece seam allowance didn’t take into account that, once folded to the wrong side, the seam allowance ran short. Now I have a small, unfinished raw edge on the wrong side of my straps. This should have been drafted into the pattern piece!
So now I’m on the fence about indie patterns. I think some are definitely better than others. Which makes sense – it takes a professional team in apparel to get the design vs the construction vs the instructions right. It’s hard to know which indie creators are trying to do it all themselves.
I really hope the Big 4 do more than just stick #patternname on their envelops.
For now I’ll probably buy both Big 4 *and* indie as the mood strikes me. But I’ll be wary every time I buy from a new indie brand.