Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The State of (Sewing Pattern) Independence




Something that particularly enrages me is that concept that mass-produced products are inherently and unquestionably 'better' than the equivalents made in smaller quantities or by alternative means. The desire to dispel this myth is a common thread that runs through all my current endeavours; whether that is providing a platform for crafters/designer-makers to promote and sell their handmade wares with Brighton Craftaganza or developing sewing patterns, providing inspiration or sharing knowledge to help those interested in creating/recreating their own wardrobes.


I could probably write a whole essay on this topic if provoked, but simply put: it can be argued that most societies (in the First World at least) perpetuate the idea that large companies, often corporately owned, produce the best products or services we could get for our money. And with this message being pushed to us from all angles from a disturbingly young age, it's easy to fall into the belief that the sheen of mass-production equals quality in all respects. But if we think about it for more than a minute, we can often finds ways that this belief falls apart.




Take sewing patterns, for example. Most of the sewers on the blogosphere use commercial sewing patterns from 'the Big Four' at least some of the time. We are used to their format and we know what to expect from them when we buy them. They are easily available and often quite cheap to buy. However, the growing proliferation of smaller, independent sewing pattern companies are proving that they can compete on some of these aspects, as well as offering us much more than the Big Four can in a variety of other ways. 




Independent sewing pattern companies can often respond more directly the the requirements of their customers and they usually have a closer connection with them. For example, if you were having difficulty with one of the construction steps in a Colette Patterns pattern, you could email them and someone would most likely get back to you before the week was out. If you'd like to make a suggestion for future Sewaholic patterns, you'd easily be able to email Tasia and start up a conversation. Who would you contact at Vogue patterns with either of these topics? Would they bother to respond? I don't know. I'm not trying to criticise the customer service of these big companies, I'm just highlighting the faceless-ness that goes hand-in-hand with their businesses.



Plus the production models that the independent pattern companies implement in comparison to the high-volume Big Four also allow for (arguably) more interesting designs and niche ranges. The 'independent's' can focus on specific body shapes: Sewaholic cater for pear-shaped figures, Suzy has the petite market in her sights, Megan Niesen has some great maternity wear styles, and it's only a matter of time before taller, plus-sized and full-busted women have a specific independent company focused on their requirements, if they don't exist already! My goodness, there may even been some soon specifically for men's wear!




And whether you're a fashion-forward kind of chica always with an eye on the trends, or you prefer clothing with a more retro/classic/rock/sporty/girly/country/insert-your-own-adjective-here look, there's probably an indie range with your kind of bent. The Big Four can't easily compete in this arena because they rely on selling large quantities of the same design, so more innovative and less mainstream styles probably wouldn't shift the units they need to. 


Make Bra, pattern #2610


I find the variety of the actual products a joy as well. For example, so much thought and planning has gone into the presentation and packaging of Papercut Patterns that just owning one is a pleasure before you've even begun your sewing project. Wiksten has the genius to create both paper and downloadable PDFs of her styles so the consumer can decide what format and price point works best for them. DIY Couture has even done away with the traditional sewing pattern and instead presents the styles in easy to follow instructions and diagrams to help you recreate them. It is nice to be able to financially support these endeavours and innovators directly. They also invariably enrich the online sewing scene so much more than the Big Four by putting time and love into fabulous and informative blogs and even offering some patterns to their followers for free!



There are so many independent pattern companies and happily more seem to be springing up all the time. I have included links to many of them in alphabetical order in this post, and illustrated it with some gems from their ranges. A more comprehensive list of independent sewing pattern companies can be found on 'A Good Wardrobe' blog here, which I thoroughly recommend you check out. 



I'm not suggesting that we all stop buying patterns produced by the Big Four, I'm just trying to encourage sewers to perceive the independent companies as being at the same level as, and in some areas above what we have come to accept as the traditional format for consuming the patterns our sewing projects start from. 















30 comments:

mblow said...

As I read your post, I bookmarked each company. Thank you so much! And now I'm all fired up on behalf of the independents!

Sew little time said...

i totally agree. i generally find the independent patterns to be easier to follow than big 4 as they tend to be written by people who actually sew! and they often have more diagrams and therefore it's clearer to someone like me who has only made a few items so far! i generally find that the big 4 have so few patterns i actually want to sew. And i would struggle to find them without blogs pointing me to pattern numbers they have used! Given that i prefer the vintage look, i tend to find more on ebay or with the indies that fits with that.

frk.bustad said...

Thanks for this post, Zoe! It's a good resource. I want to start order patterns straight away, having strong belief in that patterns from independent companies will fit me better than that of the big 4 companies. Thanks!

firstmute said...

As someone relatively new to sewing who quickly became addicted to sewing blogs, I actually started with independent designers (mostly for children's clothes at first). I totally agree with ^ -- the independent patterns I've used are *so* much easier to follow than the Big 4, and I usually come away feeling like I've 1) learned something, and 2) produced a much nicer finished product.

I love spending my (meager) money to support independent designers.

Molly said...

I think you're totally right, independent patterns have much more personality. My resolution this year was to buy only one new pattern per month and I really want to do more independent patterns in that way - but I always feel more guilty not making them up right away because they're more expensive usually and there's so much more love and thought put into them, it feels a shame to hide them away in a drawer

EmSewCrazy said...

Love this!! Thanks for promoting independent designers!
I happened to walk through the mall this weekend and was depressed by all the boring clothing. I couldn't wait to get back to the sewing machine and my vintage patterns.

Marie said...

Excellently put as always Zo! Like many others I too buy patterns from the big four, but it's the independent patterns that really excite me for all the reasons you stated! I thought I knew most of them, but thank you for listing/linking to the ones you mentioned, as you've helped me discover a few more ;o)

ShanniLoves said...

Great post!! Being a fairly new to sewing I've been wanting to find more patterns from the independents. I'm working on my first dress from Colette and I was so pleased that when I emailed them about a question regarding my fit, Sarai emailed me back herself so eager to help me.

Maureen Cunningham said...

This is definitely a hot button for me. A lot of women say they can't find anything to fit them in the shops, but I can't find a pattern that fits without way too much work but I can go straight into the shop and find something. My belief is that pattern makers for ready to wear will be out of a job if the line doesn't sell, whereas pattern makers for home sewists can be completely ingnorant of good fit and still keep selling the dream. I'm all for independent pattern makers but they really need to do their homework and not just sell patterns that fit 100 lb 6 ft tall linebacker shouldered models.

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Shirley Ann said...

Wow, so much amazing information here! Thank you so much for posting!

lladybird said...

I love supporting the lil' guy! Indie patterns really do hold a special place in my heart - they are so beautiful & well-thought out, from the drafting to the instructions to the packaging. It makes me so happy to know that I'm supporting an individual who has put real love into what they do. And it's extra cool to follow along their blog - and of course, the occasional fangirl attack when they compliment something you made up using their pattern :) I try to limit my big 4 purchases to, ah, "as little as possible" haha. I know the indie stuff is costlier, and harder to get (with shipping and all), but I think it's worth the extra.

Michelle said...

When I discovered a Joann's near my home, I went a little crazy, and I have more Big Four Patterns then I care to admit. However, last month I decided that I only wanted to buy vintage and independent patterns. While I don't think that is really going to happen (Gertie just released a new pattern line with Buttericks!), I am going to be buying significantly less Big Four patterns.

However, in defense of Simplicity/New Look, I find that their patterns fit me the best. So, when I am struggling through a project and I need a quick pick me up, I usually turn to Simplicity/New Look, because I have very minimal fitting issues from them (just a full waist adjustment). But, I will still be buying a lot less from them as well.

futurenakano said...

Great post Zoe! I couldn't agree more, I find more inspiration and beautifully finsished garments from independent pattern companies than with The Big Four. I also find their instructions to standardized and often times confusing, then say with Colette, or Sewaholic. Wonderful topic!

Rachel said...

hurrah hurrah. I wholeheartedly agree, and often find that the independent patterns that I've tried give a much more enjoyable sewing experience, and a better outcome than the big4 ones (particularly when it comes to sizing and fit)

Carolyn said...

Wow. I don't know what is it that you said in your post that triggered flashbacks to my first experiences with indie patterns, but, on a day I wasn't planning to blog at all, you inspired an entire essay which can be read here http://susiehomemakerdeservesacocktail.blogspot.com/2012/08/in-defense-of-big-fourmaybe.html

velosewer said...

The more I hear and read about independent patterns, the more I'd like to try them out. But if I'm in a rush to make something for someone else, I can only buy the big 4 patterns locally.

I do like how indie patterns will give you more information and support and it would be good to see their patterns tested on all age ranges.

Jacq C said...

Very interesting post, I'm going to check out all the independents you've mentioned that I hadn't previously heard of. I started to sew a few months ago, inspired by blogs, using the free Colette Sorbetto pattern. That really spurred me on so I have a few Colette patterns. I've struggled with sizing from the Big 4, so much ease. I realise now I've not bought a new Big 4 pattern for months, although I've picked up a few bargains in charity shops. By fluke I discovered 60s patterns seem to fit me better (I don't have enough experience to figure out why) so I've been searching for those, have picked up some great shapes for 50p (I quickly learnt to look past the styling!). I'll definitely try some more independents :)

ZoSews said...

What a pleasant post to read. I love exploring all the independent pattern designers, and even though I knew of nearly all the different designers listed here, it was great to see them all in one spot and realise how many options we really do have! What a lucky lot we sewers are :)

Madalynne said...

I love this post! Yes, the big 4 are a great resource for patterns but we have to remember the little guys. Like you said, it's the little guys that cater to our wants, needs, and especially our body shapes.

Helen Made said...

I completely agree. Whilst the big four will always be part of the market, and I do get some of my patterns from them, I am constantly drawn to the various indie pattern companies around as I find there instructions much easier to follow and their designs much more to my taste. The more indie companies that come forward the better I say!

And thanks for all the links Zoe - there were some companies in this post that I hadn't heard of before so I've now bookmarked them all!

Adrienne said...

With the exception of vogue, which I think has some really interesting patterns, I usually use my big 4's as a starting point because they tend to be so basic looking and then start changing and adding other details. Which is ok, but can also be tiresome to have to do so much extra work, not to mention fitting issues on top of that. The indies definitely seem to have a better grasp on attractive, fashion-forward styles. I think they are coming from the point of view that people don't have to sew, they WANT to sew and they want to sew great things that fit well while enjoying the whole process of making. I feel like the big 4 emphasizes "easy to sew" at the expense of more interesting design and better fit. 

Although I do notice that my mom's older patterns from the big 4 are more detailed and have a more accurate fit. I wonder why that is. In their defense I will say I have dealt with customer service at the big 4's and in my experience they have been very nice and very responsive when I had a problem. But I am looking forward to trying some of the many indie patterns out there!

Ripple Dandelion said...

I always enjoy reading your thoughts, Zoe, and especially the passion with which you present them. My experience with independent pattern companies is...diverse. And I think that's what makes buying a small-scale product of any kind different from a mass market version. We know what to expect from a McDonalds, but not from a local eatery when we are on the road. I've had fantastic experience with smaller pattern company offerings and less positive ones. For predictability, Simplicity and New Look are my best bets. Vogue doesn't work for me at all. Some independents (Collette!) have been wonderful successes for me, some just so-so. Some independent lines are very inconsistent within the line itself. I guess I'm saying, in terms of the sewing experience and results, I'd find it really hard to generalize about the Big 4 vs. independents. I really think about it company by company.

gingermakes said...

I love indie designers! I tend to sew with more indie patterns than not, and I've just had such good experiences with them and the garments tend to be really interesting and stylish. As you said, there's so much support available from indie designers, and their websites have been invaluable to me for troubleshooting and inspiration.

Tors said...

I love this post, thank you for highlighting the fabulous work the independent companies bring to the table. I completely agree that they're as good as the Big 4 and in most cases have pluses to their columns the bigger companies can't hope to compete with. Here's hoping a new bunch of sewists will support the independents

rosyragpatch said...

I am just getting into independent patterns. They are so interesting compared with the big 4 - i do love their vintage reprint patterns though.

Tilly said...

What she said! Great post, Zoe xx

blessmystomach said...

Thanks for the tips. I love that the sewholic patterns are made for pear shaped figures like mine. I´ve ordered the trousers and a dress to see if I can break down my stash of african fabric a bit - I was trying to make a dress from a vintage pattern but it was too complicated for me and I aborted mission as I don´t think it was going to work out. I´ll keep you posted on the sewholic dress... Anna x

Erin said...

Glad to hear so many people love the little guys! Supporting th is the only way to ensure they keep designing their super cute designs. But I do have to give props to Simplicity. Last March at the Sewing & Stitchery Expo near Seattle I met Suede who was promoting his collection & he came off as sweet & likable as all the indies. He even left during his own show to get more entry slips for a giveaway. And have you ever noticed the contact info in case you have questions? I also met one of the lovely ladies who answers those. Not only does she actually sew but showed off her versions of patterns. The indies may be more accessible online but if you can manage to get any of the big 4 in person they are just as personable & not as corporate as you might fear.

Abby Glassenberg said...

I am an indie pattern designer of plush toys. While I am not a garment designer, I still find this post and the comments really interesting. For plush toys most people turned to books or the few patterns for toys the big companies put out. Now there are tons of patterns for plush toys created by indie designers available as PDFs on Etsy and Craftsy.

I've written two plush books with big publishers, licensed my patterns to Simplicity, and published them myself as PDFs. I think there is a place for all of these formats as a consumer, and as a designer the ability to self-publish is fantastic. Watching the popularity of indie pattern companies grow, and being part of that growth, is thrilling.

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