Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Why I Now Love Commercial Patterns


I've been thinking for a while now about my relationship to patterns: how it's evolved with time and how it's deeply intertwined with how I relate to my body. My relationship with patterns has gone through three stages:

Phase 1 -- Naivete and confusion

In the very beginning, when I didn't know how to sew, I would cut out the pieces straight out of the envelope and be surprised when I ended up looking like a potato sack. This period probably peaked when I made the muslin for Colette's Rooibos dress. I just felt so deeply discouraged. EVERYONE on the internet was making Colette patterns. Why couldn't I make Colette Patterns too?

Publicly, I blamed Colette (or whichever pattern of the day) and how their patterns were "poorly designed" and "made for boxy figures". But secretly -- and don't be fooled here -- I blamed my body. Because things I sewed did not look good, my conclusions were that there was something wrong with my body. Even when I somewhat caught on that I might need to perhaps alter the patterns, I lacked the know-how to do that properly. So instead of realising that my pattern-alteration skills (or lack thereof) were the problem, I concluded that it was not possible to be well-dressed with the body that I had.

Phase 2 -- Falling Out

So in light of this, I felt that there was something wrong with my body that prevented me from being a good dressmaker. At some point I became so fed up and frustrated from the continuous poor dressmaking results, that I simply decided to reject patterns altogether. If no one could make patterns that fit me, I would make MY OWN. So for a while, I did that. I found eSewing Workshops, and I made my own bodice and skirt blocs that I could modify ad infinitum. This was quite an empowering process and allowed me to derive a lot of joy from dressmaking. I drafted my Lobster Dress pattern in that period, for example.

But the problem with this total rejection of commercial patterns is that I wasn't really learning new sewing techniques, and I wasn't being pushed outside of my comfort zone. This is what a new, difficult pattern can do for us after all; it gives us headaches, but it also allows us to grow as a dressmaker. When you're sewing skills are limited (as mine were, and continue to be, in many ways), your pattern drafting skills are equally limited.

Phase 3 -- Reconciliation

Several events in the past months have led to a new era in my dressmaking marked by a renewed appreciation for commercial patterns. The first event was reading the book Fit for Real People (which I talked about here, here and here). The second was attending Lorraine Henry's seminars at the Creativ Festival this spring (I talked about it here and here). And the third was discovering, through Lorraine Henry, this book.

Here's what I've come to understand:

1) The Big 4 pattern companies are the same. They use virtually the same slopers as a base for their designs. What this means is that the same alterations come up again and again and again. Once you know what your figure variations are, and how to adjust the patterns for it, sewing from commercial patterns can be really fast and rewarding.

2) Pattern-drafting is not that difficult, but it does take time. It's not exactly true that once you have your own made-to-measure slopers you can make anything you want in the blink of an eye. It's still a pretty long process. You have to make several muslins, tweak the style lines, adjust the proportions... it takes a lot of time and effort. So in this light, buying commercial patterns is kind of a bargain. I don't feel bad paying $15 for a particular pattern anymore simply because I like a detail (collar, frill, etc.). In comparison to the time it would take to draft it myself, it's nothing.

3) You can't make your body do things that it doesn't want to do. What do I mean by that? You have to accept that there are styles that you will never be able to wear, and that's OK. In my case, I've learnt to stay away from shift dresses, pencil dresses and anything that assumes your body is vertically straight, and I try to stick with styles that delineate the waist.

*              *             * 

Since reaching my "Reconciliation Phase", I feel that the sky is the limit. I know I can confidently pick up any pattern -- Big 4 or indie -- and make it look good, as long as the cut is suitable for my figure type and the fabric pairing is right. As I'm becoming more comfortable with alterations, I'm finding it increasingly rewarding to sew.

I remember how I used to read blogs by more experiences dressmakers and they just made dressmaking seem SO EASY and I wondered why it was that they were always getting good results. I finally feel that I'm getting closer to their secrets. :-)

19 comments:

  1. Great post. I went through a phase of only sewing home dec/things that only had right angles and straight lines after becoming frustrated with how things never fit out of the envelope. "Fit for Real People" was my turning point as well.

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    1. Home dec phase! lol! I never went through such a phase but I might as well have. At least you continued to enjoy your sewing!
      Fit for Real People really is amazing. I find myself constantly returning to it.

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  2. I love this post! I think I'm still in the earlier stages in the evolution of your sewing revelations. I tend to stray away from patterns that I think won't flatter my body type (anything tight at the waist, or high waisted bottoms) because I blame my body instead of trying to adjust the pattern to fit my body. I do love sewing commercial patterns though, especially since becoming a part of the online sewing community - it's almost like a fun recipe sharing group.

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    1. "A fun recipe sharing group". That's a very nice way to put it, Elayna!

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  3. This is a fantastic blog Adrienne, thanks so much for sharing! Like you, I spent the first couple of years of my flirtation with sewing, feeling inadequate in my skills and blaming my body. Since the start of this year though, something finally clicked in terms of fitting patterns, and it's the most amazing feeling. I'm not scared to give anything a go, as I'm much more confident in my ability to adapt it to my proportions. I'm so glad you feel the same and long may it last for us both ;o)

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    1. I'm glad you liked the post, it had been on the backburner for a while. Was there a particular turning point for you?

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  4. What a great post, it's a great summary of your own growth. There is a down side to reading great blogs - wondering why it's so easy for them. This ignores the reality of their unique situation, knowledge, skill level... I've fallen into that trap too. It's a mix of inspiriring and overwhelming when you see people churning out project after project.

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  5. I agree, this is such a great, thought provoking post! I struggled to learn how to sew for a long time, but finally started taking classes. My totally awesome and amazing instructor teaches fit with basic sewing technique. It certainly makes for an overwhelming first couple of classes, but you walk out with something that fits and it's so much more empowering than working hard on something that comes out looking all wrong when you put it on (and than feeling like your body, not the pattern, is the problem!).

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    1. I'm glad you can related to my experience as well! Fit really SOO important and took me much too long to get that.

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  6. Such a great post! I think it's interesting that you (like many of us) secretly hated your body more because of sewing. We keep reading on blogs about how sewing is liberating for your body image. You are the first I read that acknowledge that confidence and learning to love the body you have doesn't come with the first dress you sew. Reading about your journey made me think about my own process with fit. I'm not quite where you are, but I certainly understand my body and my fitting issues more than a year ago!

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    1. Sewing has OVERALL been liberating for my body image, but probably not in the early stages. I think this is because identifying our figure variations (i.e., the "flaws" of our figure) is a fundamental part of learning dressmaking, and this often comes with feelings of inadequacy. But then you learn to embrace your variations, because they are unique and your own.

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  7. Very true! Commercial patterns are cheap when you think about it that way. I like to buy patterns that have some feature about them that is different and/or difficult and that is not featured in patterns that I already have :)

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    1. Is it even POSSIBLE nowadays for you to find patterns that challenge you, Carolyn? Everything you make seems impossibly complicated. Complicated Japanese pattern this, fancy shmancy pants that. You are definitely one of those experienced dressmakers I mention in the post. :-)

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  9. Its very true that you learn a lot from commercial patterns if you give them the chance. I actually learned how to draft for curvy figures based on the adjustments I used to use when I used commercial patterns. (For example deeper or extra darts, or slightly adjusted seams) Patterns don't usually fit well right out of the package. Especially if like most women you have a lovely shape to your hips or if you have a full bust. A lot of people have real issues with these alterations and for a beginner I'm sure that can get quite frustrating. Good for you for sticking to it and learning how to adjust patterns as well as making your own. Congratulations.



    http://www.etsy.com/shop/CurvyTiffy?ref=listing-shop-header-item-count

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  10. I think I am on stage 3 of your continuum ...great post. Altering patterns is time consuming but also worth it.

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  11. Thanks for this great post. I know exactly what you mean. I could probably say I went through the same phases myself. Pattern drafting is great and I do it a lot but I don't draft everything, because it is just too time-consuming. So, this is where a good and interesting new pattern comes in really handy. And I think you are right that working with patterns designed by other people you get pushed out of your comfort zone and sew things that you might not have thought of drafting or sewing yourself.

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  12. It's just amazing to know that I am not the only one who struggled with patterns. I still draft allot of my own patterns, but at this point of my sewing journey....I can appreciate a pattern or two.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts! Comments are moderated on posts older than 20 days, so they won't appear immediately. :-)

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