Sunday, May 22, 2016

Thoughts on Pattern "Testing"

Let me start by stating the obvious: I love sewing patterns. Big 4, vintage, indie, free, printed paper, PDF -- all kinds. But, lately, I've been wondering: when it comes to smaller scale indie pattern companies...

What do you think about "pattern testing" as it exists in the sewing blogosphere?

I have a few thoughts that have been swirling around in my mind. I hope you don't mind if I share them candidly here.

My own direct experience is limited. I've helped "test" two sewing patterns so far (2nd tester project coming to the blog soon!), and the differing experiences I had, plus what I have read about from other sewers, have got me pondering the whole idea of bloggers as testers, in general.

There seem to be a lot more cooks in the kitchen. The whole online sewing community has exploded in recent years compared to what it used to be. As more (and more) indie pattern companies* have popped up and the number of sewers turning to blogging & social media has increased, now more bloggers seem to be testing indie patterns, too -- which used to just seem reserved for those more famous bloggers. At the risk of understating, I'd say that the more people there are now creating patterns and testing them, the wider variety of experiences (and professionalism) you'll have across the process.

*These aren't always full-fledged companies and can include bloggers simply dabbling in pattern drafting & design. Combine them with more established indie pattern companies and it can feel like everyone and their mother are peddling sewing patterns. I appreciate variety, but is it too much of a good thing??

Recently, I've taken note of some less than ideal pattern testing scenarios mentioned by other sewers online: strict/short time frames; over-the-top intense "applications" to even try to be a tester for some designers; the blurred line between "testing" as purely a marketing effort or something a bit more scientific; inadequate recognition for time and effort spent; the prevalence of uber positive reviews; the impression that it's only for the "cool kids," part of some elite sewing clique; etc.

With all that in mind, I know some of us in sewing blog land (and elsewhere on the internet) are simply not interested in being pattern "testers," but, for me (so far), I find I do appreciate being offered this opportunity to try out an independent designer's pattern in this way! I'm not anything close to a professional (I don't even like to think of it as "testing" -- that sounds too meticulous for an amateur like me) when it comes to testing and my reasons for engaging in the process are self-centered. Honestly, I volunteer because I like to get a first look at a pattern before it hits the market and a peek at what the designer is like in off-the-blog interactions; I like that participating presents me with the chance and challenge to sew something I might not have otherwise chosen for myself (of course I only test things I'm OK adding to my wardrobe); and, lastly, I like that: duh, I get a free** pattern.

**free, in the sense that I did not have to pay money for it outright, though I recognize my precious time and not-free materials invested as part of the process.

The post-test process is what I actually find the most exciting. The "tester roundups" that appear on the website of the designer once the pattern is released to the public leave me with mixed feelings, though. On the one hand, I really enjoy poring over the variety of iterations of the pattern and different sewers' takes and tweaks on the design. Sometimes a certain sewer's version of a pattern can really sell me on something I wasn't quite convinced was for me. The part about this "roundup" that rubs me the wrong way, though, is that some designers only include the best (however they choose to determine this) tester photos, leaving out those who don't make the cut for the aesthetic -or whatever- they're going for, and giving the impression to readers that those shown on the roundup were the only testers involved.

In a sea of sewers trying to get blog-famous, monetize their blogs, get book deals and other gigs, and rack up new followers, you can imagine how this is a bummer. If, like me, you're not trying to do any of those things (well, I guess I wouldn't say no to new followers?) and you're simply excited to participate in more sewing goodness, you can see how it would feel like a bummer and an insult. I say, in this case, if you're going to show any, you've got to show all in order to be fair to your testers and your readers & customers. Then, though, there are designers who don't share any tester versions, and all pre-release pattern testing is done discreetly, out of public view (and I presume by professional pattern testers? -- there is such a thing, right?) Should (and could?) smaller indies do this, too, or is the cross promotion between the tester and the pattern creator a good thing that should be preserved?

I'm finding myself grappling with the pluses and minuses of this whole process a little bit, and thinking about the two extremes that the whole endeavor seems to fall between: meticulous, technical testing of a pattern and then surface-level, fluffy marketing. I find the whole thing overall to be both fascinating and annoying! I like being a tester sometimes, and it's neat that this is an opportunity that's now available to more sewers than it's been in the past. Also, obviously, marketing your products helps sell them, which is the whole point, but what's the best way to do that while trying to consider everyone in this community? It can be annoying enough to induce eye-rolls when a tested pattern seems to take over your blogroll and a significant chunk of your favorite blogs are all overflowing with overwhelmingly gushy tester reviews.

At this point, I don't know what the answer is or if I'll ever be able to distill my opinion on it down into a single point -- is the current state of affairs when it comes to indie pattern testing good or bad or something else?

What do you think about it?

Jump in!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Finished Project: Vintage Simplicity 7683

This dress and I had a history before I even wore it. As soon as I saw this copy of the 1960s pattern sitting on a shelf at the antique shop, I was like YES. A few months after bringing it home (two years ago) I got to work sewing it up. I had found the perfect fabric at my local thrift store -- well, when I say fabric, I mean pillow cases. It was a set of huge, old, king-size pillow cases in the cutest pastel floral print. I'd been wanting to try sewing with bed linens for a while -- they're soft, come in fun prints, are easy to sew with, and the price is right. They can be super cheap when you can find used pieces in good condition at the thrift store!

This was my chance: great fabric + great pattern = great dress. Right?

A photo posted by Sue (@sue1656) on

A photo posted by Sue (@sue1656) on

I guess the answer is sometimes... or, maybe in due time? Either way, this one took a while. I'd cut all the pieces out, interfaced where needed, sewn the shoulder seams, attached the collar and neckline facings, started on the button placket, and then totally given up. It was one of those times when you read and re-read the instructions, then try to execute them but things are not matching up and you cannot figure out why. After an afternoon of that joyful experience every sewist is familiar with, I decided it was time to give it a rest. I just wasn't going to get it then and I needed to revisit it later. I didn't know that "later" would turn into two years.

While reorganizing my sewing space in a bout of pre-spring cleaning, I came across the poor unfinished object (UFO) in a drawer and decided it was time to take another look. It turns out I had sewn two edges of the button placket structure together that were meant to stay separate. Makes no sense unless you've sewn this pattern, but I think you get the idea that it was just one little mistake that was holding me back. Once I realized what I'd done, I carefully followed the instructions and finished up the dress.

I pulled matching lavender buttons from my stash. They were a bit smaller than recommended, so I spaced them out and added an extra one to the placket. They match the purple in the fabric perfectly! I forewent facings for the armholes and used bias tape to finish those. I'd thought I was being so smart when cutting out the fabric because I'd let the hem of the pillowcase be the hem of the dress. Once I tried it on, it was way too long, and the side seams were wonky because they should've been a little curved/angled (a-line shift skirt shape). I ended up chopping off all the pre-hemmed length and doing a tiny hem with more bias tape as a facing. Thank goodness I was able to make it so tiny because I managed to chop off a bit too much skirt length, and made this mini dress a super-mini.

I can live with the short length, and the fact that the dress is a little too small in other areas, too (since I cut it out so long ago, my measurements have changed). Now I'm just delighted to be able to remove it from my Fails list from this old post and am loving the final look. The fun fabric and buttons and cute collar make me happy every time I look at them!

I'm already dreaming up another version of this dress with some printed cotton from my fabric stash, next time I'll leave slightly smaller seam allowances to give myself a little extra room, since it's a single-size vintage pattern.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Finished Project: A Wearable BHL Elisalex Muslin

Here I am, sneaking around in the wearable muslin that has resulted from my Elisalex party dress journey, so far! I'll admit to having lost a bit of momentum when my sewing no longer had a deadline, since I skipped my company party to fly across the country and meet my new nephew! #soworthit. Now, spring is basically here and my mind is drifting off to summery sundresses and skirts, so, I've resigned myself to a slow, intermittent march on the sparkly party dress front.

That's good, because I'm not quite ready to slice into my real deal fabric just yet -- the sleeves came out weird and I'll need your help!

First, let's review. I tried to replicate the short sleeved view shown on the pattern illustration & photography, though the sleeve pattern piece was not actually made for that shorter sleeve length (BHL is fixing this). I took off a few inches from the half-sleeve length provided. I also perfected my princess seam construction technique -- not hard, but different than the weak approach I'd been trying on previous projects. I sewed the size that corresponded to my waist measurement, and did a full bust adjustment to get the chest to fit right. For the skirt, I took about 1/2" out of each side seam of the dramatic, curved hip shape, and shortened the skirt several inches (lost count), though I think it's still a bit too long. I finished the neckline, sleeve hems, and skirt hem with satin bias tape facings, and skipped adding a lining. I don't love invisible zippers, so I used a vintage regular zip in the center back.

I really like parts of this dress, but others I'm not so sure about. I love the fabric, and the front and back necklines -- actually the whole bodice (apart from the sleeves/shoulders). I like the idea of the skirt, but I'm now finding I'm just not sold on this exact shape. I'd initially been drawn to it, and I can't quite seem to come up with a better shape, so, perhaps an even more reduced hip curve would do the trick. I'm thinking that if I underline the skirt with organza, like SewHopeful did, the dramatic shape will sit more nicely and appear intentional instead of the weird vibe I'm getting now.

Here's where I need your help! as you can see in the photos, the armscye is weird. Wearing the dress, the armholes feel surprisingly tight, and the neckline slips off towards the edge of my shoulders, like the dress is trying to eject me at the shoulders. It feels too small and yet also like there's an excess of fabric all at the same time. My first idea is to make the armholes a bit bigger by adding a little to the side seams of the bodice/armhole pieces as well as the sleeves, to give me more room around the armpit and help the sleeve hang better -- but what about the shoulder? It feels sort of like I need to move the shoulder/sleeve cap seam back up onto my shoulder (somehow?!) and then, what? Would that end up moving excess fabric across the upper bodice toward the center back, and cause the back neckline to gape?

I've seen similar-looking sleeve/armpit fabric bunching in other versions of the sleeved Elisalex out in the SBC, and some bloggers note they've done a forward shoulder adjustment, and then also taken a chunk out of the back neckline. How do you know if you need a forward shoulder adjustment?

I suppose I could try this and just see what happens, but I'm skeptical! It just doesn't seem like this armhole shape wants sleeves. In the far right photo below, it looks like the sleeve cap is too voluminous for the armhole? Is that a totally separate issue? Oy!

I'm not quite sure, at this point. What do you guys think? I'm happy to wear this test version as is, but I'd hate to cut into my nicer, sparkly fabric before figuring this out. Perhaps giving it some more time and a revisit at a later date will help. Any comments, tips, or ideas you can offer are much appreciated!