Friday, June 17, 2016

Finished Project: Testing The Winslow Culottes

A little while back, I posted some thoughts on pattern testing in general and I want to thank you guys for your interesting contributions to the discussion! (which had previously just been taking place in my head, ha!)

When I wrote that post, I'd tested two patterns, the second of which is undergoing final touches before the official release, but I'm excited to share the project as soon as I can. Shortly after my 'thoughts' post, I volunteered to test Helen's new Winslow Culottes pattern (available soon!), her first apparel pattern and my third tester experience.

It was not until very recently that I've taken culottes seriously. I'd always written them off as not for me and tended to find them either a little dowdy and boring or too minimal/modern for my taste, depending on the style. In the last couple of months, I've admired more cute, casual, and even sleek and more formal culotte styles popping up on Instagram and Pinterest. Then I saw Helen's sample pair on IG and finally became interested in trying the style for myself. When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of the skort (a skirt with secret shorts inside, or even a skirt front with shorts in the back -- wait, is that the clothing form of a mullet?!), and I think the culotte is the more polished, adult version for me. As soon as Helen posted a call for testers, I signed up and was lucky enough to get to take part!

Regarding the testing experience, I really felt good about the entire process. Helen was helpful, attentive, friendly, and enthusiastic throughout and it's clear that she put a lot of thought into making the instructions for her pattern as truly useful as possible. She set up the pattern as a layered PDF,  included a visual of what pages are needed for what views, and even listed out what sizes can skip certain pages when printing at home. I enjoyed the private Facebook group she set up for us testers, which allowed us to easily ask her and each other questions, catch things that needed to be corrected, and view each others' makes as we eagerly cranked out our tester versions.

Also of note is that we were given a reasonable amount of time to complete our test projects and submit feedback, so I don't think anyone felt rushed or stressed.

This was a fun pattern to test! Not just because the designer was delightful and I was excited to try a new-to-me style, but also because it was quick and uncomplicated to sew and fit. The pleats are so deep in the front and back that the only fitted part is at the waistline, which is also straightforward to adjust if you find it not quite fitting right.

What you're seeing here is my tester version. I chose View A, the "shorts" style, and found the length just right. I forged ahead making my test version as a wearable muslin, due to the simple style, and ended up with a very wearable garment. I'd toyed with making a matching crop top for a vintage playsuit look, but decided to put it off for now.

There are in-seam pockets, a single piece waistband, center back zip, and two inverted box pleats at front and back, which were simple to sew and provide a lot of subtle fullness to the hip and bum area. So, everything feels nice and flowy and not restrictive at all, which works beautifully with more fluid fabrics. Heavier fabrics and those with less drape cause the pleats to become rather pronounced and form a more structured look.

The fabric I used is Gertie's lemon print sateen from JoAnn's. I was delighted when I saw the fabric in person. It's a really vibrant print with rich colors that did not fade after washing (even the black background!), with a slight sheen to it, but it is not stiff! It's lightweight and soft and even has a nice drape to it, reminding me of polished cotton I've seen vintage clothes made in. It worked nicely for this project, and I think the only thing I'd have done differently with it would be to try to match the lemon print pattern across the crotch seam, and then just buy more of it because I think it's awesome fabric!

I think I'm sold on this style and can now call myself a culottes fan! Where do you stand? Have you bought or sewn culottes?

Make sure to check out Helen's Winslow Culottes pattern when it comes out later this month. I highly recommend it!

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.