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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon

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Monday, May 27, 2013

And now my own open letter to Vogue and company

Some very wonderful sewers, Robin and Shams, have articulated something I have had in my mind for a while now. 

A while ever since my intelligent and highly capable sister-in-law, who does meticulous needlework so should be able to sew, told me she can't get sewing patterns to fit and, as a result, has more or less given up.

We spent a nice half day working on some basic alterations and I think got things figured out for her. I would like to share this experience with the powers that be at Vogue and company, so here is the letter from me.

Hi folks,

I have been working with a family member to help her sew a basic skirt and shell that fit her. This was an emotional rescue operation.

My sister-in-law's issues were sooo simple. Larger bust and narrow hips, small boned with a slight upper bust and a waist that was a few inches smaller than her hips.

Like so many women, so many, she has been following the directions on the pattern envelope and buying by her full bust (and swimming in totally disastrous necklines and shoulders) for tops and buying by her larger lower body measurement, her waist, and suffering baggy skirts.

All I told her where the basics:

1. It is always easier to add than subtract.
2. Therefore select your pattern by the smallest of your measurements and add where required. Except for a FBA this is actually pretty easy for a simple garment, and when motivated anyone can do a FBA.

I think we got her situation figured out and this very smart woman is now good to go.

The thing is, through our whole session she kept saying to me "WHY DON'T THE PATTERN COMPANIES TELL YOU THIS? "

This is just lousy business.

Imagine a car dealer who sold cars but sent everyone home with the wrong key and left the customers to break the windows on their new cars to get in, or sign up for two year machinist courses so they could make their own keys.

After a while don't you think people would start taking public transport (RTW) or move over to the European models (indie patterns) where the key was handed over on a ring when you parted with cash. I mean wouldn't the extra for the import be worth it? 

And wouldn't you think someone in Detroit or NYC or wherever the head office is would say "hey folks you are killing business here, give the folks their keys or we are not going to ever see them again."

"And BTW photographing our models on window sills or beside a bicycle aren't going to make up for the fact no one can actually get in and drive."

You would think this would be happening if the business was one of those that actually wanted to make money and survive.

But apparently this is not the case.

Personally I feel the issue might be even more structural.

Like the fact that the patterns are drafted for measurements not seen on this planet.

Fixing that would be a good place to start.


I have taught or participated in sewing classes for about 30 years and I have never, not once, actually met a size 10 with a 25 inch waist. 

People are built, and certainly the ones that sew are, with middles large enough to contain stuff like vital organs and lunch.

If there are 25 inch people out there, and not on IV nutrition somewhere, they are most definitely the minority, right up there with people who have one blue and one brown eye and also are double-jointed and have perfect natural pitch and can see the puck out of the corner their multi-coloured eyes like Wayne Gretsky.

My point is these measurements are not a representation of a reasonable or even unreasonable cross-section of the population. 

These measurements certainly have no business being printed on pattern envelopes in metal cabinets in fabric stores in cities and towns all over the world, where they are waiting for some optimistic 14 year old to chose her very first pattern which ends up being such a dog's breakfast (actually Rascal's breakfasts are home made and lovely so you need to know this is just an expression) that she spends the next eight decades chiming in that she "can't sew, nothing ever turns out, I am not just creative."

What I thing to do to nice people, Vogue and company.

Just because you have made a mistake with these stupid measurements and don't have the grace to warn people like my sister-in-law ahead of time that there are compensations to be made (since you won't change she has to) so she doesn't waste her good time and good money.

Money which she earns in an office where they do top secret work for the government - tell me how a woman can figure that stuff out at work but can't get the right skirt size?

I mean is that nice Vogue? 

Is that any way to treat a customer? Or even just a decent human being.

The real fact as I see it is you all got in a rut working off the wrong dimensions to build your patterns but are in so deep that it is too much trouble to back out again and start from scratch in a new place, like say, reality.

This reminds me of the time my mother made what they call Matrimonial Squares in the prairies (but the rest of the world calls date squares) using salt instead of sugar, because they were both in jars and looked sort of the same.

You got to have the right stuff. If you don't things just won't get any better the more you mix it up. And until you do things are not going to be looking up in your corner of the sewing industry and there isn't a focus group or new lighting or material give aways to turn it around until you do.




Alison said...

Amen sister.

Kansas Sky said...

Well said! I hope this gets somebody's attention.

Anonymous said...

I'll join the choir. Let's hope we are heard.


BeckyMc said...

Well said!

BeckyMc said...

Vouge, McCalls, Butterick, Simplicity: Please listen!

Karen said...

I have read and commented on both Shams and Robin's posts. I totally agree with all of you. I've resorted to patternmaking software because I have such disasters with the big 4. I'm so turned off by poor fit, designs that only fit Twiggy type bodies and outrageous prices for the poor products. I really want them to work, so every so often I try again only to be disappointed. I am using more and more independent designers and my software because of all the points that have so eloquently been brought forth. With the resurgence--the popularity of Project Runway, The Great British Sewing Bee and crafting, I hope they stand up and take notice and get their rears in gear!

margk said...

Hear, Hear!!

gMarie said...

I just about spit out my dinner - room to house their organs and lunch! Well said Babs! Well Said. g

Margy said...

yea, Barb!!!!

Anna Christina said...

I hope they enjoy reading this as much as I did. Maybe your humor will finally get someones attention.

BeaJay said...

Despite being in my 50s I only started sewing about a year and a half ago and was totally flummoxed by the end result.

Luckily I started blogging at the same time and a commentator told me that my pattern was too big (although it was based on my bust measurement). She said "get a book on fit and do a Full bust Adjustment".

And so started my learning. If it wasn't for other sewists guiding me in the right direction I would have given up then and there!!

badmomgoodmom said...

I consulted my sewing notebooks and discovered that I am a freak of nature. In college, I had a 25" waist and 39" hips.

I read Robin's and Shams' posts and I agree somewhat. We can't expect one block to fit us all, but we should be given the information that we need to know if something can work for our figures and what changes to make (and where).

We need size consistency. They can segment their market and use different blocks for each.

Instructions need to be better, too. Over the last 40 years, the percentage of the population that are visual learners has skyrocketed. (Brain plastisicity is amazing.) Pattern instructions should reflect the changing ways in which people learn.

They can also make use of new technology and give us links to videos of the tricky steps. If they have to upsell and charge a bit extra for the online videos, then do so.

Lena Merrin said...

You can complain until you are blue in the face, but as long as you are paying for their patterns, they don't give a s**t. They will only make changes if the sales decrease. Until then, everything will remain the same.

Sheila said...

Right on. If a little company like StyleArc can get it right, the big 4 with more money and know how should be able to as well.

Karin said...

Trouble is, the patterns don't fit anyone, but we are all shaped differently. If the apples are happy, the pears won't be etc. I just bought Elizabeth Bray's drafting books, used online. Reading her drafting books has resulted in the best fitting pants of my life! I started with a Burda mag pattern and went from there.

Judith said...

I stand alongside you in total agreement!

prttynpnk said...

Well said, Ma'am!

Cleverclogs said...


meredithp said...

As usual, you do not disappoint! :-)

NES said...

Now, did you send this to Vogue?
I am not sure they have gotten the message yet...

Anonymous said...

I have never left a comment. Not once. I read your blog frequently and enjoy it immensely but have NEVER commented.
But this column could not pass by uncommented. on

Thanks for saying that. After a year of struggling I have found that if I take a generous tuck out of the shoulder seam and do a FBA I'm good to go. (At least on any pattern that isn't horrendously body revealing - and I wouldn't be wearing those anyway). But it took me way to long to figure out that I was using a pattern three sizes to big - due to the bust measurement thing. I found out on a bunch of sewing blogs.
Why don't they just tell us?

Jodie said...

Sing it sister!! And here's my beef (since I don't have a blog)...I'm a high school Fashion Studies teacher and have been sewing for 20 years and teaching sewing to teenagers for 12. The instructions are TERRIBLE! My students (beginners but NOT idiots) "graduate" to choosing their own patterns. They often invest their own money into pattern, fabric, notions as well as time and often someone else's time to drive them someplace. They WANT the garment to work. But the directions often don't make sense, generally include facings, but no instructions about finishing anything or understitching. So I often take over and just give verbal instructions - but then I wonder how my students will do if they ever want to sew on their own?

SIGH...I hope someone answers. I'm happy to be part of a focus group or test directions in order to help improve things.

gwensews said...


Julie Culshaw said...

I too never saw a 25" waist in my years of dressmaking and teaching sewing. Actually the smallest waist I ever measured was 28" and this was on a woman who was anorexic and I spent my time with her worrying about her health. Her bust measured 32", a doctor friend told me that her chest alone would measure that.
At least the Sandra Betzina line of Vogue patterns have realistic measurements, for a real woman. Sandra herself advises against buying the regular patterns because they simply won't fit.

Anonymous said...

Hear, Hear!
( I really wish they would 'hear' )
Thank you for putting it so succinctly, Babs.

Kim said...

I had a 25 inch waist...35 years ago, but even then I didn't fit a size 10. I have 40 years of sewing experience, have a degree in fashion design and I still have trouble with some patterns so I applaud your efforts. Next off is a letter to JoAnn Fabric store asking why they offer such horrendous fashion fabrics. Who is the buyer for that store, a 90 year old color blind person?

Patrice said...

Ooohhhh yes!

Karen in VA said...

Love your letter!!!! So true....

a little sewing said...

Barbara, you are hilarious!

People are built, and certainly the ones that sew are, with middles large enough to contain stuff like vital organs and lunch.

I love your writing and how you brought this issue alive with your vivid examples!

Claire S. said...

We can hope they're reading but I wouldn't bet the farm on it LOL

I agree they probably won't do anything til they feel it in the pocketbook but with so many indy options coming available that may actually happen.

Anonymous said...

I look at the sizing charts of the big 4 I. some disbelief as the first 5 seem to be for people who hardly exist except in the books of model agencies and are aged 16.

I hope there is some response to your letter but my guess is that this will take so e time if there are to be any changes.

Nancy K said...

I've read and commented 4 on both Shams and Robins excellent letters to the Big 4 and yes if only they read and listen.
Yours in particular really hit a nerve. I sometimes sew for my 27 year old dd. She wears a size xs or a 2 to 4 in rtw. She has a curvy, muscular body without an once of fat and her waist measures 26 1/2" She has an hour glass figure and even she, with her six pack abs doesn't measure 25" at the waist! Then she flares out to 37" at the lower hip. Really, change those measurements! Thanks for writing a great letter.

Jillybejoyful said...

Another pertinent and very well written letter, thank you!

velosews said...

I've accepted that while I am built the way I am, I will always need to adjust patterns to fit me. And as I age, I'll continue to change my patterns to fit.
However, you are right regarding the lack of styling. So I've been delving into independent pattern companies and I love their perspectives and how responsive each company has been to 'little old me'. Cheers Barb.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, as was Sham's and Robin's.

You know, really, what I appreciate the very most - whether Vogue and the others ever listen/change or not - is that I finally realized how much I have beaten myself up over the years because I have never fit into those size categories and therefore believed the fault was mine. All that body angst came from those pattern size numbers not the number on the scale. I have gone far enough down the road of life now to learn to like myself the way I am and just learn the alterations in "Fit For Real People". But it really does my heart good to read all these wonderful responses and understand that I am not the only one. . .

Anne said...

During her teens and early to mid 20's my 5'9" mother had a 24" waist and 38" hips. At the same age (and height) I had a 25" waist and 38" hips. So people with that waist measurement do exist, and we weren't wearing girdles either! The rectangle figure is becoming more and more common though so I can see why people want the size charts updated. I don't care about the size chart but the fit and ease should be consistent, so that once you figure out your fitting adjustments for that pattern line you can make the same ones all the time and get the same results.