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I am a mother, a new 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 first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon

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Saturday, September 1, 2018

Pattern testing and the Duet pants from Love Notions






Some of you may remember that one of my new year's resolutions was to sew more Indie patterns.

There are many reasons for this.

The first off is that as someone who works with and thinks a lot about new and returning sewers, I have become increasingly disenchanted with the Big Four- particularly the instructions in most patterns. 

The fact is that when those patterns are produced so many of the guide sheets are an amalgamation of cut and paste texts from a bank of instructions. Even those seem to be based on outdated textbook home-ec from the 50s methods that just don't acknowledge the innovations in techniques, tools, and equipment. Folks have sergers and lightening stitches on their sewing machines these days - double rows of straight stitches is not the standard approach for sewing knits.

You would have to go a long way in those instructions from the regular pattern companies to devise an more discouraging approach to sewing, and a route to disappointing results for an enthusiastic keener beginning or intermediate sewer. Why the under illustrated instructions that explain too much about what you don't need to do? Why suggest folks sew gathering stitches to ease in a knit sleeve and set-it in for a T shirt pattern? Baste press and trim, straight stitch and stitch again on the hem of a jersey dress, turning under the raw edge? Twin needles folks twin needles.

I could go on and on. You know I could.

I think you get the drift.

The fit in so many of the Big Four also is bizarre. How else do we explain urban myths like McCalls fits big, or necklines large enough for two heads, and pants with legs wide enough for torsos? No wonder no one knows what size to buy.

Now I have a few Big Fours I use, love, and have saved over the years. But really would I pass most of these patterns on to my daughter and her friends and say go for it, the instructions will tell you everything you need to know, and it will fit the way you expect clothes to fit?

Nope.

Also, apart from some fairly elaborate, and in my opinion unreliable, tissue fitting advice in the Palmer and Pletsch patterns, standard pattern companies pay very little attention to fit issues. And this is the main reason so many sewers give up sewing.

So enter my interest in Indie, generally small home-based, pattern companies.

The availability of pattern drafting software, the ability to produce and sell .pdf patterns, to have all those transactions possible from nothing more complicated than a smartphone,  as well as online communities to both build markets and share creative inspiration, has revolutionized the home sewing industry.

I can imagine the discussions that must be happening around the Big Four boardroom tables.

This opening up of the sewing community is fascinating to watch and to participate in.

So that's why I signed up to be a tester for the newly released Duet trousers from Love Notions.

Now a while ago a commenter here on this blog left a comment about the objectivity of the testing process. She noted that all tester reviews seemed to be glowing. She wondered, probably accurately, if some "testers" were really just sample makers. 

I get that point.

In some situations this may be the case.

So I wanted to see for myself what went on in a real testing process and so I volunteered. If you are interested there is a testers group on FB that posts testing calls. Most of the Indie pattern companies also have FB groups where these are posted.

That's how I applied to test this pattern for Love Notions. I am glad I did.

It was a pretty gruelling couple of weeks working as a tester.

Here is how this process worked.

First off the designer, Tami Bunch Meyer, sent out over the testing period eight different pattern iterations, each one fine tuned and responsive to testing experiences over the 10 days of testing.

We testers made up as many of these as we could (I made 5) using our own fabric and posting pictures as we went to a FB group for discussion. This let Tami see the pattern on different body types (sizes 2-22 - these were real people!)  I think I posted only 3 of my versions because in two cases a new and improved version was out before I could get my pictures taken and posted.

This was a pretty solid pattern to start with and I have to say that the pattern refinement process was painstakingly careful. and the quality of the final version shows this effort. Sometimes it was only take in an 3/8" here or there. The testers worked hard but I have to say that Tami worked even harder.

To be honest I was amazed at how hard she worked. 

Personally the thought of taking on fitting (essentially muslins for every size and type of body shape possible) is something I wouldn't do. So much work and we are all so demanding about pant fit. Friends of mine have been working on the same pant muslin for decades.

Think about it. Think about the challenge of figuring out which fit issues are personal shape issues and which ones are pattern design issues. This is huge.

I have to say that how this was handled was impressive. 

The final version of the pants pattern has been carefully developed that's for sure. But any pattern is not going to fit every conceivable body curve exactly out of the envelope. So in recognition of that this pattern comes with an excellent pattern adjustment/alteration booklet that really would be a fitting handbook for any pants maker.

A note on the style of these pants. 

They are trousers, meaning more thigh ease than many of us after years of skinny pants are used to. They hang down at the back as opposed to cup under the seat. It is important to distinguish between fit and design issues in your expectations.

The pattern can be made with or without pockets and in either a stretch woven with some drape, or a knit like ponte (although I note that some testers used straight up wovens and they seemed to work well too). 

There is a classic trouser width and a tapered leg option. There are two waistband options, a knit yoga band and a standard waistband to go with an invisible side zipper. I think a knit yoga band combined with a stretch woven would work too depending on your hip to waist ratio.

For my own version of the final I used the wrong fabric, a poplin with only a tiny bit of stretch, and I knew it wouldn't hang as well as the suggested fabrics. 

However I have been desperate for comfortable golf pants that I could move in easily in a lighter fabric for the evenings when the bugs come out. I took a chance. Next time I make these for non golf wear I will take these down a size particularly if I do the knit version or use a real stretch woven. 

Interesting that one of Tami's fit recommendations is to go down a size always if you fall between the exact measurements in the charts. Given the ease of this pattern that makes a lot of sense.

So here are my own pants, done from the last version of the pattern but without any personal alterations. I will do those next time, like adding length to the legs and reducing the front crotch depth a bit. Again done in not the best fabric choice for the pattern, I think there are more illustrative versions posted by other testers you can see in the pattern link. That said I have worn these already a few times and found them perfect for comfortable pants on the golf course. I will be making more.




So here's what I learned from testing this pattern:

1. Allow yourself some real dedicated time to do this. The pattern designer needs this from you. I had company arrive in the middle and this made it hard to do all versions.

2. Understand this is not a get a free pattern exercise but real work. This is test and feedback sewing not sample sewing. You will burn through a lot of stash fabric to do a good job. In my case I was happy to do this and get some weird coloured stuff that I am not sure why I bought it out of the inventory. All the testers were given a store credit to put towards future pattern purchases at the end of the process, but really in relation to time and fabric spent this should not be a main motivator to involve yourself in this process.

And finally some thoughts on Indie patterns and my experience.

I often hear from long time sewers that they don't like or trust Indie designers. 

I so get this. But I also don't think it is accurate all the time. Whose Indie pattern really matters.

Sure I have had my own experiences with quickly produced patterns that have been rushed into .pdfs and Paypal set ups by the kind of newish sewers who might be considered to be in the category of those who don't know what they don't know. Some of the independently patterns I have bought have been pretty crude and technically illiterate to be honest, but I could, and have, sometimes said exactly that about patterns from the Big Four.

So really it seems to me that the best thing to do is to remember the word Indie means independent and that each of these operations is a reflection of itself and not a category of pattern-making.

So having gone through this process in depth with Love Notions I now know that this company really puts a huge amount of effort and attention to detail into pattern development. I have had good results with their patterns in the past, mainly tops, but now I understand the design process from the inside I would trust them as a reliable source for quality patterns in the future. 

It would be interesting to test more of these patterns and I might even do the odd one for another designer again if I have the time. 

Your thoughts?