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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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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Follow up on the Big 4 and printing issues

Thank you to all who responded to my last post. There is a lot to think about here.

For a start let's talk about the failure of the printing capabilities at the plant in Kansas.

I have to say I don't really buy this story. Here's why:

1. The malware/computer issue occurred in October. Any winter/holiday pattern collections would be well on their way then - and surely printed for shipment to the stores or ready for online direct customer orders. An October printing problem would impact the spring collections maybe, not winter or holiday.

Note too that Vogue and Kwik Sew was still able to produce slim collections - but were there ever any intention to offer winter/holiday collections for Butterick or McCalls? 

2. Assuming that there were some patterns for this season in the works in all pattern lines, what would be stopping the companies from making .pdf versions available so as not to lose market share? 

Since any patterns would be designed in CAD formats it should have in fact been easier to switch, even for the duration of the printing issue, to .pdfs than hold out for paper.

3. Where are the updates? Where is the customer relations? Do any of us really believe that a viable business could not get a software issue fixed within this time frame, particularly if not doing so would cost money?

What's with this crazy story that the computers wouldn't even turn on? Are these the only computers available on the planet? Are we to believe that these large pattern collections were not backed up and accessible from other machines (even I have my own stuff backed up on the Cloud). 

I have never worked in any office that did not back up the servers. If the printers still worked, and the problem as described was a software not a mechanical issue, then why couldn't the files be downloaded to new computers and sent to the printers? What century are we in?

This is how this whole story is feeling to me:

  • the funds are not available or made available to fix the issues and get production going again. Obviously the cost benefit analysis of fixing the problem wasn't there. No one was losing much money if these idle printers just sat there.
  • Butterick and McCalls are being fazed out anyway. This is a well timed exit strategy.
Further thoughts.

I am not a conspiracy theorist. In fact those folks make my head explode.

However I have common sense, most of the time, and hopefully can still add 2+2 and get 4. That's what I think I am doing here.

I have some sympathy for the company. After all this is exactly what happened to newspapers - an area I have worked in. Print newspapers, like print patterns I guess, stopped making financial sense years ago. In fact there is a town in Nova Scotia, Liverpool, that used to produce the newsprint for the Washington Post. That order was cancelled long ago and that plant, and much of the town, closed down too.

These things happen, times change. I get that.

But I am seeing something else at play here.

Not caring.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I know people who have retired once they knew they just didn't care as much any more (one was my old doctor who I give full credit for his honesty). I even know people who find it hard to care about anything much at all (my most horrifying moment of my teaching career was a student who when asked to write about something she cared about, said well I am not sure I am interested in or care about anything).

Let's be honest we have all reached the point at some time in our lives when we stopped caring about something that used to matter. Often this is a good thing, if what we cared about a lot, if for example, what was what other people think. But it is a terrible thing to have a business or an occupation where you really don't care about the product. How does it feel to acquire a line you don't have much interest in, or have customers for that line that don't really matter to you? Tires, or shovels or sewing patterns, it's all the same to you.

That's what the Big 4 feel like to me these days, like they don't care anymore.

Which is too bad, because when it comes to sewing, I still do.

A lot.

BTW thanks to Vintage Sewing Patterns for posting the link. It was nice to see good pattern design again.


Karen said...

You make good points about the printing situation and I’m inclined to agree with your assessment as to why they are not back up and running. Like many who have been sewing for a while I have a good stash of patterns so I’m not worried for myself, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out for those who are newer to the craft. The newer sewers that I have known seem to rely less on the older pattern companies and tissue patterns anyway, so perhaps it won’t be so traumatic for them. Sad to see former mainstays of sewing appear to be headed for the scrap heap though. Karen

Sarah Wale said...

As usual, you have got straight to the nub of the issue of the printing glitch. Too easy to blame technology when it's actually the humans who made the problem and should solve it. As you say, these can't be the only computers/printers in the world capable of doing the job. I suspect there is capacity but they have lost interest and don;t want to go to the expense of hiring it.
I have a huge stash of patterns from all the mainstream companies and agree that most of them are a nuisance in terms of fit but some, like Burda, are very close to my shape - make of that what you will:)- and I guess I have just got used to doing what needs to be done with the others. I have yet to bite the bullet and order Jalie or Style Arc, though am weakening, as the prospect of printing out all those pieces and then joining them together does not appeal, especially at the price, which is way up there, especially when converting it to NZ$. If they were cheaper than the printed patterns we are used to buying, I would feel less reluctant. On the other hand, time spent altering those patterns is equally irksome, so I am probably killing my own argument! I need to work out if I want fit, convenience or economy.
Happy New Year to you and yours, and all of us Friends of Sewing on the Edge!

Kathy Zachry said...

If Butterick is on the way out, I’m glad I have my stash of Katherine Tilton patterns! Here’s hoping Marcy Tilton keeps designing for Vogue. Although, these ladies may be thinking about retirement. I can’t see it yet, as they - and you, Barbara - have more energy than the Energizer Bunny! Keep writing! I enjoy your posts so much. Always food for thought. Tell us what you’re sewing next since the Christmas gift rush is over.

Sue said...

I agree with you. When I read the “printing issues” I thought shenanigans. And, the. I put it out of my mind. The “Big 4” kpjust aren’t as relevant. There are so many independent companies that put out a great product, with sizes that make sense, and well written instructions. It’s sad to see an organization fail as they pretend to care.

Alison G said...

We seem to be at the end of an era, don't we. I learned to sew from the big 4 pattern instructions, and I'm still sewing 40 years later from those same patterns and my collection of 20th century sewing books. Your book is a rare modern example that matches their quality!
But there will always be people spotting commercial opportunities, and at least now we have the worldwide web for communities of like-minded sewists. We may be more niche than we were but we know how to find each other and exchange ideas, skills and knowledge. Being able to get vintage patterns, and resized too, is a fantastic example of that. Between us we will keep the skills alive ready for the next golden age of sewing!

sewingprincess said...

Thanks for sharing this story! I totally missed it. I am also inclined to think it’s not a software issue. I see computers being blamed a lot these days just because it’s the easy thing to do. However if you know how it really works or just think about it carefully as you did... you realize there must be something else

Pat Gottshalk said...

Your comparison to the newspaper industry is spot on. I am a paper pattern sewer. I own several pdf patterns but cannot figure our how to print my size. The struggle with the computer before taking on a sewing project is a level of frustration and a time buster that I do not welcome. I want to be hopeful for the future of the Big 4 but I may need to take off my rose colored glasses.

Anonymous said...

I have seen it many times in my career> "New Superior Management!" who don't know what they are doing and don't follow up with the established procedures in place. Couple that with an attitude this company doesn't align with the "better" one and let' slowly drive it into the dirt.

Kizibell Atlanta said...

One more thought following on from my previous comment. Is there a business opportunity here for an enterprising person to buy pdf patterns from the indie designers and print them off, selling them as paper patterns. I would buy these in a heart beat but won't buy the pdf patterns. Unfortunately I'm too old to be sticking patterns together... :-)

Jodie said...

Thanks Barb. And for pointing out the link to the vintage sewing patterns. I haven't sewn with the "big 4" in many years now. I find the sizing SO FRUSTRATING and although I still have many Vogue patterns in my collection for amazing and complicated jackets and dresses, as a high school teaching (especially now) I'm in jeans and soft clothes. But even still, I reach for indie patterns more often than not. I agree with Beth, some are not great and there's a lot of t-shirts out there, but the same can be said of the big 4 as well. Even now when I teach sewing, I don't send my beginners in that direction as the instructions are so poor. Right now, I'm loving the sasha trousers from closet core patterns - the instructions were great and the fit (for me) spot on to what I wanted for work. I'm living in jeans right now so may dip a toe into that. I also love soft tees and have made many many of the free Hemlock Tee by Grainline studio. I have a few more of their patterns but haven't sewn many new things recently. I'm also working on shirts for my husband and found Thread Theory a good company of menswear. The availability and responsivness to customers is something the big 4 just doesn't have. But there are sewists out there so it's a shame they don't care about us. I've just moved my dollars to somewhere else. And yes, those indie patterns are often more expensive. So I'm more selective.

Sarah said...

The pattern companies were shut down in March. People were sent home. It was the pandemic. I don't know how many of the designers have fancy pattern software at home, but I bet not enough of them to put out a collection that would have been being worked on then.
No collection in March, no printed patterns in October.
That had nothing to do with the printing company.

As for the computer shutdown. It wasn't "hacking". It was ransomware. You pay the ransom or it wipes your hard drives. If you turn on your computers before you have paid the price (usually thousands), it counts down and wipes your drives. You lose the pattern files, the software that runs the printing presses and your computer's operating system.

SO the pattern companies were shut down in March when everybody was sent home because of Covid, and then the printing company was shut down because some fool hooked up his laptop to the system running the printing presses.

Don't attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence. (It's incompetence to allow people to connect to computers that run your printing software with anything that can be connected to the internet.)

This was not because they don't care about their customers. Maybe they don't. But this is not a symptom of that.

Heather said...

I highly recommend Jalie patterns. Good directions, and I have been happy with the results of every one I have made, including the ones with very large size ranges. Take that plunge!

Anne J said...

I agree that the big 4 don't seem to care about their customers. No email notifications (despite signing up multiple times) regarding sales. No more ability to put patterns on the wishlist, etc. I am still miffed that Simplicity isn't selling in Canada, but since their fit on me is terrible, it's not a big deal.

I don't find that the fit of the big 4 is too big in my size range when I choose the size based on my chest measurement. Some fitting is required regardless of the pattern company (big 4, indie, etc). I wish all pattern companies would indicate how much ease they intend, or what all the finished measurements are, with some actual measurements instead of general terms. I intensely dislike having to hunt for these on the pattern tissue.

I can't say much about the instructions; I typically don't follow them very carefully at all unless there's a piece I can't quite figure out. I think there is a need for a general set of instructions along with different ways to end up with the same outcome, like sewing in a zipper. I think Burda might have something like this in German, but I'm not sure what might be available in English. I would use something like this to help teach my daughter to sew.