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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, January 27, 2020

The changing world of patterns

I am starting this post with a picture from from Vogue's new spring collection.

Now where do we start with this one? 

Anyone have an iron? 

Look at those hems. Look at that unpressed tie. Look at where the shoulders fit, or rather don't, on this poor girl who has every right to be as fed up as she looks.

I mean who in their right mind would wear this get up but more to the point, this was something that was sewn! What would you think if you had made this and this was what you saw in the bathroom mirror when you went to try it on?

It's time we all faced the new reality. 

The pattern companies, the Big Four are just not what they once were. A lot of things aren't anymore of course. I am OK with that, and with change. You can't expect some for profit company, or in this case companies, to just continue to knock themselves out because we find it so reassuring to have access to the resources we are used to.

This month the Big Four, yes that's right all the large pattern companies, were bought by one British outfit that sells wrapping paper and greeting cards. Clearly the pattern companies are loosely related in a retail, they might be sold in similar stores sort of way, but the pattern companies are just another commodity, a line in this context.

Under this new system don't be expecting any revisions of those nutty pattern instructions that tell us still to staystitch knit necklines and sew all T shirt seams twice on a straight stitch. 

Don't be expecting and revisions to the sizing charts that still think some women have 32" hips or that a woman's waist is always 10" smaller than her bust. 

And don't be expecting all four pattern companies (and we should probably also include New Look, Kwik Sew and probably printed Burda into the mix as they would be included in the sale) to be maintained as separate identities, approaches to clothes or levels of complexity. 

And don't be expecting someone with taste to come into work at the pattern department any time soon either.

The way I see it if they have unplugged the irons at Vogue all bets are off. 

Now don't get me wrong. 

Some of my favourite TNTs came from the Big Four. Just not lately. I used to be beside myself with excitement when I got an email that a new season's patterns were out (but the way Butterick hasn't released a new collection since the fall) but now when I get around to having a look, all I can think of is who would wear that?

It's not really that they dropped the ball.

The times just caught up with companies that produced masses of paper patterns and shipped them out to stores who would pull them from the catalogues four times at least a year and dump those "discards" in the garbage, or ship them back to the company. 

It takes a lot of women sewing, and a lot of sewing/fabric brick and mortar stores, and a lot of not having any other options to sustain a system like that.

And that environment just doesn't exist anymore.

I have had some early indicators on this whole situation.

 F+W Media, who owned Burdastyle, Interweave Press, Sew News and a bunch of other well known enterprises, went into bankruptcy this year. I was actually, without knowing it, one of their creditors. I got a letter in the mail every month all last year or so saying that I was on the list to get paid but don't hold my breath. 

I had recorded a series of Burdastyle webinars a couple of years ago and I was supposed to be paid something every time someone took the course. That hadn't happened in so long I sort of forgot about it.

Burdastyle was recently picked up by a holding company of some kind. I noticed as a result that they were remaking the website in a more commercial way - with prominent add to cart icons for example.

I also noticed that for many of the patterns, information that was really useful to me, and was always on the old site, like technical line drawings, yardage requirements etc. was missing.

Now you know with any pattern, but particularly with those weirdly posed Burda fashion shots, if you can't see the line drawing you really don't know anything you need to know about that pattern.

So I wrote them to say, more or less, what's up with that?

This morning, to their credit, I got a nice email back saying they have recently changed hands and it will take a while to get things up and running again, and offering me 10% off a pattern.

I am wondering now if that too is going to be another company that won't be giving me the patterns I want to sew.

Now this is not all a complaint. 

Pattern companies are not sewing. Needs change and really was throwing out all those paper patterns a good idea?

A person has to keep up.

I have a funny story to tell on this. 

When I was in Berkeley my DIL, who I really love, was getting ready in the morning and we realized we were out of coffee. I went into my Nova Scotia MIL routine and said immediately write me a list, I will go to the store for you, and bring back whatever you need. 

"No it's OK," she said." I have an app."

And she did too, ordered all the groceries with one hand on her phone. Done in 10 minutes. Everything was at the door by lunch, meat in ice packs even which we left outside with the boxes for them to pick up and recycle, being in Berkeley of course. 

Now this got me to thinking, once I had absorbed there was a mother-in-law app, how marvellous this was. I thought of my 92 year old mother in Winnipeg, of my own mother-in-law who needs to wait for someone to take her shopping, of the tired babies I see at the grocery stores at 9:00 on weeknight.

Keeping up is a good thing.

Which made me think that all changes are like coins, you turn them over and there is the opposite on the other side. My DIL is a very child centred person. Her app gives her more family time.

And the fading away of the pattern companies of my sewing life has been balanced by the direct and personal contact with Indie pattern designers. Ironically the end of something big has made room for something, many things, smaller.

And some of those Indies are really great - far more responsive, and dependent on good reviews actually, than the Big Four. Yes we have all sewn some real Indie duds but I notice those operators tend not to be around any more and there are many that are just so good.

 Stylearc, Jalie, Lovenotions, Megan Neilsen (mostly), Liesl and Company, the list keeps growing. Copy shop printing has liberated many of us from pdf taping and it's nice to work with good paper too.

So now, over to you.

What are your feelings about the changes in the pattern industry?

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Flypaper thoughts back in the state park editon

  • Back at the campsite in the Florida state park after a great week in Berkeley
  • It's taken me a couple of visits to get into the Berkeley groove
  • But I think I am there now
  • It is a place for gardeners
  • And folks writing novels that don't require completion
  • For shrub pruners
  • And ferment makers
  • For doctorates and migrants
  • For non-conformity as ordinary
  • The only thing I did not see there
  • Was a human in a suit
  • Anyone power walking
  • Or a briefcase
  • I did see
  • A store that sold only typewriters
  • Like the Royal down the basement at home
  • Gluten free bread made with ethically sourced oat milk
  • Worried four-year-olds asking if the weiners were vegan
  • "Read the labels sweetie, remember Mommy said read the labels"
  • I saw a blinding white painted high school in the sun
  • And teenagers indifferent to walking home in paradise
  • Not knowing they had been brought up on dessert
  • As if they didn't know that not everywhere has Crème Brulee for breakfast
  • So much natural beauty in California it knocks me out
  • It's like a drink where all the sugar has settled to the bottom
  • And someone lives there
  • I saw End Homelessness spray painted on the dome of a synagogue
  • And everyone smiled at me
  • No need to hustle when there is room to be anyone you are
  • I saw elderly women in the fabric store in knitted berets and wearable art skirts
  • Holding forth with authority among bolts of linen
  • Artists improve with age
  • Don't they know that everywhere?
  • I saw older women lead not follow behind
  • I drank cappuccino and opened my laptop
  • Like everyone else
  • Working on that novel I guess
  • I dropped sustainable crumbs on my keys while I search fabric sites
  • Sort of my novel
  • But more than that
  • I spent wonderful hours with a wonderful child
  • Hours looking at the birdies
  • And examining the rocks
  • At 66 I met my 1 year-old soul mate
  • Who would have thought?
  • Who would have thought?
  • I hope you all know that at any time
  • Life can mail you a great gift
  • The trick is to never not believe it won't happen
  • Yes I know all those days you trudge to the mail box
  • Thinking nothing there is what it is now
  • But the intermission is just that
  • The best can always come
  • The trick is understanding that life is generous
  • With a timetable still at the printers
  • But that doesn't mean 
  • You can't wait for the birdies
  • They always come