Another take on Just Patterns Stephanie Skirt

Dear readers,

 

I’m slowly climbing out of the overwhelmed single working mom hole although I have to acknowledge that I may fall right back into it at any time. Life has a thing for intently proving me wrong every time I start feeling like things are under control. But before that happens, I’m trying to get as much sewing and photographing done!

The skirt I am showing you today has been on my mind since November, I had just finished a grey wool and cashmere version of our Just Patterns Stephanie Skirt because I thought it would come in handy for the New York winter and then learned I would be relocating to Haiti within weeks. So in the midst of selling all my belongings, packing my things and my baby, I, of course, started thinking about new wardrobe options! I went on a last shopping spree at Mood, before leaving because fabric shopping in Port-au-Prince is limited. I wanted to find a cotton lace or Guipure that would enable an scalloped hem and some transparency, and I had an immediate crush on this particular fabric!

Just Patterns Lace Stephanie Skirt by Sewing Tidbits-1Just Patterns Lace Stephanie Skirt by Sewing TidbitsJust Patterns Lace Stephanie Skirt by Sewing Tidbits-3Just Patterns Lace Stephanie Skirt by Sewing Tidbits-4

Pattern


Pattern – Just Patterns Stephanie Skirt
Size – 34

I didn’t do any change to the pattern, except lengthening it by 3 inches for the lace layer and shortening the poplin underlining so that it’s a total 12″ long. I really wanted for the sheerness of the lace to show, so I kept the underlining as wanted the underlining to be as short as possible. One thing I would do differently in working with this kind of fabric would be to add wider seam allowances than just 1/2″ as it can get tricky for the “holes” part of the lace.

Just Patterns Lace Stephanie Skirt by Sewing TidbitsJust Patterns Lace Stephanie Skirt by Sewing Tidbits-7

Making

 


Fabric Lace and cotton poplin are both from Mood Fabrics in NYC
Notions The invisible zipper and hooks and eyes are from the stash.

The poplin is serged all around the edges of the lace. Although I am usually not a fan of overlocked edges, for this particular fabric it provides some needed stability the the seam allowances. Treating the poplin as an underlining rather than a lining also has the benefit of hiding the pocket bags. To create the scalloped hem, I carefully cut around the flower shapes, trying to respect the flare. Unlike some pleated skirt patterns or tutorials you sometimes find, the hem is curved because the pleats were added to a flared skirt and not to a rectangle.

 

What I like about this pattern (and I’m biased of course ;-)) and this particular combination with the lace is the wow effect of a relatively simple project otherwise. I’ve been thinking a lot these days about what constitutes “good sewing”, as in garments that you will enjoy wearing for the years to come. I hope to reflect and write more on this but I believe that it’s a combination of sewing things that reflect your “personal style” (although I’m getting a bit drained by all the content generated around this), good fit and good construction.

To improve our sewing skills, we automatically think about tackling more complex projects and the results can be less than great since we become overwhelmed and lack the practice. On the other hand, when tackling a less involved project, we are tempted not to dedicate as much time (in terms of seam finishes, unpicking and perfecting the topstitching, etc.) because “it’s just an everyday item”. So I decided to force myself to slow down as much as possible and try to do my best work for every garment so that my clothes stand the test of time!

Sewing Tidbits Ulyana Sergeenko Lace skirtSewing Tidbits Ulyana Sergeenko lace skirt

The finished garment is very close to the one I had in mind so I’m very happy with the result! As you can see I played with two different styling options for the pictures. The first one with flats is a realistic version of how I wear it to the office and the second is my attempt to recreate a look worn by Ulyana Sergeenko as entry in the Pattern Review Bargainista Fashionista contest. I didn’t aim to recreate the skirt as exactly as possible but rather to transpose the feel of it into something I could wear in my everyday life. This contest has been happening for several years on Pattern Review and it’s my favorite one to enter, since copying RTW I couldn’t afford is the very reason why I started sewing. [EDIT: Unfortunately due to my terrible internet connection in Haiti, my entry did not make the deadline :-(]

Although I have been a member of Pattern Review for the last 13 years (!!), I don’t enter many contests except this one. I also have the feeling that sewing contests are not as popular as they once were. I could be only an impression though and it would be very interesting if PatternReview looked at the number of contestants over the years. What do you think? Do you participate in contests? Do you think they are still relevant?

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Just Patterns Kate bias top by Sewing Tidbits

Selling Digital Sewing Patterns – Year 1, Income Report and Lessons Learned

Dear readers,

I want to start by telling you that I have tons of ideas of things I would like to talk about on the blog this year, but I have to admit that I, again, put too much on my plate and I’m currently juggling to make it all work. But I finally managed to complete this post that has been in my draft box for 2 months (yay!!) so grab a coffee because today we are talking business!!

pexels-photo-373076.jpegAfter almost a year of activity in our PDF sewing pattern endeavor, I thought it would be a good time to gather some of our early findings and lessons learned. I’m a great admirer of bloggers operating with a high degrees of transparency.  Income reports are quite common in the blogging world but  not so much in the sewing community. There are of course exceptions, I think most of us are familiar with Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps.  My lovely friend, Sanae Ishida, also discusses her blogger/writer income very openly with Furoku members. Transparency doesn’t necessarily mean discussing $$ at length and I always loved the behind the scenes posts published by various indie pattern designers (like Sewaholic or Closet Case Patterns). For all the years that I delayed taking the leap and starting my own project, reading about it was my little window into that world.

Just Patterns Kate bias top by Sewing Tidbits
Just Patterns Kate Bias Top

The way I approach Just Patterns, is largely shaped by all this generously shared knowledge. So it seems only fair to apply those standards of transparency to myself and share with you what we tried so far and where we stand. I try to be as genuine as possible so I hope it doesn’t come of as complaining, bragging or something like that.  If it does, then you are more than welcome to set me straight! I always felt that this blog was a space where I would always get valuable feedback from you, which is why I’m sharing my thoughts so openly with you.

2017 in numbers

5 patterns released

370 patterns sold:

  • 345 on Etsy (our main shop)
  • 24 on Makerist (we listed 3 patterns there in December)
  • 1 on Craftsy

1383$ of revenue:

  • 1315$ on Etsy
  • 65$ in Makerist (We listed there in preparation of a sale, so basically patterns were sold at 50% off)
  • 3$ on Craftsy

289$ of e-commerce fees:

  • 115$ for Etsy Credit Card Processing
  • 155$ for other Etsy Fees
  • 19$ for Makerist Commission

892$ of other Expenses:

  • 210$ for digitizing (that includes our current patterns and some of our future releases)
  • 630$ for the licence of our CAD software.
  • 52$ for the domain of our website

That leaves us with a positive balance of 200$. But that’s not entirely correct because major expenditures are being left out. First, we are currently able to get the photography done professionally at no cost. However, it may not last forever. There are also costs not being charged to the business such as Adobe Illustrator (for which I pay about 240$/year) or fabric for samples. So it would be fairer to say that we approximatively  broke even this year but it does raise the question of the sustainability of our approach.

Lessons and questions

Obviously, getting rich out of selling PDF patterns was never a goal. What I really wanted out this project was to experiment, learn and challenge my own assumptions about what is going on in the world of independent patterns makers. None of the lessons below are breakthroughs, they are things that I believe we already know, but I’m a hard-evidence type of person. So I won’t believe anyone until I see it for myself!

Lesson #1: Simple patterns are the ones that sell

Duh! That one is easy and from looking at other popular indie designers, we know the answer. It’s the simpler styles that sell better. That’s about it. You can spend weeks developing a pattern like Linda but you will sell a lot more Stephanie. The investment is lower, the risk is lower and the sales are higher. Simply put, releasing complex patterns is not a good business decision.

Pattern  Release Date Sales
Linda Wrap Dress  June 2017 57
Stephanie Skirt  March 2017 110
Yasmeen Skirt  December 2017 23
Christy Bias Slipdress  February 2017 73
Kate Bias Top  February 2017 107

Of course, things are more complicated than that. First of all, the process of getting a pattern ready for release is long and sometimes tedious. I find it more rewarding to work on designs I truly love. I’m also not a marketing wiz, so to “sell” a style I need to truly love it! In addition, I believe that releasing more complex styles actually  the credibility of the simpler patterns. By showing that you can achieve this, it gives confidence to customers that your drafting/grading is on point.

Lesson #2: Making money out of sewing patterns is difficult

With Just Patterns, we made the deliberate choice to start at much lower price than the current indie offering. Since then, we were told repeatedly that our patterns were too cheap. We heard it from pretty much everybody: bloggers, customers and fellow indie pattern designers. I’m very stubborn, and I was very committed to our price point but looking at the numbers that I outlined above, I have to admit that we have a sustainability issue. How long will we find the energy and time to do something that is very far from paying even a portion of our own time?

At the current pricing level, we would need to sell significantly more patterns. That would require stronger marketing efforts which is definitely a weakness. Marketing is time consuming and not a favorite of either Eira or myself. It also brings out another question, how big is the market of people who do not expect detailed instructions? Is it that we are not reaching our people or that there are just not that many of them? The answer of this question, which I obviously don’t know, leads to very different paths. If we are not reaching out enough then we need to focus our time on marketing and expanding our horizons. If the answer is that there aren’t that many sewists not looking for detailed instructions then the possibilities are 1/ outsourcing the development of instructions, because there is no way for us to do it, and then hike up the price to the level of other indies 2/sticking to the spare instructions and finding a middle price that allows us to keep catering to the same small crowd in a sustainable manner.

Just Patterns Linda Wrap DressLesson #3: I am terrible at keeping my balance…

I don’t talk about my personal or professional life that much around here but I think most of you know that I have an interesting and demanding day job, and I am the single parent of a small but growing human (in the middle of sleep training…). Obviously those responsibilities come first, and then there is also the need for some kind of social life, the personal sewing, sewing and writing for Sew News, and everything Just Patterns related. Even though her responsibilities are not the same, Eira also has an extremely busy schedule outside our little pattern venture.

I feel lucky because I love every aspect of my life, but I tend to over commit. So I do it all, then I reach my exhaustion point, take a break and restart all over. Exactly what every business book tells you NOT to do. Because it even shows in our online presence. For some time I manage to post regularly on social media and then suddenly disappear. I know it’s bad but I don’t think there is anything i can do about it for now. So I guess I’ll have to hope that our customers are patient and understanding!

The post is getting longer than initially intended so I will break it in two and keep my questions and goals for 2018 for a follow-up post. I hope that the first part was of interest to you, and as always don’t hesitate to let me know what your thoughts are or if you would like me to expand on any of the things I mentioned! 

Wax Skirt by Sewing Tidbits

On my 2017 sewing year and why I don’t plan a #2018Makenine…

Dear readers,

It has only been a week since I last posted here, so this should give you an idea of how much I am boiling inside, waiting for my sewing machines! This year I sewed 23 items, which is a pretty good output for me:

  • 17 garments for myself. I’m happy with that number. I try to keep my wardrobe a manageable size and it wouldn’t make sense for me to aim for more. The big lesson here is that I probably shouldn’t buy sewing patterns anymore… This year, 9 garments were from patterns we released under Just Patterns, 4 were self-drafted, 1 was Burda, 2 from Indie designers (both free) and 1 is an mash-up of indie/Big4/self-drafting.
  • 3 items for the little human: a spring coat, a white special occasion dress and a summer hat. I’m terrible at documenting baby sewing outside of Instagram. Actually, let me rephrase: I’m terrible at baby sewing. I find it really difficult to find  clothes that would be 1/comfortable for Little Tidbits, 2/ are interesting to make and 3/ not too time-consuming because she outgrows them so fast.  Or maybe I’m just a  Selfish Seamstress (TM) and that even motherhood could not change that!
  • 1 Just Patterns sample in our fit model size (to be released next month).
  • 1 fabric basket to gather toys from Sanae’s lovely book: Sew Happiness. I very rarely do home sewing, but this was quick and it looks pretty!
  • 1 unusual item, I made a sample for a friend who runs a gender queer underwear business. She showed me a picture of a lapel to accessorize her line and I made the first sample. You can see it on the Play-Out website!

For the sake of accountability, here are the garments I included in my #2017MakeNine post. I sewed 4 out of the 9 garments below:

7cb446f2-76e7-44ce-97c8-bc3f79e985942 Blazers

I did finish the white Blazer (it’s the pattern mash-up mentioned above). I haven’t managed to blog about it but I have a few pictures I used for Instagram. The Balmain blazer on the other hand saw no progress. It’s in a box and well advanced. I hope to complete it in 2018.

Challenge 10x10 Sewing Tidbits-2

3 Skirts

I made 2 out of 3. The white pencil skirt was my submission for the first round of the Pattern Review Sewing Bee Contest. I also finally got around sewing a Stella Jean inspired skirt from one of the pieces of African wax I have in stash since leaving in Zambia. This one is un-blogged, but you may have seen it on Instagram. I sewed 3 more skirts but not the one included in the Makenine.

2 Dresses

I did sew my own sample of the Linda wrap dress. Actually I sewed 2 more variations. One sleeveless I posted on Instagram and one for Sew News that I will show you next year. I wasn’t sure about the Capital Chic sheath when I made my plan and I didn’t get even close to sewing it.

2 Tops

I sewed 4 tops  and 2 Tshirts this year, but nothing I had mentioned in the 2017Makenine. Oops…

What are the lessons for 2018?

In my last post, I did mention that my realization that I wouldn’t be able to document all my sewing in blog posts but when I counted how many garments I blogged vs sewed, I realized that out of the 17 handmade garments for myself, I only blogged 5. That’s really low in my opinion. Even if 5 of the 12 un-blogged items are samples for Sew News that I  cannot blog them before the issue they are featured gets published, that still leaves 7 garments that could have made it to the blog.  I will try to post some of them in 2018 and I hope it won’t bother you. Let’s just pretend that I’m super professional and I plan my content in advance!

I will not be making a #2018Makenine plan for several reasons. First, i don’t think that the #2017Makenine helped me focus my sewing. I sewed what I already knew I would make and, unsurprisingly, didn’t sew the ones I wasn’t sure about. Just for the sake of making a plan, I tend to include clothes that I’m not 200% excited about. There is no value in doing that. Secondly, in my experience, when moving to a different country, it takes some time to reevaluate what you need and want to wear. So I’m going to take some time thinking and maybe doing some planning. Just like everyone else in the sewing world, I’ve been reading the Curated Closet, and I also did a round of the 10×10 Challenge (you can read about it here and I’ll post more in details about it later). I want explore the intersection personal style and a handmade wardrobe and I will try to document the process.

Challenge 10x10 Sewing Tidbits-1

In order to plan be more mindful of what I sew and what I wear, I need to be realistic about my average sewing productivity. For 2018, my assumption is that I’ll sew between 15 and 20 garments for myself. 6 technically already decided on since I have a commitment with Sew News for 3 samples and we have already made plans for 3 pattern releases with Just Patterns. Ideally, everything I make this year will bring cohesion to my closet and contribute to a decrease in my fabric stash!

I’ll be back soon with my thoughts on a year of selling PDF sewing patterns but in the mean time I would love to hear your thoughts about wardrobe planning and sewing plans! Did you manage to follow-up on your 2017 plans? Are you taking part in the  #2018MakeNine? Happy new year!

Linda Wrap Dress by Sewing Tidbits

My Just Patterns samples – Linda, Kate and Christy!

Dear readers,

 

First, let me thank you for your reactions on my last post. I received lovely messages in the comments, on Instagram and by email. In addition to people volunteering to become part of the Just Patterns Development Group, I had some great discussions about sewing, patterns and fashion!

With over 70 volunteers for the development group, it has been very difficult to restrict the  selection to 20 but we managed and now everybody is hard at work and already providing great feedback! To offer an alternative to those who want to ask questions while they sew our patterns or post their finished makes we also created a Facebook Community Group. I’m not much of a Facebook person myself but I’m surprised already at the fluidity of conversation it enables…

But let’s talk about today’s topic! This dress is my first version of our latest pattern release, the Linda Wrap Dress. I have been obsessed with this dress since Eira – The Pattern Line – made it. It’s for garments like this that I originally wanted to launch Just Pattern. I am just thrilled that it has finally joined of my closet!

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I could go on and on about this design because I love everything about it! I think it has great details, such as the collar, the metal buckle  and the big pockets. It also has a kind of uniform vibe that makes me feel extra confident on days I have to attend important meetings. A little like a man suit, but more interesting that its traditional female counter part, the sheath dress.

In case you are wondering, the only closure is at the waist. I recommend wearing a slip underneath unless you like to live dangerously! The skirt overlap does generally a good job at revealing only an attractive yet appropriate amount of leg. But I’ve been caught in some crazy NYC winds and luckily I was prepared!

 

Pattern


Pattern Link – Linda Wrap Dress by Just Patterns
Size – We ended up not releasing this size, equivalent to a 32 in our size chart.

The biggest disclaimer of this post is that I did not sew the pattern as is. As you know, I’m petite and I deliberately wanted to try a more fitted look than the one intended. I used the size we initially planned to release as a 34, I removed 1″ to the skirt length and 2″ to the sleeves length.

I think sizing down works  great for the bodice and the waistband, but I could have done with the extra ease in the hips area. For future samples I will also skip shortening the skirt and remove only 1″ of the sleeve length.

When we reviewed the fit and measurements of the final garment, we decided that it would be too small on most people. We moved all of our grading up one size as a result. But in case you are not into the relaxed look, sizing down is a great option.

 

Making


Fabric – Wool from Mood Fabric, I believe it was Rag&Bone
Notions – The 35mm buckle, eyelets and snaps (inside the belt) are from Botani in the NY Garment District.
Helpful resources – a list of useful resources for this pattern is available at Just Patterns.

Of course I am biased, but I find the construction of this dress very straightforward. I love that using french seams and sandwiching the bodice and the skirt between the 2 layers of the belt provides clean finish on the inside, no serging or binding required!

You may have seen on Instagram that I bought a Dual Compensating Raising Foot for my industrial machine and it really made the double topstitching easier. Since buying it I keep looking for excuses to double topstitch ALL THE THINGS!

The belt buckle is probably the only unusual part of the construction but I posted some pictures of the process and if you take your time it shouldn’t be hard to figure out.

Just Patterns Bias Slip dress by Sewing TidbitsJust Patterns Bias Slip dress by Sewing Tidbits

Pattern


Pattern Link – Christy Slip Dress and Kate Bias Top by Just Patterns
Size – 34

I used our bias slip dress pattern to create a lingerie style slip. I needed a V neck to match the wrap dress plunging neckline,  so I used the neckline of our bias top pattern. And since I was going to cut some silk I decided that I may as well make a lingerie tank too!

Making


Fabric – Nude Silk Charmeuse from Mood Fabric
Notions – Gold lingerie strap hardware from Botani.
Helpful resources – a list of useful resources for this pattern is available at Just Patterns.

I used a single layer of fabric instead of 2, finished the edges with bias binding and made adjustable lingerie straps instead of spaghetti ones. I wouldn’t say that it is a very quick sew because of the time it takes to cut properly but the construction is relatively fast. I always find my slip/tank projects very rewarding. The garments feel luxurious and get worn a lot (including just to sleep!!) and the time involved is reasonable.

 

I really love those 3 additions to my handmade wardrobe and I can predict that the wrap dress is going to remain a favorite for the years to come. After all, isn’t creating pieces that will last longer than some cheap fast-fashion option what we try to achieve as sewers? Which of your handmade garment(s) has endured the test of time? I would love to hear your thoughts on creating a wardrobe that lasts!

Just Patterns Linda Wrap Dress

A project 17 years in the making…

Dear Readers,

I remember vividly why I started sewing and I bet you do too. In my case, I was 14, I had my mind set on a particular dress I saw at the mall for the holiday season and I had no money to buy it. It’s was a bustier dress with a floor length a line skirt. The fabric was a cheap purple woven with some stretch and a tulle overlay. One of my friends was fortunate enough to own it, so I borrowed it and decide to recreate it. I went to “Marché Saint Pierre” in Paris, bought inappropriate fabric and a plastic zipper. I went home and got to work. No pattern, no tutorial, nothing… Unsurprisingly, I ended up with a big mess. But I took it to a professional seamstress, aka my grandmother, who was very encouraging and ended up saving the day.

justpatterns2101
Just Patterns – Bias Slip Dress

With time sewing has become something more than just owning clothes I couldn’t buy, I learned to enjoy the process of making and recognized it is an essential part of my inner balance. But why I sew has never really changed, it has always been about making the clothes I couldn’t afford or find. The clothes that I find appealing today are not the same but I still can’t buy them… Setting high-end RTW as my standard is a sure way to get frustrated. With some exceptions, there are no patterns, books, or YouTube videos teaching you how to make what is for sale in Galeries Lafayette or on Net-a-porter. I bought all the books, trying to teach myself pattern making. I took drafting and draping classes at FIT. I even took a CAD pattern making class.

Getting the fit and the silhouette right is a time consuming affair. And even more time consuming than drafting a shell/sloper/block is adding everything else, the pockets, the closure, the collar, etc. All the little elements that make or break a design. As you witnessed if you have been following this blog for some time, I kept going back and forth between making my own patterns, hacking existing ones and sewing garments straight out of the envelope.

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Just Patterns – Linda Wrap Dress

In addition, sewing patterns are only one side of the equation. Construction is the other side, and home sewing has its own set of rules. Some of those rules are linked to the home sewing machines, some are from past practices and some are adapted from “industry” or from “couture”, etc. What they have in common is they are not equivalent in terms of the results they provide. For instance, like many others, I find that sewing with smaller seam allowances is more accurate and reduces the need for trimming/notching, etc. But, because home sewing is somewhat codified, many pattern companies still release patterns with 5/8″ seam allowances. Yet in some cases, for instance when your fabric frays a lot, wider SAs may be a good idea. Let’s just say: it’s complicated…

How much the sewing world has changed in the last 5-10 years is something that I recognize and I write about regularly here. But I still feel that there is more to be brought to the table, and I’m going to assume that there may be others like me. Or rather, I’m going to test if others feel like me! While on maternity leave, I was obviously not seeing things clearly and I decided it was the perfect time (??!!) to release sewing patterns… I convinced Eira (from the The Pattern Line) to follow me in my madness, and we used her existing pattern library to choose five patterns. They were digitized and graded and four of them are already available in our Etsy Store.

justpatterns3101
Just Patterns – Kate Bias Top

In a way, we followed the Minimum Viable Product approach that is so popular with Tech Start-ups. It consists in developing a new product with sufficient features to satisfy early adopters and to take their feedback into account to refine further iterations. This is guiding a lot of our choices for the project. The website, Just-Patterns.com is nothing fancy but hopefully it is functional. Our only “marketing” (that’s a big word for what we are doing…) currently is Instagram with @just_patterns and the patterns are for sale in an Etsy Store so that we don’t have to run our own e-commerce. The instructions are minimal by choice, because we want to keep the costs down and we believe that dressmakers have a mind of their own. You can suggest things but they always end up doing it their way. That’s for sure how we do things around here!

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Just Patterns – Pleated Skirt

To understand better how to improve, it’s crucial for us to get systematic feedback from our users. We currently systematically email a survey 30-45 days after the pattern purchase and we maintain a log of comments made to us directly by email/IG or that we find on blogs and sewing boards. This is something that we really want to take to the next level and in order to do that we are about to set up a pattern development group of 10-20 sewers to review our existing and future patterns. It’s similar to pattern testing, in the sense that the patterns will be provided for free and there will be some sort of deadline. But we want to make it a wider discussion space to review what is working and what is not. If you are interested, you can email me!

I think that’s already quite a long post, so I will leave it at that for today! I will of course keep running this blog for my personal sewing but also to keep you updated on how the Just Patterns project is going. I hope you find it interesting and that you don’t hesitate to comment if you have questions/suggestions/comments/criticisms! Everything is welcome and you know how much I love to discuss what is going on in the sewing world in the comments!!