One of the issues of blogging only sporadically is to remember to give some contexts to whatever I’m about to say. Over the last few months, I have mentally wrote several posts so I feel like you are up to date with my train of thoughts when in fact, not at all! So let’s recap a little.
Since moving back to Haiti exactly a year ago, I have moved from one challenging and time-consuming job to another even more challenging and time-consuming one. Who would have thought that was possible?? But possible it was, and this is the situation now… In parallel, I also found that if I thought that being the single working mom of an infant was not an easy job, being the single working mom of a toddler is a completely different game. Basically, I have two very tiring jobs….
So where has my sewing time gone? Well, it’s not entirely gone, the proof is that today I’m including in this post pictures of two of my personal samples for Just Patterns, the Kate Bias Top and the Yasmeen skirt. But my personal sewing time has also been diverted by the attempts to keep Just Patterns (barely) alive. I haven’t been able to do much more than responding to customer requests and some occasion Instagram posting so that people know that we are still active. I’m disappointed because I had basically two patterns to release since the beginning of the year, but it has not been possible and I don’t see how it will become easier in the coming months.
Amazingly, the patterns have continued to sell! Compared to last year, we did very little marketing effort, released no new pattern and yet we are on track to sell more patterns… This makes me so happy and proud. It also makes me realize the this little pattern project means a lot to me than I initially thought. I regularly day dreams of running away from my job. I can’t help but think that if I dedicated more time and effort to it, it could turn into something else. My job is stimulating and rewarding but it is also extremely stressful and it has me outside of the house/away from my daughter 12 hours per day. I’m definitely not ready to quit and start living the sewing life, but there are days when the temptation is real…
In the mean time, I need to re-assess how I commit my time and my energy. I’m starting to realize that the idea of maintaining two blogs, one here and one for Just Patterns is completely unrealistic. I don’t have time to produce enough content and I never got used to the more neutral tone for Just Patterns. The way I write on this blog feels much more like me. There are also other considerations, such as never really liking the interface of the Just Patterns site or the name of my own blog “Sewing Tidbits”. When we launched Just Patterns, I just used a standard wordpress website, which doesn’t allow us to host a proper e-shop. It was fine then but now it looks a bit sad.
Fabric – Raspberry silk from stash (bought years ago in the NY garment district) and blush linen twill from Mood Fabrics in NY. Notions – Invisible zip and grosgrain waistband from stash
So I have been thinking about creating a new site for Just Patterns and moving my blog there too. That way I would only maintain one blog, with my rea “voice” but also the tutorials we do occasionally for Just Patterns… I still have a few technical and time management concerns, but mostly what I would like to hear is your opinion. Since Eira and I launched this project, I have tried to be as transparent as possible with you and listened to what readers and customers had to say. So I thought I would ask you, would it be weird to have it Sewing Tidbits and Just Patterns under one virtual roof?
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!
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.
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.
Just Patterns Stephanie Skirt
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!
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?
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!!
After 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.
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.
Just Patterns – Yasmeen Skirt
Just Patterns – Linda Wrap Dress
Just Patterns – Kate Bias Tank
Just Patterns – Christy Bias Slipdress
Just Patterns – Stephanie Skirt
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.
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.
Lesson #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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!