Saturday Musings: The Great Indie Debate

As a tribute to my very opinionated best friend, I am weighing in on the recent small controversy regarding indie pattern companies.

When I began to seek out sewing on the internet, I immediately was skeptical of the indies. Fancy graphics, homogenous models, and self-patting on the back, it seemed. Reeked of high school ‘cool girl’ cliques. And to make matters worse, the patterns were super basic. A darted bodice with a circle skirt attached: OMG, rocket science!!!!!

At some point I decided to remove the chip from my shoulder, and happened to meet Sarai of Colette (who is really quite a treat). I bought a Lady Grey … and never sewed it. (Even to this day, a year or two later. Coats are scary, what can I say?) I got deeper into the online sewing community, and began to feel like a grouchy loser for not loving indie patterns. After starting my blog, I even decided I needed to quit the Big 4 and go indie 100%.

I guess for me, the issue surrounding the indies is less who gets paid and for what, and more what are they really bringing to the table. Snazzy graphics? Check. A face for a brand? Check. Fans? Yes. But the garments I see sewers make work more because they pick great fabrics and less because the pattern was ‘well drafted’, or made for their ‘body type’, or whatever.

As you know, right now I’m working on a Centaurée. The drafting is great, but I’m fat. So I have just as much work to make it fit as a pattern from Vogue. Centaurée has an interesting bodice front, which lured me in, but Vogue has cool patterns, too. Some other indies have “clean” designs that you could easily hack from McCall’s Easy Stitch ‘N Save or Butterick‘s See & Sew patterns. (Heck, even Vogue has easy patterns.)

Interestingly, there was a time I wanted to produce a line of patterns for large ladies, but I decided against it. Why? Because simply offering larger patterns isn’t really good enough. I know the support would be there, but it lowers the bar in a way I didn’t want to do. As sewers who are spending time and money to clothe ourselves and nourish our creative fires, and, in the process, supporting thousands of people in areas from shipping to web hosts to fabric retailers, we deserve projects worthy of our gift and our passion. Not just ones we can pull on.

The other side of the debate was lack of indie criticism. Reading through the blog posts (linked below) and all the comments (I simply ADORE reading blog/article comments online …), I realized that we silence ourselves and then ask others to speak up. Every single sewer has issues, but we tend to shove them under the rug to appear positive to our readers. I know I’m super guilty of this; not until the other day did I share the work I do to simply get a pattern to fit my body. At the same time, I grouch that larger sewers don’t share their techniques for grading, don’t blog, etc. Hel-lo!!!!

Not all bloggers are squeamish, though. What I love about Clothing Engineer, Sew Crafty Chemist, and Diary of a Sewing Fanatic, are their honesty and really detailed discussions of sewing. CE is really technical, really worthy of her blog name, and if you take the time to read all she writes, you learn SO MUCH. (And she’s smart, and she’s very free with her knowledge.) SCC claims she sleeps, but really I think all she does is sew and review sewing patterns honestly — she’s another great source of information, no matter your body type. DoaSF is the queen of sewing bloggers in my mind, because she knows so much and it shows in her really intelligent finished garments: here, here, herrrre. She knows how to analyze patterns and exploit them to their fullest potential, and she shares her occasional wadder, too.

I think indies and sewers alike would be helped by truth and dialogue — not just between pattern testers and sewers, but between sewers and sewers, and sewers and designers, and designers and sewers and pattern testers. To that end, I will do my best to share my own behind-the-scenes more, instead of assuming my fat-fixes are useless for average-sized ladies. I’ll also share my little sewing quirks, like experiments on different ways to finish seams or join fabrics or whatever. As MegaMind says, ‘let’s just have fun with this‘!

Refer to:


word from around town

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  1. Someone should get me a tissue! How honorable to be mentioned with Anne and Carolyn! They’re absolutely two of my favorites. Anne is soooo technical and has helped me via email with questions on altering patterns for my broad backed dd! And Carolyn well…she’s like sewing superwoman!

    I’ve always been frustrated with the criticism aspect because uhmm…Indie designers are COMPANIES who are SELLING a product (often times at a premium). I want a good value for my money with anything that I purchase. If I feel for any reason that I’m not getting that, I will say so. And I should say so! And so should everyone else!!!!

    My experience with Indies has been
    1) I mostly don’t fit the aesthetic (or they don’t fit mine??)
    2) I don’t fit the body type. (And then feel like why bust my behind to alter a $20 pattern when I can alter a $2 pattern and get good results?)
    3) tied with the parenthetical in 2…there’s not a ton of originality.

    I do not disparage the Indies. Not at all. I WANT them to succeed.

    But it’s maddening when people completely BLAST Big4 releases and fault the patterns when they don’t work out… but when it’s an Indie…you can’t even say that you don’t like the design! You can’t!!! It’s crazy! And any problems are ALWAYS operator error, never the patterns fault.

    I’m sorry but you shouldn’t need 13 muslins for a sleeveless pullover top…kwim?

    I get the FEELING! Wanting to be in the middle of the action. Because, this community is AWESOME. But the fan craze turns me off. I know it’s wrong to feel like I don’t want to TOUCH designer x’s pattern because of the “fanz”. But after seeing the crazy come out multiple times…eh.

    1. HAH!!!! Preach! You cracked me up, seriously — that bit about the 13 muslins is going to have me laughing for weeks. Weeks! :p And of course I mentioned you, yours is the first blog I really seriously followed and enjoyed.

  2. I agree with you. I’m a big fan of Style Arc because I like the thick paper they use, the RTW fit/ease, and the fact that they are always producing new patterns. Sticking primarily to one pattern line makes my sewing life easier and more productive. But I fully acknowledge that while this pattern line works for me it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If the Big 4 patterns work for you then you should keep using them!

    I’m honest on my blog because I have nothing to lose and I’m a direct person by nature, but at the same time I try to be sensitive to the fact that someone probably put a lot of thought and effort into their pattern/fabric store offerings/etc and it isn’t good policy to publicly trash something without at least explaining in detail why it didn’t work or why you didn’t like it.

    There’s a few independents that have an almost rabid following (Gertie is a prime example) and the fans instantly tear down anyone that has any criticism at all. They take any negative statement directed toward their idol very, very personally. It is a little scary and I’m sure that contributes toward the lack of honesty, because there’s a good chance when someone speaks up they will get attacked. Unlike with Colette, Sewaholic, etc the Big 4 patterns don’t have an official “face” so I think that makes it easier to be critical of them. I also think a lot of people are so happy to see someone trying to “make it” they are willing to ignore a lot of significant shortcomings they wouldn’t accept from a more corporate enterprise (like Vogue).

    Have you ever looked at Marfy or Lolita Patterns? Both are great examples of how independents can produce something detailed and unique.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! It is important to share in a respectful and constructive manner, definitely — many of the indies are indeed sewers who got the courage to put their idea on the market, not trained industry professionals. Which is why honest feedback is so important for them. :)

      I think I’ve come across indies whose fans are very intense and get automatically turned off by that. :p It *is* scary!!!

      You know so much about these little brands — you are such a resource for the rest of us! Lolita is new to me — they go up to my size, so I’ll keep checking to see if they come up with something I like. In the meantime, I bought my first StyleArc pattern!!! The Jilly Jean.

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