Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Big 4 Experiment

In the last several days, there has been a flurry of activity centered around a problem that we all have. If you've ever sewn a Vogue, Butterick, McCalls or Simplicity pattern, you'll probably recognize what I'm talking about. Did your project turn out the way you expected it? Did it look like the pattern envelope? If it did, how much did you have to alter the pattern to make it look that way?
Robin, Shams, Anne and Barbara have all posted eloquently on this subject. The Big 4 uses an outdated fit paradigm, and complicates matters by adding significant amount of ease to their patterns. The pattern instructions use outmoded methods, when they make sense at all. As a result, choosing a size is pretty much total guesswork, combined with a little advanced math and geometry. The end result is based much more on the experience level of the sewist, and not on the quality of the pattern. While I don't think I can add much to the wise words penned by the preceeding bloggers, I'd like to add a little experiment, and I hope that some of you will try this out yourself.
I'm going to start with a basic knit top pattern. This one is described as close fitting. We'll see. I'm going to approach this project from the perspective of the beginning sewist. She's not had any formal sewing training, but she wants to learn, or maybe she's a quilter who wants to sew clothing. (I'm not trying to be gender biased here - I just so happen to be a she. Boys sew, too.) Either way, she's found herself at her local fabric and craft store, picked up a pattern and some jersey and set out to teach herself to sew. I'm going to cut and sew this pattern as McCalls instructs, basing the size on my full bust and using the pattern instructions to construct my top. When that is finished, I'm going to make the top  my way, using my "typical" Big 4 size and alterations, and constructing the top using modern knit construction methods. Then I'll share the tops with you.
If this sounds like a fun experiment to you, I hope you'll try it out yourself as well. I'd love to see some change happen, and I think that if we get a lot of voices to make a big noise, maybe we can find the ear of the powers that be at the Big 4. Are you in??

39 comments:

  1. so excited to see the results of this, even more so now i realise you're doing it both ways. hurrah!

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  2. I started sewing last year and my first pattern was a simplicity dress labeled "easy" and it was so huge that i got frustrated and didn't finish it. Now I know more about altering patterns and about the amount of ease they include. I should really go back and try to fix that dress now. I'm sure the one you make "your way" will turn out soooo much better than "their way."

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  3. Love this idea. As someone who has taken upon herself to learn to sew over the past year and a half, the sizing issue is my biggest frustration! I know when I have or don't have the skills. But, I should have a reasonable expectation of a decent fit if I put a garment together properly based on my size. Unfortunately in every post I am always lamenting that I didn't know what size to pick because I had to use the finished garment measurements and didn't have a similar blouse to compare. Inevitably, I'm unhappy with the result - not because of the construction, but how it fits.

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  4. Oohh very exciting! I am in! Should we all do the same pattern or different ones?

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  5. Ohh. This is going to be fun to watch. Alas, my sewing queue is full so I won't be playing along. But I'll be watching.

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  6. This will be interesting to see.

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  7. Awesome idea! Can't wait to see how this experiment pans out! :-)

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  8. This is an awesome idea and I can't wait to see how it turns out! I recently hear a woman who was technical writer for Simplicity speak and she said they write the instructions and just hope they work—they aren't able to test them. Which I guess makes sense but explains a lot!

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  9. P.S. This makes me think back to when I WAS a beginner and made a New Look "close-fitting" knit wrap dress choosing my size based on my actual measurements... and I had to take it in by over four inches.

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  10. Gah! I do not like most pattern instructions! I wouldn't have the patience to make one pattern two ways. Is it just me?

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  11. Too funny - I wondered, too, "what if" we just sewed up something based on the information on the pattern envelope & within the instructions. Great idea!

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  12. I like your idea! I know when I approach making a new pattern I look at final measurements and then determine if those measurements have the amount of ease I like in my clothes. But how would a beginning seamstress know this? It would be great to see the Big 4 pattern companies make this clear to the beginning sewer.

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  13. Can't wait to see the results of this. It's a fabulous idea. I may play along...

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  14. This will be fun to see-thanks!! I have learned to flat pattern measure and compare with the printed finished garment measurements. I usually have good luck with Vogue and Butterick.

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  15. Sometimes, I think the pattern companies forget to review their own size charts every once in a while. I always go by finished garment measurements.

    I'm currently in the middle of my own pattern sizing experiment, but it's a completely different premise. (I just need to fit the mockups that have been hanging in my sewing room for a few weeks!) Can't wait to see your results!

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  16. I've totally given up on the big 4, not because I don't like their designs but because every single thing I've made has been huge. Like, I sew by the measurements (using high bust to choose the pattern) and need to take in 10 or more cm all over. It is very comforting to hear someone as experienced as you say you basically have to guess size. I'm happy grading up and down and all that, but if I can't use any of my actual measurements to decide on a pattern size, I might as well draft my own. Until I found PR, I just thought I didn't have the patience for sewing.

    Now I only sew Style Arc and Burda. (I want to try Jalie and Lekala too). There's less choice, but if I adjust the pattern according to the differnce between my measurements and their stated body size measurements, everything fits. I haven't managed to make myself throw out all my big 4 patterns but it may be coming.

    This is a worthwhile crusade!!

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  17. Oooo, great experiment! Can't wait to see the results. I've been working with a beginning sewer these past few months and she has decided to move on from crafts to garment sewing. Boy, was she confused when I tried to explain how to choose to correct pattern size. Actually, now that I think about it, I may ask her to do your experiment also - sew it as instructed then with my assistance on sizing and alterations!

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  18. I am glad that I am not the only one with this problem. I was beginning to think that I was just bad a measuring myself and sewing proper seam allowances.

    WIth the exception of costumes, I am slowly trending toward all self-drafted or independent pattern designers. Good luck, and I can't wait to hear your thoughts.

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  19. THis is an amazing idea! Love it!!! Can't wait to see your two tops.

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  20. Great idea. I have an entry that was my last project. Really horrible. I didn't exactly follow the instructions, but it was disappointing in every way. Are you going to have a linky party? I have a great (but horrible) photo to share.

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  21. Great idea Katie - can't wait to see how you go ;-)

    This reminds me of the pair of "Perfect Fit" pants I cut out last year... I know the whole point of them is that you will need to adjust at the seams, but I could have fit both of my legs into one! If that had been my first pair of pants, I would have given up forever.

    I'd be happy if every envelope had finished piece measurements (only some do), and as you said, sensible instructions. I'm always going to have to do adjustments, but it would be good if I knew what size envelope to buy and how to put it together!

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  22. I think that is a great idea, but truthfully, I end up doing this experiment a lot...pretty much every time I decide to see if I can get away with skipping all my alterations by making a larger size. I almost always regret it, too. I'm not sure though that for me it is fair as even when I was young and beautiful (and much thinner) I still had more alterations than the average person. I'm really curious to see how it goes for you.

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  23. This should be a very good lesson for the big4, I hope they look at the results of your experiment!

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  24. I never use the waist measurement on these patterns because everything would be huge! I've always felt that these waist measurements are a reflection of years gone by and do not reflect today's woman.

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  25. Great idea - looking forward to following along!
    I am about to sew a vintage pattern from my mum ... I wonder how things have changed? Mine is a few sizes too big so I'll have to fiddle about with it quite a bit ...

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  26. Great idea - I notice from McCall's Ease chart that 'Close Fitting' is 0-2 7/8" of ease, but there's no mention of knit garments, which of course should have negative ease in some places. Are we to presume that they draft their knits off the same sloper as their woven patterns?? That would be another interesting thing to compare.

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  27. great idea! i'll be watching (but not sewing along - another case of an already full sewing queue!)

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  28. Great idea! Can't wait to see the results.

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  29. great idea. I can't wait to see the finished products.

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  30. I love this idea! I've sewed lots of clothes, with mediocre results (at best), so my sewing focus has shifted to quilting, which I love... But I'd love to learn more about apparel sewing! I can't wait to see the results!

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  31. It's funny the mental anguish I go through before I sew a big 4 pattern. First I have to really love the pattern. Then I have to have a big talking with myself, "You will most likely be disappointed, you'll probably only feel mediocre about the finished garment," etc, etc. Yet when I sew a Jalie pattern I am so excited and know I will have a finished garment that I will love. .

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  32. Great idea! I'm one of the lucky sewers who has no real fitting issues with the big Four. I realize I just happen to be an exception rather than the norm. I'm very keen on seeing new sewers really get into it and become enthusiastic about our craft. I agree that sizing has to be updated, Too many times new sewers chose the wrong size pattern and therefore fail to achieve success so give up trying. That has tostop!

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  33. This is brilliant! I have no formal sewing training. I sat under mom's machine as a little child and learned from her as I grew. She had no formal training either. I have been using those big 4 patterns for years without many things that have actually fit well. Then I started sewnig for my daughter and found that sewing little clothes was easier. As she grows, I'm finding the same issues with fit for her now too. Then just recently I have discovered the plethora of PDF patterns from some girls that have got it going on!! The big 4 need to step it up! Can't wait to see what we can learn from your expirament!

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  34. I think this is a great experiment, and I hope I can find time to do it as well and share. I do think Butterick has more accurate measurements, at least in my experience. McCall's and Simplicity I always just go down a size to start with, then let out seams a little if needed (which has only been once). Often, it turns out I need to go down MORE than one size, which is so discouraging even as an experienced sewist! I remember my frustrations as a new sewist, and more than once I almost just gave up!

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  35. Now when these come out as poorly fitted as my usuals- you may call them the 'Anne collection' ......

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  36. Eeek. This makes me think back to 2000, when I bought a sewing machine and tried sewing a dress straight from the package, not knowing anything about ease or full bust adjustment. Horror of horrors!

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  37. I haven't had that many issues, but I chose my size based on Nancy Zieman's advice here:http://www.nancyzieman.com/blog/sewing-general/sewing-and-quilting-questions-answers—choosing-the-right-sewing-pattern-size/. I think choosing by the bust size for a lot of women can result in too much ease. I recommend that you get the size that fits through the shoulders, and then add or subtract ease as needed.

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  38. I've actually had great success over the years with Vogue patterns looking exactly like they're supposed to. Any fit issues were MY issues, and not because the pattern isn't drafted to fit one of 7 billion body shapes.

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  39. I got Fit for Real People and read that you are supposed to use high bust vs full. CHANGE.MY.LIFE. I have to go back to all my first year of sewing patterns (Colette Handbook, Project Runway...) and try those again. I was wondering why the damn shoulders were always so huge.

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