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Diary of an indie patternmaker, part two

Read Part One here!

While I was in the States visiting family, I also took the brave step of contacting a few other activewear-sewing ladies and asking them if they’d be interested in pattern testing for me. I knew that I wanted to keep the testing pool small, but also use sewists who I knew had sewn their own exercise gear before, both so that they were comfortable with the basic techniques, knew what they liked, and also could potentially go out an exercise in my patterns for some useful on-the-road feedback. I was utterly delighted when every single one of them said yes, and this really started the timeline towards Launch Day, which I knew I wanted to be before the usual New Years resolutions exercise explosion. Since I started the XYT Workout Top first and it was further ahead in the patternmaking process, I’d give the testers two weeks to test that, a short break, then hopefully I’d be finished with the PB Jam Leggings by that point so they could have two weeks to test that before I’d get their feedback and finish up everything for Launch Day.

The XYT Workout Top pattern pieces were pretty much ready for testing, but I knew I’d have to create the tech drawings as well as all the illustrated instructions at some point, and, while I used to be a semi-decent drawer, I am totally crap at drawing anything digitally. Like, comically crap. So my first attempts at the tech drawing were done by my sketching them out on paper, scanning it in, then tracing over top with (yes, you guessed it) The Pen Tool in Illustrator before cleaning it all up, mirroring to make things symmetrical, etc.

The instruction illustrations were all done by myself, too, but I did all of those without the hand-sketching step, sometimes using the pattern pieces themselves as a starting point (since I already had those digitally, I just had to shrink down the scale!), and sometimes just referring to photos I’d taken during construction. I never quite appreciated exactly how long illustrated instructions take to create, but my god, they took a LONG TIME. The step-by-step illustrations were easily the most time consuming piece of the entire patternmaking process, EASILY. I totally understand now why some indie designers skip the illustrations entirely, because it would be SO tempting to, and it’d make the process to Launch Day so much quicker. But in the end, I’m glad I did do them, as I think they make the instructions a lot clearer, especially for non-native English speakers.

Another thing I wasn’t really expecting was how the pattern testing process would really work. I guess I kinda thought that I’d send them out, some testers would have some fit issues, others might not think the mesh bra worked for them, I’d get some feedback, and maybe catch a typo or two. Ha! I’m so, so glad I have the amazing pattern testers I did, because both of my patterns needed major revisions thanks to my testers. Yes, it hurts at the time, but I’d much, much rather resolve these issues before release than have paying customers go through them later!

Diary of an indie patternmaker, part one

Quite a few of you were interested in hearing about the process of launching my own line of exercise sewing patterns, and since I tried to keep everything very quiet until the launch day, I couldn’t really talk about the process at the time, either (I decided to keep it quiet to minimise the “Are they ready yet? Are they ready yet? How about now??”, etc pressure when people get excited!).

I’ve been thinking about the possibility of making some of my own patterns for a while now, testing the waters last year with my Lacey Thong pattern, of course, but a full time job, marathon training, boat work, and busy social schedule mean that it always seemed to be on the back burner and never at the top of my To Do List. But I was made redundant from my tech job in August (really, it’s ok!) so I had time to think about what I wanted to do while we were in Mexico, and I realised that I wanted to give sewing a shot as my main career, with patternmaking as a large part of that.

I had lots of ideas in my head (and in my sketchbook!) but I opted to specialise in exercisewear because that was something I a) was passionate about, b) had lots of practice sewing and designing for myself, and c) there wasn’t much on the market for already. I knew I wanted to release at least two patterns at the launch, but I developed these sequentially, starting with the XYT Workout Top.

The first step in the XYT development was to draft my own sloper and make a series of muslins for the different versions, chopping and redrafting the basic shapes until I was happy. Then I made a muslin which had a bra the same basic shape as the exterior with one layer of power mesh, but I found that even though I took the side seams in closer and closer, I still didn’t have the support I needed for running. It was only after talking to a friend that I was able to make the leap to the arrangement of the second mesh layer that made all the difference and stopped the bouncing! I then finished off this muslin version, wore it for a few runs, and only then did I start the process of transferring my hand-drafted pattern pieces into digital.

I started by scanning in the paper pieces and re-joining them digitally in Photoshop, and then came the laborious and tedious process of tracing around all the pieces with the Pen Tool (ie: vector paths) in Illustrator. I’ve used Photoshop for 10+ years, but I was a complete Illustrator novice when I started this patternmaking, and my god there’s a steep learning curve!

Happy 2014! (My Sewing Year in review)

As I do every year, I like to spend the first of a new year to take the opportunity to look back on what I’ve sewn in the previous year. So without further ado, here’s a visual reminder of 2013!


Click the image to see it better, or right-click here to see it in a new tab to get a better look!

Tip: If you’d like to skim back through the posts for the above projects, you can click Gallery in the upper left menu, which will only show you finished projects, without all the magazine reviews and in-progress reports getting in the way!

The Year in Stats

In terms of pattern companies used this year, I made: 15 Self-drafted (including Pattern Magic), 11 Burda Magazine (aka Burda Style), 8 FehrTrade, 4 Style Arc, 4 Cake Patterns, 3 Christine Jonson, 3 MyImage, 2 Pattern-Scissors-Cloth, 2 Jalie, and 1 each from Elan, KnipMode, Papercut Patterns, Drape Drape, Lolita Patterns, Kwik Sew and Simplicity.

So that’s precisely one garment made from any of the Big Four, but a whopping 23 items I either drafted myself or drafted and then released as a pattern! It’s no surprise Burda is otherwise up in the 2nd place position, and I’m pleased to see Style Arc and Cake ranking highly this year, since I discovered both companies this year. It is a bit disappointing that I failed to make a single Manequim pattern this year, despite reviewing my monthly copies! I must try harder next year to justify the subscription cost.

By my count, I made: 22 tops, 13 trousers (including leggings), 9 dresses, 9 pieces of lingerie (bras, panties, slips, etc), 3 skirts, 3 jackets or cardigans, and 3 bags.

A taste for gold

As I mentioned last week, I was up in Sheffield this weekend for my first British Transplant Games competition*, and despite having done specific track training for the past few months, I was absolutely bricking it in the leadup to the first race.

I’ll keep it brief since this isn’t a running site, but the first event was the 3km “Mini Marathon”, which is the longest race run in the games, and my Main Event. It’s good to keep an open mind for this sort of thing, because in the last few moments before the race I discovered that a) my main competitor was out with a stress fracture, b) the race was actually on the roads/trails around the stadium instead of a straightforward track race, and c) there was a fun run occurring at the same time and no separate start area for those of us who were competing in the Games.

Despite all this, I ran really strong (even up the two surprise hills!) and ended up the first female finisher, coming second overall and only about 30 second behind the lead male! I did an unintentional Mo Bot when the commentator told me I came in under 12 minutes!! So this earned me a gold medal for my age group, but also apparently a trophy for the first female for any age (which I’ve not received yet and may just be a rumor?).

Then the next morning was my second race, the women’s 1500m (3.75 laps around the track). This indeed was a true track race, with a gun start and a bell for the final lap! I came out in front in the first 200m and grew the lead over the race, ending up finishing over a full minute ahead of the next finisher! I had to lap a few of the other ladies, which I felt bad about, so I tried to offer encouragement as I went past.

Goldhawk Road meetup & acquisitions

I’m lucky to live in London for a lot of reasons, but one of them is certainly the access to great fabric stores and the frequency of meetups at said stores with other like-minded sewists. They usually occur every few months, but with my crazy social and running events calendar, it’s usually really difficult for me to attend. However, this time around, the meetup coincided with a “stepback week” in my running (a planned lower mileage week to give your body a break) so I only had a one hour run on Saturday morning before the meetup. Yes, I realise the craziness of using “only” in that sentence.

In any case, you should go read Claire’s writeup of the day as she organised everything down to a meticulous degree and posted some amazing photos taken by herself and also Dibs!

This post is more about my own shopping and acquisitions from the day, and I know from past trips to Goldhawk Road that I really need to be strict with myself or risk returning home broke and dragging binbags full of fabric behind me. So I came prepared with a shopping list and only £50 cash to spend (in the past I’ve actually left all my cards at home, too!).

Things on my shopping list:

  • Stretch lining for the swirl sheath dress
  • Power mesh in black & beige (for both lingerie & activewear linings)
  • 2m heavy jersey for a travel skirt

Here’s a shot of my total haul. Not only did I get everything on my list, but I stayed within that £50 budget for the day (which included lunch & drinks!).

My first purchase was the power mesh – 1m of both black and beige from A-Z Fabrics for £4.95/m. They had loads of colours, too, and I was glad I bought it there when I saw shortly afterwards that Classic Textiles was asking £10.95/m for theirs! I didn’t buy anything at Classic this time around, but I was tempted by the ponte knits by the door.

Summer sewing & posts by mail

When summer weather comes to England, it’s always something of a surprise. Those in other countries may not be aware, but just because the calendar says June, July, or August, does not mean it’ll be either hot or sunny. Sometimes “summer” comes one weekend in March, or in a few days in September. Or in the case of 2012, not at all.

In any case, summer has arrived, and for the past week, it’s felt hot here. I think the heat may be getting to my brain somewhat, because I’m 99% finished sewing up a summer outfit:

Yes, that would be shocking pink trousers and a cream stretch lace teeshirt, dear readers. I both hope look as good in the photos as they do in my head!

The other development of note is one of a more digital nature – for a while now some of you have been asking if it’s possible to get my new posts delivered my email (instead of RSS or just popping by when you remember to!), and I’ve finally got round to setting this up!

If you pop your email address into the box on your left (or, repeated below), then you’ll get a summary of all the week’s posts emailed to you every Saturday! My test version from last week looked like this:

Baltimore & DC

Last week we flew over to the States for a week – not in Pennsylvania where I grew up (no offence, but I’m kinda sick of visiting there!), but to Baltimore, with a day in DC at the end. We got a lot of strange looks from British friends when we said where we were going – “Baltimore? Really? Why??”, and we’ve been mounting our own Baltimore Tourism crusade since we got back, because it was fantastic!

The reason we were over was because James was speaking at a prestigious tech conference, but I took the opportunity to meet up with loads of friends and family, including the chance to finally meet some fellow sewing bloggers!

I’ve been speaking to Cidell & Trena for at least five years now I reckon, and even weirder is that I already knew their voices from their earlier sewing podcasts (please bring them back!), and there was zero awkwardness when we met up for dinner! It really was like we’d known each other for years, which I suppose we have!


(Note: Jack’s Bistro did not pay us for their product placement!)

Cidell puts me to shame – she posted about our meeting like the same day!! I was also very excited to get more of the Under Armour Cold Gear fabric she’d previously sent, because during the last few months I’d been doing laundry twice a week in order to wear my Cold Gear leggings on both my Tuesday night runs and my Saturday long runs because they’re seriously the warmest leggings I own. Next winter I’ll be much better prepared now!

But they weren’t the only sewists I met – I’d also planned a run with Kathy in Patterson Park near my cousin’s house in Baltimore, which she’s already posted about here!

We both wore running gear we made ourselves – she’s wearing McCalls 6435 adapted for running as her top and the Jalie sports skirt lengthened into leggings, and I’m wearing my disco top and my new self-drafted leggings with that fishnet insertion from Tissu in the front thighs and back calves, which you can see a bit better here:

Happy 2013!

As is traditional, I like to take the first of a new year to take the opportunity to look back on what I’ve sewn in the previous year. So without further ado, here’s a visual reminder of 2012!


Click the image to see it better, or right-click here to see it in a new tab to get a better look!

Tip: If you’d like to skim back through the posts for the above projects, you can click Gallery in the upper left menu, which will only show you finished projects, without all the magazine reviews and in-progress reports getting in the way!

By a mere glance at the collage, it looks like I’ve sewn less this year than in past years, but really I just became more efficient with my photoshoots and so most of the photos contain more than one garment! That, and there were a few that weren’t properly documented, oops.

The Year in Stats

In terms of pattern companies used this year, I made: 11 Burda magazine (more on that in January as I finish up my Year of Burda), 6 Papercut Patterns, 5 Jalie, 4 Pattern Magic, around 4 self-drafted, 2 Manequim magazine, 2 Young Image/My Image magazine, 2 Pattern ~ Scissors ~ Cloth, and one each from: Lekala, Simplicity, Vogue, So… Zoe, Christine Jonson, Wiksten, and KnipMode (oh how the once-mighty have fallen!).

By my count, I made: 19 Tops, 15 pairs of Trousers, 4 Dresses, 4 Skirts, 3 Coats/Jackets, plus two slips and a handful of pairs of panties, an iPad cover, some running armbands, and a boat skylight cover!

But the biggest number of them all – 21 of the above were for running! omg.

Goings On

I know everyone goes through periods of extreme busy-ness and stress, but I feel like the past 6-8 weeks have just been nonstop with barely a pause to catch my breath! You’ll have to accept my apologies for not going into these various sewing happenings in full – I’m saving my writing time for my finished garments!

So, without further ado, a catchup on the last few weeks’ goings on…

1. The day after I arrived back from Amsterdam, my parents arrived for a visit! Among other things, they brought with them a big stash of Suziplex wicking lycra that Lakaribane bought for me by request while she was in Montreal recently! I think I’ve lost track of the number of international borders these 5 meters of fabric have crossed, but I am so happy to have more, because the three running leggings I’ve sewn with the stash I bought in March are my favourites ever.

2. I recently went on a bit of a Young Image magazines and envelope patterns binge, so I sat down with my mom while she was here and she picked out some designs she thought my niece might like for her Christmas present…

Amsterdamage – lingerie and marathon edition

What a weekend! I’ve been to Amsterdam several times before, so I felt zero need to see the tourist sites (though I did take a boat tour, more for the hour of sitting than anything else!). For me, this weekend was all about sewing and running, my two favourite pasttimes! I flew in Saturday morning and fellow sewing blogger Lauriana met me at the station to drive to the legendary Kantje Boord.

If you’re not familiar with Kantje Boord (and let’s be fair, their website is appalling), it’s a specialty lingerie haberdashery and fabric store, and is pretty much the only one of its kind in the world as far as I know. But it’s pretty far out of town, well away from the usual public transport, so I was very grateful to be driven there and give my legs a rest!

I’d heard stories about Kantje Boord, and I was not disappointed! It’s a tiny shop, but it’s stacked floor to ceiling with everything lingerie, lace, and elastic you could possibly imagine, and in every colour of the rainbow.

There must’ve been several hundred different kits (with everything you need to make a bra and panties in matching colours), but I decided what I’d rather make is another Ruby Slip, but in camisole length, with matching panties, so I instead focused on the wide laces, of which there must’ve been 3-4 times as many as the kits! Once I settled on a lace, I then crawled around the floor to get matching picot lingerie elastics to match it and my fabric swatches I’d brought from home.

So here’s what I bought! It might’ve been a bit more than I pledged, but I stayed away from the tempting Wall of Crazy Lycra, and only bought pieces that matched what I already owned!