The Triumph Suit pattern is not only our first triathlon-focused pattern, or our first Advanced pattern, but I’m also fairly certain is the pattern that was in development the longest. And also very likely the one I nearly gave up on the most times (I don’t deal well with very long-running projects!).
So today I’d like to walk you through a bit of its development process so you can get a feel for the timelines involved and the sheer number of hours, weeks, months, and years that go into something as complex and specialised as this!
I started thinking about a trisuit pattern all the way back in early 2021 (I was still shielding during the time, remember!). It was the first inspiration to hit me since the disruption of 2020. During 2020 I concentrated on updating all of our patterns to be layered and projector-friendly, rather than developing anything new simply because I had zero energy for creativity. It started with me combining two blocks together and drawing out design lines – both on paper and on myself!
As you can see from my scribbled lines, the original design was even more complex, which I then modified to make the sewing more straightforward as well as integrate the side waist pocket.
This was my very first prototype, all the way back in March 2021! This one’s just a standard block, joined at the sides, on top of which I’d split up into design lines to try and get an idea of their placement on the body. The Xs indicate where I planned to remove seams, as well as any seams I felt needed shifting! I do all my drafting digitally in Adobe Illustrator, printing off the sheets for new iterations. Trust me that I piece together way, way more patterns from A3 and A4 than the average sewist, so it’s lucky that it’s quick and I don’t mind doing it (certainly better than waiting for A0s in the post)!
This second prototype is also from March 2021, and you can see that it’s moved a bit further along in terms of seam lines, but I had quite a few fit issues on the bike I needed to address. You can see how much the shorts hem is riding up in the back as I pedal, but there was also some wedgie issues from not having an elongated centre back for the cycling stance. I think I also broadened the upper back around this point, too, to account for the arm reach to the handlebars.
The third prototype was in May 2021, and you can see that the shorts hem issue is improved, but still not enough. You can also see how much we’d been working on our snug lounge renovations during this time (and how long my hair is after 14 months of shielding – I could finally get it cut not long after this).
I then had a bit of a “What am I doing??” crisis where it all felt a bit too complex, and there weren’t enough triathletes who sew and that I was putting an insane amount of work into something that would never sell well. It was at this point that I decided to park it for a bit and concentrate on filling out our beginner-level offerings, since those seemed a bit more pressing (and commercially viable).
So I took a break from the Triumph Suit to concentrate on creating the Tenacity Leggings and “Activewear Sewing For Beginners” eBook (in October 2021), and the Versatili-Tops (in April 2022). Once I recovered from those, I did some soul-searching and came to make peace with the fact that I likely would never make enough money from this pattern to ever cover the hours spent on it. But also that I ultimately do this for creative fulfilment, not commercial profit. I have a day job that pays well, and the income from FehrTrade is great, but it’s ultimately not my driving force.
So with that settled, I dove back into the Triumph Suit and made the fourth prototype in June 2022, which you can see was really starting to look like a more finished design. The fit issues were all resolved on the bike and treadmill, and I could now focus on the Order of Construction. I tend to write up the rough steps in a note on my iPad that I can change as I sew and move steps around. This one went through SO many iterations, and the way the lining pieces are attached to give a cleaner finish changed so many times.
It was around this point that I also decided to offer a sleeveless version to double the appeal, not yet realising that it would also nearly double the workload as many of the bodice pieces and nearly all of the instructions were totally different between the two!
But making the fifth prototype (first sleeveless!) in August 2022 was largely motivated by my racing my first multisport race at the London Duathlon at the start of September. This is the first version I’d made that was actually lined and finished properly, but the pockets were still very much in flux. I had two different closures for the side waist pockets (I discarded the zippered one as I struggled to get into it while cycling in the race), and I changed the design of the back pockets afterwards, too, so that there were side-opening AND top-opening pockets instead of just the side.
It was after I made these changes that I could finally send the pattern pieces off to the grader (the only part of the process I don’t do myself) and then I spent September and October cleaning up the pattern pieces, walking seamlines, measuring pieces to compare against body measurements (the spreadsheet of doom!) and getting the bones of the instructions in place.
And then I started illustrating the instructions in November 2022. With so many pieces and two views with totally separate construction order, this was a mammoth task – it took me from November until May to JUST draw all the construction illustrations. At several points during this I questioned my sanity, again. Also I was bedbound for 6 weeks over December and January with something that was never identified (not Covid)?
But after finishing the instructions in May, I was then able to finish up the pattern enough to send to the testers in June. I usually give the testers 2-3 weeks to sew it up, take it for an on-the-road test, and fill out the feedback survey. Thankfully, there weren’t any major issues this time around (that’s not always the case, and I love that my testers will tell me if a design is just “meh”!).
I could then start sewing up the finished samples for myself and my athlete model, which ended up meaning sewing four trisuits back-to-back (making my a bit batty!), arrange the photoshoots, and get all the launch press together! And here we are!
So, in total, the Triumph Suit pattern you see today took nearly two and a half years in development, something like 60+ illustrations, nine prototypes/samples, and god knows how many sheets of paper or metres of fabric!
I’m really proud that this is the pattern I’ve produced as FehrTrade Patterns celebrates TEN YEARS later this year, as it feels like a culmination of everything I’ve learned and honed over that time.