Listen Up, Pattern Designers – Q# 9

This is the eighth in a series of posts concerning a survey that I conducted among some digital sewing pattern testers a few weeks ago. The initial post is here: There was another post that prefaced this whole journey here:

So after eight questions of me asking the pattern testers my questions, I turned the tables and gave the testers a voice.  I offered them the option to answer the open-ended question, “If you could tell pattern designers one thing, as a pattern tester, what would it be?”.  They could focus on any thing they wanted, anything about the whole pattern tester process or the sewing patterns themselves or interactions with designers that they wanted to say.

Predominantly, the testers wanted to say a big Thank You to designers for allowing them the opportunity to assist in the development of some amazing sewing patterns.  They appreciated the professional interactions, the organization of the Tester Calls and the constructive criticisms exchanged with the designers. A few comments were made to the designer concerning being professional in all interactions and being consistent in their business practices.  Some were a little confused at the designers’s requirements that they provide professional-quality photos of their test projects to the designer for them to use in their marketing of the pattern when it is released. Overall, pattern testers seemed to be honored to be chosen by designers.

Points to ponder:  This survey was fun to put together and analyze.  Many answers surprised me.  I am in a better place to understand how my patterns (that I have yet to get past the rough draft stage) will be used.  This understanding has helped me make some decisions on organizing, writing and producing my .pdf patterns.

So, though my patterns are not any closer to being posted, I know it has been a fun ride.  I hope you have learned something too!


Digital Pattern Dreams – Q #8

This is the seventh in a series of posts concerning a survey that I conducted among some digital sewing pattern testers a few weeks ago. The initial post is here: There was another post that prefaced this whole journey here:

My next to last questions was simple: “If you could have one wish granted to make .pdf patterns easier to use, what would it be?”  I left it open-ended for the pattern testers to freely express the thing that gives them the most angst when using .pdf patterns.  I was amazed at their wishes.

Only a couple of wishes related directly to sewing and fabric construction.  Almost all of the “wishes” were related to the format of the patterns.  Some were about the printing while others were specific about the pattern drafting and symbols.

A large number of respondents wanted the option to print in A0 or A4 format. A little research on my part taught me that the U.S. is the only nation that really uses the Letter, 8.5″ x 11″, format.) The rest of the world uses A4.  Trying to print a Letter page on A4 paper can lead to LOTS of problems and vice versa. It simply does not work.

Many respondents complained about the problem I addressed in a previous post of laying the pages out in a large grid and taping them all together.  Arrows, marks and page designations are not always clear.  Some designers do not include a master layout grid and are not consistent in their marking.  The testers pleaded for designers to spend time on that aspect of their patterns.

Testers called for less trim pages. They say they waste paper and are a nuisance.  I’m assuming by “trim pages” they are referring to those pages to the sides, top and bottom of the pattern grids that contain little if any printed lines but are important to making the full pattern grid.

A few testers begged for layers in the .pdfs.  Different layers would be created in the pdf with each layer containing one size of the pattern.  The customer would choose the layer containing the size that they need and then print. I know what layers are because of my work with our library’s floor plans in my role as the Building Coordinator but just for fun, I informally surveyed a handful of my coworkers who are fluent in .pdf usage and creation.  I asked them if they were familiar with layers in .pdfs.  No one knew what I was talking about.  One thing that I have learned being a member of several designer’s Facebook groups  where customers ask for help with their patterns is that the average .pdf pattern user struggles with getting their pages printed with the proper scale.  They struggle getting all of their pages printed with that one-inch square to print out as one-inch. A Facebook post appears hourly in those groups concerning the “Fit to Page” check mark.

There is also a call for multiple file formats being made available. In my library world, when I select an eb00k or serial article to download, I’m given file format options.  I can choose which file works best for my choice device.  Each file format has been specifically designed with that display in mind.  The options are generally a .pdf, an html, or an epub.

And last, but not least, there were “wishes” for a better means to store patterns after they have been taped together in their inconsistent sizes, a pre-cut pattern option and, oh what a dream, for patterns to be free because printing them is expensive.

Points to ponder: Do designers draft patterns to be used by sewists in other countries? Then the A4 problem needs to be considered. I wasn’t aware of the problem. This survey taught me what a big deal it is, not to Americans, but to other countries who want to use American sewing patterns.

Layers would be a great option but I foresee it being a nightmare for many customers.  Layers should be an advanced customer feature, maybe an optional file for advanced users.

Different file format generators are out there and maybe that is a direction that designers need to go.  I think patterns need some kind of uniformity.

I see so many things that tech-savvy entrepreneurs could jump on. My mind is spinning! And it is all to improve our sewing resources.  How cool would that be?


Line Drawings or Photos – Q #6 & 7

This is the sixth in a series of posts concerning a survey that I conducted among some digital sewing pattern testers a few weeks ago. The initial post is here: There was another post that prefaced this whole journey here:

My sixth and seventh questions pertained to the visuals included in digital sewing patterns.  There has been an argument out in the sewing internet world over whether line drawings were better or worse than photos.  So I included two questions, first of which was “Do you prefer a visual such as a line drawing or photo with each construction step?”  The answer was a simple “Yes” or “No”.CaptureQ6

In case anyone is in doubt, 90% prefer to have some sort of visuals included with their sewing instructions.  

My seventh question was an obvious followup: “Do you prefer clear line drawing illustrations or high-resolution photos?”.  The answer was a choice between “line drawings” or “high-resolution photos”.


There was not a definitive answer to this question.  The group was nearly split down the middle.  I think the thing to understand here is that pattern instructions need visuals to make the instructions clearer if for no other reason to assist those who are visual learners.

Points to ponder: I’m sure there is more work to be done in this area.  There are more questions that instantly pop into my mind here in reference to the quality of the line drawings as opposed to the editing of the photos.  As in most things, there are good and bad version of both drawings and photos out there in the sewing pattern market.

Viewing Digital Patterns – Q #5

This is the fifth in a series of posts concerning a survey that I conducted among some digital sewing pattern testers a few weeks ago. The initial post is here: There was another post that prefaced this whole journey here:

My fifth question changed courses and veered away from the printing path.  It asks “If you view patterns on a device, what type device do you use most often?”  The choice of devices were “Desktop pc”, “laptop or tablet”, an iPad, Amazon Fire, Kindle or similar e-reader”, “Smartphone such as an iPhone or Galaxy” and an open-ended “Other” category.


A very small percentage, approximately 19%, view their .pdf patterns on a desktop pc.  All other sewists responding to this survey view their digital patterns on a mobile device of varying size.  They use everything from a smartphone to an e-book reader to a laptop or tablet.

I find these numbers astounding.  What does this say?  We, sewists, are as much a part of the whole mobile world as anyone in modern society.  We use our phones to check our email, post to Facebook, snap pics and post to Instagram.  We are completely and totally mobile and modern.

Points to ponder: We are viewing our patterns on devices propped up next to our sewing machines and cutting tables and on shelves in our sewing rooms.  We are mobile,  sewing up Step 7 in a pattern while posting our efforts to social media.  What should pattern designers take from this?  Should we not, as mentioned in a previous post, take this behavior into consideration when writing patterns? Shouldn’t designers write patterns for a smaller screen with different aspect ratios?


DIY or Commercial Printing – Q. #4

This is the fourth in a series of posts concerning a survey that I conducted among some digital sewing pattern testers a few weeks ago. The initial post is here: There was another post that prefaced this whole journey here:

My fourth question continued to explore the printing scenario.  It asked “Do you print .pdf patterns on a home printer or do you take them to a commercial print shop like Kinko’s or Office Max?”. The options that I provided as answers were “Home printer (I enjoy taping all those 8.5″ x 11″ pages together.)” or “Home printer (I tape them but I wish there was a much better way.)” or “Commercial printer”.

I know that there are many sewist who have expressed a great appreciation for digital sewing patterns.  I completely understand they have no local sources for sewing patterns. I completely understand that the internet has brought them more than they could have ever dreamed of in sewing.

Many, many pattern instructions and sewing bloggers use the phrase – patterns can be taken to a print shop or local copy store as a major selling point.  This makes them more attractive and useful over ordering paper pattern through the mail or traveling to a fabric store to purchase the traditional printed patterns such as those sold by the Big Four pattern companies.  But do sewists really do that?  Inquiring minds, etc….. so I asked and I had a little fun with it in the meantime.


Two people out of my entire group take their .pdf patterns to a commercial printer. And no wonder, none of the patterns I have bought have offered me the option of a large format print file.  All of the patterns I have experienced (and my experience is not very vast) were supplied in .pdf format for 8.5″ x 11″ paper so there is really no need to go to a print shop. Going to a commercial printer could eliminate the need to tape all of those pages into a large grid. It takes time, a computer with appropriate software and some technical knowledge to convert a pattern written for an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper to a larger size sheet.

Seventy-five percent of users print the pages at home, lay out the giant grid and tape it together wishing the entire time that there is a better way to do this. I wholeheartedly agree on this one.  Here is the very place that I think modern technology has been left out of sewing patterns.

Points to ponder: With all of the modern projection technologies and display geekiness and all other unimaginable innovations most often seen in an Avengers movie, there is no reason we should be doing all of this work for a sewing pattern. I’ve spent years in library technology and the cutting edge stuff is mind-blowing.  Then, I go home and sit down to sewing patterns that are literally still back at the tracing paper and pencil stage.

As for those sewists who enjoy taping all of those pages together, bless your pea-picking little hearts, I have a huge stack of pages that I need to send you!

Black & White or Color – Q. #3

This is the third in a series of posts concerning a survey that I conducted among some digital sewing pattern testers a few weeks ago. The initial post is here: There was another post that prefaced this whole journey here:

My third question was posed to those sewists that print.  It was simply “If you print out patterns, do you print them in black and white or full color?”.  The answers were a choice between “black and white” or “full color”.


Again, I am blown away by the results here although I am finally in the majority of respondents.  Over 58% print their pattern pages in black and white! 

For myself, there is a significant cost difference in printing black & white or color.  I always like to print black & white unless I am doing some marketing things and feel the need to spend the extra money.  Color printing is three times the cost of black & white for me.  I must really want something in color to spend that extra money.  A digital pattern can quickly be expensive to print by the time a large pattern grid of 8.5″ x 11″ pages has a total page count of 64 or more.

Points to ponder: Do designers realize this?  I’ve seen some elaborate patterns where each size was drafted in a different color.  It was nice but those colors are lost in black & white format.  Some photos display differently in black & white.  The detail is not as sharp.  I’ve seen a great deal of high-resolution color photos used as illustrations for each step.  Some of them were not formatted in a manner that makes them legible in gray scale or black & white. Do designers consider the appearance of their graphics in black & white?




Print All or Selected – Q. #2

This is the second in a series of posts concerning a survey that I conducted among some digital sewing pattern testers a few weeks ago. The initial post is here: There was another post that prefaced this whole journey here:

My next question, Question #2, was posed to those respondents who printed any part of their patterns.  The question was “If you print out the pattern, do you print all of the pages?” The choice of answers was “Yes” or “No, I select the pages I want to print.”


Again, I am in the minority.  Clearly, 74% of the respondents preview the pattern in some measure and then select the pages that they wish to print. 

Why? I can only wonder at this.  I know I have had digital patterns that included the designer’s life history and the evolution of her business and designs that produced a pattern with a whopping 84 pages – eighty-four  pages of text, not instructions, but pages of editorializing. I was not happy at this because it costs to print each page whether one is using a home printer or a print shop.

Points to ponder: Are users only printing the essential pages of the pattern? Are they weeding out the unnecessary things within the patterns and only printing the meaty stuff?  Are patterns more easily viewed on a device as opposed to printing them?  Obviously, where there is a pattern shape or template to be cut out, those pages are being printed.  But does that account for all of the behavior?


To Print or Not to Print – Q. #1

This is the first in a series of posts concerning a survey that I conducted among some digital sewing pattern testers a few weeks ago. The initial post is here: There was another post that prefaced this whole journey here:

As I embark on this research about digital .pfd patterns, my first thought is about printing.  My first question was “How do you use .pdf patterns?”. It was a multiple choice question, as were most of my questions.  The possible answers to this question were “print the pattern”, “view the pattern completely on a device”, or “a combination of both print and view on a device”.

I personally do not own a home printer.  It has been an exercise in futility to maintain an inkjet printer in my house.  The ink never lasts longer than the few days after it is put in and that cost is much too steep for the few pages that I would print.  I’ve spent many hours working on aligning the print head, etc.  No. I do not own a home printer. When I purchase a pattern, I instantly print the pattern in its entirety at the library and take it home to peruse.  I was curious if I was the only one who does that sort of thing.  Lately, I’ve been saving my knitting patterns to a cloud storage area and viewing them when I need to use them.  So does that behavior carry over to sewing, I wondered.



Only 32% of respondents print the pattern.  A whopping 60% or respondents use the pattern by both printing and viewing the pattern on some form of technology.

It appears that not everyone is like me.  A majority of pattern users are not printing the entire pattern.  Almost no one is viewing the pattern completely online. Sewists are viewing the patterns on a device or pc of some sort with selected printed pages in hand.  So why are pattern designers not keeping that in mind when they design patterns?

Points to ponder: I know in my day job, many hours and dollars have been spent in the world to make all webpages mobile-friendly.  So why aren’t we?  Has anyone thought of designing for mobile or pc screens. Screens display differently.  It is different than designing for print.  The aspect ratios are different. The screen format is different. Has anyone thought of that?

Knitting hobbyists have an app that stores .pdf patterns and allows a user to view and annotate them.  Why have sewists not thought of this yet?







A Survey for Sewists

I want to know how sewists use digital sewing patterns.  I wonder what my potential customer’s expectations are, what they expect to see within my digital pattern.  I also wonder “what are the little things that annoy my potential customer about digital patterns”.  How can I make my patterns better so my customers will keep coming back to my patterns?  I know there are a few things that annoy me about digital .pdf patterns.  Do they annoy other sewists as well?  Should I make an effort to try to solve some of those annoying little things in my designs?

The best way, I determined, to learn user behaviors and get a feel for how home sewists are using digital patterns was to ask my questions by conducting a survey.  The survey would be short, nothing scientific or worthy of a research prize.

First, I needed to identify a group of users.  It’s easy at an academic library or department store or a local restaurant to survey your customers.  One simply adds a survey to the bottom of the sales receipt or emails users an online survey.  How do I locate digital pattern users?  The pattern’s very nature causes their users to be isolated.  Facebook groups are formed for fans of many pattern authors but how do I reach out to a broader group of pattern users?  When identifying an easy group of digital pattern users to reach I thought of pattern testers.  There is a general Facebook group for pattern testers.  It is a group of over 1000 members that connects independent pattern designers with pattern testers. This is the group that I chose to survey.

I wrote up a survey of questions and posted a call within the Facebook group for anyone interested in answering a few questions. The survey was far from scientific.  It contained some very basic questions about how a sewist typically uses digital .pdf patterns and what may or may not be a source of frustration for them.

Here are my questions:

  1. Do you print pdf patterns?
  2. Do you print all or selected pattern pages?
  3. If you print, do you print in black & white or color?
  4. Do you tape the printed pages together?
  5. What device do you view your digital patterns on?
  6. Do you prefer a visual illustration of some type?
  7. Do you prefer line drawings or high-resolution photos?
  8. If you could have one wish granted to make .pdf patterns easier to use, what would it be?
  9. If you could tell pattern designers one thing, as a pattern tester, what would it be?

The response to my survey was amazing.  There were over 80 respondents and all of them had something to say about various aspects of .pdf patterns.

A pattern tester’s objective is to sew the item using the pattern instructions.  Their feedback to the designer is centered around the construction and errors in the steps or typos.  I don’t believe pattern testers often get the chance to comment on the entire digital pattern process as a whole.

So over the next several posts, I will be revealing my findings in an effort to, if nothing else, start some very real conversations about how modern technology needs to be applied to sewing.

What Digital Pattern Customers Want

There are courses and webinars by the dozens out there to assist creative entrepreneurs produce, market and sell digital sewing patterns.  I’ve listened to and read most of the information they provide on how to build a successful creative business.  One chapter or session is always dedicated to identifying my perfect customer.  The exercise takes me through steps to describe her, exactly who she is and what I can do to attract her to my products.  The exercise helps me find a way to convince my customer that she needs my products or services in her life.

But at no point, does the exercise take me through the steps of identifying what my customer expects from me.  In some ways, the current methods are basically shoving my goods down my customer’s throat and telling her why she should like it.  Have you ever tried to do that to a college student?

My day job has been to attract college students to the technology and resources that the campus academic library has to offer to assist them with completing their assignments.  I could identify my college student customer all day long and go to many lengths to convince him to use our services but until I listened to them, met them, spoke their language, I was wasting my time.

I liken it to visiting a foreign country.  One can stand on a street corner in a foreign city, holding a sign or bull horn and shout all day long in English about what one has to offer and I would wager, one would find very few customers.  If one wants to “pitch” something to someone, one must learn their language and one must go where they are, into their community or social gatherings.

I’ve seen no evidence of this in the sewing community.  I see all kinds of designers churning out and posting .pdf patterns for everything under the sun.  I see lots of promotion of said patterns; slick graphics, professionally shot photos, and complicated social media campaigns.  They are spending a lot of time following the advice for creative entrepreneurs.  In my academic library, we searched out the college students and researched how to communicate with them in their own language and through the avenues that they preferred.  We met with them and their instructors in their classrooms and we did surveys to find out exactly what they needed from us. We made many amazing discoveries that allowed us to get our message out to more college students.

So have any of the designers ever thought about asking their customers what they want?  Or are designers just designing simply trying to find that pattern that will sell for them?

As I begin drafting and writing my first pattern, my natural instinct is to ask “what does my customer want from me as a designer and pattern seller?”  I know as a sewing pattern customer, I have certain expectations and several problems with digital sewing patterns as they currently exist. I wonder if other digital sewing pattern consumers feel the same.  The best way for me to learn how digital pattern users feel about digital .pdf patterns is to ask.  So I asked.  And boy, did I get answers.  I got so much feedback, it is quite obvious that this community has never been asked what they want in digital sewing patterns.

So follow along as I write a series of posts on the survey that I conducted and the amazing answers I found.