Patterns…and a teeny rant…

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Ever since I started sewing – and I’m talking way back when I was learning dressmaking at school – I have had a love/hate relationship with commercial patterns.

I threw in the towel with dressmaking after trying to make a pair of tailored culottes where the instructions told me to sew what essentially amounted to a 90degree seam, which had the unfortunate result of sewing one of the legs shut.

I gave up because it was too frustrating to tackle at the time. I do still own that pattern – buried somewhere in my sewing cupboard – however I highly doubt I will attempt it again. I would be more inclined to ask my work colleague, who has far more experience in dressmaking and bridal, for her help. Thanks Danielle!

But this tale of sewing woe has a point. It may not be pleasant for some of you out there to hear but a recent pattern purchase has made me see that I DO have to say something about it.

If you have ever written a pattern to sell, it NEEDS to be edited before you finalise your files for PDF’ing or printing.

Now I’m not talking just a spell check (that’s a start and you should be doing that anyway), I’m talking about having someone read-over your work so that a) it makes sense, b) flows properly and c) is helpful to those who will be reading it. It also needs to be formatted but I’ll get to that and a few other things later. First let’s tackle the main stuff that’s potentially driving away repeat customers and their money.

a) Making sense: This point should really speak for itself but unfortunately it isn’t always the case. This can be for a variety of reasons – for example; maybe you’re tired or in a rush to finish up the pattern – if you are tired or in a rush please just slow down or take a break. The pattern won’t run away and an hour less of sales while you take a nap or have a coffee WILL NOT HURT. Read through your pattern, read it out loud (to yourself or another person), have someone else read it, whack it into a program that reads aloud text like Text to Speech Reader and listen to the pattern being read out loud. By listening to your words, you will hear and pick up mistakes. Mistakes like repeated words – because you’ve typed too fast and doubled up or been distracted and typed appliqué three times – or things that just don’t sound right in your explanations, descriptions or methods.

Rule of thumb: Fresh eyes and ears help. Start by running your pattern through spell check and then go from there.

b) Flow: Flow and point a) go hand-in-hand, however flow will be more obvious, because what you have written is a set of instructions where it’s more important to get flow right so the progress of what is being made is done in the correct order. This is where many people rely on technical editors or pattern testers. Please don’t let this aspect slide – there is nothing worse than dealing with angry or upset customers because they can’t put together a project when the step-by-step instructions are in the wrong order.

Rule of thumb: Many pattern designers put a call out online for pattern testers – these are people who volunteer to make the pattern as it’s written and provide feedback. There are some who get paid and others who do it for fun and a free pattern. Who you use is your call.

c) Being helpful: This point walks a fine line between giving too much information and not enough to a customer. A pattern should not assume too much prior knowledge of the customer (basic sewing skills, terminology and product names for example) as this leaves out large swathes of information. A pattern should give a brief overview of the pattern’s needs (techniques, skills need, level of difficulty) so that the person making the project can then judge where they sit and what they will possibly need to search out on their own.

I have advised many of the people that I edit for to explain and then point people in the right direction – therefore giving reason for why something isn’t included and then pointing them to where to find such information. E.g. Binding – there are heaps of ways to bind a quilt. Find one that suits your style/taste/skill level and bind this quilt in the way you like, measurements for your binding fabric have included strips of up to 3in wide. Binding tutorials of all types can be found on blogs, YouTube and craft sites like Craftsy.

Rule of thumb: Give the customers the info they need. Don’t be overly wordy. By guiding them in the right direction you make them happy and they’ll come back because they know you can help.

Now for the nitty gritty…

The pattern I purchased recently was from a well-known designer. The pattern cost almost $30 and basically was a few photos with captions and the appliqué templates. In my personal opinion – not worth the money. If I had no prior knowledge of appliqué or quilting I wouldn’t be able to make this pattern.

Now what I am about to say is all my opinion. I am happy to discuss and listen to others however this is me speaking from 10+ years of pattern writing for sale, magazine contributions and editing for other designers.

A pattern could/should include the following:

  1. A title – the name of your quilt, project or artwork
  2. An intro – a brief sentence or two about what it is/inspired you/technique or process explored
  3. Materials list
  4. Important notes – preparation for materials (washing), seam allowances, etc.
  5. Finished size of project if applicable (can also break down into block size for quilts if you want)
  6. Cutting instructions
  7. Preparation (making templates, tracing, ironing etc.)
  8. Assembly – can be broken down into block types or sections – such as sashings, inner and outer borders etc.
  9. Preparation for finishing the project (usually ironing, basting and sometimes embellishments)
  10. Quilting – description of what quilting was done to the quilt, name of quilter if sent to a professional long-armer etc.
  11. Binding and label – how to bind the quilt, suggestions for what to write on the label
  12. Contact details of designer
  13. Blurb for copyright and licensing, terms and conditions for pattern usage

As you can see there is a lot of work that goes into a pattern. So, my question is why don’t patterns seem to get that final touch they deserve? That final gloss to make them as perfect as they can be?

I don’t have an answer for that except for maybe budget and time. Designers are always under pressure to put more patterns out there as fast as they can and many designers might just be a one-person show may not have the budget to spare to send their patterns out for editing.

Now back to the other things I mentioned earlier – formatting, standard text and unusual instances.

Formatting:  Is basically setting out the text/images/diagrams so that your pattern is easy to read and follow. Pick a typeface (font) and size that are clear and easy to read (no Curlz MT please or heaven forbid Comic Sans!!). Make sure headings are clear, maybe you would like them a size larger than the regular text or bold them so they stand out. Sub-headings look good in italics. Ensure lists are numbered or use bullet points or dashes. You can change the colours of the text but keep in mind what it will look like if printed out – pale colours will fade out on white paper for example. Keep regular text black and if needed highlight important points in a strong colour like red (like you need to cut something 6 times). Centre images and diagrams, keep text to the left and for any tables you might have adjust as needed but keep in line with the other formatting you have done. Consistency is key.

Standard text: I have somewhere around 450 patterns that I have typed up over the years and standard text is my time saver trick. I have a folder on my computer with snippets of text that I use all the time. Things that don’t change much or a description that I’ve gotten to a point that I’m happy with the flow of. For example; binding instructions remain the same except I change the fabric description and the number of strips used. Particular blocks like Half Square Triangles – I have text saved for it and once again just change the fabric descriptions, then I change the size of the pieces cut.

Standard text is also useful for things like your contact information, copyright and licensing and your terms and conditions for pattern usage. Once you have these down pat, save the text and re-use for each and every pattern.

Unusual instances: This is the section where I am going to put a few rules that you might not know. Numbers are the most common thing we use in writing patterns – sizes for tools, materials lists, cutting instructions etc. However, there is a formatting rule for numbers that you need to pay attention to as it will prevent confusion.

  • Numbers 1-9 are written as numerals
  • Numbers ten and up are written as words (ten, thirteen, twenty etc.)

You can also write them – “Lay out nine (9) squares…” to help avoid confusion within the text itself however in cutting instructions you need to be extra clear. I like to use the below example –

Cutting instructions –

From the pink floral print cut –
– Seven, 6in x 4in rectangles

The other thing with patterns (mainly quilting ones) is that here in Australia we use both metric and imperial measurements. So, for the ease of my customers when they go shopping, my materials list gives them both. Metric so they can tell the shop assistant what they want and imperial so they know what it is when they start cutting from the instructions.

Materials list –

30cm (12in) pink floral print

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I am putting this post out now because this is something that I am passionate about and because I see the other side of it… I teach a class, it’s my most in demand class, called BYO project. It’s aim – for students to bring along a kit or pattern they have purchased from a designer or craft store and despair at making because they cannot decipher the instructions. I decipher the patterns for them and guide them through what should have been written there in the first place.

I have been editing patterns for pattern designers for a few years now and the most common themes I’ve been told are things like they are saving time dealing with people complaining about mistakes answering emails with corrections and chasing reprints. They are also starting to see customers returning, more in sales and feeling like their patterns are more complete.

I have spoken in several groups before about editing patterns and 98% are resistant because they don’t want to pay for the service and they think their work is fine as it is. I can tell you that it’s nigh on impossible to find a perfect document. It can always be better. Small changes can make a big difference.

So to that effect, to those out there that think they don’t need an editing service performed on their patterns… pick one and send it to me as a Word doc, I’ll edit it for FREE and send it back to you, sending you two files – one with tracking (all the changes I will make and suggest to you to make) and a clean file (which will be a final copy of all the changes I make) – so you can see the difference, see how it is done and maybe in time, learn what to watch out for in your own writing.

I will be only accepting the first 6 people to comment. When I have replied to you please email your pattern to frankensteinsfabrics@hotmail.com

If you have any questions please feel free to email me and ask.

Marni x

 

 

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Aspen Frost Table Runner

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So who wants a free pattern?

I’ve made this Christmas Table Runner using only a mini charm square pack and just over half a metre of Riley Blake Honeycomb Dot in grey (available in the store).

I know so many people who pick up pre-cuts thinking that they will make something from them, but inevitably they end up in a box or cupboard and don’t see the light of day for a very long time. I know it happens, I’m guilty of it myself. But this year one of my resolutions was to FINISH things and so in an effort to help you out there in quilt-blog-land finish things as well…here we go…

Materials

Aspen Frost mini charm square pack (42, 2 1/2in squares)

55cm of Honeycomb Dot in grey

14in x 39in rectangle of wadding

 

You will also need

Sewing machine with 1/4in and walking feet

Rotary cutter, cutting mat and patchwork ruler

Iron and ironing board

Pins

Scissors

 

Optional

Spray starch

Camera

 

To start there’s a few little things that I need to make sure you know so we are all on the same page.

  1. We will not be washing these fabrics. Pre-cuts don’t take well to pre-washing and you will lose more of a 2 1/2in square in fraying than you will have left to sew.
  2. There will be minimal left overs as we will have scraps of the grey and a handful of squares that you won’t use.
  3. Starch is optional but recommended. Starch will help your tiny pre-cuts retain what stability they have and will make your finished blocks easier to handle. Starch washes out. Starch recommendation is Mary Ellen’s Best Press, which you can purchase here.
  4. If you have trouble remembering a layout sequence, make sure you have your camera nearby. Snap a quick picture of the blocks once you are happy with the design so you can refer back to it if needed when you start piecing.
  5. The techniques used in this tutorial can apply to any quilted project you just need to adjust your measurements and design as needed.

Preparation

From your mini charm square pack select four lots of nine sets of squares. From the Aspen Frost pack I was able to refine my choice by colour – red, green, blue and white – but whatever pack you have you need to make that judgment call. It could be by print, scale, theme, directionality* etc.

Layout your nine squares in a 3×3 block that you like. Take a photo for reference if needed. See note 5.

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Thread up your machine with neutral colour thread (cream, white, black, grey) and your 1/4in foot. Set the machine for straight sewing, with average stitch length and width. My Janome likes a stitch width of just over 5 and a length of 2.

9-Patch Blocks

Take two of the mini charm squares and place them right sides together. Stitch the squares together down one side. Without taking the stitched squares off the machine continue piecing all the pairs of squares that you can from each block (this is where the photos of the blocks will help). Once you have stitched the pairs (12 pairs) you can remove the strand of pairs off the machine. This is called chain piecing** and saves time and thread.

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Starting with the first of the stitched pairs go along and add the third square for that row.

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Once you have joined the rows of three squares, take everything over to your ironing board, bring your scissors or thread snips.

Snip the threads holding each row together. Set the three rows for one block face down on the ironing board. Check that you have them in the right order (use your photos) and press the seams in alternating directions.

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Taking two rows align the seams as shown. This is called abutting*** the seams and will ensure that you have better matching points. This technique can be used anytime you have two seams meeting.

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Pin the two rows together making sure you have the seams matching.

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Stitch along the edge, remove the pins and check you intersecting seams. Press the rows open and then repeat the process for the third row of that block.

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Assemble all 4 of your 9-Patch blocks.

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From your 55cm of grey fabric cut three, 2 1/2in strips.

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Place your 9-patch block right side down on the right side of one grey strip and stitch along the edge. Attach all four blocks onto the strip in this way

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Place the pieced strip down on your cutting mat as shown in the picture and trim the blocks/strip down to size.

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At this point I like to spray starch my blocks to aid in keeping them straight and neat, it also helps press out the strips that I’ve just attached to the centre blocks.

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Set the seams and then press the strip away from the block.

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Layout your blocks in the order you want them in.

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Piece the blocks together making sure there is a strip of grey in between each block. You can piece one by one or piece in pairs and then piece the pairs together.

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Make sure you have a strip of grey on either end of your table runner length as well.

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Trim down any excess grey fabric and press the seams you just stitched in towards the grey strips. Turn the runner over and press from the front to make sure there are no pleats in your seams.

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Take one of the remaining grey strips and place it right sides together with your runner, and stitch along the length. Pin if you feel you need to.

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Trim the excess fabric strip and then set the seam.

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Starch the strip and then press it away from the centre of your runner.

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Repeat for the other grey strip and your runner top is finished!

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Basting

Press your remaining grey fabric (approx. 35cm). Starch if you like.

Lay the fabric right side down on a flat surface. Tape the selvedge edges down and then tape at intervals along the length, making sure the fabric is taut but not stretched.

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Lay your rectangle of wadding on top of the fabric and smooth out so its flat and there are no lumps, wrinkles or loose threads.

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Place your table runner right side up on the wadding and smooth from the centre out so there are no lumps or folds.

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Pin baste with safety pins, no more than 4in apart. If the pins hurt your hands to close them – use a teaspoon.

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Set your sewing machine up with your walking foot. You can increase your stitch length slightly, I tend not to but it does make it harder to unpick if you have a small stitch when quilting. Test a few sizes to find one you like.

Quilting

I quilted this runner in straight lines – ditch stitching in each of the 9-Patch blocks and then ditch stitching the rows and extending it out onto the border. I also did a 1/4in stitch away from the edge of the border to secure the whole runner edge to make binding easier.

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To tie in the loose thread ends – from the top of the runner thread the ends onto a needle and pull through to the back of the runner. Tie the threads in a knot and let the knot sit about 1/8th of an inch away from the runner surface. Thread all four threads on to the needle and thread into the runner and away from the stitches, hiding the threads and the knot inside the runner. Wiggle the knot so that it slips under the fabric, if you need to. Clip off the excess thread.

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Trim down your backing and wadding to the edge of the table runner and you are ready for binding.

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*Theme, scale, print, directionality

Theme: Christmas, novelty, country, shabby chic etc

Scale: The size of the print – small, medium, large.

Print: Floral, dots, stripes, scrolls etc

Directionality: Stripes, text, arrows

**Chain piecing

Piecing by means of continuing to sew without stopping. Piecing everything that needs piecing before you need to stop and press, cut or attach the next section

***Abutting the seams

Also known as nesting the seams. Making sure that the folded part of each seams is ‘butted’ up to the next seam so that they sit as flat as possible and reduce bulk.

 

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