Pattern Match-making site?

I have an idea for a pattern matching website and I want your feedback.

The main purpose of the site would be…

  • to collect sizing & shape data for the sewing community
    • so that it’s easier for pattern brands to develop better patterns
    • and it’s easier for people to find pattern brands that are easiest to work with for their shape & size
  • to collate a resource center (links, maybe some free info) for pattern alterations to so people can learn how to alter other patterns to fit
  • to provide a forum for people to suggest gaps in the pattern market
  • to provide an area for pattern companies to explain their constraints and respond to criticisms

Browsing the online sewing community I’ve come across a fair bit of complaints about pattern company sizing and amount of ease, especially the Big4 (or should that be Big2 now that McCallVogueButterick is one company, and Simplicity website also sells New Look & paper Burda). Having read about some pattern makers’ experiences, I also have sympathy for them, and wondered if better transparency, communication, and expectation management would help.

Palmer/Alto’s Fit for Real People has a lot of fascinating info about pattern sizing, including comparison of the big pattern brands (McCall, Vogue, Butterick, Simplicity, Burda).  Their approach is that once you learn the basics of tissue fitting, you can work with any pattern brand and sizing. And that’s perfectly fine for some of us, especially the more experienced. But if you’re a relative beginner, it might be too much learning curve and effort. Even for the more experienced, there are times you can’t be bothered with that much effort – maybe like me you don’t sew enough for fitting to be second nature. You just want the pattern to work out of the envelope, whatever shape you are!

So wouldn’t it be great if you can find out which pattern brands have patterns that are designed with your size AND shape in mind? I don’t know much about the industry sizing model that these big pattern companies use, how they compare to the ones used by the indies, whether they’re the same general population sizing data used by the RTW, whether the sewing population deviate from the general population standards, and whether any of these standards take into account body shapes. Wouldn’t it be great to find out?

I was inspired by the now defunct Stretch Pattern School. Stuart, the site author, had collected a pool of data via his personalized swimwear / leotard block generator (offline now). You entered your measurements to get the free pattern and he got a pool of measurement data to analyze, which he summarized in a couple fascinating articles about size demographics in general and his findings about women’s sizes.

As I’m not a professional pattern-maker, I certainly won’t be able to offer anything like that. But I thought maybe even a community driven free pattern-matching service would give people enough value that they’d be willing to submit their own measurements and shape info.

So here’s my wishlist…

Data collected:

  • Database 1: public data will be stored and presented anonymously, so people will only see summaries of a group (eg 40-50 year old females in USA), they won’t be able to see your measurements and shape info.
    1. Key measurements
    2. Shape (select from illustration of different shapes)
    3. Age & gender
    4. Country of residence & ethnicity
    5. Sewing skill level, especially in fitting & alteration
    6. Pattern brands & sizes – favorite or currently used
    7. Standard alterations / body characteristics (eg uneven shoulder, full bust, sway back)
    8. Pattern preferences:
      1. garment categories (eg dresses, tops, skirts, pants)
      2. style (eg retro, high street, designer, sporty)
      3. fit (eg close-fitting, loose)
  • Database 2: private data to enable you to retrieve and update your own profile, get personalized recommendations eventually (based on data and preferences you submitted), contact you eventually (eg for recommendation updates and offers)
    1. Contact info (eg email, social network name or ID,  blog URL)
    2. Login details, maybe allow login via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or some other Open ID scheme (WordPress, etc)
  • Database 3: pattern brand info
    1. Target market shape & sizing info – obviously most patterns can be altered to fit, so this is to identify the lucky group who can get great result without alterations
    2. Other brand info (eg style, pricing, availability / distribution, site / social / shop links)


  • For pattern consumers:
    1. Infographics /summary of the data collected demonstrating why it’s not so straightforward for everyone to get the right fit out of the envelope all the time
    2. Pattern brand & size recommendations for your measurements & shape based on other people’s experience & target market data submitted by pattern brands
    3. Suggestion forum to identify gaps in the pattern market (eg more edgy pants designs for pear-shaped size 16)
    4. Alteration resources: links, book & class recommendations, maybe some free info
    5. Reference section with info on history of pattern sizing & alterations
    6. Updates & offers from pattern brands (eg discount to try out a recommended pattern brand)
    7. No data submission or login required for generic browsable info, data submission & login required for personalized recommendation
  • For the pattern brands & other professionals:
    1. Filterable anonymous demographic data to help decide target market & develop sizing
    2. Filterable market gap / pattern suggestions from the sewing community
    3. Targeted listing / linking opportunity (through recommendations, reference sections)
    4. Targeted marketing / offers (through recommendations, reference sections, maybe eventually emails or social channels)
    5. Blog / news area for for announcing new pattern line offering or responding to criticisms


So what do you think? Would you find it useful? Would you contribute measurements and shape data?

Or has someone already done this and no one has bothered to tell me? ;-D The closest I can think of is Pattern Reviews. It already has some of the features I want, but is missing the data collection bit. You can enter text description about your Body Type and Usual Alterations, but the site isn’t able to make use of these to give you pattern brand recommendations. Nor is there a way to find out about the shape and sizing demographics of the PR users. Also the PR site design is a bit old school. I sometimes find it a bit overwhelming to use.

I’d certainly be up for collaboration, maybe tagging on to an established sewing website. Because all these ideas would take a fair bit of time and effort to develop. And that’s not even touching on costs. I’d certainly would like it to be a free resource, or at least a non-profit project. Any volunteers? Comment below or contact me via my web contact form.

0 comments on “Pattern Match-making site?

  1. I really love this idea. As an independent pattern maker, I would love to be presented to consumers specifically suited to my patterns but would also love information about what their needs are so I can design more intelligently.

    There is a lot of guess work involved in developing the patterns even with my many years of fitting experience. I started my company intending to design for a D cup but got requests for pattern alterations for other cup sizes so my new patterns include cup sizes A through D. My size range is 0-16 but since my patterns are multi-sized I have no way of knowing what my most popular size is. Is my main customer an 8 or is she a 14? I think your matchmaking idea might help to define this if customers are linked to a measurement profile.

    I’m on the same page as Mary who said she’d like to see pattern alterations specific to the pattern style. This has always been one of my pet peeves about fitting books, they only teach you how to fit a basic garment. When the styling gets more complicated most are out of luck. I’ve tried to help my customers by providing style specific corrections on my blog and have received great feedback but it is difficult to guess what fitting problems might arise for each individual person.

    Did Deepika give you any feedback on your idea?

    If you need a fitting expert, perhaps I can make a contribution here and there šŸ™‚

    • Given how much effort it takes for me to even write my blog posts I can totally sympathize with you on the effort it takes to develop patterns. And that’s not even knowing for sure if there will demand for particular style, shape, & size!

      That’s what partly inspired the idea: I felt sorry for the “Big4” getting almost constant criticism. I thought if even the big ones can’t get it right in the eye of the sewing community, imagine how much harder it would be for indies to scale up. Yes, initially there may be more vocal supporters than detractors. But the problem of fit will probably reel it’s ugly head sooner or later if the indie brand grow in popularity and people of different shape & sizes started expecting the same pattern that worked for others to work for them without much effort on their part.

      If this idea were to materialize, then brands can more easily reach ready audience without necessarily compromising their privacy. The audience can find the best brand just by browsing by shape (& maybe size groups) & the site can use popularity of particular shape / size group pages as rough indicator of pattern sizing trends (as oppose to RTW trends or general population trends – not all segment may be interested in sewing if their fashion needs are already well catered for by RTW). If they enter their measurements that will provide even better sizing indicator. But ultimately it’s about introducing them brands & having them build a direct relationship with brands (eg granting brand permission to know who they are & maybe even their measurements data for better customer support).

      When you say “pattern alterations specific to the pattern style” do you really mean individual style (eg IHP Belle Bow Blouse) or style group / block (fitted blouse with 2 fish eye waist darts)? Style group alteration advice may be more feasible, but per style would be a lot of work considering not only the different components that go into a style & the variety of different body shapes. It may also be quite repetitive as a lot of patterns are quite similar in style. Of course there are patterns that are so unique that alteration advice will need to be at pattern level – eg some of those crazy Donna Karan Vogue Patterns, but most I find aren’t.

      Deepika…No, no reply yet. I think I contacted her just before the relaunch of PR, so she must have been crazy busy and now need a much deserved break.

      As for your offer of help with fitting advice…Thank you for the offer! I think I might have to park the idea for a while though. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed & needing to be recharged with a few finished projects first! šŸ™‚

  2. marishka says:

    I like the idea, I *think*. It’s a bit complex for me to have discerned completely, but I have some comments. First, PR is large and I haven’t found it easy to use. AFAIK patterns are rated, by the members, individually; any trend marking the nature of the sloper used by the companies from one pattern to the next is lacking. Second, Palmer and Pletsch’s assertions that the sloper used by the major companies is identical or nearly so is less useful information when you realize that the companies can (and apparently do) play with the amount of ease in the design, versus the ease generally associated with descriptor words, such as “fitted, semi-fitted” etc. Not to mention their subgroups of patterns with different blocks created by named designers. I believe these gaps in reliable sizing have been a main reason for the rise of indie designers.
    So, a site which helped me discern which company’s patterns were likely best for me, and which adjustments I would likely make, would be very helpful. Making one’s own sloper and just taking it from there is an advanced skill not all sewists are ready for. An easy to use site with accurate information and less discussion sounds like a great idea.

    • PR…It is a mammoth isn’t it! That’s what’s good about it at the same time a bit difficult to use. It’s so full of info & friendly chats that one can easily get overwhelmed or distracted, never mind finding conclusive advice on something! šŸ™‚ So an idea like mine would have to be structured differently, more around a topic (eg pear shape, pencil skirt fitting) than type of info (eg discussion, review, knowledgebase). It can be quite hard for large existing websites like PR to reorganize info. But it already has a large user base seeking similar advice, so seem like the best fit – easiest to get useful info out quickly.

      P&P…You’re right the brands do play with design ease, & don’t always stick to or even offer fit / ease descriptors. But I thought at least once you figured out best size and your typical alteration using the brand’s fitting sloper, then at least you’d know roughly what size to get in that brand & what (& roughly how much) alterations you’d make to get to the design as intended. Of course, the design as intended may not be to your liking, but that’s getting into subjective territory & beyond the brand’s control. In any case, I do like P&P’s approach of treating the pattern as just a jumping off point & feeling free to change the design if you want – eg more or less ease. BTW, a body-shape-based organization of the info might make it easier to choose the best designs, learn ahead of time if a pattern or brand won’t work well, and learn how to alter for a given shape.

      Now if only someone else with more resources would step up & adopt my idea! I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the work it would take after chatting to another lady with decades of experience on fitting her evolving figure! (And really want to get back to sewing myself! šŸ˜‰

  3. Allisonc says:

    Even at a very basic level it would be incredibly useful to gather basic measurements and what size each person usually starts with in any given pattern line, you’d start to get a good idea where to start when trying a new pattern company. Good luck with whatever you decide to go with here, it sounds like a lot of work, but if it was easy someone would have done it already!

    • That’s a great idea! I was struggling with what the site can offer without a fitting expert involved. I don’t known enough about how measurements correlate with body shapes & fitting needs, but I really wanted to give people who enter their measurements something useful right off the bat.

      A simple automated matching of measurements entered with measurements & cup-size info supplied by pattern brands could be quite feasible. So at least the website saves people the hassle of looking up different sizing charts, identifying the closest size in each brand and which measurements differs and by how much.

      If I can find some copyright free info on standard alterations, then this could also show people only those alterations they might need. So a hassle-saving checklist as people’s starting point.

      And maybe get their feedback on whether it worked, what more they end up needing to alter to help improve recommendations in the future.

    • Thanks Heather. Will keep you in mind. I need to write down a proper plan, identify & publish the tasks, especially any that other people can help with.

    • I emailed Deepika the other day to see if some of the features can be added to the Pattern Review redesign. Hopefully she’ll say yes. We shall see!

  4. I used to make a point of buying the slopers produced by the Big 4 to get some idea of how to manage fit for their patterns. Now I just drop my personal sloper on whatever I’m going to sew and assume I’ll be adjusting from scratch for my flat chest and wiiiiiiiiiiide backside. Every time.

    I am sorry I missed out on the Stretch Pattern School site; that’s the sort of crazy social data gathering experiment I love.

    Your data base would be insane to accumulate that much information. As doddering as Pattern Review can be, there is a mountain of information buried there. and a very willing audience who would pile on to your project in a heartbeat. The site is under remodel (I’ve been a beta tester for a couple months now) and will be a whoooole lot more functional when it goes live. Talk to Deepika. She will pay attention. Certainly has experience in managing mountains.

    I would find the real nugget of ‘this is what I really really want’ (cue Spice Girls) in this and expand it from there. And don’t overlook using a survey to gather that information; it really focuses people’s ideas and hopes into useful datapoints.

    • Actually, another lady suggested contacting Deepika. So I did email her yesterday via PR website. I didn’t know about the PR redesign. It would totally make sense for this to be on PR. Of the different sewing community sites, PR is most brand agnostic (unlike Burdastyle) and not just strictly a discussion forum (Artisan Square, etc). Let’s see if it’s possible to tag such feature onto PR at this point in time.

      I don’t think the database would be too big to manage. The key is collecting a lot of the data in a structured way so that you can filter, search, and analyze the data to create rules for automation / personalized recommendations. (I work in the web industry.) It is still a fair amount of work, especially figuring out the rules (eg if it’s possible to identify someone needing a FBA & what measurements you would need to determine that, what info you’d need from the pattern brands to know if that FBA will be needed for all brands or just some brands). At the moment PR member profiles are unstructured text descriptions, so harder to analyze automatically.

      And I think a bit of automation is key. If automated, this feature can continue to collect data and improve the insight and recommendations over time. An one off survey will have limited reach and may require more manual analysis and processing.

  5. First, I love the new look of your blog!!! Second, I think this database would be a great idea, but I would oh, so not share it with the pattern companies. Why do all the work for them for free? At least charge a consulting fee, for pete’s sake! I love the idea of having alterations for “X” pattern with “Y” adjustment available. I would so use this, especially for FBA-ing complicated patterns that I love so much. I mean, adding to the hips is pretty simple, but any bust adjustments are cray-cray. I just read an article from Threads – possibly online… I cannot remember – about how to FBA an asymmetrical/wrap front. *scream of frustration* Seriously?! I needed that information last year, not now! It would be terrific to know there was an online database that you could search and voila! Exactly what I need. Of course, this would mean I’d just get even lazier with muslins….. šŸ™‚

    • Are you also thinking more of specific guidance for altering a specific pattern? Again, I think that might have to be phase 2, and depend on finding an fitting expert willing to share that info for free / low cost. A bunch of mini-communities based on similar shape / size would be a start. Then at least there can be community help if not expert help. What would be great is if the info shared is presented more like reference material rather than forum banter. I find trawling the forums for answers time consuming and sometimes inconclusive.

      As for charging the pattern brands, I guess it depends on the cost of developing & hosting a website like this. If it isn’t expensive, then a free or very low cost resource for both consumers & pattern brands would be a win-win situation. Consumers provide the data & suggestions, pattern brands respond with products to match. It’s not like the consumers aren’t getting any benefits in return. If there’s too high a cost barrier for pattern brands, then only the big players would be able to afford it and everyone would be trying to maximize their investment by not catering for niche markets or not being transparent about their target audience.

      You see now why I have to keep the Day Job! šŸ™‚

      • Yeah…. gotta love those day jobs! I agree with you about a mini-community with similar size/shape/alterations issues – that in itself would be a gift. Re: pattern co’s maximizing their investment by not catering for niche markets: isn’t that what they do already? Provide a basic pattern and leave the fitting up to the sewer. I’m thinking the mini-community is probably the best way to start tackling such a huge problem. I realize it’s phase 2, but if the word spreads like wildfire, then you’ll get your 10 000 data entries… šŸ˜‰

        • Indeed, that’s what pattern co’s do right now. Catering for everyone is probably prohibitively expensive. But if we can quantify demands for the niche markets maybe big ones will release niche lines and/or new indies will come on board & plug the gap. It’s a bit of chicken & egg. First thing is to create the forms to gather the data & support these mini-communities.

  6. sally says:

    I just learned that the Lisette patterns at Simplicity are designed to have a slightly different fit than the other Simp. patterns. And that New Look patterns are designed for a different body type than Simplicity. Why don’t they tell us things like that? Are some patterns within Vogue, McCalls, Simplicity, etc different?

    • I wonder if some of these fit thing are considered trade secrets, so not communicated clearly. Maybe they think if they don’t declare their target shape & fit, then they won’t limit their market and more people will buy. I’m sure it’s true to some extent. But if you can’t consistently get a good fit, then you might buy a few times, then give up on the brand. For me personally, it’s actually a barrier to buy, especially if the pattern isn’t cheap. I much prefer transparency upfront, so I know what I’m getting into when I buy. If a design is interesting enough then I’d probably be willing to buy even if it doesn’t fit perfectly out of the envelope. Simple designs would need to fit better out of the envelope – I’d pay for avoiding the alteration hassle.

      The other problem might be that the info is out there, just not easily found. Which is another reason I think a brand agnostic pattern clearing house website would be great. You get a larger audience base then each brand’s own website. People who haven’t tried your patterns can find out about your line and fit. The site can ensure the brands all present consistent information for easy comparison.

  7. mary says:

    Hi, the only way I would find this useful is if pictures of actual pattern alteration were available. I need for example to do short waist, FBA, shoulder adjustments, back adjustments, large waist. My problem is unless I see a visual of how to adjust each different pattern piece depending on the style of the pattern, I have no idea how to proceed. If there was a database where you could request for example to be shown how to adjust Vogue xxxx for the alteration you needed to make I would be first in the queue with my credit card!

    • Hi Mary, what you want might have to be version 2 or 3 of the site! šŸ™‚ It would need a fitting expert on staff to provide that level of pattern specific guidance.

      What I’m hoping for as a first step is to show there’s a market for your body shape, so some pattern brands might release patterns for your body shape, and you won’t have to make all those alterations at all.

      Also, once you tell the site your body shape, measurements, common alteration needs, then it show you only those alteration resources that match your needs, so you don’t have to wad through lots of irrelevant info. Ideally, there would be illustrated instructions for the recommended alterations on different type of design details (eg set-in sleeve, raglan sleeve). But as I’m no fitting expert & can’t write my own instructions, here’s where copyright issue might be a stumbling block.

      But again, if we can show demand for alteration instruction for specific body types, maybe the fitting / alteration instructors would be happy to offer online / offline classes for your body type, maybe even working one-on-one to help you alter a specific pattern.

      Or maybe a community feature can enable mini-communities of similarly shaped / sized people to help each other with pattern alteration.

      But wouldn’t it be better if there are more pattern brands that design specifically for your body shape so you don’t even have to do all the alterations in the first place? And if you can feedback on the type of garment / style you like, they can release more varieties of pattern so you won’t be forced to use pattern brands that will require alterations?

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