I received a reply on Tuesday from Consumer Advice to a further question about my legal rights when I buy a paper sewing pattern. Sadly, not from the helpful Daniel, who seemed to understand what I was asking about, and translated nigh-incomprehensible legalese into an easily-understandable answer to my question. Instead, it came from someone who was, I am sure, trying to be helpful, but who seems to have just quoted what I can only assume are the relevant paragraphs of the applicable law. I am not unintelligent, but I simply do not understand what it means.
I have tried for four full days to untangle the answer to my question from within the email response I received, but I simply cannot. So, I am going to have to ask again, and rephrase my question. And hope that the helpful and understandable Daniel gets to answer me!
In the meantime, then, to more interesting things …
I was feeling annoyed at someone today, so took myself off to buy fabric in the nearby city; my favourite stall on the open market – a fabric stall, of course – is always manna to the soul, and never more so than today.
‘I know what you’ll like’ said the proprietor, ushering me round to one side. ‘Look, I’ve got three bolts of this. I’m sure it was a mistake, it shouldn’t have been in the junk bin at the wholesalers! But it was. So …’
It is the loveliest, silky-soft, highest quality, light dress weight/medium shirting weight, 100% cotton, high thread count chambray in a perfectly-traditional mid denim blue.
I bought some – actually, I bought quite a lot. I have a couple of summer dress patterns I’ve toiled already, but it’d make wonderfully-soft summer pj tops, a perfect shirt, or a cool, drapey, gored or panelled skirt. It’d also make simply glorious, luxurious bedlinen.
I also picked up a couple or three metres of a high-cotton-content polycotton in a turquoise polkadot, at just £1.50/m, and was given a small piece – just under a metre – in a powder-blue polkadot by the stall-holder. Then I walked down to another shop, and brought back several pieces of colourful, unususl cotton prints. These – and probably some of the chambray, too, are all for a charity project in which I hope shortly to become involved. All the fabrics – bar the chambray – are currently drying on the rack outside, having gone through a good hot wash.
I am so lucky where I live – fabrics galore within easy reach!
My advice – OPEN your paper pattern as soon as you get it home, and check it as thoroughly as you can.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I wrote to Consumer Advice – an arm of the much-respected Citizen’s Advice.
I’ve received a very helpful, informative and positive reply from them, in which they encourage me to disseminate the information they have provided among the hobby dressmaking community. There is more – considerably more! – than I have written below – several posts’ worth! – but I wanted to get this first valuable piece of information out there pronto.
I do want them to expand further on a couple of matters so I need to compose my query with examples – these people aren’t sewers, after all! In my email to them regarding the right of refund for faulty patterns, I mentioned missing or mislabelled pattern pieces as faults I have personally experienced, and also told of a not-entirely-fictitious situation where a skirt pattern was described as sitting at the natural waist – but was actually drafted to sit on the hip – and had a finished garment measurement at the putative ‘waist’ significantly larger than the one stated, clearly demonstrated by flat pattern measuring.
What are my rights in law if a paper pattern I buy from a UK retailer is faulty or misdescribed, given that I am unable to, or prohibited from, inspecting the pattern prior to purchase? (Examples given of faults and misdescription as above) Pattern retailers almost all state that refunds or returns are not permitted once the envelope has been opened.
Response from Consumer Advice
*** please note the information below applies to ENGLAND AND WALES. If you are not in England or Wales, you MUST check locally ***
Dear Ms FatLady
With reference to blah blah We understand that blah blah and you wish to know blah blah …
Faulty and misdescribed goods
The situations you have described would fall into this category.
Where goods are faulty or misdescribed, your rights are not affected by whether you bought in-store or online. Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, all goods supplied by a trader to a consumer must be of a ‘satisfactory quality’ – among other requirements, they should be free from faults and be fit for the purpose they were made for.
Goods should also match any description that was provided.
If the goods do not meet these requirements, then you have 30 days to reject the goods and ask for a full refund.
The fact that the goods have been opened would not prevent you from pursuing … the above remedy – the law allows for the need to open and inspect the goods before any problem can become apparent.
(my bold and my italics)
*** please note the information above applies to ENGLAND AND WALES. If you are not in England or Wales, you MUST check locally ***
… has its most recent triumph in the UK in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. The buyer is protected – by law and in law – during, and after, the purchase of goods.
Caveat venditor, which means ‘let the seller beware’, now guides consumer transactions. Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – has been turned on its head.
The Consumer Rights Act 2015
This Act details and codifies the rights and protections available to the consumer, and the responsibilities of the trader. You can find it here. It includes, and strengthens, much old legislation , and adds entirely new levels of protection. Both Which? and Citizen’s Advice have helpful articles on it.
In brief, it makes the seller responsible for problems that the buyer might encounter with a service or a product, and prohibits the seller from making any statements, contracts or conditions which place the buyer at an unfair disadvantage,
After thoroughly reading the Act, and various on-line commentaries on it by legal experts, I not only had a headache and the sense that the formerly-free-flowing channels of my brain had been stuffed with cotton-wool, I had also come to the firm belief that retailers in the UK DO NOT have the law on their side in their blanket refusal to accept returns of a paper sewing pattern where the envelope has been opened for inspection, leaving the pattern itself undamaged and unmarked.
On Sunday afternoon last, I emailed a query about just this matter to ‘Consuner Advice’, an arm of Citizen’s Advice. I am told I may need to wait up to 5 business days for a response from a trained or qualified advisor; I await this response with eager anticipation!
In the meantime, some thoughts.
PAPER SEWING PATTERNS ARE ‘GOODS’
They are tangible, non-perishable, mass-produced items. A pattern, like any other such item sold by a trader, must be fit for purpose and ‘as described’. If a skirt pattern is described as ‘sits at natural waist’ and ‘to fit waist measurement 90cm’, when cut out according to the pattern and made up as instructed, it should not have a waist of 100cm and leave a person with a 90cm natural waist naked from the waist down to … to wherever it slides to. If it does, the pattern is at fault. It is either technically incorrect, or wrongly described.
I can quickly recognise these types of all-too-common errors when I examine the printed pattern, but the policies of almost all UK pattern-retailers would suggest that I cannot return this faulty or not-as-described pattern because I have opened the envelope to look at it. Not being able to look at a purchase puts me at a grave disadvantage, and for the seller to do this is contrary to the law.
The novice sewer – and there are many – buys a pattern expecting that it to be technically correct and accurately described. Why shouldn’t it be? Isn’t that what the buyer has paid for? When it falls around her ankles, or squeezes him like a tube of toothpaste, s/he will recheck their body measurements, and the measurements provided on the pattern envelope, then blame themself rather than the pattern.
Of course, realistic expectations are needed!
No normal person would expect the result on the left from the sewing pattern below … would they?
HOW CAN YOU BE AN INFORMED CONSUMER / PATTERN BUYER?
This is difficult in the currently-existing situation, if you want to use a printed paper pattern.
All the major pattern retailers – online and bricks-and-mortar – attempt to limit (I believe illegally), the buyer’s right to recourse or refund. (please someone correct me if they know of one which doesn’t).
Burdastyle, which sells only Burda products, including paper patterns, offers 90-day returns on all its products, provided they are unused, undamaged, and in the original packaging.
In all events, I suggest careful perusal of reviews on sites such as PatternReview.com (registration – free – required), sewing blogs, or asking friends who sew for recommendations. Be aware that, for various reasons, many pattern reviewers will only say nice things about even the most horrid patterns. If you’re a larger person, the Curvy Sewing Collective carries honest reviews of a limited number of patterns, and if you’re a cynic who despises sycophants, give GOMI a chance if you can cope with often-brutal honesty and occasional bad language.
I do recommend buying from a local independent business, if possible. The pattern will cost exactly the same wherever you buy from, and the only times – all two of them! – in sixty years of sewing when I’ve actually seen inside a pattern envelope before paying for it, have been in small independent shops!
DOWNLOADABLE SEWING PATTERNS
I’ve not even touched on digital, print-at-home patterns. Digital products are covered for the first time in the new Act, and the sale of digital sewing patterns has exploded in the past few years, along with the Indie pattern-makers and sellers, some of whom have high-quality, innovative products, and others … not so much.
I feel, though, that they are an odd hybrid beast – they are not purely digital as they are of no use until they are printed onto paper, at which point they become tangible and concrete, assuming no digital problems arise. I think they’re a discussion not just for another day, but for another month or more – after I’ve received a response from Consumer Advice, perhaps.
In law, ‘caveat emptor’ conveys the principle that a person who buys something is him or herself responsible for making sure that the item is fit for the purpose intended, in good condition, works properly, etc.
A statement often used alongside it was the warning ‘Don’t buy a pig in a poke!’
A pig in a poke was, in our forefather’s times, too often not a piglet in the bag as claimed by the seller, to fatten up and feed the family, but a very angry cat – which was only discovered after purchase and upon opening the bag.
These old sayings are largely irrelevant nowadays, so effective and all-encompassing are consumer protection laws here in the UK when buying from a retailer. There is even consumer protection for digital purchases in the recent Consumer Rights Act 2015/
What has all this to do with sewing? I can hear you ask.
There’s one item that most of us here will have bought, at least occasionally. Its cost is a not-insignificant part of sewing budgets in Europe. It is widely available in both digital and ready-to-use form, in both bricks-and-mortar and on-line retailers, and is truly a pig in a poke.
A SEWING PATTERN.
Sewing patterns – both paper and digital – seem to be well and truly established as one of the last acceptable bastions of ‘buyer beware’.
I call this codswallop. No more, no less.
A sewing pattern is a perfect (from the seller’s point of view) ‘pig in a poke’. The buyer can’t see what they’re buying before it’s paid for, and can’t return it once it’s been bought (or so the seller – almost without exception – will tell you) however faulty or unsuitable it may turn out to be. An additional trick played on us by the seller is that once we’ve actually handed over hard cash for the thing, and the seller has got their money, that seller will often then attempt to dictate what the buyer can or can’t do with the item they’d bought!
I call this codswallop. No more, no less.
PATTERN RETURNS AND REFUNDS
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating for the use of a pattern and then a refund just because you didn’t like the style, or you don’t have the skill to make it fit your wonky body, or whatever. Any finished article is irrelevant here. I am referring only to the pattern itself, those uncut printed sheets of tissue which you unfold with such eager, but careful, anticipation, or that pdf or plotter file which you watch print out with hope in your heart.
Just those lines printed on the paper.
Plastered all over the pattern catalogues in the shop, or on the seller’s website, or even stamped in purple ink on the envelope itself, defacing our new purchase, the following charming statement or similar: ‘Patterns are non-returnable once the envelope has been opened and/or the pattern unfolded.’
The flimsy paper of a pattern envelope holds its secrets more securely than many an international spy agency! Just you even try to open one in a shop for a perfectly legitimate reason before you’ve paid for it, and see how fast you’re ‘attended to’!
I call this codswallop. No more, no less.
Sellers of PDF patterns, meanwhile, take cover behind the digital nature of their product to deny any responsibility for it once they’ve got their money. They well-nigh universally make the claim that ‘by their nature’, digital patterns are not refundable – as if the passage through the internet’s ether ‘by its nature’ somehow applies a magical coating of perfection to even the most substandard product.
I call this codswallop. No more, no less.
BROKEN SEWING PATTERNS
I’m sure I’m not the only person to have bought patterns which have been of such poor quality that they are frankly unusable in their brand-new, as-purchased state.
Seams that haven’t been trued. Notches that don’t match. Measurements that are incorrect. Missing pieces. Mislabelled pieces. Grading which I can only describe as deformed.
These are all purely technical errors which should’ve been picked up long before the pattern was printed (if we are discussing a paper pattern) and most certainly before distribution; any of them make the pattern undeniably faulty.
Broken, in fact.
And there appears to be no real recourse for those of us unfortunate enough to have wasted our money on an item which is broken – and thus not fit for its intended purpose – if that item is a sewing pattern. Oh, we can have a mild moan on one or other of the many sewing forums that exist – but not too much of a moan, because most of these forums operate on the saccharine motto ‘if you can’t say something nice, best say nothing at all’
I call this codswallop, too. No more, no less.
I believe that this apparent lack of recourse, and the claims of no returns, no refunds, with no prior inspection permitted, are allCODSWALLOP– and the stance of UK pattern sellers is untenable here in law.