My advice – OPEN your paper pattern as soon as you get it home, and check it as thoroughly as you can.catsew

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.

Yours sincerely

Consumer Advice 

(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 ***


Caveat venditor

The long evolution of consumer protection

 … 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.


other brands are available, of course!

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?

cat pattern again
sew your own kitten







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! 



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.

More soon


… and a brief mention of codswallop …


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.cat_bag

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.


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.


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.


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 all CODSWALLOP – and the stance of UK pattern sellers is untenable here in law.

More soon.

Some pattern facts of life

Paper patterns

When I come across (mainly) Americans wondering why on earth anyone ‘wants to’ pay $20 for an Indy pattern, or spend time and trouble tracing a pattern from a spaghetti-junction of lines, or  tediously match and tape dozens of sheets of paper, it makes me ‘want to’ scream, or rip the pattern catalogues from their ungrateful hands!

Do our American friends  really think most of us actually  want the extra time, trouble and opportunity for error in taping or tracing? Lots of us don’t want to spend $20 on a pattern, either.

But you know what?

We do it because we have to.

What you in the US refer to as ‘Big 4’ patterns which you can buy for a dollar or two in regular sales or with coupons, are, here in the UK and everywhere else in the world that I know of,  expensive, often seriously so, if they are even available for purchase.

As there is so little price differential between Indy patterns and Big 4 patterns, they’re a much more attractive proposition than they would be in the US. When a Simplicity pattern costs more than £8, and a Vogue pattern £15, a $15 (~£10) Indy pattern seems  perfectly reasonable!

This high cost of paper sewing patterns in Europe and elsewhere – often, even, their unavailability – also serves to explains  the popularity of pattern magazines. These seem to be considered a bit of a mystery or curiosity in the US, and the use of Burda magazine patterns is often looked on with trepidation by even many skilled and experienced sewers.

A pattern magazine  costs most people in the world us less than a single paper pattern, and contains anything from half a dozen to a couple of dozen or more  different patterns, each covering a range of sizes. Is it any surprise, then, that so many of us ignore Big 4 patterns, even in countries where  they are widely available?

Pattern magazines – not just Burda!

Burda (from Germany) is probably the best-known pattern magazine in the world, and seems to be the only one widely known or fairly easily available in the US.

It is  distributed worldwide and published in several languages. Burda also publishes ‘specials’, usually once or twice a year – Burda Easy, Burda Plus, Burda Petite and Burda Kids. (Also Burda Quilting, but we’re talking clothing patterns here). Burda was the first glossy Western womens magazine which was  legally available behind the Iron Curtain in the days of Soviet Russia; when I went to work in Berlin just a few years after the Wall came down, I remember a colleague of mine, an ‘Ossi’ (former resident of  East Germany), telling me about her mother getting the occasional smuggled copy of Burda, and how very precious it was. Marion also told me why bananas were such a scary fruit, but that’s a story for another time.

Burda, though, is far from being the only sewing pattern magazine available.

Sewing and cutting

Where shall I start? I think I’ll go from north to  south. Bear in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list!

In Russia,  Diana-Moden seems to contain (as far as I have seen) Simplicity or Simplicity-type patterns for tracing off. Another pattern magazine called “ШИК: Шитье и крой” ( CHIC: Sewing and cutting) appears to contain mainly re-issues of La Mia Boutique (Italy) and LOOK! (Argentina) patterns.

Ottobre, from Finland, publishes editions in Finnish, English, Dutch, German and Swedish. It publishes six issues a year – four for children’s wear and two for women.



Back issues, single issues and subscriptions can be purchased from its website. Here in the UK, it’s only occasionally seen ‘in the wild’ at newsagents.

‘Sy’ is a Danish pattern magazine which contains all sorts of sewing projects from dolls clothes to evening gowns and craft items.

Germany is  a hotbed of sewing pattern magazines. Näh-Style,  Fashion Style,  Meine Nähmode,  and Sabrina Woman are all pattern magazines from Germany and most of them also publish occasional plus size specials. Fashion Style provides all its patterns in German sizes 34 to 56 inclusive.

From the Netherlands comes Knipmode, Knippie (for children),  My Image and B-Inspired.

La Maison Victor is a Belgian magazine which seems to be getting increasingly popular all over Europe for its quality patterns, drafting and styling.



In France, we find Elena Couture and Fait Main – which latter is a direct translation of the previously-mentioned ‘Sy’ magazine from Denmark.

Patrones is published in Spain, as is The Sewing Box Special.

La Mia Boutique, Special La Mia Boutique Taglie Forti (ie plus size),  and Modellino are Italian-language  pattern magazines.

Staying in the Northern hemisphere, but zooming eastwards, Mrs Stylebook and Lady Boutique are just two of the many Japanese pattern magazines. If you have a Kinokuniya near you in the US, you should be able to find them there. When I lived in Sydney, NSW, I spent half my time and salary in Kinokuniya. Sadly, there’s no Kinokuniya anywhere in Europe. 😦 sad face 

South of the equator, Brazil publishes several pattern magazines, naturally enough in Portuguese. Manequim is possibly the best known; two others that I know of are Moda Moldes and Molde e Cia.

Still further south, in Argentina, ‘Look’ is  published in Spanish.

The very best styles, though, in my opinion at least, come from the furthest south.

Snappy dressing and style which is  suitable for all occasions,  which  will carry the wearer from a casual fish supper and baby sitting, to an ocean swim or a formal photoshoot with equal aplomb, is the prerogative of the penguin,  who needs  no outside help in design or colour choice – they always look good!

How to be smartly dressed for any occasion!


The clothes I sew

I’ve always been short, and since about 2005,  I’m fat as well.

I’ve sewn most of my own clothes since the mid 1960s. I did quite a lot of sewing last year – and not a thing did I blog or otherwise  record in any sort of ordered fashion. I do have photos and notes which are on my other, clapped-out computer. I must take said computer to the man in the village who fixes such things, so I can show both successes and failures. There are plenty of both!

Until it’s fixed and I can retrieve those, there are other things to show and to talk about.

Lekala 4271

People like pictures, I am told. Here’s a dress I made last year, for a friend going on a sailing holiday. I realised I hadn’t bought her a birthday present; she  hates shopping and was panicking about not having a sundress/coverup to take with her. It was a perfect opportunity to try a pattern I wouldn’t use for myself.

Lekala 4271 looked ideal – easy to sew, easy to wear, but just a little bit different with its racer back. I had 48 hours .

S. gave me her measurements over the phone, and I ordered the pattern. As soon as it arrived in my inbox, about 10 minute after ordering, I emailed it to the reprographics business I use, and got an email back saying it would be ready by close of business.

Lekala 4271 – racer back sundress

So off I went, bought 2 m of a fine, drapey printed woven viscose (I think Americans call it ‘Rayon Challis’) and collected my pattern, now on a massive sheet of paper. The next morning, with the viscose washed and dried overnight, and the pattern cut out, I set to work.

The pattern is exceedingly simple, yet nicely drafted, with  simple front bust darts , a fairly low scooped front neck and the back with cut-out armholes/shoulders, making it a tiny bit ‘different’. Bodice fullness is gathered into an elastic waist.

The dress was very simple to construct, but I took note of Lekala’s ‘instructions’ (such as they are!),  and  following their suggestions for order of  assembly  gave a neat finish. There’s quite a bit of binding involved, and this was, by a long distance,  the most time consuming part of making this dress!

I’d flat-lined the bodice down to the waist casing level  with cotton lawn, and wanted to run the  elastic through a casing constructed  between the lawn  and the viscose fashion fabric, so this required a bit of fudging and fiddling for an inch or two on each  side seam, but it didn’t take long; a final visit to the ironing board  and my friend came round to pick up the dress that afternoon; it was in her travel bag the next morning.

As you can see, she wore it on holiday!

Beth, of SunnyGal Studio, made this dress too.


The rectangular elastic-waist skirt

Pattern designer – or pattern profiteer?

That is the question. Where does design end and profiteering begin?  There is a recent new release from a popular Indy producer of patterns. It is an elastic-waist straight skirt, and the pattern consists of rectangles.

Renaissance of sewing

There was a crop of babies in the village last year, and now there are several young mums who I’ve taught to sew, or helped and encouraged through the initial stages.

Some of them have come knocking at my door recently with pattern puzzles and ill-fitting garments made from the much-vaunted  trendy Indie pattern sellers.

Although ‘dressmaking’ might seem  intimidating to a generation whose sewing education when younger was usually non-existent, it has recently become a desirable and indeed trendy activity, with London and other metropolitan centres  awash with Sewing Cafes and Studios where ‘sewing experiences’ can be purchased at a suitably high price, sometimes in the company of, or  associated with,  the ‘sewlebrity’ of the moment.

Young women in rural Lancashire are just as susceptible to trends as are their city sisters; I’ve had to rescue quite a few items, made from certain Indy patterns, as best I could. Which didn’t always result in even the same type of garment … disappointing, or what, when someone has put so much effort into, and paid  so much for, a pattern which virtually promises good results.

Are beginners being bamboozled?

I think it’s great that sewing – and especially dressmaking – is enjoying a renaissance, but I believe that in many cases, beginners and others are being bamboozled.

Cynical, moi? Smoke and mirrors!

I am angered  when I see beginners being taken for a ride  by self-proclaimed ‘designers’, scarcely more experienced in sewing and related skills than most of those to whom they are selling – and considerably less experienced and skilled than some! –  but who are superb marketers and effective persuaders.

How many of these new Indie pattern sellers have any industry experience? What professional, academic or vocational  education have they received  in aspects of dressmaking, tailoring, design, drafting, grading 0r fitting?  The acquisition of Adobe Illustrator and the inspiration gleaned from ££ and $$ in front of one’s eyes does not make anyone into a gifted designer or a technically-competent pattern drafter. The quality of the patterns they sell displays that fact very clearly!

There are, thankfully,  a few exceptions to this general dismal situation – people who do have appropriate  experience, or the sense to employ someone who has,  and who have  vision and skill- but these are a tiny minority compared to the mass of Indy pattern producers.

Too many keen would-be dressmakers have been served a bitterly-confusing  Kool-Aid cocktail informing them, on the one hand, that garment sewing is very difficult  and, on the other hand, that if they buy Trendy Wendy’s pattern with its ‘specially simplified’ instructions, they just need to swallow the snake-oil follow the instructions and they will be successful!

If only …

I have no axe to grind  with anyone except where marketing expertise  is used by trendy snake-oil saleswomen to make fools of beginner sewers who know no better and are easily tricked.

Yes, you read that right – tricked.  I could use words I consider more accurately-descriptive, but tricked will do.

I consider selling rectangular sheets of paper for £12.50 and calling it a dressmaking pattern, to be nothing short of trickery.  I consider selling a pattern for a woman’s dress where the front piece is exactly the same as the back, to be nothing less than trickery. I consider selling a bog-standard centuries-old peasant blouse pattern at over-the-odds pricing to be sheer trickery. ‘Boho-inspired’ my left foot!

There are any number of high-quality patterns, tutorials and videos  for peasant tops and dresses,  and elastic-waist skirts, free or much cheaper than the heavily-marketed and publicised ones. You don’t need to pay £12 or even $12 – results are not, and cannot be,  guaranteed, however much you pay! Contemporary dresses for adult women, which use the same piece for front and back, not so many, for fairly obvious reasons …

What do others think?

Beginner sewing resources for elastic-waisted skirt

If you’re a beginner sewer who wants to make a straight, elastic-waisted skirt, I recommend you look at  all or any of the following:

Sew a skirt in one hour; How to make an elastic waistband skirt Part One and Part TwoTotally easy skirt making; super simple skirt in 15 minutes;  Making  elastic-waist skirts;  On this page of Marilla Walker’s website are links to download a cute FREE skirt pattern and instructions.

There are innumerable other helpful free resources – websites, videos, blogs, forums, your local library, a neighbour who sews, a craft group – rather than paying £12.50 for a few rectangles of paper. Spend that money on some fabric instead, or two or three 2nd hand sewing reference books.

Heck, if you’re in or near Lancashire, I’ll happily show you how to make one, and tell you where you can get gorgeous fabrics at far less than trendy Indie designer prices … this is Lancashire; we have fabric – as long as you know where to look!