CAVEAT EMPTOR

… and a brief mention of codswallop …

LET THE BUYER BEWARE.

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.

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

More soon.

In Memorium

Rana Plaza factory collapse

It’s that time of year again. The third anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse.

bangladesh ladys arm
No word other than death can describe this image.

It is considered the deadliest garment factory accident in history, as well as the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history. I would dispute the words ‘accident’ and ‘accidental’ in the strict definition of the words; however, to use the term ‘accident waiting to happen’ would be correct.

The struggle and suffering of the injured workers and the families of the injured and deceased continues. Please spare a few minutes to read this press release from the Clean Clothes Campaign.

Fabric purchasing

Bought any sand-washed or distressed denim lately? Nice and soft, eh?

Softer than the insides of the worker’s lungs.

Ever heard of silicosis?  Oh, that’s an industrial illness of quarry-workers in days gone by, you are thinking. Nowadays, people doing that sort of work wear full respirators …don’t they?

Think again. Have a read of this BBC piece about the production of sand-washed denim.

The ethical supply  of fabric and clothing

The supply chain of fabrics varies from the perfectly OK to the horrendous.

Think that buying organic cotton will protect workers from pesticide-related illnesses and halt land degradation? Look at the Omo River organic cotton project in Ethiopia. This is a piece from the organic textile industry’s own newsletter .

And you probably thought the Highland Clearances were mere history … sadly, no.

There are similar stories of land-grabs, forced evictions and worse, all over the world where corrupt government meets up with businesses hungry to make easy money, and where world powers are desperate for influence and access to resources at any cost.

Well, we can’t walk around naked – not in this climate, anyway. It was trying to snow here an hour ago! Fabrics are such an integral part of daily life, and many, many people are enabled to earn a decent living through the West’s consumerism.

It’s not all bad.

I have Bangladeshi friends who tell me that demand for garment factory workers has resulted in a rise in the status and ‘value’ of girls in many backwards rural communities, where – instead of being kept at home to do housework, then married off at the earliest opportunity – they are being encouraged to go to school and become literate because of the opportunities available for them to earn money doing factory work. They tell me that a caring family, or village with a responsible ‘headman’, will send the girls off together to the city as a group under the care of an older woman – often a youngish widow – unless there are already older sisters, cousins or aunts established there. A young woman can acquire some small savings, a modicum of independence and – most importantly – the ability to make at least some of her own decisions about marriage, healthcare and children, none of which would be available to her ‘back home’.

In a discussion about sewing on a (non-sewing) forum, I mentioned that there are still a few clothing manufacturers remaining in the UK. Someone made a rude and condemnatory remark about  factory work in general and ‘sewing sweatshops’ in particular; an articulate response came immediately.

‘I worked as a machinist at the David Nieper factory in Derbyshire for several years until we moved away from the area.’ wrote a participant in the discussion. ‘I loved my job and it was by far the nicest place I’ve ever worked. I now work in local government with a good salary, but I’d go back to a job at that factory like a shot’.

As a reader of this blog, you probably stop and think more than many people do, about where clothes come from,  how they are made and where fabrics and fibres come from. Stopping for a moment to think, asking a few pertinent questions here and there, keeping an eye open for things that worry you – or things that encourage you! – and finding out more if you get an opportunity –  really, that is all that anyone with a normal ‘other’ life can do.

And if we all did it, it would start to improve things for our less-fortunate sisters., and images like the one at the top of this  post might not be seen again.

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.

Eyssia
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.

 

ottobre

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.

italy

 

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

new99
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!

 

 

.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER (or so they say)

2015 has passed

I’m not going to revisit any of my old posts, except Rana  Plaza, which I will bang on about at least once a year, on or around its anniversary. I make no apologies for that.

Mortality

I also had a reminder of my own mortality, and that of all of us  – a consultant with whom I got my first job after qualification, well over 40 years ago, died, aged in his mid 90s. He’d had a good life.  I also discovered from the ex-colleague (and ex-lover, oh we were very naughty! but it was FUN, apart from my broken heart when it all ended) who tracked me down to inform me of the consultant’s death, that a former colleague, a little younger than either of us,  had died suddenly a good few years ago at only 53. Happy memories tempered with sadness, and regret that it’s too late now to reconnect with some old and former friends and lovers . Don’t let this be you.

Sewing last year.

All in all, I had a busy, productive year and I hope you did too. My sewing was not really as productive as I would have liked, though, as my machine spent several weeks with the mechanic while he hunted for a spare part. It’s no longer manufactured as my machine is officially ‘retired’ from Janome’s list, but he eventually tracked one  down.  My machine is purring sweetly again, cannibal though she is! For a time I was concerned I would have to invest in a new machine, and I really didn’t want to do that. I think I’m saving up for an electric bike, or maybe to import a big donkey from France.  Common sense tells me to look out for a nice second-hand machine to use in case of future problems.  My two hand-cranks, much though I love them, really don’t cut the mustard for  what I need to do, and although I’ve recently been given a Singer 201k from the 1950’s (brown hammered finish) who looks to be in excellent condition, well greased for storage, she will need some work doing, and lacks accessories.

Blog post plans

I have,  though, been productive enough – and taken notes and photos – to blog about at least some of what I’ve made. I also have great plans (hah! don’t we all!) for future things to make.  Being an opinionated old bat, I have strong views about the state of ‘sewing culture’ today, and plan to blog about that, too.

 

 

 

Tomorrow was a long time coming, or, How to make a pretty gathered skirt for a toddler-to-5yo, even if you’ve never sewn a wearable garment before. Part 1.

First of all, I’m assuming you know how to thread a needle and can do a running stitch and a back stitch, or know how to sew a reasonably straight seam with a straight stitch on your own or someone else’s sewing machine, even if you have to ask someone else to thread it up for you.. Those are the only  assumptions I am making.

If you don’t have access to a sewing machine,  or if you are afraid of them (I TOTALLY understand this btw – more another time) don’t worry, you can absolutely do this by hand, perhaps while watching TV in the evening, or even sitting on the beach on holiday. You don’t have to have a sewing machine. Think about it – all those lovely Regency clothes of Jane Austen’s heroines, the stunning gowns of Elizabeth I;  Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine, every single participant in the Battle of Waterloo – no sewing machines for them!. So what’s a toddler’s skirt in the greater scheme of things?  A couple of relaxing evenings?                                                

Right, lets get started.

All you need to start with is a tape-measure. I’m sure you can borrow one if you don’t already have one, but it must be a flexible tape measure, not one of those metal ones! Everything else you either already have, or will buy at the same time you buy your fabric.

Measure around your child’s waist with a tape-measure, somewhere around her middle where you expect the skirt to ‘sit’, and over the t-shirt, knickers etc she usually wears. Don’t pull the tape-measure tight, just have it comfortably snug against her vest and knickers/tights/whatever, and look at the reading where the beginning end meets the rest of the tape-measure. Her waist will probably be somewhere around the 50cm/20 inches mark, give or take 5 cm/a couple of inches either way. Write this measurement down somewhere. If her waist measurement seems unfeasibly large, just check that you haven’t got the tape-measure round her backwards – we’ve all done it at times!  

You can then measure the length you want the skirt to be with the tape measure, too, from where you took the waist measurement to the desired length on her leg, or measure the length of a skirt she already has and which fits..Write this measurement down, too.

Subtract 2.5cm/1 inch from your child’s waist measurement, and write down the result on a bit of paper with a big letter W beside it.

Add about 5-10cm/2 – 4 inches to the desired length of the skirt and write this number down on the same bit of paper with a big letter L beside it. Also write down the desired length you measured, and put brackets round it, or a light X through it. Keep this bit of paper safe, because you’re going to need it when you’re shopping for supplies and equipment.

First, EQUIPMENT in the order you’ll be using it. I’m sure you already have a lot of it..

  1. Tape measure.(you’ve already got this if you’ve measured the child for the skirt – but if it was a borrowed one, you’ll want to get your own)

  2. Iron and ironing board. They are, perhaps unfortunately, a very important part of the sewing process.

  3. Sharp scissors – no, your kitchen shears will not do! 

  4. Sewing needle or sewing machine – with a new needle, please. A new needle costs pennies.

  5. Safety pins.

SUPPLIES: (also in the order you’ll be using them – you’ll need to go shopping for these)

  1. Fabric –  in a print the little girl adores. Puppies?  Pink hearts? Dinosaurs? Tractors?

  2. Sewing thread – in a colour to match the fabric.

  3. Elastic –  2.5cm/1 inch wide is best. 

  4. Might be nice to have – buttons, ribbon, lace, other pretty trimmings.

Now you’re ready to go shopping – tomorrow! 

Do bear in mind that these instructions were originally written for a couple of beginner sewers in my village, and so I was able to tell them exactly what to ask for, and where they could get their supplies at different price points in different named shops. I can’t do that for you, obviously, but in my next post I’ll make sourcing suggestions that should be helpful for UK readers.