If you’re interested in becoming a sewing pattern designer it’s easier now than it’s ever been. You can learn the skills you need, create a design, test it, and then sell it directly to consumers without a huge investment in formal schooling, software, or printing and distribution. There are online classes in pattern drafting, grading, fit, and digitizing patterns. The Adobe Creative Cloud is now available as an affordable monthly subscription, rather than a large one-time investment of capital. And digital distribution requires little overhead. Over the past few years tens of thousands of new digital sewing patterns have come onto the market.
All of these new indie patterns make the home sewing industry exciting, but they also make it more complex. It’s become harder for new designers to get noticed and more difficult for consumers to discern which patterns are worth investing in when the marketplace is so busy.
Given this explosion of new patterns, would it benefit both designers and consumers to have some sort of confirmation from an external review board that a pattern meets a certain standard of excellence?
In other words, should sewing patterns be certified?
This question reared its head recently when a new pattern marketplace called Up Craft Club opened with pattern certification as part of the services offered. UpCraft Club is owned by Elizabeth Clark who sells her own sewing patterns under the brand Charming Doodle. She began designing sewing patterns two years ago.
Elizabeth learned to design patterns by taking several courses including Melissa Mora’s class on digitizing patterns and a local class on grading patterns, although she now hires a pattern grader to grade her patterns. “I went in naively and then realized there’s a lot to this. There’s a lot involved in making a pattern that fits well. It’s an art and science,” she told me over the phone late last week.
The idea for UpCraft Club actually began as a way to save money on fabric. Elizabeth was spending a significant amount at Jo-Ann Fabrics buying fabrics and notions for her pattern business. One day she noticed a sign hanging in her local store advertising for the Jo-Ann’s VIP program which would allow you to get 10% off your purchase if you belonged to a sewing association. Although there were associations for quilters and seamstresses in her local area, there wasn’t one for designers of digital clothing patterns. Elizabeth decided to start one, chiefly so that she and all members of the association could get the VIP discount at Jo-Ann’s. She launched UpCraft Club on January 21, 2015.
Elizabeth envisioned UpCraft Club as a curated pattern marketplace and online learning site where for $10 a month members would receive new patterns and online video classes each month.
In a broader sense, UpCraft Club is just one in a series of new businesses setting out to help consumers wade through the enormous, and perhaps overwhelming, number of digital sewing patterns on the market now. Several new pattern curation sites have emerged over the past year or two including Go To Patterns, IndieSew, and now UpCraft Club.
In that way, UpCraft Club is fairly unremarkable with the exception that Elizabeth chose to use a hot-button word – certification – and somewhat unintentionally caused an online uproar. In an effort to be transparent about how she was choosing patterns for the UpCraft Club marketplace, Elizabeth decided to publish her criteria on the UpCraft Club website and call the marketplace acceptance process “certification.” Using data from a survey that she says hundreds of people filled out she created a list of requirements that an excellent pattern should meet. Here’s the list:
To examine each pattern, Elizabeth has assembled a team of intermediate and advanced home sewists (she is not releasing their names “because the team fluctuates”). They purchase the pattern, sew it, and apply the checklist requirements. If the pattern meets the UpCraft Club standards, Elizabeth reaches out to the designer to offer a seal of approval and welcome them into the marketplace (designers earn 70% of sales from marketplace patterns). She is also hoping to work with the faculty at Parson’s to help with certification, but that relationship has not yet been solidified.
At first, UpCraft Club was charging designers $40 per pattern for certification. “This was to cover the cost of the pattern tester’s fabric and time,” she says, “But designers who have published many patterns expressed concern that it would become very costly for them. They also felt customers would trust the certificate less if they knew designers were paying for it. So I listened and made certification free. I was seeing it like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Businesses pay for that,” she explains. “I’m buying hundreds of dollars worth of patterns to certify.”
Although Elizabeth also felt that the checklist would be helpful to the sewing pattern designer community at large (“Anyone can take their own pattern through the checklist,” she says), she wasn’t intending to create an industry-wide pattern certification system. “It’s just for my customers. My customers are new to sewing and need step-by-step instructions,” she emphasized. “Certification is just a different way of presenting a curated shop. I don’t have aspirations to become the industry certifier.”
Despite her more modest intentions, by stating that UpCraft Club would be certifying digital patterns Elizabeth provoked a fascinating and heated discussion among designers, both seasoned and new. Suzanne Winter has only recently begun designing sewing patterns. “To me it is totally worth it to get at least one of my patterns certified,” she said. “This industry has had few if any standards, and I would love to be able to stand up in the sea of the market and say – I’m certified and you will get what you pay for here.”
Veteran designer and sewing book author, Tasia St. Germaine, sees it this way. “I think for real certification it would have to be more than one person. It would need to be some sort of board meeting with discussion – real sewing experts and pattern drafting experts, like a professional association, so that certification meant something and pattern companies aspired to be certified. Being ‘certified’ by one person’s ecommerce shop wouldn’t add value to my patterns. It would however if the pattern were being evaluated by real industry experts and we could add an icon to the shop site that meant something real and trusted. Like the sewing-pattern version of an SSL certificate, if that makes sense! Basically, I like the concept and think it has merit if executed properly.”
Sewist and designer Deanna McCool raised a different point. “What happens when another upstart decides to start a certification process, and then another, and another..? Especially if others see UpCraft Club making money with this venture…I could see the process of ‘certification’ getting watered down really quickly.”
Although the term “pattern certification” is perhaps a misnomer when it comes to Elizabeth’s actual intentions for UpCraft Club, she isn’t sorry she used it. “The idea of certification has raised a really good discussion about what pattern customers want,” she says. “It brings up questions for the whole industry to consider.”