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 Clark of UpCraft Club and Charming Doodle
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.”
Wendi Gratz says
Rather than some kind of “certification” I’d much rather see more shops selling digital patterns in a curated way. The frustrating thing to me when shopping for patterns isn’t the fear that some of them are of poor quality – it’s that I have to wade through pages and pages of projects that are completely unappealing to me. Since digital patterns are “free” for a shop to carry (ie. no inventory investment) there’s a real incentive for them to carry EVERYTHING. It’s like having to shop an entire mall in one endless scroll. I’d much rather pop into a few smaller shops whose entire inventory I want to buy – and who will introduce me to new designers I love.
I definitely think there’s a space opening up now for more pattern marketplaces. I could see one more targeted to toys and dolls and small crafts as well. Wouldn’t that be fun? If there were two of me I would totally start one 🙂
Short answer to your question? No.
Long answer is simply that this would be a giant undertaking and without commercial support is pretty much doomed to fail. Imagine Ms. Clark’s enthusiasm level at year five or ten? I cannot imagine Parson’s collaborating with her on this. Simplicity or McCall’s would need to subsidize and I don’t see that happening either; they would want an industry professional to manage the project.
And it’s obvious there are more than a few things missing from that checklist.
Of course she had me on her thumbs down list at the first mention of shopping at Jo-Ann’s
Friends don’t let friends go to Jo-Ann’s
Maria Bywater says
This is a great breakdown of an important issue. Thanks, Abby.
Rebecca Grace says
You always post about the most interesting topics! I used to be in the interior design/custom window treatments industry and there was a similar movement to start certifying drapery workrooms as well as “Certified Window Treatment Consultants” (which was supposed to give an advantage to CWTC interior designers and decorators over those who did not have special certification in designing and specifying custom window treatments. Like this pattern certification initiative, the window treatment certification was coming from a decorator/drapery workroom owner who saw a need for their designer clients who do not sew to have a better understanding of what is and is not possible for certain fabrics to do (ie NO you cannot have corduroy gathered swags and expect them to hang like silk!), as well as to help other drapery workrooms learn more advanced fabrication techniques. But the certification program, consisting of online courses and exams, a textbook to purchase, and required ongoing continuing education classes to retain certification, was expensive for the workrooms and decorators, and the general public (customers of designers) remained ignorant of the certification program because there was no national advertising campaign to support it — like the ads that the National Association of Interior Designers runs in shelter magazines to encourage consumers to seek out NSAID designers for their projects. Ultimately the certification program was chiefly benefiting the decorator/workroom owner who was running it (possibly becoming even more profitable than her decorating business) rather than the students who were paying to get themselves certified.
I see a lot of parallels with this pattern certification program — that it would chiefly benefit the online pattern shop doing the certifying, and would not be beneficial to the pattern designers unless that pattern shop was a HUGELY well-known, major site that already had millions of customers worldwide and was THE place consumers already turned to for online pattern purchases. Furthermore, I feel that http://www.PatternReview.com is already providing a much more meaningful (to consumers) form of pattern certification with their forum and review archives. I always check Pattern Review to see whether other sewing enthusiasts with similar figure issues and ability levels have had success with a particular pattern before I purchase it, and seeing that 40 other people of different shapes, sizes and degrees of sewing experience have had good results from a pattern — and seeing photos of them in the actual garments they created — means a lot more to me than knowing that one online web site has had “mystery testers” certify the pattern. I would also note that there are many Big Four patterns out there that would not pass Elizabeth’s certification standards — but on Pattern Review I am alerted ahead of time that there is an issue with a seam not matching up or an error in the instructions, and I can correct for that before cutting my fabric and still get a successful garment out of it.
Stephanie Meyer says
I think the scope of what she is doing is way way too broad for one person to handle. I can see that it would make sense if she concentrated on some area that is not already covered by sites like Pattern Review, Ravelry, Amazon, or Craftsy.
I would love to know if there is a site that looks at doll patterns, as I am currently cursing my way through one pattern that was obviously made for someone with more skill or experience than I have…
Go To Patterns does carry softie patterns, but not many. I see a whole in the market here!
That should say “new to the industry”
I think it’s a huge endeavor and so amazing that somebody got the idea and it’s trying to make it happen. It’s fantastic! Maybe not something every pattern designer would want but for somebody to the industry could really help to get some sort of seal of approval to show potential customers that it’s professional up to standards.
I had a huge long comment. But I”ll summarise it. No.
I am a pattern user and a creator of patterns for personal use, working on developing them for sale. On both counts, no. Ultimately I believe the only winner would be the business doing the accrediting. It might look good in theory but I don’t think it would be good in practise at all. It just adds another layer.
I think the success of indie designers in the last five years shows the pitfalls of buying patterns from the large companies, mostly in terms of sizing and clarity of instruction. The latter, I can handle, but the former issue is awfully frustrating. I remember making PJ pants for my kids when they were toddlers that could have fit much bigger children; it just didn’t make sense. Anyway, this seems like a new piece of the online marketplace and I’m interested to see where it goes.
If we look at knitting and Ravelry, successful patterns are obvious from the number of people who have knitted them and rated them highly. While there is no official certification of a good knitting pattern, a diligent knitter can browse project pages and discern from pattern notes of people who have made something already whether that pattern is worth buying and using. With millions of users on Ravelry, you can trust consensus there.
Maria Bywater says
The indie pattern market is still young, but anytime a market arises where a lot of skilled providers serve a lot of consumers, there’s eventually been a move toward some type of standardization and certification. That’s why there were (and are) artisan guilds. That’s why hair dressers’ industry trade groups support government licensing of that industry. It’s why so many companies support and submit their products to the independent Underwriters Laboratories for a seal of approval. The movie rating system. It’s in the interest of providers and consumers. The only way to avoid it is to have one major player, like Microsoft, who overwhelms the market so that it’s way of doing business defines the standard.
As the indie pattern industry continues to grow and mature there will be motivation from sewing enthusiasts and pattern producers for some type of certification system. It will be to everyone’s benefit. Maybe it takes three years, maybe it takes ten.
The effort will probably have to involve a lot of folks and it will probably have to eventually act independent of any one pattern provider in order to develop a consensus and protocol everyone will feel comfortable supporting, but I give Elizabeth Clark a lot of credit for jumping in. Her certification standards are a very good place to start.
Another great topic, Abby. I was a member of the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals (and need to renew!). They have a professional certification program that involves everything from patternmaking to business plan development. I thought it would be good to mention since this sounds like the type of certification Tasia was talking about. This page has more about the program requirements and the board and evaluation team members – http://www.paccprofessionals.org/certification-program
But the subject here seems to be about customer trust and how to go about doing establishing that beyond peer reviews. There is definitely merit in a business testing their products before sale, and showing how they test the pattern in order to establish trust with their customers. However, I wouldn’t perceive this as a professional or objective certification since the business is not an independent organization and its main business is selling patterns.
Amy, thank you for this! I had never heard of the Association of Sewing and Design Professionals. This is a really valuable organization to know about.
I agree with you, and other commenters here, that there’s a conflict of interest when you’re both certifying and selling patterns. A true certification board would need to be wholly independent.
I also wanted to add one more link that I just discovered yesterday. Here is another site that is working to objectively evaluate sewing patterns: http://thepatternexam.com/2015/04/april-pattern-review-underwear/?hc_location=ufi
Your post & interview clarified something for me that is really key – “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.”
I think, like you said, if the word certification hadn’t been used, no one would be ruffling their tail feathers over it.
Right. Elizabeth and I discussed this idea at length. We agreed that if she had not used the word “certification” there really would have been no uproar about UpCraft Club, for better and for worse. As I said to her, I wouldn’t be writing a post about her business had she not used that word so sometimes even “bad” press is good press, if you will.
So true! If she would have called it the “Upcraft Stamp of Approval” or something, it would have been a more accurate description and much less feather-ruffling.
The fun of the pattern industry is that there are minimal barriers to entry, thus inviting creativity and options for the consumer. When it’s complicated with a step that in general would likely make little favorable impact on the product, like I believe this would, it could actually backfire and consumers and designers would suffer. The “accrediting body” was started so she could get a discount! I believe pattern designers strive to provide quality material and they improve with feedback from peers and the consumer, a natural evolution, not a bureaucratic one. I highly doubt someone would think, ” oh look, it’s certified, I’ll buy this over one that is not even though I like the non-certified pattern better!” This is a low risk to the consumer;let’s not over-complicate it.
Well gosh… All that just to save 10% at JoAnn’s? Hmmm…
As a separate note, I think the idea of an industry-wide certification board for sewing patterns is unnecessary. It would tack on time, expense, and perhaps bias.
Ebi Poweigha says
I’m in agreement with Mary at 1034am and Kimberly at 1057am. Certification in a fledgling industry is a sure way to stifle innovation by discouraging later-to-the-game newcomers. Finding that one pattern is a dud comes with a fairly low price in the grand scheme of things, and for those with regular internet access, pretty avoidable. As mentioned above, Pattern Review and Ravelry are huge, reliable resources for vetting indie patterns.
It seems to me that this is one of the few real “let the marketplace decide” issues: sewists like me who would love to know that the pattern’s been tested by people who aren’t experts may find certification appealing – and others won’t. I don’t understand why anyone would object – as noted, there are lots of alternatives for people who for whatever reason would prefer to buy patterns elsewhere. Does she offer a guarantee? As for stifling innovation, well, this isn’t some kind of government regulation and she’s not some big player with the ability to corner the market in independent pattern sales. If I were a pattern maker, I ‘d be thrilled that someone is doing the work of promoting my patterns for me – for free.
To add to my comments, I just looked at the site and there is a guarantee – so it seems like a win-win for the designers and consumers.
As always you smartly point out an interesting subject and I see lots of burning comments as well.
I am a pattern consumer. And I would definitely not like to have to pay to be part of a community to get my patterns. I would consider that as a limitation. I think there is enough room for everyone on this market to satisfy the most. How many people would that group need if they had to test and certify all the patterns that are on the market… this sounds a bit ridiculous to me.
The most powerful tool that could fix this is a platform where people who buy and therefore test the patterns could just review and tell if the pattern is well edited or not. But this should not be for money. Like Ravelry (I like Susan’s comment about it)
Craftsy could have been this good if they were not as much focused on their classes and kits to sell (what makes the money comes in – which I can understand). Don’t get me wrong, I love their classes that I pay for whenever I can. But their projects platform is not enough turned on the reviews. And really sometimes when I go through the projects, there are a lot of trash. That would be great if they could find a way to make the best design pop out depending on there good reviews… Craftsy if you ear me…
I just had a conference call with Craftsy about improving their pattern marketplace. They are seeking ideas for sure.
There is already a “certification” process in place for professional people in the sewing industry. It is called a University degree.
Degrees are offered at the undergrad, graduate , and post-graduate level.
The graduates of these universities are able to do all of these things.
It is this notion of the internet that just because youare a home sewer, and someone paid you for your work, that you are now a pattern designer, fabric designer, sewing teacher, etc.
You are not any of those things without the education as well as the paid work.
There really is a difference.
Chris, I’m afraid you wouldn’t like my business at all then. I have an undergraduate degree in history and a master’s degree in education. I have no formal training in sewing beyond an 8th grade Home Economics class, but I’ve built a thriving and profitable business as a sewing pattern designer, written two books, and licensed patterns to Simplicity. I’m a home sewer who gets paid for my work, is a pattern designer, and sewing teacher, mostly thanks to the internet.
I did not mean to imply that a person cannot earn money in sewing without a University degree. People are doing that everyday.
Just that there is a difference.
I’m joining the discussion a bit late, but felt like answering this. I have a degree in fashion design. Sure I can make a stunning ball gown that fits you exactly, but that does not mean I’d necessarily be good at making a commercial pattern. My degree only briefly touched on grading, and said nothing on writing clear instructions for a home sewer. Also, most people do not put their degree on their products, so as a consumer I would not know what sort of qualifications the designer might have. I would only have the quality of the product to judge from.
Other than that I agree that this certification might not have much value, but I do not think it is a bad thing either. It would be like any other person/group whom you trust the judgement of.
Congratulations on creating the best email newsletters in the biz Abby!
To the question at hand: I think it’s a storm in a teacup. As an indie pattern designers of many years standing I chuckled a little when I read about this “certification” thing. If you want to know if a pattern is good all you need to do is look at the long list of excellent feedback and repeat customers that good designers invariably have. Etsy makes it all very transparent. Googling others who are not on Etsy will be similarly revealing. Simple really……
N.B. I do think that the checklist is a good one and covers many (but not all) of the things designers should be including.
Thanks for the nice words about my newsletter, Marina! And great points about the idea of certification and this checklist.
I actually think pattern review already does a great job at this. I was trained as a fashion designer myself, but honestly I wouldn’t know how to certify a pattern so it would be of value to a beginning home sewist. I would only trust smoke one who had been professionally drafting patterns for years to do this job.
Typo: someone, not smoke.
And of course the criteria for a production pattern vs a home sewing pattern are so different that the evaluation of a pro pattern maker might not even be relevant for a home sewer. So Pattern Review is the best because those reviews are unbiased and come from seamstresses at various levels. Sorry for the novel. I had to think about this a bit more and flesh out my comment. You have great articles here!
Great point, Justine. It’s interesting how user reviews have become a sort of certification process themselves.
Carol McDowell says
Very interesting post . I like the concept of it but don’t think it will work. Everyone would need to be held to a standardized set of guidelines . I think charging designers to publish won’t work but all online carriers of designers patterns should not accept substandard patterns and should have certain rules and guidelines .