Only two more days until our next theme month starts! We’ll pick up with the Who We Are series again after November’s #SewcialistsTNT month, but for now, let’s finish with one person’s perspective on age in sewing. I’m looking forward to lots of discussion and different perspectives in the comments!
Sometimes, it seems like the generation gap in sewing is like a sleeve that just won’t set in the armscye. Is there too much sleeve? Too little? Is the cut on the armscye too wide or too narrow? Who knows? It just won’t ease in the way it should. As the sewist with this problem, you fear you made a mistake someplace. You also know you’ll get it to fit eventually, even if you have to fudge things a bit.
That’s the way today’s younger sewists and older sewists tend to regard one another. They sometimes don’t fit together that well, but for the sake of the art, we make it work.
Hi, I’m Diane from the blog Distaff. And I’d like to explore an example of how this divide plays out: Indie vs. Big 4.
When many sewists such as myself started out in the 1970s and ’80s (OK, I’ll cop to it, I’m 47), about all you could get easily in the US and Canada was the Big 4. In Europe, you could also get Burda and a few regional players. To pick out a pattern, you had to sit at the pattern counter and thumb through the books. We knew very well about the Big 4’s fit and what to expect. We learned how to sew with these patterns, learned to decipher the diagrams and jargon. There were no home sergers, so we learned seam finishes such as Hong Kong, flat-fell and French. We had help from books, 4-H, grandmothers and from watching Sandra Betzina and Nancy Zieman on public TV (I still have VHS tapes in my basement of their shows).
Still, sewing was mostly a lonely oddball old-lady hobby. When I was a teen, home sewing got its big moment in the spotlight when Molly Ringwald’s character made her own prom dress in the 1986 movie “Pretty in Pink.” The dress was hiddy, but hey, Molly made it cool (photo source: Paramount Pictures).
A lot of younger sewists, conversely, grew up on Project Runway and The Great British Sewing Bee. They have a wealth of options and tend to favor the independent pattern designers. They have access to a wide range of patterns, from all over the world, often just a download and a .pdf print job away. They also have access to sergers and other newfangled equipment. The indies often offer younger and more current styles, plus cuts for specific body types or looks. Many indies feature diverse models by body type, age and race. They clearly write and photograph instructions, provide videos and online tutorials, and market themselves effectively on blogging platforms, Instagram and Twitter. The designers and their fans make you feel great about sewing your own clothes.
This is a generalization, of course, as many older sewists like indie designers and many younger sewists like the Big 4. But the divide is undeniably there. For example, a young woman recently asked on a sewing Facebook group if anyone could recommend an indie pattern for certain style of dress, to copy a runway look she liked. I replied that a Big 4 pattern had the very thing she wanted, and I could recommend it as I’d recently sewn it up. “Thanks, but I only sew indie designers,” she replied. “OK, good luck,” I thought.
In my experience, some indie designers are good and some are awful. The problem is, you don’t know which is which until you get in there and start sewing. I personally have wasted more fabric and time with indie designs than with Big 4, but at the same time, some my favorite me-made garments are indie designs. Neither is inherently better than the other; each offers some elements that the other lacks.
I can understand the appeal of the indies, but makes no sense to me to favor an indie designer because it’s not “corporate.” All designers are trying to make money off of what they do, and some indie patterns are very expensive for what you get.
Some may argue that at least the profit goes to the designer herself, instead of to “McVoguericity,” but just because a pattern company is privately held does not mean that it’s inherently “good.” Besides, Big 4 designers went to fashion school, love home sewing, have jobs and are building off of 100-plus years of experience, keeping an industry alive in their own way. If you’d rather buy elsewhere, feel free, but they are not the enemy.
To be fair, I have sewn a Big 4 dog or two.
Yes, the Big 4 styles tend to be less current. Some complain about excessive ease. And they definitely use blocks that fit no one. But they are remarkably consistent and high quality. You get finished measurements so you know how much ease is built in. Bust points and waistlines are marked. Grading is consistent. Notches line up. It drives me nuts that few indie designers get such basics right on their patterns.
With the Big 4, if you need a pattern adjustment, such as a full-bust or forward-shoulder adjustment, you always will need that adjustment. With an indie, maybe yes, maybe no. I get the impression that some indie designers’ blocks are simply their personal blocks, which they size up and down using software instead of using time-tested pattern-making methods. Also, Big 4 tissue patterns with seam allowances are a huge time-saver and more accurate than a .pdf. And the price is right – I can get a whole outfit in one envelope for the price of one garment from an indie designer, and often several patterns during sales. Also, truth be told, since I grew up with these patterns, I am simply used to them and know how to deal.
The Big 4 is trying to bridge the gap by offering “hacks” for its patterns, different bust sizes, and cuts for “straight,” “curvy” and “regular” or several bust sizes in one envelope. They’ve also reached out to some indie stars such as Mimi G and Gertie to widen their appeal and partner with the cosplay crowd.
I would like to see the Big 4 also offer more online tutorials and feature diverse models on their pattern envelopes. But I’d like them to resist the urge to chase the indie crowd too much, by offering too many retro looks, costumes and other impractical patterns. Finally, they could take a page from the indie playbook and market themselves better and make people feel great about their creations. On that, I think all sewing generations can agree.
What do you think? If you’re a committed Big 4 sewist, will you try an indie? If you’re a committed indie sewist, will you try a Big 4? And do you think age plays into why you like one or the other?
The most surprising thing to me is how much people will spend on a sometimes very simple indie pattern. Not that the designer doesn’t put a ton of work into getting a pattern out but still if I am going to spend $15 on an indie pattern, it needs to have some design features I’ve never seen before. I myself am a Burda girl. In the end I am very grateful for indie companies because without them we wouldn’t have all these interesting blogs, webcasts, podcasts, vlogs, instagram sewers, etc.
Yes, I agree. Thanks for the comment.
Totally agree! I don’t understand spending $15 or more for a simple tee or sweatshirt pattern when a virtually identical Big 4 can be had for a couple of dollars on sale. I suspect that many younger sewists who start out buying indies end up broadening their horizons to include Big 4 once they are experienced enough to look beyond the envelope art.
Thanks for commenting. Agree!
I am in my very late 40s, have been sewing since my early teens, and I use ALL the patterns! Big 4, Indie, the more the merrier. But there are definitely some Indie that are not worth the money they charge – but there are others that are excellent.
Agreed. I love a quality indie pattern but some are expensive for what you get.
Seems like I’m an old fashioned young sewer. I prefer sewing with the established sewing companies (Germany=burda).
I know exactly what I get, all the marking, numbers and all the little details…. The instructions are not very detailed and not always helpful, but I don’t care. After some time you can sew most stuff without a instruction with the length of a novel.
I often thinks that the indie patterns are not that special, kinda basic and very expensive. (One piece with a short and long sleeve omg) Quite often you can get that look with some alterations. Okay and I definitely hate it to print pdf patterns, its a mess and takes forever
Thanks for the comments. I have a tough time with Burda, but I love their styles. Good to hear there’s a old-fashioned young sewer out there.
It’s often a love hate relationship with burda.
I also prefer it to vist a sewing course. And if I have a problem, I ask the teacher, way easier than to search YouTube.
What a great post, otalky resonated with me. I have recently returned to Sewing after a long hiatus. While I like the look of a lot of indie patterns, I have no immediate plans to invest in many. 1. I have a huge stash if big 4 patterns and 2. Indie patterns are too expensive for me right now. However I really wish there wasn’t this us versus them vibe over patterns. It’s like all the silly people who squabble over PC vs mac.
I know what you mean. Thanks for the input. Enjoy Sewing again!
That makes sense to me. I’m in my later 30s, and started sewing as a kid in the late 1980s. I somewhat recently saw some articles on the “Oregon Trail Generation”, for kids born in a particular stretch of the late 70s to mid 80s, that don’t quite fit in with either Gen X or Milennials, I guess I can say the same applies to me here, because I use both types of patterns! When I was growing up, the Big 4 were all that was available to me, as was the fabric available at Joann’s. I was thrilled to discover online fabric shopping in the late 90s, when I had a specific color in mind for my prom dress and couldn’t find it at the store. Since I never really had local sewing friends, aside from one who occasionally dabbled for costumes and my mom, I started blogging fairly early, back in 2007. That quickly led me to BurdaStyle, which I subscribed to for a few years, and then indie patterns. I did lean more towards indies for several years, because the styles were more appealing to me than the rather shapeless clothes that the Big 4 were offering at the time, and had much less fitting difficulty with pants in particular (thanks, Sewaholic, I miss you!) But I rediscovered the Big 4 a few years ago when making maternity clothes, since some of my older patterns from them were pretty easy to hack for that. I’m at a place now where I’ll happily use both as they suit my wardrobe needs, and I have a much better idea of what indie designers’ work doesn’t fit me so great. (Though I think I’ll still have better luck with indie jeans and pants, it’s nice to get the bigger companies on sale for a few bucks!)
I remember The Oregon Trail! Glad to hear you’re making it work and rediscovering Big 4.
I am with you on this one. I loved looking through pattern books growing up and even up until the last few years. Most of the newer styles just aren’t me plus I have to do a lot of alterations to Big 4 to get them to fit. I like indie companies (mostly just a few) because they post pictures of real people (a whole range of body types and sizes) and you can ask questions if you get stumped. I have been sewing since I was a child (also in my later 30’s). I also love that I can usually print out just a few sizes and have it at my hands (I don’t have much time to get out of town these days). Plus, if I mess up or misplace, I can print another copy out. My body has changed in the last 10 years and Big 4 just haven’t seemed to fit as consistently as the indie companies that I have stuck with. I try to buy indie’s that have a lot of options in one pattern. Now that I know more of how to fit and alter patterns, that has made much more of a difference, too.
Whilst I can see a little of what is being said here. I think that there are a lot if us that sit squarely in the middle of the range. I see myself as neither young nor old. I learnt to sew with the big 4 but learnt to fit during the reign of the indies using online tutorials. I’m happy to use either big4 or indie patterns depending on what I’m looking for, though I do agree with the comment above that sometimes the indie patterns seem quite simple for the price being asked…..and am often put off them by the price.
I think you have a lot of company in the middle – a good place to be!
I’ve been thinking about this some more and wanted to add that I am 42. I taught myself to sew with the big 4 patterns and my Singer sewing book. The internet was there and the early indie patterns but I like to learn from hard copy pages not a screen. I think the instructions are good for learning from these Big 4 patterns. Sizing not so much, but you learn as you go and no pattern company is using my body as a block. I remember ordering the Renfrew when that was all the rage. Nothing wrong with the pattern but I didn’t understand how it was any better than any other hundred t shirt patterns available. I understand that community is what makes the indies so amazing. That is great. I am more of a lurker that a poster so maybe that explains why I haven’t got into it. I make all my own clothes and use 95% Burda magazine patterns. I love the style the value and that they DON’T hold my hand while sewing. I just want to say that even though I am not an indie fan I think sewing is a craft and not a science and everyone needs to find their own way and the only important thing is to enjoy the process. To each their own and aren’t we lucky to have so much choice and internet fun!
Hi there! Ever since I started sewing after the GBSB inspired me to, I’ve been an indie girl through and through, and a pdf pattern fan – but please note that I live in Portugal, to get big 4 patterns I have to source them either already imported from another European country, or I’d have to import them myself, so cost does play a big role to me, but the scale always tips in favor of the indie patterns. I’m a fan of pdf because not only is it cheaper, I get them immediately and I don’t trace, I’ll just print them again if needed. I do not dislike the few big 4 patterns I’ve used, but they are indeed daunting to a beginner – one of the largest nuisances to me is that they rarely mention when to finish a seam, or offer suggestions on how to do it. I never had major issues with fit, at least I usually get an ok fit out of the packet (if I’m in the mood to be nitpicky of course I can improve it), but I guess I’m a lucky “average” shape for most companies – yet I’ve learnt never to trust sizing from a big 4, just use the finished garment measurements (which I agree is essential and should be provided by every designer).
Agreed- finished measurements please!
Oh, what fun points to start a debate with! Personally, I seriously started sewing in 2010, while I was in Uni, which seems to be just the point when the indie pattern scene started gathering momentum. Mostly, there was Colette Patterns, and for me in Germany, Burda style. On a trip to the US I bought some Big 4 patterns on sale, and then after a little while, more and more other indie pattern designers appeared on my radar: Victory Patterns, Named, Grainline… then some sewists went into pattern design: Sewaholic, then Closet Case Files, Tilly, Cashmerette… I tend to sew more indie patterns, because I’m more aware of their designs because of blogs, although actually I started pattern hacking and sewing mostly TNTs really early (and I do have one magnificent McCalls TNT). Big 4 have never been huge on my radar, because in Germany, they tend to be similarly priced or even more expensive than Indie patterns, and I like the instant gratification of PDF downloads (even though I could care less about taping sheets together).. And I need to fit them anyway, so if they’re a little less precise, that’s fine with me. And Burda patterns mostly annoy me, because they tend to fit my body badly… I really like Ottobre magazine patterns, though. 🙂
Pdf instant gratification is nice, isn’t it?
I’m a 36 year old South African and grew up sewing the big 4 and a few old German burda’s my mum had lying around. When I got seriously into sewing at 25, I discovered my local library stocked Burda, so honed my skills using those. I keep a running tab of indie patterns I love and buy them on sale, but only if the exchange rate is favourable. Big 4 cost similar to indie here due to the exchange rate. I have a BIG collection of TNTs now so I only buy new patterns if it’s something I really love.
Good for you having a lot of TNTs!
It was nice to see a defence of the Big 4 because even though I tend to sew more Indie patterns I do think that the Big 4 get a rough deal on blogs and social media. I haven’t sewn many (I think mainly because I prefer PDF patterns and I’m influenced by the patterns I see on Instagram) but I’ve always been happy with the results. I think if the Big 4 started putting useful finished measurements on their envelopes they could win over a lot of younger sewers. Especially when they have split sizing – my measurements straddle the gap and without having finished measurements it’s hard to know which size bracket to buy.
The almost evangelical blanket love of Indie patterns is just silly because they aren’t all created equal. Some are great and some really aren’t. Some are poorly drafted and you pay for nice packaging and friendly people on Instagram. People are far happier to rip a Big 4 pattern to shreds for the smallest error but just forgive all sorts and blame themselves when they can’t get an Indie pattern to fit them.
I’ve only been sewing for 3.5 years (and I’m 33) but I think that knowing which pattern companies work for you and are worth the time and effort to fit is just something you learn as you go.
Agreed! Thanks for sharing.
I’m another of the in-betweeners (born in 1977, on the young side for Gen X but too old to be a Millenial). I sewed a bit as a teenager with Big 4 patterns but it never quite worked out, mostly because I had no one to teach me about fabric choice and interfacing. I started up again in my 30s with lots of online help. That kind of just naturally lead me to the indies. I sewed them up almost exclusively for a while. I bought into the idea that the Big 4 were intimidating and big company-ish. But then, I think it’s Lauren from lladybird who visited one of them and it turns out they’re actually quite small. At the same time, I became a little disenchanted with a lot of indies. Some of them just don’t put out a quality product and you don’t know until you’ve spent the money. I appreciate the information on Big 4 patterns now. The bust points, seam and hem allowances marked on the pattern pieces, the waistline… And the instructions really aren’t that bad. As I gained experience, I became annoyed with all the hand holding some indies do and I like something a little more concise. Now, I’m very cautious with new indie pattern designers but I still buy them. I think if you get someone who puts out a quality pattern, the extra customer service is what justifies the higher cost compared to the Big 4.
Thanks for sharing your experiences. I think several readers have been on a similar journey.
What are some indie companies you would recommend? Who does a great job producing a professional pattern?
Thanks for asking. The highest quality indie patterns I have tried are from Sewaholic. They’re cut for a pear shaped figure, so I wouldn’t recommend them to women with other body types. Printed patterns are pretty expensive, running $15-$18 USD. I got mine a bit cheaper on eBay. But they are very well drafted, with linings and lots of RTW details. I also like Maria Denmark patterns, running 8-10 euros as .PDFs. simpler but well made
Thanks! I actually do have a couple Sewaholics (I am a pear) but I haven’t seen with them yet. I’m going to move those closer to the top of the list.
One thing I’ve noticed in regards to younger sewists vs. older sewists is that the younger crowd seems to really be into retro/rockabilly/pinup and the older crowd tends to make regular clothing and is made up of a lot of quilters and those who like to make bags. I’ve noticed the younger ones are more adventurous and tend to experiment with tougher things like millinery or corseted more. They want to make unique things for events and outings they can’t buy in the store, rather than every day type clothes. Of course, there are always exceptions to our general observations. I’m in my 30s now. But, when I was in my late 20s, I wore a dress I made from a 50s pattern to a quilting class and the older ladies questioned me. I’ve always guessed it’s because they grew up wearing it and us younger folk look at it with fresh curiosity. No one has ever worn something like that on a regular basis in our lives and we love how fun it is! I love vintage patterns and I hoard them.
Sent from my iPhone
So much ageism in this response.Just wow.
To me there have always been indie patterns around – Sandra Betzina, Marcy Tilton, Fred Bloebaum and others before some of these designers came under the Big 4 tent. I think it’s a little disingenuous of new indie pattern designers and newer sewists to assume that “indie” is new. It. isn’t. It’s been done before.
The other challenge that I have with indie patterns are cost, style and sizing. In many cases the styles are simplistic, the size range is limited and I must print my own pattern thus incurring additional charges on top of the already overpriced pattern. If I sew with an indie pattern, I prefer the ones that offer me a paper option, an unusual style or detail and is size inclusive. I will not jump through hoops to fit a $15-25 pattern tha tI have to print out and tape together too.
I believe there is also a gap in the sewing generations because of how we learned to sew. It was passed more from person to person (relative to relative or teacher to pupils) than how many newer sewists are presently learning off the internet. In the internet’s beginning days, there was quite a bit of erroneous information being shared. At least today with sites like Craftsy and other vetted online sources, the shared information is not misleading and is correct.
Lastly, as with all younger generations, there is a youthful arrogance about learning and knowledge. I can make this statement because I have lived through that stage myself…believing that I had a newer, fresher take on an issue and discounting the wealth of knowledge that had passed before me. It’s not to say that new ideas aren’t fostered by younger craftsmen and women, it is more to say don’t discount the older sewists amongst you…they still know a trick or two that can enhance and inform your sewing experience.
Thanks for your comments. I remember LaFred patterns – tres chic back in the day! I also know what you mean about youthful arrogance – I learned at my grandmother’s knee and still fight in my mind sometimes with her ironclad rules for sewing, because I think I know better.
I totally agree with your opening paragraph; I hadn’t even thought of that. I think a lot of Indie rave isn’t just “independent pattern maker” it’s really the blogger turned pattern designer. And that’s what a lot of younger sewers think of when they think “Indie”.
Great response, so much that is declared ‘new’ is not always new it’s usually recycled!
I’m 38 and sew with both indie and Big 4. Indie was really great for me when I lived in Asia where Big 4 is unavailable. I could download and print PDFs. I could only get Big 4 if someone hand carried them to me because my mail situation was really dicey. But I did put in orders for Big 4 patterns every time someone came from the U.S.! They are so cheap when on sale at Joann. Availability was a big deciding factor for me, although now that I am back in the U.S. and have access to both, I will sew both. I think they both have their pros and cons!
Yeah those Joann sales cant be beat!
Sometimes I think part of the success and value of indie patterns/companies comes from the focus on one, often simple, design of the moment. I started sewing with the big 4, but hardly do anymore, in part because it’s hard to keep up with the releases or looking back for a design that fits your vision, etc. I think when a certain indie pattern takes off, you see beautiful versions all over the place, and inspiration hits, it’s so much easier to just buy the pattern rather than comb through big 4 sites for a similar design. Personally, I’m a burda girl and really try not to buy indie until I’ve pulled out my magazines and looked for the inevitable match, but Kalle is still calling to me every time a new one pops up in my reader!
Agreed – those indie pattern companies are so good at marketing their work.
I’m an old baby boomer (60). And I had ventured into the indie patterns in the last 2 years, loving and enjoying their creativity.
For many years I only sewed for my children at home. Never for me. Never women. I’d buy a pattern for me, but I did not “see” the creativity in it and so I never made it.
Now I sew for me and one adult daughter (millenial ;o) age 27. I use the ideas of the indie patterns because those are my daughter’s taste in clothing.
But I prefer the big 4 for me. I can count on them without a lot of fuss. And if I can find my daughter’s same pattern at a big 4 rather than an indie I will buy the big 4.
Recently an indie company who makes a top I love (TNT) had a dress pattern my daughter wanted. It was pricey. I am still 2 weeks later pinning and adjusting to get it to fit her. I feel like “I” am re-making the entire pattern and I don’t have time! :o) So far I have never had this much adjusting with a big 4 pattern. And if I did fight with a big 4 pattern (I usually buy them printed for $2.49 on sale) I’d throw it away!
All said I truly appreciate indie designers blogs, ideas, tutorials.
Sorry you’re having a tough time with that dress. I hope your daughter will love it when it’s done.
I too am in my 60s and sew for my daughter who is in her late 20s. I sewed for my children and their father but did not sew for me. It’s just now that I am sewing for me. The fitting is a challenge. I buy mostly the Big 4 because of the price but INDI, usually from craft fairs, when I love the design. Of the Big 4 I prefer Vogue but get frustrated with their directions. I don’t why they insist on writing unintelligible directions. Even calling for clarification doesn’t help. I find advantages to both, though I do like supporting the small business person versus corporate monopolies.
Thanks for the comments. I haven’t sewn many Vogues – thanks for the warning in the instructions!
The Big Four have always assumed that you know how to sew when you buy their patterns. They are not sewing lessons except for the beginner patterns which they all have except Vogue. A good reference manual at the side of your machine goes a long way.
I quite often see comments about the cost difference between the big 4 and indie patterns. Am I correct in thinking that this is mainly an American thing? here in the UK most indie and big 4 patterns fall in a similar price range. I tend to wait for sales before buying either but we don’t get the significant discount on big 4 patterns that you seem to find in the US.
Yes in the US the Big 4 patterns are often heavily discounted at major national retailers, as little as 99 cents US sometimes. The full list price for Big 4 is comparable to many Indies but in an envelope you tend to get a whole outfit or several views of a garment instead of just one thing.
Interesting and enlightening commentary. I’m in my mid-30s, and grew up sewing big 4 patterns. I am mainly self-taught using only instructions from the patterns themselves. Now I’m very into indie patterns, but I have to agree that the indie patterns are hit and miss. I miss lengthen lines and bust points, and the only way to get fit right is to do a muslin or 3. I still love vogue patterns, even though I don’t sew with them as often anymore with the allure of indie patterns. But after reading your take on it, I think I’d like to take Vogue up again. 🙂
Thanks for the comment. Let us know how you get on with Vogue.
I use both, it just depends on the item I’m trying to make. I grew up using the big 4, and worked i a fabric store selling them. The more established indie companies have some great patterns and extremely easy to follow directions. (I struggle with some of the big 4’s directions, and I’ve been sewing for 30 years.) When you add the indie companies’ vlogs, instastories, and great number of other variations from other sewists, you can always find someone to help you if you get stuck.
Thanks for sharing your experience.
So I’m a bit of a younger sewist, and I started out TRYING to use Big4 Patterns here. They were notoriously difficult; Even the “easy” ones. They fit my body type poorly (always far too big), and needed tons of adjustments that I had no idea how to do just starting out. Like many younger sewists, finding someone to help teach me or sew wiling me was hard. Through social media, I found a community of people to help, AND the indie pattern designers. Sewing them was much easier than big 4, because they provided better instructions and styles I wanted to wear. The price is more expensive, but it’s worth it to me to get a wearable garment. As I’ve expanded my sewing knowledge, I have come to find out that all indie patterns are not created equal, but I still believe their designs are more in line with current fashions AND that they yield better results. Since obtaining a bit of knowledge about sewing, I will occasionally sew some Big4 patterns. I ABSOLUTELY refuse to pay more than $1.50 or so for them. It is only with some knowledge of sewing that I can do them. I usually disregard the poor instructions and measure the pieces for myself because the finished garment measurements can even be misleading, I can generally figure out how to construct the pattern pieces myself.
I do think there is much to be learned from the older generations of sewists, and do value their knowledge. I regularly talk with my Aunt (In her 70’s) about sewing, and we compare knowledge. She has said that she believes because of the vast amount of information out there, it has allowed me to get ahead quickly and learn more than she was able in her younger days. Still though, she has a wealth of experience that I have yet to acquire, and I’m glad to see with her and learn.
I learned on the big 4 but at that time I wasnt doing a lot of fitting. I am now older, supposedly in the divide of the big4 but I find I sew more independent patterns, although I do sew both, and Burda ( here’s to options). I think its social media that makes the difference, and better styling. Although the big4 have some great patterns, I often miss them until a home sewer or blogger sews them up in a great fabric. The indie patterns seem to do a better job with their samples and showing off their patterns’ potential. I also enjoy the feeling of taking part wth others in the sewing community who are sewing up popular patterns. As far as value for money it depends on what you are looking for. With the indie patterns you often get a better looking product aesthetically (although not always), you get a social connection, often a tutorial or sewalong, better styling suggestions and fabric inspration posts. The indie patterns also tend to be more on trend than the big4. With the big4 you get consistant sizing, a familiar brand, familiar instructions, more pattern options and usuually they are discounted in price. I would also agree you can often get more sophisticated techniques or details within the pattern.
My conclusion, “Let’s sew ALL the patterns!”
I loved your post! I have used all kinds of patterns and I totally agree with you. It’s been quite a while since I used one of the Big4 but I have several in my collection. I think the biggest difference with the indie crowd (apart from the price) is that the indies really engage with the community and get the sewists out of their “isolation”.
It’s true, the big 4 do take quite a beating online. At 25, I’m definitely on the younger side of the sewing community, and I use all of it. I have a few indie patterns from years ago that I still love and will re-use – Megan Neilsen Briar, Grainline Archer, and Sewaholic Granville come to mind. But now if I want to make a simple t-shirt or shift dress, I’m at the point where I can draft it myself.
I think one of the biggest differences is precisely that I wasn’t forced into using Big 4 patterns when I started out. I’m not nearly as familiar with the adjustments I’ll have to make every time, and I usually end up doing at least one muslin regardless of the pattern company. I think the niche we all end up in (indie, commercial, etc.) is very dependent on what we’re exposed to the most, and in the case of younger sewists, that tends to be whatever’s most popular online. I’ve made up a couple of grainline patterns now and I know Jen drafts for a straighter body than mine – with Sewaholic, I’m going to get the opposite. But I’m used to both now, and can compensate the same way I would for any other company. And if I really like one company’s aesthetic, then it’s worth it to me to invest some time into learning how their patterns work for my body.
I’ve also been loosely following the youtube sewing community, which seems to have split into two factions: sewists who came directly from the blogosphere, and those who started out in the youtube DIY scene and rarely, if ever, sew from patterns (coolirpa and withwendy are both lovely). The second group tends towards simpler projects, often traced from existing clothing, and seem to target a younger, beginner audience. They also tend to frame their videos as tutorials, where bloggers will skip that step and jump straight into talking about their sewing queue.
I’m also a huge fan of self-drafting or tracing, particularly since I’m still in school and am far too price-constrained to spent $25 on a single shirt pattern with a fancy, 3D box and full-colour instructions on glossy paper. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me where my patterns are coming from as long as I can get it to fit me eventually, and I still have money left over for, y’know, the actual fabric 😉
I do wonder what kind of role social media has played in the general differences in preferences–indie vs. Big 4–among sewers of different generations. (I think we all agree that this is just a general phenomenon: there are certainly lots of exceptions, and plenty of folks somewhere in the middle.) I think the difference is partly due to younger sewers being raised, at least in part, with the internet and social media; indie designers have traditionally had a stronger presence on those platforms in order to reach their customers. BMV and Simplicity do have active accounts too though, which is awesome!
My other main opinion on this topic is that most indies cater to new sewers to at least some degree; younger people tend to be newer to sewing, since sewing/home ec isn’t always taught in schools today, and home sewing had become deeply unfashionable by many of their parents’ younger years (so they may not know anyone else who sews). The hand-holding instructions of most indies provide a more sure-footed path to success, at least in terms of finishing a garment. (Fit is a whoooooooooole different thing!)
I’m sure there are innumerable things that highlight the fact that there are some (generalized!) generational differences in sewing (PDF vs. paper, maker culture, stage of life, buying online vs. buying in person, etc.), but I think this topic was an interesting one to ponder–thank you, shoes15, for sharing your thoughts!
This is my first visit to your blog, and this post caught my attention straight away. I really do agree.I got into sewing garments from scratch about four years ago (before that I sewed mostly alterations, or small diy projects). I think that the indie companies definitely gave the whole sewing thing a major boost in popularity. They made sewing a contemporary “thing” again, and, combined with blogs and youtube, a whole community has grown which I enjoy thoroughly 🙂
Personally I use indie patterns and big four – it depends on what I am looking for and who offers the best pattern. Indie patterns do tend to fit me better though – I am one of those people who complain about the big four’s tendency to massive ease 😉 I now tackle this by ignoring the size chart and going straight for the finished garment measurements, and that seems to work fine. But because of this issue and the limited instructions big four often offer, I would always recommend beginners to start with a pattern from a reliable indie company like Tilly and the Buttons (her book is really great), simply because the instructions are more detailed and richly illustrated. The finished garment will most likely fit nicely, thus giving a big boost in confidence for more projects.
I like how you write: “I get the impression that some indie designers’ blocks are simply their personal blocks, which they size up and down using software instead of using time-tested pattern-making methods.” This made me laugh, because I have had this thought several times already using certain indie patterns…
The common complaint of massive ease in Big Four patterns is a misunderstanding of the difference between Design Ease and Wearing Ease, both of which are built into the garment. Add to this the fact the most newer sewists of the Big Four do not use the ease charts when buying their patterns nor flat pattern measure before cutting. This pattern work and understanding goes very far to get you a great fit with the Big Four. It has worked for me for years and once you understand it you can fit any Big Four right out of the envelope. I suggest reading Nancy Zieman’s books on fitting.
I loved your article, great writing and some very good points!
I am 35, started sewing when I was 27 as a complete beginner, in Romania, where there were no paper patterns at all (most professional seamstresses free hand cut everything), only Burda Style Magazine. It completely bamboozeled me in the beginning, but now, with some good years of sewing under my belt, I prefer it to any other patterns. I love the designs, and even though the instructions can be frustratingly vague, I can make my way most of the time. Plus they are incredibly good value, they age very well and have very good drafting (most of the time).
Between indie and Big 4, I feel more comfortable with Big 4s, as it’s more likely I will find something I like in the multitude of options in their catalogues. I also like that I can mix & match to frankenpattern between the same brand of Big 4, which I do a lot. And they are great value, I order from US on sale and they end up cheaper than the UK, even with postage.
Lastly, Indie patterns tend to go quite vintage (which is not my style) or beginner patterns, and what’s the point of paying £15 for a super simple design that I can find in a Burda or if push comes to shove, draft myself. Having said that, I have discovered the second wave of French Indie designers and they are awesome (but only on sale!).
As you can see, I’m a young(er) sewist who is not all that enamoured with Indie patterns, so maybe not a generational thing after all. In the end, whatever works best is what you will end up going for, and there is a place for everyone under the sun!
I just turned 60 and when I was young — and sewing most of what I wore on my grandmother’s old black and gold Singer — you knew you’d levelled up when you could sew a Vogue pattern with their “we assume you know the basics so we’re not going to hold your hand” attitude. Having only recently begun to sew again, while most of what I’ve collected recently are Big 4, I’ve also downloaded my first Indie pattern and I’m finding their sew-a-long to be an enormous help. Next up, however, is a Very Easy Vogue. *g*
(Someday, I’ll even take the serger I was given out of the box…)
My 10 cents: I’m 42 and I grew up sewing Big 4. My sister started with Indies about 8 years ago and I sewed my first Indie about 3-4 years ago after wondering what all the fuss was about.
What I like about Indies: fresh, modern designs with great packaging and a desire to interact with their client base. My favourite Indie is Named Clothing and their patterns are incredibly consistent in terms of fit and the fit is very good on my body. So I tend to stick with them first over anything. And I actually squealed the first time I posted on IG and they <3 my post!!! I've also sewn Papercut Patterns, Sew Simple (Simple Sew? I can never work that out!), Muse, Sew House 7, Secondo Piano, Oki-Style, and recently True Bias. I've had varying degrees of success but no more or less that I have with Big 4. They can be expensive but I tend to buy on sale and I have won a number of patterns in sewing competitions (shout out to Indie Pattern Month at The Monthly Stitch!). While I appreciate your point about commercial enterprise, I also like to support small businesses wherever possible. That's my jam in life.
What I don't like about Indies: they can be simple to the point of insulting for what you are paying. However, like some of the other sewers commenting here, if I am making something simple, I tend to self draft or pattern hack to the point it's not recognisable so am very unlikely to shell out for a singlet top or t-shirt dress with any company either Indie or Big 4. The other thing I don't like is the lack of basic skill instructions like stay stitching and seam finishing etc. I also think there are frequently pointlessly complicated construction instructions. But as someone who's been sewing for 20+ years I tend to ignore what I don't need. I also don't like faux vintage Indie patterns. (See next point)
What I like about Big 4: Vintage patterns. I pretty much don't buy new Big 4 patterns ever as I find the designs so Meh or sort of trendy and I don't sew to be trendy, I sew to be unique, which is why I love vintage Big 4 patterns. Because I grew up sewing them I know how to and so when I find a sweet vintage pattern at an op-shop (that's New Zealand for thrift store, charity shop) I know I will be able to sew it. The vintage patterns also just have such gorgeous wee touches that make my heart beat faster and make garments look so special.
What I don't like about Big 4: ridiculous sizing and boring choices. Thankfully having grown up with Big 4, I just ignore the sizing and make the size I know I am relying on that 1.5cm seam allowance to get me through any issues and the wealth of vintage patterns available second hand means I can explore interesting designs for about $1 a pop!
Really interesting conversation and I've enjoyed reading everyone's responses.
Fabulous topic! I really enjoyed reading through your thoughts on this – it definitely made me think a little more about my pattern choices. If you looked through my pattern collection (and it would probably take you a while and to several rooms of my house), you’d see mostly big four patterns… but most of those would look a little old and worn because eighty percent of my pattern collection is second-hand. I do have a couple of indie patterns, but I’m mostly into vintage big fours. There’s so much more variety, since they have the luxury of many more designers working to produce patterns.
I do love seeing the indie designs as much as I love looking through the latest releases from the big four, but for me, nothing beats heading to a handful of op shops (thrift/charity shops) and making a bee-line for the sewing section to see what’s waiting for me there. That, or waiting for the sales on big four patterns.
Great job on the thrift store finds! Thanks for commenting.
What a great topic for discussion! I learned to sew on Big Four patterns so, I’ve always been a fan – the predictability of the fit and the professional delivery of the information is something I take for granted from them. On Indie patterns, not so much. I probably wouldn’t have bothered with Indie patterns, but their trendy styles are the ones that show up over and over on Instagram, Pinterest and blogs. They seem to market themselves better than the Big Four.
I’ve had mixed results with the Indie patterns which has been frustrating because they’re very expensive, and some of the styles are so simple! That being said, once I find an Indie pattern I like, I usually want to make it over and over again. Some of my favorite TNT’s are Indie patterns from companies I’ve learned to count on. Yet, I still rely on the Big Four for consistency and affordability (those sales at Joanns!!!).
The other advnatange the big Four have is that they have lots of new offerings on a seasonal basis. This frequent turnover of patterns appeals to me since I’m often am inspired by what I find in RTW, or on designer runways, and their constantly evolving style often mimics RTW. Still, I love the Indies too, mostly for what they offer to our sewing community; great instructional videos, styles that appeal to younger sewers, and lots of presnece on social media. It’s a great time to be sewing really. I’m glad I have alot of options and can flit back and forth between Indie’s and Big Four on a whim!
Thanks and I agree – it’s a great time to be sewing!
I’m so glad to hear the indie patterns have worked for you and taught you so much. Keep Sewing!
I agree with many of your comments. I have been sewing for 55+ years, and teach both adults and kids to sew. I LOVE many Indie patterns, and use both Indie and Big 4 patterns in my sewing. Two of my favorites are Jalie and StyleArc, and I also double-heart the excellent drafting skills and instructional quality of Grainline Studios and Itch to Stitch patterns.
One area you did not touch on is the differential in approach to sewing skills between younger and older sewists. One thing I love about younger sewists is the “can do” approach. They will watch a YouTube video and just give it a go. Yay for that! Dive in – it’s only a bit of fabric and thread! One potential problem with this tho is that there is a wide disparity in the quality of information on the Internet. Some great; some not-so-great. And without some foundation in time-tested techniques and approaches, it is hard to distinguish between the two. I was first taught by my mom – an EXTREME perfectionist. I do not condone that approach to sewing for most people – it is too frustrating and discouraging for new sewists. Nor do I support sloppy, poor quality work. Sooo, finding a good balance between these 2 is tough. My approach in teaching is to let a lot slide in the beginning – but point out that there are opportunities for improvement. As students’ skills and patience evolve, then I encourage more ripping and re-stitching. What I hope for all sewists is that over time they develop an appreciation for excellence. Sewing is both a very broad and very deep craft – there is always more to learn and new skills to develop. Even after more than half a century I am still learning and loving sewing! Happy sewing to ALL!
When I was in a FB group I’d see beginners lamenting on how they were so new they were always using their seam ripper.
Pfft! I rip and redo MUCH more now that I’m more experienced!! I can’t leave it if I know it’s wrong/bad! 🙂
Me too! The seam ripper is my friend! I go at it until I like it! Sometimes even weeks after wearing it!
So far I only know of one local (I live in South Africa) Indie designer who sells her paper patterns as well as downloadable patterns online. Though I would love to support her because I love the initiative she (as a young sewist/designer) is taking, her digital downloads of very simple patters that I can easily self-draft, are just simply too expensive for what they offer, and the price of her paper patterns are off the charts for me. They are beautifully packaged, and would make lovely gifts, but I am old-fashioned like that: I do not buy a pattern for myself because of the envelope it comes in, but because of what the actual pattern would offer me.
Then there is my old-school aversion to spending time (and money, because paper and toner is not free) printing and trimming and pasting A4-sheets, or doubling the original pattern price at a print-shop… if I have to spend that extra time/money, then the original pattern price for a downloadable should make sense.
For me, it is a simple matter of cost effectiveness. Big 4 paper patterns seem to be relatively cheap here, compared to the rest of the world: the average retail (not on sale) price can be converted to $6.00 – $8.00. (Good reason to visit South Africa, folks, you are going to go home with LOTS of patterns… (-;) Burda downloadable patterns compare well with that. Indie pattern companies are usually AT LEAST double that, and I find their cost prohibitive though I often drool over them (the Jasper Sweater dress, for example, is on my wishlist for one day when the exchange rate by some miracle improves again for us). The Jasper is an example of excellent value: I first noticed it on Pattern Review, where sewists of all shapes and ages look fantastic in it. That, to me, is a generation-spanning success story for an Indie pattern.
Thanks for pointing out that Jasper pattern – great look!
I definitely agree with all your points! I’m 33 and like many other commenters I use both Indie and Big 4, although when I started sewing I used a lot of Ottobre magazines too, do they count as indie?? I found their sparse instructions both bewildering and also helpful in learning how a basic item goes together and leading me towards being able to figure things out myself, although it helped that I was sewing at one of my regular craft camps, with the help of my sewing friends, of whom I’m the youngest – most of them are a decade or two older than me. My mother and grandmother both sewed but neither of them really knew how to make alterations so it was straight out of the packet or nothing – and adjustments are something I’m very grateful to the sewing internet for helping me learn. I find indies often include reference to having to adjust patterns, while big 4 rarely do, but I don’t know that that is that big a point of difference.
Living in Australia, although Big 4 are reasonably accessible, they’re not that cheap. If i wait for a sale I can usually get them for about $5 a pattern, but never cheaper than that. Full price they’re about the same as indies. Indies also have the benefit that I can buy them from my desk and print them out right away, whereas the places I can get patterns on sale aren’t very easy for me to get to. I do like indies, but will generally hesitate to try a pattern by a new-to-me company without having seen other people make it up and getting an idea of what adjustments I might need. The ones I know to be good, like Cashmerette and Jennifer Lauren Handmade, I will buy immediately if I like them because I know the drafting is good – which means not only top quality (trued seams, sizes graded properly) but also consistent! So I will know what to adjust. The Big 4 sizes may be bananas but I know what to expect and how I need to adjust them, so they’re ‘safe’ in that way. Although I don’t buy them much now because I have most basic shapes, so I’ll only buy a pattern if it’s significantly different or has a specific detail that I don’t want to draft myself.
And I have that Simplicity sewing book! I bought it in an op shop though. 🙂
That book is the best! And a lot of good tips, believe it or not. My cousin used it to sew her wedding dress!
I was really excited to find it! I always keep an eye out for older sewing books (ie, pre 1990s) because they tend to have lots of good information in them.
I don’t know if the indie v Big 4 chasm is an age thing so much as an upbringing thing. My hunch is that most people prefer to sew with the patterns they learnt on. I’m 39. When I started learning to sew, in the 1990s, Big 4 was all that was available to me too. They’re cheaper, and I seem to need the same adjustments across all 4 of the big companies. So far, so good. But I also love the way that indie patterns inspired me to get back into sewing in my 30s, and that they present the clothes in a way that makes me want to sew my own. Yes, all their blocks are different, but at the same time, I can hunt down one that’s a closer match for me – like Sewaholic or Deer and Doe.
Great that both are working for you.
OH…this is a great topic of discussion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…and the comments are interesting too.
I’m at the latter end of the baby boomers and learned to sew at home from my mom. I also was able to take sewing classes in school for five years. So…the first fifty or so years of sewing patterns revolved heavily around the big 4.
It was through blogging that I discovered Indie patterns. I was slow, SLOW, to get on the Indie train because of their cost. I can buy a whole lotta gently used Vogue designer patterns at my local thrift stores for the cost of a single Indie.
That being said, I do sew them now. I initially couldn’t stand PDFs but I now like them better than tissue. I also like that I can see the garment on real bodies. Sometimes the big 4 will use only a sketch of the garment and sometimes they aren’t that true to the actual clothing. I think the biggest reason I’ve been using more Indie patterns is the social aspect. Still haven’t got used to the prices though.
Thanks for commenting. The social aspect of the Indies is indeed a big plus.
It’s so interesting to read all the different points of view on pattern companies. I started sewing at about age 7 so by high school I was making Vogue designer patterns for my prom dresses. (oh I wish I still had a couple of those patterns). I’m still a huge fan of Vogue patterns and I think the value is much higher than most indies, as you often get multiple garments in one pattern. Another pattern company I think is overlooked (ha) is New Look, they are very inexpensive here in the US, have all sizes in one envelope and also have multiple views or garments in one pattern. I appreciate that the Big 4 are very professionally done, with plenty of markings and I like the diagram type of instructions. The indies I have sewn are often very wordy and a good diagram could have explained a sewing step in a better way. However that might just be me and what I’m used to. A lot of the indies seem very overpriced for a simple style and just one version. In the last few years I’ve started sewing Burda patterns and I think they have any possible style you could want, downloadable as well. the patterns are very well done and sew up beautifully. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in this discussion is the technical drawings on patterns. Some have mentioned that they like seeing the garment photographed on a real person – I always skip by the photos and zoom in on the technical drawings, in fact that is how I choose a pattern, by the tech drawing. So if there isn’t one or if it is slightly cartoony then that is a big nope for me. Burda, Vogue, McCalls etc all include the front/back view so you can see the pattern details. I make an occasional indie and I really like Pauline Alice patterns – which have unique details and she puts out patterns for more complicated items, as well as Jalie patterns which are fantastic.
Me too! The line drawing is the most important!
I go straight for the line drawing too. Many a pretty cover photo hides potential flaws, and many an unattractive cover photo hides interesting details.
Not to mention Photoshop’ing!
Great post! I’m 35 and would classify myself as a PDF pattern sewist. The step by step instructions, pictures and Facebook group support is a huge help when you’re getting started. I haven’t tried a big 4 pattern yet but it’s on my list. I follow on Instagram and love some of the big 4 patterns I see! I guess when you are new to the game it’s far less intimidating having the instructions and support you get from an indie designer. Size range of patterns is part of this as well… from what I’ve seen (I could be wrong) you get a wider range of sizes with Indie patterns.
Let us know how your adventure with the Big 4 goes. You may find you enjoy not having to tape together .pdfs!
A little late to the game, but I am glad I discovered this site. (Thanks Meg!) I am in my late 50s and have been sewing since I was a child. I have boys who aren’t interested in having anything made for themselves, so the sewing has always been all for me. I work full time and sew when I can. I am on the computer all day at work, so buying indie patterns is a natural for me. But I am very fussy about what I buy online. It’s got to be different and work for short me, or a classic that I can use forever. I grew up using the big 4 and still use them a lot. I learned to fit using Palmer/Pletsch and I am hooked on their patterns. However I struggle with the fit on Simplicity and don’t find much that appeals in Butterick. For indies, I like Hot Patterns, Fit for Art and Style Arc. I buy other indies in bits and pieces. I vet everything by reading online reviews.
I am very interested in the idea of a generation gap in sewing and how to bridge it. I belong to American Sewing Guild- and I am one of the “younger” members at many meetings. Younger sewers aren’t joiners it seems. And older sewers struggle to find common ground with younger sewists who do things differently. Both sides have a lot of knowledge and skills and we need to find ways to bridge that gap.
We had a group of younger sewers in our area that was meeting to sew together on weekends. They were all making the same indie dress and were struggling to get it to fit. We “old ladies” spent an afternoon with them, sharing tips, pinning, fitting , tucking, etc. When we left, everyone had a well fitting dress- and we hadn’t really don’t anything difficult. We also shared knowledge on why chosen fabrics wouldn’t work and where to buy less expensive notions and fabrics. We learned about blogs and websites we had never heard of. I wish we could find a way to replicate and repeat this- it really worked.
That meet up sounds so cool!
Thank you for bringing up this interesting topic! I consider myself an old millenial (early/mid 30s) and started sewing around 2009. I’ve been enjoying everyone’s responses. One thing I’ve noticed in talking with women of my mom’s generation (baby boomer) is how they consider certain techniques or projects to be too ambitious. I love making jeans, and my mom and mother-in-law were flabbergasted! (My first few pairs certainly weren’t perfect, either.) And I don’t think you could pay my mom enough to hand-stitch a hem or sew a french seam. To be fair, my mom learned to sew because it was considered a basic life skill, not because she was passionate about it. One of the things I really like about the online sewing community is that there is so much information on techniques available on blogs and YouTube. (I refer to sewing books quite a bit, too). I’ve wondered if there was something about the way sewing knowledge was disseminated to previous generations that stifled what home sewers thought they should attempt.
Interesting question. I agree that many older sewists learned out of basic necessity. But I wonder about “too ambitious” projects. I made a wool winter coat a few years ago, and my sewing relatives were very excited about it. I guess it depends. What does everyone else think?
I was going to comment on that before! :o) But just didn’t! LOL!
My interest in not sewing jeans is because I don’t wear them anymore, my teen girls (14,15,16) and special needs daughter wear leggings 24/7. So if we wore them I guess I’d find a reason to make some. I can buy my teen son jeans for 12.99 at “Wal you know who mart”. I know fast fashion. But I’d rather make me a cute Boho-Lagenlook something than hunt that all down to make cheaper or same cost.
So Anyhoo I do take on fussy complicated projects! I am taking my Great Gran’s long black wool fur trimmed funeral coat (stored in my closet since 1977) and making it into a lined jacket for me. I’m bigger than Gran and Great Gran. This will take me about 18 months minimum, it’s a new learning curve! Upcycling something precious! LOL!
But yes us Baby Boomers do take on difficult projects when we feel the need! LOL!
Love upcycling and that sounds like an awesome project!
I cannot agree that Indies in general offer “current” styles. I think there are few fashion forward Indie companies and aside from Style Arc, can’t really think of any. One more tee. One more knit sack dress. One more button front shirt. On and on.
I sew what I like. This has been the year of Burda for me. I’ve had a sub for a few years now but this year I’ve sewn a TON from my magazines compared to prior years. I think Burda is unfortunately overlooked by many; older and younger. Otherwise, I primarily sew Big4 because of consistency. I can *generally* make a standard set of adjustments and get a wearable or even good fitting garment. I don’t like the idea of always making a muslin (bleh) or figuring out the standard ease in Indie A vs. Indie B. AND not to mention there isn’t much that I can’t find in a Big4 catalog or Burda mag!
With that said, I don’t shun Indies completely. Style Arc works for me and is pretty current. I will never sew another Big4 exercise wear pattern – that is definitely an Indie category for me. I have several Indie coat patterns because I do feel there is some innovation there.
I’m 38 and have been sewing for almost 5 years now. The corporation=bad, Indie=good is annoying. They want your money…both of them…The blogger turned pattern maker wants to sell patterns and turn a profit. That is fine, it isn’t a bad thing, but the notion that we’re all BFFs and should just “support each other” is annoying.
And at the risk of sounding quite crotchety (hahaha!) I cannot stand the conversational tone of most Indie pattern instructions. I do not need 20 pages of instructions to make a t-shirt. Blergh.
And their desire to keep sewers stuck in the beginning stage…as if inserting a zipper or making buttonholes is the most difficult thing ever in life.
Thanks for the comments. I wish I could get in to Burda. It’s never clicked with me.
I’m 60 next year and have been sewing on and off for nearly 30 years and am firmly in the ‘big 4’ camp.
What needs to be borne in mind is that there is absolutely nothing new so far as clothing is concerned and pattern designers and makers have been ‘riffing off’ what has gone before for 100 years plus. Consequently, I see no point in paying over the odds for an ‘indie’ pdf pattern where I will have to use my paper and printer ink, not to mention the tedious business of sticking it all together, when I can find a ‘big 4’ pattern cheaper.
Further, I do not see any gap between ‘indie’ and the ‘big 4’ where trends are concerned. The cold shoulder and now jumpsuits were quickly adapted by the ‘old guard’ and the companies have blogs, Instagram feeds and sewalongs.
I hope both the big4 and the indies are paying attention to this discussion! There are some excellent points all around.
I’m nestled right in the middle of this generation gap. I’m 40 years old, so I remember looking through the big4 catalogs and working from paper patterns when I was younger, but I’m only now getting back into garment sewing so I’m kind of seeing this indie renaissance with fresh eyes. It just seems like the big4 have not kept up with the times, in several key ways. Their samples are made up in dated colorways and styling leaves a lot to be desired. Their sizes no longer correspond to ready-to-wear, which can make it intimidating for a newbie just starting out. (Combine that with the excessive ease, and if you go by your measurements you can end up with a garment that is comically oversized. At least with the indies you can use your RTW size as a starting point.)
As noted already, indies are using blogs and social media so much more effectively. And they are making up their samples in fabrics I actually want to wear, like the ubiquitous (for good reason) Rifle Paper Co. lawns and rayons, or Nani Iro gauze and linen. For the most part, indie patterns have a smaller selection, which works to their advantage on social media because so many people are making up the same pattern. Search #grainlinescout or #ogdencami on Instagram and you’ll get hundreds of examples for inspiration! Show me a big4 pattern with that kind of representation.
There’s been a bit of a backlash against fast fashion lately, a movement towards capsule wardrobes and having “fewer, better things.” A lot of the indie makers are right in line with this. They are offering a smaller selection of patterns, which are more versatile due to their clean lines. The big4 can seem overwhelming by comparison in terms of the sheer volume of patterns they release and the number of design elements that are crammed into any particular pattern. And if they do offer simple patterns like a basic woven tee or cami, good luck finding it on their websites, which lack basic filtering or search functions that let you narrow down the hundreds of tops on offer.
I agree that the indie patterns are often expensive, but many times you get a sewalong to go with that, and tutorials to hack the pattern. And for simple patterns that you can make up multiple times, the cost per garment is quite reasonable.
My big trepidation with indies is the horror stories I’ve heard about poor drafting. There are a few companies that I stay away from entirely. In general, the more patterns a small shop releases, the more skeptical I am that they are going to be properly size-graded and tested.
My oldest daughter is 41, she sat on a tall stool and looked at the big books with me! Her and her sister (now 38) stood in long lines waiting to get fabric cut, and ran to multiple fabric shops with me weekly! Always checking sales! By the time oldest was 5 she had her wedding dress picked out! I told her no way was I buying the pattern now! LOL! Plus I had nightmares about sewing one up! ;o)
Yes the sizing for the Big 4 is different, and for me that made RTW shopping impossible. I never had a RTW “size”. Nothing fit right! So I’m used to the Big 4 sizing and I like it. But if you start sewing Indie, I can see where it might be hard for you to adjust. Back then Indie designers who the Big 4 picked up had their patterns printed to the Big 4 specifics.
My pet peeve is the mens sewing patterns hitting the 90s and died there, revolving the same pants/shirts into new patterns! I don’t like some of the mens new metro (more form fitting) fashion patterns. Every shirt I sew for my 13 yr old son is a Retro pattern from the 50s. Lovely style and always fits. And requires no knits! Bobus is his wardrobe reminds me of my Dad when I was small! LOL!
aaack- BONUS not bobus! sigh.
[…] 50. (Did you know some of our very first Who We Are posts were about being sewists over 50 and the generational gap in sewing?) There’s something unique about the #sewover50 community self-identifying their age though, […]
I am a diehard Vogue pattern enthusiast. The other three well known pattern makers are good too but Vogue patterns offer a better fit and quality, hence, the tissue does not tear easily, directions are clear with no shortcuts, such as omitting interfacing. These four pattern companies have been around for 100 years for a reason. I think very few independent designers can compete with them and those few that can have a lot of hard work and a long way to go before they will ever be a threat to the Big 4.The Big 4 should continue to strive for excellence and keep their designs current to ensure they remain the leaders in fashion design and wait for the indies to fade away and not be intimidated into changing.
I just came across this by coincidence and this topic is so fascinating! I’ve tried to get into garment sewing on and off for 20 years, and I always felt so alienated by the “Big 4” patterns because they seemed entirely disconnected from my own sense of fashion. (Full disclosure, I was born in 1976 and my sense of fashion developed in the early 90s with grunge and other “counter-culture” styles.)
Nowadays I’m mainly into sewing athletic wear, including things like sports bras, and casual items like hoodies and tank tops. The “Big 4” have always been a disaster for activewear, every now and then they attempt some “athleisure”, but it is clearly developed by people who have no clue about real athletic clothes. I don’t agree at all that indie patterns are too simplistic – look at Greenstyle Creations for example, they offer some elaborate designs with a variety of options, for results that are on par with fancy RTW brands. Their patterns are well layouted with shortening lines, notches, etc. There are plenty of companies like that, I could list about a dozen favourites from all over the world 🙂