The Sewcialists Interview: Joost De Cock of Freesewing.org

Joost De Cock (pronounced yōst – Name is Dutch, he lives in Belgium) is an original founder of The Sewcialists in 2013 and is the owner/founder of Freesewing.org. We will get into it below, but Joost is a master at refashioning, menswear, and early-on was cognitive of all people wanting to sew menswear when setting up Freesewing.org. There are a few points in here where it is difficult to portray in text our joking and laughing…for example if you see the word “ass,” you can be assured it was a joke. Joost is delightfully charming & funny, and we hope you enjoy.


Becky (B): As one of the originators of the Sewcialists, we wanted to say thank you and how do you feel about us relaunching and the new format?

Joost (J): It’s fantastic, not just because it is the “Sewcialists,” but because of what it is… if it would have been called something else, I would have been just as excited because I really think it’s a  great thing. 

All props to Gillian because even if she’s not doing it on her own anymore, she really put the effort into not just relaunching it, but making it more. Before it was just a way to discover people, like a hashtag or in a firehose, and it was more to sort of let people find like-minded souls on the internet. But now, it’s so much more. It’s providing value with a positive list of subjects. You’ve carved your own a niche. I’m proud of what it has blossomed into.

B: Thanks! I realize it’s odd to start out with the first question being “what do you think of us” but we felt it was important to showcase “The Founders” and get your blessing. A lot of people may not know you created the logo and a lot of the material that we still use to this day, so, again thank you.

We want to get into your origin story, and how freesewing.org came to be. Tell us about that. Tell us about the open-source code used, and about the “how and the why.”

J: Well, at the very start of it…I’m quite tall. I’m 6’6” or so. When I got patterns, I’d have the same problems that people who are not the “standard size” or shape have, you know, they didn’t really work. I had to make pattern alterations, but I was a novice at that time, and it’s not always that easy to know what to do. I bought a book on drafting your own patterns based on your measurements, but it gets boring drafting by hand. I’m more of an IT guy. I thought I should be able to automate the process. It really started as something to scratch an itch that I had. I wanted to make patterns based on my measurements and then that spiraled out of control (laughs.) I did that with Make My Pattern for a bit, but then I felt I needed to open it up so other people could use it, or help out, or take it and run with it. 

So, I decided to open-source it and name it in a way that would reflect those sort of “values,” to use a heavy word.  It’s a bit traditional in the software world that when you put “free” in front of something, it doesn’t just mean that it’s free as in you don’t have to pay, it means free as in you can take it and run with it. You can make it your own. We basically give up our ownership of it. Like with Sewcialists, you give it away so someone can run with it and turn it into something even better.

B: So when people go to Freesewing.org and put in their measurements, your software doesn’t already use pre-existing metrics for any of the pattern scaling?

J: We don’t do anything like determine one measurement from another or give you a range of sizes you can pick from, or anything like that. If you want to use these patterns you are going to have to take measurements. That’s the entire point. Learning to take measurements, I think, is an important skill to master as you learn to make clothes. 

Photo sample of body measurement input page on freesewing.org site from a pattern Gillian made
From Gillian’s post on making the Hugo Hoodie

B: So the benefit and bonus here is customizable patterns without either learning to draft a sloper, then design a pattern from paper, or buying something like Wild Ginger or other drafting software for home sewists and be out $300+ dollars? Instead, I can go to Freesewing.org, go directly to a pattern, put in my measurements, and the work is done?

J: Yes, and we also have a sloper for men! It is the sloper that most of our men’s patterns are based on. So, yes, you can go get a drafting software, or you can try us out, and not be out the money!

I think there’s sort of two levels. It’s a continuum, but to keep it simple I think you can sort of divide people up into levels. If you’re a beginner or in your first years, you’re going to find a pattern and make things as they are…like you can make one of our patterns, and I think you will be happy. However, if you’ve been doing it for a long time, you’re gonna get to the point where every pattern is a starting point, and you’re going to make a muslin and do some tweaks. I feel it is naive to think that you can automatically generate some pattern that is perfect. 

With that in mind, if you’re in the first category, you’re going to be very happy with our patterns, and if you’re in the second category, you’re going to have a very good starting point for your muslin.

B: I wanted to give props for when you first starting building the measurement inquiry forms for Freesewing.org, you paid a lot of attention to all possible gendered and non-gendered pronouns, and how to address body-types without assigning gender. You put out tweets and Instagram questions, and let people have their input. Tell me about that process. 

J: I think it’s important try to do the right thing, so to speak. I’m your run-of-the-mill straight white guy, so what the hell do I know, right? So, it’s nice to be able to reach out and ask things, like, “I know this is a sensitive issue; how exactly would I phrase this comfortably or encouragingly or respectfully to everybody?” It’s important to ask people, to reach out, and ask, “What would you like to see?” When it comes to fitting, we have to ask about breasts; the software will ask a bunch of measurements if you need, but if you don’t have breasts, then don’t we don’t want to clutter up your screen with those measurements. We had to decide on the language, and we settled on the question, “Do you have breasts or not?” which doesn’t have anything to do with gender, but does get the required data.

Joost wearing blue jeans and a white tank top or vest.

B: Most of the patterns now, for lack of a better term, are masculine-based. Are you’re looking to add more feminine-based patterns?

J: Absolutely. The reason there are mostly “menswear” patterns was because I started it based on me, like I said, scratching my own itch. I was putting the effort in designing the patterns that I needed. Making womenswear patterns is on the list of to-do, now that more people are using the site. There’s more motivation to make those people happy. I’m definitely going to be adding more womenswear patterns. The idea is to make a good block that we’re really happy with and that is flexible enough that we can build many different patterns on.

This is where we’ve sort of hit a snag in the current platform. I don’t want to get too technical, but we don’t have a t-shirt pattern, for example. It’s not difficult to design a t-shirt, but the problem is that the sleeve of a t-shirt, the sleeve cap specifically, it’s very different to a woven shirt or jacket sleeve. Our current block, the sleeve – we don’t have enough “knobs” to tweak to make a sleeve cap that would be good for a t-shirt/knit fabric. So, rather than start a new sort of block with a different sleeve we’re rewriting a lot of stuff. We have a new block now that is very flexible. People might be thinking, “What’s going on…” but we’re doing a lot of “behind the scenes” work now that will pay off later. Womenswear is high on the priority list.

Graphic example of
Graphic example of “Aaron Tank” from Freesewing.org

B: You say “we.” I’ve seen that a few patterns have been submitted by other people…. What is “we?”

J: Yes, there are 3 patterns submitted by other people, but there’s also people who help with translation and other little bits and pieces, like the Facebook page. I’m not on Facebook. So when I say “we” it’s because I’m appreciative and I want to recognize the contributions that other people make, but when I say, “we have a new block,” yeah, I made a new block. 

B: What if someone wants to volunteer and help you, or if someone wanted to come to you and see if they could contribute?

J:  Anyone who wants to volunteer will be welcomed with open arms because we can all use help. Everybody has something that they can contribute. This is an involved project and there’s many different aspects. The thing, of course, in a situation like this that we are in, with Freesewing.org and Sewcialists, normally you pay people to keep them happy and motivated. We don’t do that, so then it becomes a question of how do you motivate people? How do you encourage them? I feel that one of the few things that I can give is visibility and responsibility. If somebody comes to me and is willing to help out, I tend to bestow responsibility on them. Like, the Facebook page, or translation. I mean it’s not kindergarten here, right? So I have to say, this is your language, and I trust you, or this is your Facebook page to manage, and they own it. Walter does the Facebook page, and really, that’s the only official mandate because he has the access rights. 

Some people do these sort-of “drive-by” help things…and it’s great. They show up, they do this thing, and then they go. That’s great too. But giving write-access to the source code, that’s almost like a reward that helps to motivate people because people feel like they’re part of the team. There’s got to be a little bit of trust in there.

B: Speaking of volunteering and paying, you have a crowd funding option on your site, but then you donate the proceeds, isn’t that right? Why?

J: Privilege, really. I don’t need the money. It may sounds crazy, but the thing is that the donations are really motivating! It’s more meaningful knowing somebody actually put money on the table, than, you know, just a “like” or something saying, “Oh yeah that’s cool. I like that.” It’s incredibly motivating for me, and I think for others too. That being said, I don’t really need the money I have a job and that my pays bills. It was also a very easy pledge to make at the beginning because I think the first year it was like $300 Euro, in the whole year. On one hand, I have a job, so while I can use it, I don’t need it. On the other hand, this has taken over my life. I spend really a lot of time on this. I watch the news and I know that the world is a shitty place, and I might be doing other things or helping out in other ways, but this way I get to do what I like but still sleep at night because the money goes to something good. 

B: That’s a really inspirational answer. We’ve struggled with the idea of adding a pay/donation option to absorb some of the costs we are incurring, and having the stipulation that any money above expenses will be donated is a great option and very much in the spirit of our work.

Knowing what you know now, is there anything that you would do differently if you were to start over?

J: Well, yeah! I’d write it the way I’m writing it now! Haha. But that’s not how it works. You have to put the work in and then you learn, and you might actually have to start over!

B: Do you have a D-date for the relaunching?

J: No…I promised myself it would be finished when it’s finished, because I’m worried about the stress if I pin myself to a date. Now on the other hand, it can’t last too long because people get tired of waiting!

B: As a designer, I know you can tweak things until the days are gone! Sometimes done is better than finished?

J: No, trust me, I’m still at the “trying to get it to work” phase! I’m not going to have it delayed for another week just to muck with some colors. I don’t mind getting it out there when it’s still rough, but it has to work. Well, it does work, but not all the patterns have been moved over to the new platform. 

B: And on top of this, you have a whole other job and life outside of this. Is it related?

J: No, I work in IT. It’s not related to sewing, but it’s because of that, I can do this. Because I’m interested in both and where they intersect.

Resale shop bins of denim from Denim Refashioners year
Resale shop bins of denim from Denim Refashioners year
Joost's final entry into the Makery's Denim Refashioners
Joost’s final entry into the Makery’s Denim Refashioners

B: Tell me about your Refashioners work. You’ve participated two years, denim and suits right? You always end up with these amazing outfits, and it seems like you’re always doing them in the 11thhour!

Joost wearing his Refashioners Zebra Jacket Facing back
Joost Refashioners Zebra Jacket Back

J: Yes, I guess I need a deadline?

Joost wearing his Refashioners Zebra Jacket facing Front
Joost Refashioners Zebra Jacket Front

B: What was it what inspired the zebra jacket? What made you say, “oh yes, zebra! That’s a great idea!”

J: It was practical, really! The nice thing about the Refashioners is that it imposes so many constraints, it really forces some creative thinking. I think that is the fun thing about it! So the problem with suits is that, for most part the people participating are smaller than I am, and they can go to the thrift store and buy some big suits, and then make something out of them. For me, all the suits in the store start out smaller than me! So, the real problem is finding panels that are large enough to sort-of make something else without having to resort to a suit made of carpet remnants or a patchwork fabric. I thought that would be tacky. So, I was racking my brain, trying to think of how am I going to fix it… How I’m going to make a suit that is essentially small pieces stuck together because I’m never going to find fabric large enough or even a piece of suit large enough…and then I think it was under the shower and I thought, “GASP! Zebra is perfect!” I thought I’m still going to look tacky, but it will work…

B: Oh! I get it! Yeah, you can make extra fabric by striping! That’s brilliant! That IS a shower moment! I didn’t think it was tacky – somehow you can really pull off zebra!

How do you feel, or how do you deal with reconciling the whole “men are in tailoring and women are in sewing” gendered roles of yesteryear? Do you get a lot of pushback or ridicule?

J: I think at the start there was something I was conscious of? That I was doing something that was not typically associated with men and I guess it can make one feel a little bit uncomfortable. There was this moment when… I mean it’s a strange story… but there was a funeral with my family. My godfather passed away, and my sister in that moment for some reason confided in me that my family thought I was probably gay, because of all the sewing. It was such a weird moment because I was already at that time married to my wife… so my family is saying that this is a fake sort of marriage? While I realize it’s not the traditional masculine thing to do, but it’s quite a leap to go from being married to a woman to …being attracted to men, which is typically not something that is considered a choice… you just feel how you feel. I don’t know. It was in this moment that I started to say I don’t care anymore. When I started out, I had a separate blog where I kept my sewing things, and it was different from the blog with my name on it. Probably at some level, not a conscious choice, but maybe at some level I wanted to be able to distance myself from it. But at this point, I was like, “Look. I enjoy this. If you have a problem with it, that’s on you, that’s not on me.” I am comfortable in it, I like the community, I like that it’s mostly women because I work in IT, which is mostly men, and this gives me more balance. I do what I do – my name is my name, and it is what I do. I don’t have any advice for anyone on how to get there…I guess you just need to be comfortable in your own skin.

B: Do you have an end game here or is this just something that you love to do? What’s the pie in the sky ideal here?

J: I would like a company to use Freesewing.org’s underlying technology to run their business. The idea that I helped for people to put food on their table, I find that very inspiring. If you are a small pattern designer and you make your pattern you’re probably in PDFs because you don’t want to get into that printing and stocking of physical items and all of that. It would be good for someone to be able to put in their patterns, and customers can come buy it in their customized size.

It would be great if people were making money off of it, even if that’s not me, you know? I think it makes sense from the point of view: you create something and you hope people will take it and run with it.  

B: We were on a certain social platform together, and someone who had never even used Freesewing.org made the snide comment that “You get what you pay for.” What do you do with that sort negativity?

J: Try to ignore them, mostly. It’s not nice to hear those things. I think it’s a  bit of a cynical way to view the world. When you fall in love with someone, you don’t get what you pay for. There are so many examples where value has nothing to do with money. I think there was another comment… it was on Pattern Review. Someone was looking for a pattern, and another member linked to one of my patterns…that’s how I know, from the link-referral. The referring person said something along the lines of “pattern by this designer” or whatever and then someone said, “Oh he’s not a designer” …very dismissive because you know you don’t carry the title of being “designer.” The thing is: I’m a college dropout. I don’t have ANY title so what am I? Worthless human being now? If you don’t have the paper on the wall, then you don’t count. 

B: We can both be worthless college dropout fake designers together. Is there anything I forgot to ask or that you want to add?

J:  Oh, I did want to say we give the money to Doctors Without Borders. I think that it is a charity that is not self-serving…by which I mean, it goes to the poorest of the poor. There are other charities that are great too, but you know, giving to a charity for prostate cancer really just benefits me…

B: You’d really just be covering your own ass.

J: Right…I used to do Movember, but now I’m getting to the age where I might get cancer any second now anyway… Seriously, though, I feel it’s better to give where it’s more needed.

Sewn sample of the Freesewing.org boxer brief called Bruce
Sewn sample of the Freesewing.org boxer brief called Bruce

The Sewcialist Interviews are a chance to hear more from some of the leaders in our sewing community. We will search out pattern makers, fabric designers, teachers, designers, and all-around awesome people that embody the Sewcialist spirit, and bring you interviews to help inspire your sewing journey.

(All images property and courtesy of Joost De Cock, some dual-posted at The Refashioners, owned by makery.co.uk, the most fabulous Portia La Wrie. Please visit Freesewing.org and you can also find Joost on Instagram and about a bazillion other places)

Author Bio: Becky Johnson is a Sewcialist Editor, a Portland Frocktails organizer, and a person of international interest… or ridiculous delusions of grandeur, you decide



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