Sewing Dilemmas: Indie Patterns Marks!

Hello Sewcialists!

My name is MaLora, and I would like indie designers to include more marks on their patterns. I’d like to hear from you, especially about what you would like to see on indie patterns!

Having just helped organize a Seattle-area Sewing Trivia Night, I know that sewing patterns didn’t have any printed markings on them until 1919 (McCalls, good job!), and it took decades for home sewists to get actual printed instructions included with their unmarked pattern. For those who haven’t sewn vintage patterns, they were typically just tissue with punched holes and no lines on them at all. Back then, it was assumed everyone knew how to sew expertly. It took many years for the sewing industry to start including instructions, pattern lines, and common adjustment descriptions in their patterns.

A photo of pattern instructions from a vintage pattern for a jacket and skirt, showing all the pattern pieces, measurements, and cutting instructions detailing how to interpret the perforations.
Here’s an example of an unmarked vintage pattern, instructing the sewist how to interpret large, small, and medium perforations into darts, gathering, and more! Image courtesy of ThreeHoursPast.

The “Big Four Pattern Companies” — Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick, and Vogue (all now owned by CSS Industries, see Abby’s article here for some interesting reading) — learned to put marks on their patterns by the mid 20th century. Patterns changed to include cutting lines, seam allowances, construction markings, and written instructions for making the garment. The Big Four patterns also contain my favorite thing: fitting adjustment marks! Fitting adjustment marks often include bust point, waist line, hip line, and lengthen and shorten lines for arms, body, or legs. These fitting adjustment marks are crucial to making your garment fit your body.

Here are some examples of modern fitting marks on a Big Four patterns

I am putting out a call to all pattern designers to please include fitting adjustment marks on your patterns. It would be helpful to include finished garment measurements on the pattern pieces as well.

For experienced sewists, many pattern alterations are done before you even make a muslin. These are often called flat pattern adjustments. If you are a beginning sewist, the marks will help make your first sewing experience a success because they give you the opportunity to learn about specific points of fitting. Since one purpose of making our garments is to get something that fits our individual bodies, these marks are essential.

The joy of indie designers is that they make unusual patterns, in sizing and formats more accessible than ever before. And the best part? The creators themselves are often so easy to connect with through social media. We can reach out to them, follow along, and develop a relationship. There’s a real community between the designers and the home sewcialists. The indie sewing scene is a global community!

It is hard to define an indie pattern company now, ten or so years after the indie pattern scene really exploded. Some indie pattern companies are one person, likely working from home, releasing one pattern at a time. Other companies have teams who release regular collections, books, video tutorials, and more. Many of the businesses are clearly making efforts to consider inclusivity, diversity, sustainability, and longevity of their designs. It is an industry that has grown exponentially over the last decade and while it is amazing, it is a whole lot to maintain industry standards.

I was just listening to the Love To Sew podcast episode with Kate from The Foldline, and Kate mentioned there are approximately 50 new indie patterns released every month! I can see the pressure of being a small business, especially one that is an artistic creative pursuit. However, I am asking that you keep in mind that not everyone sews the same way, many of us are self-taught, and all of us are still learning new things! Wouldn’t a bust point help you fit your first blouse, or ensure that the fabric you’ve chosen lines up well?

Sewcialists, what marks would you like to see included on indie patterns? What have I missed here? I am not an expert for sure. I’d love to hear what other Sewcialists think! I have reached out personally to a few companies, but I am sure more companies would benefit from hearing directly from you. If you have been sewing for years or if you are starting your first pattern, fitting marks will help you make the best fitting garment possible. 

Which indie companies do you think do a good job including fitting adjustment marks on their patterns? I’d love to financially support them with my purchases. I want to make a professional looking garment when I sew, and to do that, I need a professional looking pattern that sets me up for success. Please, indie designers, include these marks!

MaLora Ann / Bird and Bicycle likes to ride her bike, eat cake with no frosting, and serge her way through garments. Preferring the ocean to the plains, she is still looking for the perfect hoodie pattern to wear in the awesome Pacific Northwest. Shout out to her local Seattle Sews Garments group!