30. Dear Gabby: Doing Things the “Right” Way?

Dear friends, as this shambolic year grows to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about process, and the ways and whys of how we do things. As Grace Hopper famously said, “Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.” I do try to push back and question things that aren’t working, or seem off, or maybe the information just isn’t valid anymore. However, I’ve been a bit stuck in my thinking and habits these days (thanks, Pandemic), and I desperately want to hop out of stagnation, so join me for a bit of thought exploration!

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of information floating around the Instagram sew-sphere these days, some right, some wrong, and a lot of in-between confusing flotsam, that makes it really hard to tell what information to trust. Everyone seems to have tip videos, tutorials, individualized methods, Patreons with exclusive content, and of course, accounts that like to refer back to (IMO) rather outdated pattern books as “Golden Standards That We Can Never Deviate From.” What’s right? What’s wrong? Who can tell? The worst part is that repetition breeds familiarity, which breeds believability.

So what am I getting at here? A couple of things! Just because someone has a YouTube channel does not mean they know what they’re talking about, or because someone toiles endlessly doesn’t mean they’re a fit expert. Sure, it’s fine to blog/story/post a creation process, and it can be really enjoyable to follow along. But just as Facebook makes it really easy to spread disinformation, Instagram can do the same thing. When people use massive platforms to share their journey, it’s important to know before you share, if their information is good or questionable. Vet your sources! Infographics do not an authority make!

If you are coming in as a beginner looking for help getting started, I’m going to tell you to read some pattern books, go to trusted publications for how-to videos and information, and talk to people who really are experts, before starting with Instagrammers, Influencers, and Bloggers. If you can, take classes (virtually for now, in person when it’s safe). There are a lot of great and affordable options available; skip through to the end of this post for a resource list.

Once you’ve had time to learn “proper” techniques, it’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff. Think about what felt crappy. What information did you learn that seemed hard to parse? How about methods that don’t account for modern fabrications? Or maybe fitting advice that condescends to larger bodies, or doesn’t include information for extended sizing? Are things called “flattering” a lot? Ableist or privileged assumptions? Are there faster and less confusing ways to do something? Always Be Questioning! ABQ!

And… this is where I tell you that just because something is “The Way It’s Always Been Done” doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it that way. There’s such great information in a lot of those “Golden Standard” books, and in those trustworthy publications, and in the minds of all those experts. But there’s also:

  • A lot of judgmental writing about figures and gender.
  • A lot of assumptions that don’t account for:
    • Bodies of different ages
    • Bodies of different ability
    • Bodies of different gender expressions
    • Bodies of different cultures and ethnicities
    • Makers/sewists who are not neurotypical
    • Makers/sewists who don’t have the ability or funds to buy every single specialty supply

So now, what’s the right way? Can we innovate on what came before and make a better option? Or at least one that’s more customized? Keep in mind that in patternmaking and sewing, there are often several different ways to get to the same end, and it’s a matter of finding the best particular way for you. Just because Helen Joseph Armstrong says not to do something using her method, doesn’t mean you can’t do it using your own. Additionally, these are fields that love tradition, but the world keeps evolving! The worlds of performance textiles and cradle to cradle denim come to mind as examples, and are quite staggeringly cool. I believe there’s no reason patternmaking practices can’t change, especially after receiving all of your excellent feedback for this year’s pdf pattern feedback posts #1 and #2!

Keep in mind, though, there’s a difference between innovation and invention. Anyone can come up with a hot tip that works just for them. Now, accurately testing it, making sure it produces reliable results time after time, and that it can be reproduced precisely and easily by someone else — that takes skill and time, and why I brought up the importance of using trusted sources as your body of base knowledge. If you’re innovating on an imperfect system, you may end up with something unusable. Experimenting is totally fine, and actually a great creation tool! But using bad source material can lead to burn out and poorly fitted garments, which is always a complete and total bummer.

Tl;dr– is there a right way of doing things? Not always! Sometimes it’s just about being flexible, and evolving along with the world, and giving ourselves permission to experiment and create. Also, watch out for suspicious shortcuts that seem too good to be true…

Change for the better, strategic vision, and innovation are a few things I’ll be trying to center going into a new (and hopefully less-stressful) year. I’d love to know what you’re thinking about, and what your plans are for the next year!

“Golden Standards” Resource List For Beginners

Patternmaking Books:

(These are all Amazon links [but not affiliate links]; however, ebay has been known to have various editions of these books, and your local public library may have them, or be able to find them for you through interlibrary loan programs. Also, many libraries have regular sales of books they can’t lend, and I’ve found so many treasures for not much money — definitely worth looking into.)


  • Bluprint is now Craftsy again, and they are running a LOT of specials on subscriptions, so this can be a very affordable option.
  • Check with your local fabric store, or colleges with fashion design programs. Community and Technical colleges often offer fashion design courses and certifications that are less expensive than a private college.
  • Burdastyle Academy offers à la carte online classes that are oriented for beginners.
  • If you’re really serious, you may want to invest in some classes from Motif, which is a partnership with Alvanon (most known for developing industry fit forms globally) that offers professional development courses specifically for the apparel industry. Some offerings can be heady, but there are also really great fitting workshops available.

Please feel free to add suggestions for this list in the comments; I hope community-sourced “Golden Standards” will be added here as an additional resource for us all!

Gabby is a technical designer, fit specialist, and prolific googler. She lives in Denver, raises tiny littles, reads, embroiders, makes, experiments, fails, learns, tries again. See her on instagram @ladygrift.