Posted in sewing, sewing patterns, Style

The Battle of the Indie Patterns―Part 2: In which I find two I don’t hate as much as usual

I ended my last post with a brief mention of some of the things I hate about indie patterns. So far, I’ve noted my annoyance with the gargantuan size of the pattern “envelopes” (really just cellophane thingies) and the heavyish paper on which they are printed. I also mentioned that I am generally unimpressed with the companies’ lack of design innovation. Just for fun, I surfed through a couple of the websites of indie pattern companies that are purported to be among the best. Here are some examples of the kind of design I think isn’t worth anyone’s money (unless, perhaps, this is the first time you’ve ever sewn a garment―in that case, these are for you).

See what I mean about the one-size-fits-all, which means little in the way of fit at all. They remind me of the first pattern I designed using Garment Designer software, which makes me wonder if this is how those indie pattern designers do it―just figure out what a computer program can do and do it. (If you want to read more about my foray into using software to create patterns, here’s a blog piece I wrote a couple of years ago.)

And what about those cutesy names? I’ll take a numbering system any day over the Zadie, Adrienne, Kielo and the Yukons and Hinterlands any day. My particular selections are the Renée and the Esme. Geesh! 

Okay, I’ve gotten that rant off my chest. Let’s get on with the battle and see if I have learned to love anything about them.

First, the Jalie pattern—the Renée pants. I’ve been searching for a dupe for Eileen Fisher stretch-crepe pants forever. This pattern was favourably reviewed by a person whose sewing skills I admire (but my one caveat is that our styles are different). They also looked like they might be the right shape: fitted through the hips and thigh and only a slight cigarette shape, fabricated in a stable knit. I chose a ponte with a whisker pattern that I thought was vertical but turned out to be horizontal—one of the downsides to purchasing online these days! Anyway, I made it work and went ahead with the pattern.  

Jalie boasts about including 28 sizes on one pattern. Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing to brag about―just another element of indie patterns to make me grit my teeth. Just look at that mess of lines. What a nightmare! I had planned to trace it off, but in the end, it was so mesmerizing, I just said the hell with it and cut out my size from the pattern as presented. It’s not like I’ll be using it for anyone else. Oh, and they have their own sizing, so you have to be very careful of what size you cut.

And, what about their instructions? Well, I don’t suppose I really needed instructions to make a pair of elastic-waist pants so, I did it my way. When I make pants (which I rarely do), I do it the way I was taught years ago since it seems to me to be the best way to fit them as you go. This pattern tells you to put each side together, then put one inside the other and sew the crotch. Perhaps they could tell me how I would test the waist and hip fit before completing the crotch? It can’t be done that way. So, I put the two front legs together at the front crotch seam, do the same with the back, try them on, testing the crotch length, waist and hip, then complete the inseams.

Small design detail: an inset at the front hip. I would use a contrasting fabric if I ever do these again.

Then there is the seam allowance. Can I tell you how much I hate narrow seam allowances?  (Add this to the list of things I hate about indie patterns.) I don’t make my own clothes so that they resemble cheap knitwear from a Sri Lankan sweatshop. My preference would be for them to resemble designer knitwear from a Parisian couturier—well, that may be a stretch, but you know what I mean. They have only a 3/8-inch seam allowance, which is insufficient for any adjustments and a serged finish. I realize that this saves fabric (see my comment about cheap sweatshop clothing), but I always buy extra anyway. Before I make this again, I will trace off the pattern with 5/8-inch seam allowances for sure.

I also used 2-inch elastic, which I won’t do the next time. I’ll use the 1½-inch as recommended (it’s what I had on hand). You can see in the photo below that the wide elastic got wavy since I really needed to have it tighter.

And, by the way, I will make these again. They turned out to be a surprisingly good fit, after all! So, that’s something to love about this indie pattern. Are they a dupe for the Eileen Fisher pants? They are close, so I’ll look for her type of fabric and try them again. I don’t love paying $200 for pull-on pants!

Now, on to the StyleArc Esme “designer” pattern. What in the world makes it a “designer” pattern? The fact that is it resembles any number of other pieces (perhaps a bit like Eileen Fisher, but that’s another story about tent-like fashion I sometimes like!).

Anyway, this one, too, comes in an enormous cellophane bag with an instruction sheet as long as my arm (literally). To their credit, unlike the 28 sizes in one pattern for the Jalie, this one has only eight. I have to admit that I made this one last year for the first time. However, I made it in a scuba fabric (which I never intended to buy) that was mislabeled online at Fabricville, and I could never wear it owing to the way the seams dug into me. This was partly because of those damn 3/8-inch seam allowances. I’ve learned my lesson there. Oh, but the neckline seam allowance is only ¼-inch, so I don’t know how you’re supposed to serge-finish the edges with no fabric there at all. *sigh*

Not as many sizes on this pattern piece!
This instruction/pattern sheet isn’t anywhere close to being fully unfolded!

Since there wasn’t an overwhelming number of size lines in this one (as there were in the Jalie pattern), I did trace it off onto pattern paper and cut it out of an ottoman ribbed bamboo fabric I fell in love with when I last ventured into a real fabric store before all this lock-down stuff.

Once I had it cut out, I had to remind myself how to do the back of the collar. I had to re-read the instructions several times to get it through my head. The instructions are printed on the gargantuan sheet on which the pattern pieces themselves are also printed. This means you have to have a  massive space in which to unfold them. Did I mention I hate this about indie patterns??

As usual for me, the arms are far too wide―even for a dolman-type sleeve. I altered them a bit, but in the end, they were still relatively large.

This top has such a nice neckline―one that particularly appeals to my style. So, I have to say that StyleArc wins the award for the best-design lines I’ve seen in a shapeless, one-size-fits-most kind of top. Will I ever make this one again? Maybe. The next time I’m in lock-down and looking for nothing but comfort in my clothes, which I hope is never again, I’ll revisit this pattern. The Jalie pants fit the way these negative-ease pants should, but they aren’t anything innovative in design, that’s for sure!

The bottom-line for me in this attempt at learning to love indie patterns? My take-away from all this are as follows:

  • If you are a newbie sewist but have already learned a few things about patterns in general, the design lines are simple and that’s a plus. On the downside for new sewers is the fact that you have to be oh-so-careful about things like seam allowances (inconsistent) and cutting the correct size (once you have found it on the damn pattern pieces!). You have to read everything very carefully. You will also want to take the extra step of tracing the pattern out onto more transparent paper so that you have at least a fighting chance of seeing the fabric below (this can be very helpful when doing things like trying to avoid the dreaded target-on-boob faux pas when laying out patterned fabric).
  • If you are an experienced sewist who craves high fashion, you might as well step away right this minute. Apart from Marfy (which I don’t consider indie―I consider them a designer category all on their own). There is nothing of-the-moment or particularly stylish about any of the styles on offer. That being said, StyleArc does have a few terrific designs if you get away from their designs for knits.
  • If you’re looking for athletic-wear patterns, Jalie might be one to try.
  • If you want all your patterns to fit nicely into a pattern box or drawer that accommodates 6 ½ X 8-inch envelopes, you might as well forget about it. To be fair, though, some Vogue patterns these days arrive in larger envelopes than I like. This seems to be a function of which designer it is, but there doesn’t seem to be any functional reason for it.

What are your experiences with indie patterns?


...a Toronto woman of a ‘certain’ age who writes women’s fiction and business books...deeply interested in fashion, but mostly style, which as anyone knows is not the same thing...designs patterns, sews, reads style books...Gloria Glamont is my pseudonym.

12 thoughts on “The Battle of the Indie Patterns―Part 2: In which I find two I don’t hate as much as usual

  1. What a smart rundown! Thank you. I am an intermediate sewist, mostly self taught. I really like the Jalie instructions, though I agree about the seam allowances. If you follow Jalie in social media, you see that a lot of their customer base seems to be people making skating and gymnastic costumes, often in multiples, and I think that audience is where their drafting sensibilities come from. I have met the mother-daughter team who own Jalie and they are delightful. I have found their instructions to be a model of efficiency, I really like them, even though since they often print them ON the pattern pieces, it can be difficult to follow them. Jalie bottoms fit me well, their tops not as well, they are for much smaller busted more athletically built women than I.

    I have tried one Cashmerette shirt, and it didn’t work well for me. but I think for an apple shaped woman with more rounded shoulders, their pattern block seems super nice and would be worth trying.

    I have tried Style Arc for one dress, and I liked it, it’s very fashion forward and made great use of some cool distinctive fabric I had. I strongly agree with your assessment there — many cool fashion-forward silhouettes is a plus, but they offer maddening tiny seam allowances and a fairly random selection of SA’s in most garments. The instructions were only okay, but I did some research on their own website and on a couple of maker blogs that helped me figure out the fairly eccentric collar’s construction so it worked out fine.

    I am a big fan of BurdaStyle magazine patterns, which have a very consistent draft in their woven patterns (I have had less luck with their patterns for knits), that works well for me. Because I sew so much BurdaStyle magazine stuff, I am a tracing pro! Even the Jalie patterns don’t daunt me.

    I have had good luck with a couple of Maria Denmark simple tee patterns too, and hope to try more of her patterns, I feel like she is drafting for someone built like me (short waisted, generous bust and hips and belly, square erect shoulders). starting with a pattern close to your own build seems to me to be so much of the battle if you are not amazing at fitting.

    I have sewn a couple of items from the British brand Sew Over It, and they fit me pretty well, but I haven’t been excited by their styles overall. Like Colette patterns (which don’t fit me well from the couple I have tried), the instructions have been very very beginner focused, which has pluses and minuses.

    The big pattern companies, in my experience, seem to have sizing all over the map. It’s really, really annoying when patterns are not true to size/stated measurements, and my experience with McCall’s, vogue and butterick have been so random. Frankly I avoid them, even though some of my favorite sewing bloggers make some gorgeous things out of their patterns.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank-you so much for your review of these pattern types! I’d love to be able to put this all into a post so that more people might be able to benefit from your experience – not everyone reads the comments! Just let me know. I just ordered a Burda pant pattern since you and another person whose blog I read mentioned them. I’ll be using this for woven pants so I hope the fit will be good.

      My own experience with the big-four sizing is somewhat different. I find them to be more consistent than you do – in the sense I know which aspects of the pattern sizes will be too big for me and what measurements are consistently too small! Thanks for weighing in.


  2. So much to consider here, and it’s interesting to see you putting forward a different take on some topics from what I’ve read elsewhere (like on the point about seam allowances for knit garments!).

    I think some indie pattern companies do fill a niche that wasn’t (and perhaps still isn’t) covered by the Big 4. For example, Helen’s Closet and Tilly and the Buttons offer instructions that are accessible for complete beginners; I use Sewaholic patterns because they’re designed for a pear-shaped body and save me time on fitting; Closet Core Patterns has held me hand through things like jeans that I would have written off as too difficult; Ottobre offers good options for boys’ clothing; Gertie caters to the vintage-clothing-in-modern-sizes market; and Cashmerette and Muna and Broad are meeting demand for larger sizes.

    That said, you’re right that there are a huge number of indie pattern companies out there producing very simple designs similar to one other. The way in which Colette Patterns – probably the biggest of the indies at one time – has more or less folded into Seamwork after the Rue dress incident shows that one dodgy piece of drafting handled badly on social media can damage a small company’s reputation irretrievably. And although home sewing is a growth market right now, those that don’t find their own unique niche and fill it well may not survive for long.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really appreciate your insight. I haven’t tried some of the pattern companies you mention. This is mainly because I haven’t seen anything that I couldn’t redesign from a major company or even draft myself. I wasn’t familiar with the “Rue dress incident” so I looked it up. I noted that the company indicated that they have six people working on one design! Six people! I spent decades in the communication business, and we had a saying. “Never create a newsletter by committee.” “Newsletter” was a stand-in for any number of activities prone to group overthink – and group problems.

      As I peruse many of the indie companies you mention, I do have to admit that they fill specific niches. Overall, though, for anyone interested in stylish, classic clothing with interesting details, they are a wasteland. So, my main problem with them is overall design, regardless of the quality of their instructions or even the inclusion of more or fewer sizes. They are so dowdy. The problem with trying to design one piece of clothing that can fit multiple sizes is that they generally flatter no one since differing body sizes look better (or worse) in different styles. I find that so many of them are so aware of being inclusive that they seem to have forgotten those of us who are normal size people – not tiny, model sizes, and not 12-plus sizes. Not “average” size, “normal” size.

      Your input has been very helpful for me. I now better understand what they are trying to accomplish, with varying degrees of success. Thank-you for sharing this. May I use some of your insights in a further post on indie patterns?


  3. Of course – you’re welcome to anything that might be useful. The sizing issue really blew up on Instagram around two years ago, when some indie pattern designers said things that bigger people found very hurtful – and were then told very firmly by the community that they needed to do better. So I think virtually all the indie designers are very focussed on being more inclusive since then, and on doing so very visibly. On that theme, I avoid the word ‘normal’ in relation to sizing. Describing one size range as normal implies that others are ‘abnormal’, and I’ve seen how that could be upsetting to those at both ends of the spectrum. On design details, I’d definitely like to see more indie designers producing something different – and a bit more challenging – from time to time. I think I know the reasons why they rarely do though – one of which is that many beginner sewists don’t have your skills to design basic patterns for themselves!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Janet. I really appreciate thoughtful dialogue on these subjects – that can be sensitive to many.

      I use the word “normal” very deliberately – and not as regards sizing, just as it is related to body size. Sizing is a construct of the garment and pattern industries. Body size is a health-related issue. One of my degrees is a Master of Science degree in Health Education, so the notion of “normal” weight and body size are important medical concepts to me, and that’s where I’m coming from. Normal weight is used to determine potential morbidity and despite its limitations, BMI defines “normal” as between 18.5 and 24.9, which is a fairly large range.

      The problem is that when you don’t identify what is a “normal” body weight (taking into consideration about four specific caveats related to muscle mass etc.), there is no way to define someone like me who is of normal weight. I am neither overweight nor underweight, both extremes represented in the fashion industry today. The conclusion that if you’re not normal, you must be “abnormal” is a choice. By me referring to normal body weight, that doesn’t imply anything beyond its reference to the subject defined as “normal.”

      I hope this makes a bit of sense. What I object to is the continual images of people in clothes that do not flatter them and would not flatter me.

      PS have you ever encountered Lekala online pdf patterns? I’m testing out one now – they have a custom body sizing platform. Interesting. I’ll be writing about it in due course.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. Your explanation does make sense, even if I won’t always agree (!). In the UK, the NHS describes a BMI between the range you mention as ‘healthy’, which I’m more comfortable with because it feels like a more objective term – at least to someone like me who falls outside that range. On Lekala, no I haven’t tried them out, although I’ve seen a few around (maybe on SunnyGalStudio’s blog, I think?) – I’ll look out for your review.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Although my body type is different from yours, I share your frustration with the lack of variety and style in the average “indie” pattern line. Also, for the most part, I also hate PDFs. One thing about them I find irritating is that they often cost the same as the paper version! They’ve transferred to the buyer the cost of paper & printing, not to mention the time (and miles of tape) needed to put the thing together…I feel I should get a discount! Maybe that seems petty. I feel the same way about self-check-out at the supermarket! However, in the case of Jalie, I will say in defense of their PDFs that you can now print out only the size you want…not the other 22. Until that breakthrough, I never had any success with a Jalie pattern. I suspect if I’d tried when my eyes were 40 years younger, I might have had greater success. But I can’t speak highly enough about the Eleanor elastic waist jeans regarding both the fit and the instructions, which were crystal clear. Ditto for the Charlie jacket. I’ve also had success with their swimwear patterns for my grandkids, ages 4 and 6. I think athletic wear is really their strong suit, so not really for me! But I have a friend whose daughter is a competitive skater and she exclusively uses Jalie for making her outfits, which are astonishingly expensive if you buy them ready-made. I do think that most of their patterns are drafted for the younger, more athletic build. I do agree that Style Arc patterns are mostly kind of meh. Nothing special, repetitive in design and a bit on the dowdy side. And since I am 5 ft. tall and wear a 40H bras size, these patterns are definitely not drafted with me in mind. I’ve long since resigned myself to altering for length in pants, dresses, skirts, etc. and at the bust for tops. But the StyleArc patterns I’ve seen don’t have easy “landmarks” to make these alterations. Someone with better tailoring skills might not mind that. Also, their instructions are, let’s say, pithy. I tried Ottobre for kids about 2 years ago and they make Jalie seem like a walk in the park. Those Finns must have the visual acuity of a hawk! At first it seemed like it would be easier, since the sizes are color coded. But try to discern the difference between their turquoise, green, light blue & blue…Again, epic fail except for one T-shirt, which I could probably have drafted myself. That really broke my heart because they have some truly lovely, interesting designs for kids, which I do find lacking in the big 4. If Ottobre started offering PDFs for their children’s patterns that allowed you to print only the size you want, I’d snap them up and not complain about printing or taping.


    1. Thank-you so much for your thoughtful comments on pdf patterns. So many of us have so many different fit issues, but I think we’re together in the style department! Those of us who sew are looking for something more than a bag to wear! I appreciate your reviews of those brands! 🙂


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