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Opportunity Knocks: Tips for inclusive patterns.

For many designers, it appears that this drive for positive, inclusive change can be overwhelming. Here are some practical and relatively simple ways to make pattern companies more inclusive.

Hello Fat Sewing Club! My name is Alex, a fat sewer you can find as @adifferentstitch over on Instagram. I’ve known how to sew most of my life, but have only been actively sewing garments since 2013.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve had so many amazing conversations around size in/exclusivity. These conversations lead to expanded size ranges, better representation of all bodies in pattern promotions, greater transparency in business decisions, though, as fantastic posts here have shared, there’s still a lot of change left to happen.

For many designers, it appears that this drive for positive, inclusive change can be overwhelming. So, I* present some practical and relatively simple ways to make pattern companies more inclusive. These are things that I’ve picked up in conversations with other sewers, through my observations using patterns, and seeing what other companies have been doing well on social media and their websites. Please, share your ideas in the comments and help build this resource. 

Tips for pattern companies

  • Size charts. They should be easy to find for every pattern. We shouldn’t need to download them to read them. Have them on the pattern listing or, at most, a single click away from the listing. Also, have them hosted in your FAQ section with a list of patterns offered in the full range. 
  • Give us measurements. We sew, we rely on measurements to gauge fit. Telling us your patterns now go from A-G or 6-30 doesn’t help us know what that means. Instead, try announcing a design goes from a 24-54″ bust or that your new size range A-G is a hip of 36-61″. Measurements give us parameters to help us buy patterns. The more information we have easy access to, the better equipped we are to hit purchase.
    • Tell us about your block. Did you design your new range or extended range using a new block, or did you grade up from your existing one? Knowing which will help customers decide how much fitting they may need to do. What height do you draft for?
    • What cup size you draft for? Consider drafting with multiple cup sizes across your range. People of all sizes often need to do FBA, and those in your larger block will likely need to even more if you draft for a B cup alone. 
    • Include overbust measurements in your size chart.
    • Finished Pattern Measurements. Include the finished measurements on each pattern. At the very least include the finished bust and hip measurements. A step further would be to include shoulder length, bicep, and thigh measurements if applicable. 
    • Maintain Ease. For example, if a pattern has 15% ease at the hem for an XS, all the sizes should have at least a 15% ease. As bodies increase, ease needs to increase too to provide the same design aesthetic.
    • Sizes don’t need to be exciting! We understand that you’re excited about announcing changes to your patterns. Instead of saying, “Now available up to size 30!!,” you could say, “We extended our sizes!”
  • Models. Use more than one model and make sure they showcase both ends of your size range. Having a size 20 model that would fit either range doesn’t help sell your larger patterns. Include their measurements and the size they’re wearing when appropriate. A great example of this in a small business is Alice Alexander.
    • Can’t afford a model or it isn’t feasible right now? Ask your audience if you can share their photos on your social media and website. Or ask a community member if they’d be interested in making the pattern and sharing it, being sure to compensate them for their time. Be sure to include their measurements, pattern size, and any adjustments where you use their images.
    • Update your pattern photos when you update their sizing. Make sure that you add images of people in your new size range.
  • Show all sides of the design. Don’t just show the front or back; we want to see all sides of it for each option. Seeing just one half makes us skeptical of the total pattern’s fit. 
    • Line drawings are super helpful too! A line drawing makes a difference in seeing those details if you have lots of views or subtly different views. 
      • This is extra true if you include things like darts on your larger sizes and not on the smaller, but only show line drawings for the smaller patterns. Darts change the design, and we want to know.
    • Pattern Descriptions is something meant to have a very loose fit (lots of ease) or be more fitted? Full skirt or slim skirt? Long or short? Cropped trousers, etc. Give us all the details.
  • Pattern Testing. There have been several other great conversations on pattern testing, and the right way to do it. Some that come to mind are this Love to Sew Podcast, this post from Crafting a Rainbow, and this decision by Helen’s Closet. However, you need to include pattern measurements for the pattern you are testing in your requests for testers via email or your social media and blog posts. Just like size charts and notes on being transparent below, information is access, and it will make it easier for you to get pattern testers.
  • Reach out to groups like the Curvy Sewing Collective, Sewcialists, Sew Over 50, and Chronically Sewn to help share your inclusive designs and to reach audiences you haven’t tapped into before. Remember, if we haven’t been able to fit into your designs previously, we probably don’t know you’ve taken steps to include us now. 
  • Be Respectful.  Are you getting multiple requests to extend your sizes? Are people frustrated by your response or lack thereof? Are you fighting with internalized fatphobia and frustrated that people keep asking you to make changes to your business? The best thing you can do is be transparent and be honest in your responses. Don’t be curt or dismissive.
    • We want to help you. Stop believing that every fat sewist who asks you a question/ offers polite advice/requests an update on promised improved sizing is out to get you. We do not hate you. We want to help you. We also want to hold you accountable (because if you out a public post up saying you’re doing something and then don’t do it, we should all be questioning you if there’s no explanation provided).
    • Be transparent. Whether you’re expanding sizes ranges or not, updating old patterns or not, etc. Tell us why without treating potential and existing customers like idiots. We want to support you, and the best way to have our support is to let us know your reasoning about big decisions. Let us know if you tested patterns in your upper size ranges with people that size? Why or why not?
    • Treat larger sizes the same as small ones.
      • When you update your patterns, automatically send all customers who purchased the original size range the new one and make it clear how people who bought physical patterns may receive them as well.
      • If you offer printed versions of your smaller sizes, offer them for your larger ones too. Increasing your printed pattern stock may not be an inexpensive or straightforward decision, but know that your customers don’t all love PDF patterns. By only offering larger ranges in PDF format, it feels like they’re afterthought rather than a significant part of your business, which means we feel like an afterthought or a burden rather than a customer.
      • Sell all your sizes together instead of in separate ranges.
      • If you do use separate size ranges, overlap them by several sizes even if two separate blocks are used. Many people will fall between them.
    • Don’t overlap pieces on an A0 sheet for the larger range to reduce printing pages, provide an optional printing layout for customers that want to save paper, but allow them to decide. We already know our garments will cost more in materials, but its easier to adjust a pdf if you don’t have to trace them before making them. Not overlapping pieces also makes it easier to determine which markings a sewer will need to transfer or use for making adjustments.

Other things to consider

Regardless of if you’re interested in extending your sizes, I wanted to highlight some things that every company should consider.

  • Inclusion means accessibility
    • Use alt text and captions on your photos and in any videos–even Instagram stories. Most websites have this feature built into posting when you upload pictures. It may mean being more thoughtful before you post or setting aside additional time to craft your marketing, but your customers will notice the effort.  
    • Use clear fonts in your instructions.
    • Contrast helps new sewers and those with low vision. Don’t use patterned textiles or matching thread in your tutorials. Remember that using differently colored size lines or noticeably different size lines on the pattern itself to help those with low vision better tell which sizes to cut or trace.
    • Don’t forget pattern markings like Lengthen/Shorten lines and markings for the bust, waist, and hips.

Help Fat Sewing Club share these tips and your ideas by tagging company you think they’d help in the comments on Instagram. Help build this conversation as we crowdsource ways to make our community more inclusive.

*I has become WE the longer this post lives and as it is updated with recommendations from the comments below. -Alex

18 replies on “Opportunity Knocks: Tips for inclusive patterns.”

Yes to this!!! I enthusiastically agree with these suggestions, especially to make it clear what cup size you are drafting for!

This list is spot on! I particularly liked the statements regarding transparency of designers blocks. I’m tired of doing my own research by trying out the t shirt or other basic garment from a designer just to see what their block is. I also agree that all sizes should be included. As a pear shaped sewist, I often fit in both size ranges and I resent having to purchase both ranges to get the size I need for a smaller size top and larger bottom. Don’t assume that every plus size person has a full bust. Also by giving us the finished measurements we can decide how much ease we are comfortable with. Thanks for such a great discussion.

A third on the cup size they draft for, or just put an overbust measurement on the chart. I can figure out from there if/how much of a FBA I’d have to make. Though honestly, at this point, the companies that already draft for different cup sizes (I’m looking at you, Cashmerette 😍) get my business ahead of any others. Though I’d still love if Cashmerette would also put overbust measurements on their charts too.

My other thought is that if you as a designer have recently expanded your size chart, please advertise this change with updated listing photos of people wearing these sizes! I’m still waiting to see someone in the Strata! It’s been at least a month since the expanded sizing was released!

Agreed to all, especially the bicep measurements. On a lot of plus size patterns, I fit the bust, waist and hip measure then size out of the sleeves. My dream is making a garment with sleeves without doing a full bicep adjustment.

Yes, all of this. And definitely include bicep measurements in the finished garment measurements . That’s often a point of sewing angst for me in pattern selection.
Another detail I’d love to see included as standard info is the height that the pattern is drafted for and the inclusion of shorten/lengthen lines.

Sell all the sizes together in one – I am smaller on the top and larger on the bottom so I often have to grade or adjust and I hate that I have to choose which size range to buy. Just give me all of them!

Excellent post!! Thank you for starting this conversation!

My suggestions are:
* take out the exclamation mark when talking about sizes or measurements (no more “we offer sizes 00-30!”. I am sick of feeling like my size is something worthy of a !! My size is a fact, not a surprise.
* when you do an Instagram post or an email asking for Testers for your next pattern, include the measurements in that post. Stop putting the onus on the interested party to dig through your blog link to find the information to see if they fit into your measurements. I pulled a designer up on this just this week and while they gave me the measurements in a reply on the post, they refused to put it in the main post like I requested. Which leads me to …
* stop believing that every fat sewist who asks you a question/ offers polite advice/requests an update on promised improved sizing is out into get you. We do not hate you. We want to help you. We also want to hold you accountable (because if you out a public post up saying you’re doing something and then don’t do it, we should all be questioning you if there’s no explanation provided).
* I want to know if you have done a separate block for larger sizes. This informations will tell me if the pattern is more likely to fit. Include the info in the measurements/sizing area where you also tell me the cup size (as above).
* include line drawings for all your versions. If you mention “full skirt” and “narrow skirt” In your description but only have one style of line drawing and it’s not obvious which one is which, then I really can’t help you beyond sending you an email asking you to sort it out.
*likewise photos. It would help to have a description on the photo about which version then are wearing, Including skirt length (so subjective!) especially if it’s not really obvious as per my previous point.

I figure I’ll just bombard both instagram with my opinions I’ve got a few. Firstly I like your comment! about models – I need to know at least their basic Bust Waist Hip and Height and the size they made (with any adjustments) to be able to use your photos effectively. I also now want all my pdfs to come in a ‘compressed’ version I can use for tracing if I choose (only by choice though).

For my part I have very strong opinions about size inclusion in patterns. Specifically that I should be able to buy all the sizes in one. People have lots of justifications for why split sizing should be sold separately but ultimately if you are selling them separately you are disadvantaging mid size and plus sized bodies – who are more likely to have to pay you twice for the privilege of using your pattern. One particular brand offers single price purchase of all patterns from Child 2 to 54″ hip – while I get that isn’t everybody’s niche – it’s worth considering that split ranges are more affordable if everybody pays for them rather than targeting a particular group to pay twice.

Recognising that my ‘body positivity cannot include size segregation’ opinions are not universally accepted by business minds I have some specific opinions for brands expanding into split sizes.

1. If you change the available sizing all previous customers get access to it automatically, even if you now sell it separately. I don’t want to have to email to ask nicely because I was the sucker who bought something that didn’t include me previously if I can have it in my size. Some of those interactions end positively but they all suck.
2. Always have a size overlap between drafts. This is two-fold. For one people need to be able to grade up and down sizes. Most bodies aren’t one size. For two, midsize bodies are rough. Some are more plus sized in shape, others are more straight sized in shape although ideally this leads back to my point about all sizes in one purchase it also means these bodies need flexibility to chose what works for them.

Thanks so much for sharing these! I agree that all sizes should be sold together, even with different blocks used. I’ve added your thoughts to the post.

You’re totally speaking for me but you say it much better than I could! As a short rounded Betweenie with narrow shoulders I have the worst time with falling in the cracks of split sizing. I so appreciate a designer giving me all the sizes so I can properly blend between them, sometimes over 3 or even 4 sizes. I don’t want to have to decide whether to go with the smaller size range for my upper bust and grade out the torso myself or try to make the larger range fit my neck and shoulders (often the more difficult option). If there’s pants or skirts included with a top it becomes even more difficult of a choice. Ugh. I may just look elsewhere because I refuse to pay twice!

1. HELL YES TO THE OVERBUST MEASUREMENT

2. HELL YES ON BICEPS! I almost always need more room in the upper arm, and *how much more* is a buy or don’t issue if there is a set-in sleeve. Related: something Cashmerette has started doing that I deeply appreciate, is she often offers a second, wider-bicep sleeve. I still have to widen it, but it’s an amount I can do without completely destroying the shape of the sleeve cap.

Absolutely! Armcye measurement would be useful. I always have to redraft the sleeves particularly when it’s a scaled up pattern.

Include the waist measurement for tops and bottoms. I carry my weight in my stomach. I won’t risk buying a pattern whose size blending needs and full belly adjustment needs could be beyond my limited skill to make.

I 100% refuse to buy separate “curvy” sized patterns. My size wasn’t initially included? Ok update the pattern. But I’m not an after-thought you can charge for. Additionally some of us buy the original pattern and scale up to fit, I’m not buying it again. Also I no longer buy patterns that do not include my size.

And how hard is it to include patterns markings for bust apex, waist line, and hip line?!?

Thanks so much for these posts. A little plea for including shoulder measurements in pattern info. Fitting is often all about shoulders and if you have broad shoulders it’s so helpful to know upfront how much of an adjustment to toile.

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