Origianally Posted: May 12, 2013. Edited October 13, 2018
By: Natalie Reiners
According to Sewing Pattern Review, an online sewing and pattern chatroom, there are over 740 pattern making companies in the United States now. With the advent of home CAD systems a plethora of pattern makers emerged, each nipping into the duopoly that McCalls and Simplicity had controlled for decades. Most of these are cottage level businesses but over the years, some have emerged as comprehensive full-line pattern companies. This was, at first, a great thing. There were fresh designs, new methods and above all else, relief from the Big Six (Vogue, Butterick, McCalls, Simplicity, New Look and Burda). However, biting into the market came with a price. To compete, the Big Six began finding ways to lure straying customers back and the first of these was dropping the price. I was positively ecstatic when I first saw patterns for $.99! My time was worth more than that, right? Since the patterns are made on tissue paper they out quickly but that was no big deal. At that price, I could just buy new ones. But how much profit can they make out of $.99?
When I first heard the rumor that Kwik Sew patterns would no longer be produced on heavy paper, I quickly went online and ordered 14. But I was too late. Half my patterns came on good quality heavy paper and the other half came on white tissue paper. I realize that all good things must come to an end, and it is truly the end of an era with Kwik Sew. It’s too bad since the whole reason I was willing to pay a premium price for their patterns was because they stood up to heavy use and could be kept for years. I have some that are nearly 20 years old. I guess that is not very profitable for McCall’s (they own Kwik Sew, Butterick and Vogue). The Kirsten Martensson era of perfectly fitting patterns was over. That $.99 price tag was coming at a cost.
When the industry shifted, I was really excited but now, looking back, I would have preferred it if the Big Six had gone completely the opposite direction. Instead of making their patterns more cheaply, incorporate the heavy paper into the Vogue line as well and charge accordingly. I have a few patterns from Vogue that I should like to use again and again (I am a fan of Claire Schaeffer) but they fall apart so easily. All I know is that when it comes to patternmaking, onion skin belongs on onions. Once I get a good fit with the onion skin I can glue the pattern onto heavy kraft paper but that is time consuming and it makes it harder to store so I don’t bother. The best method for using commercial patterns is to make a muslin and keep that instead.
The Kwik Sew pattern on the right is an older pattern printed in two colors on heavy paper. The pattern on the left is printed on tissue in a single color.
Originally, paper patterns were drafted at home on Kraft paper, newspaper or whatever was lying around, using instructions in books such as Godey's Lady's Book. These custom made patterns yielded beautiful garments for men and women. In the twentieth century, Burda Patterns took hold of this idea and produced the Burda Style Magazine and website which includes a host of patterns that can be traced out and created at home. In the 1930's the Lutterloh System was developed and I still recommend it to this day for those who find self-drafting difficult.
As a sewing instructor and avid sewist of more than 35 years, I still have not found the perfect pattern company and thus, every student I teach is shown how to self-draft patterns that are custom fit to their own body. Ultimately this is truly the best method because, although it takes time to self-draft, it it usually no more time than it takes to correct and adjust commercial patterns. Using your own body measurements and shape to create a perfect fit just makes sense. SEW, although there are over 740 choices out there, I still encourage those who can to self-draft your patterns. In the end, nothing fits better than custom.