Thoughts on PatternReview Weekend

I have satisfied another resolution I made at the new year – to attend a sewing retreat. I went to PatternReview Weekend in early June in Stratford Ontario, Canada. I am glad I went, because I wanted to meet in person many people I’ve known only through their comments and sewing projects on PatternReview. But, the whole event was not really my cup of tea, so I don’t think I will attend again.

My favorite hands-on moment was getting to know some fellow sewists. Gillian from Crafting a Rainbow gave us advice on how to take better pictures. Here’s me and my photo friend, Debbie, trying out some techniques.

Selfie practice with Debbie

I also really enjoyed a tour of the Stratford Festival Theater’s costume shop. We were allowed to only look at most costumes, but at the end of the tour we could try a few on.

We marveled at how well-made the costumes were for durability, and how many fancy trims and techniques were used. I really would have loved a tour of the sewing workroom, but that wasn’t on the tour. Boo.

The rest of the event was OK. There were a couple of demonstrations, but it was hard to see well. I am more a hands-on learning type. Also, I am not a very sociable person, and since it was my first time at this event, I didn’t know anyone there. About half of the 80-odd attendees had been before – some multiple times. As is inevitable with all-female events (one man attended) cliques formed and first-timers ended up together, trying to make connections.

Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. Some organizers of the event were “ambassadors” who did a great job of seeking out newcomers and chatting them up. All the same, it was a bit exhausting to have to introduce myself over and over, and to try to make connections with people. This isn’t a complaint – I am just better in a small group than in a large group.

One of the highlights of the event is a pattern swap. Attendees brought in patterns they didn’t want anymore, and all the donated patterns, books and magazines were piled onto tables. Then there was a rush at the swap table to take away whatever you wanted. I donated five patterns to the swap – a suit pattern that was part of a lot I got from eBay, a free dress pattern from a magazine, a dress pattern I bought in the wrong size by mistake, a jacket pattern I knew I’d never sew, and a home dec pattern for a project that a friend asked for, then cancelled.

I decided I’d rather eat lunch than peruse the swap table at first. I am not much of a “stash” person. Most of the time, I buy the patterns and fabrics I want for specific projects. I seldom buy on spec or just because something’s on sale. I realize I am VERY spoiled in this regard – I can shop at the Garment District in New York anytime I want, there are Joann’s nearby for basics and cheap patterns (sometimes at little at 99 cents apiece) and a very good fabric store in Connecticut if I don’t want to go into NYC. Speaking with sewists from rural places, who have to shop online, and from Canada, where patterns seldom go on sale, I appreciate how fortunate I am. Still, I didn’t want to take things just for the sake of taking them.

I visited the table later on and took five patterns – a vintage skirt, a Style Arc top (been meaning to try Style Arc), a couple of dresses that seem suitable for me and a coordinates set of officewear. In my  goodie bag was a voucher for a skirt pattern from Deer & Doe and the Vogue “5 Easy Pieces” pattern – a great haul, all in all.


The goodie bag also had coupons for discounts on fabric and patterns, gadgets such as measuring devices and snips, decorative pins, info about area attractions and other fun stuff.

There were two contests with prizes – making a camp shirt and making sleepwear. I made a camp shirt for the contest and wore it all day Friday, since I thought it could be judged anytime. It turned out the shirts and sleepwear were judged in the evening only. I had changed out of the shirt for dinner since it was pretty sweaty and rumpled from being worn all day in a stuffy church basement. The contest judging took a long time and I found myself getting pretty antsy to get out of there.

Saturday was a shopping extravaganza. We piled onto school buses and toured three sites – Len’s Mill (a warehouse-like place for fabric, yarn, housewares, crafting supplies and what have you), downtown Hamilton, ON, which has several great fabric stores along a cute commercial street, and Ann’s Fabrics in Hamilton, which sells mostly knits and activewear fabrics.

The only thing I really needed was lining fabric – I really like to stash that so that I don’t have to think about it. I scored 12 yards of nice 54-inch Bemberg in four colors at a shop in Hamilton, European Textiles.

Bemberg – wide and great price

Otherwise, I was shopping for fall and winter. Yeah, summer just started, but my summer sewing plans are spoken for by now.

At Len’s Mill I found this cute cotton Canada-themed flannel, which would make good PJ bottoms for my husband (he’d requested some earlier this year). I also bought some nice quilting cotton with a Liberty feel for a top to go with new pants I just made  (I am thinking about a wearable muslin of the very popular Butterick 5526). Finally, I got 3  yards of a wine-colored suedecloth in anticipation of a work blazer for fall, possibly from Vogue 1418. It was lightweight and odd, so I may regret it. Or it may be fabulous.

Len’s also had some interesting buttons – I bought a giant one for who knows what (a bag? a poncho?) and two cards of red and black handpainted wooden buttons for a thrifted leather jacket I’ve been thinking of upcycling.

At Ann’s I found some heavy knit with a border stripe that would make a cute long-sleeved T-shirt, maybe without the overlay from McCall’s 7247.

My favorite place was Marina’s Fabrics in Hamilton, because it reminds me of the small family-run places I know in New York, complete with a jumble of unusual fabrics,  negotiable prices, and a talkative but grumpy immigrant lady behind the cutting counter.

Hamilton, ON garment district

It’s where I found two interesting pieces: a light wool loose houndstooth suiting in white and wine that would make a wonderful summer shift dress (probably Deer & Doe’s Arum dress – and would coordinate with the suedecloth too if I have fabric left over for a bolero or such) and a border print in a knit of some kind – probably poly/acrylic – in black, gray and cobalt blue that would be perfect for a high-waisted pencil skirt from Simplicity 8058.

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My fabric and button haul

I had budgeted to spend $200 on fabric and other sewing materials, and I managed to do it – 16.5 yards in all, plus two books and assorted other items. Looking at my take, minus the Bemberg, I wonder what kind of fabric magpie I am. None of this makes sense with anything else. That’s the problem with stash shopping – the thrill of the hunt doesn’t mix well with a coordinated plan.

I started on the prewashing chore when I got home and then I got to work, making the PJ shorts for my husband.

PJs from McCall’s 3019 (out of print)

I wanted badly to sew something, after just talking about sewing for two days! That’s the main problem with PR Weekend for me. I prefer a hands-on event much more than an event where you mostly shop, eat and drink, and socialize. Still, I am glad I went. If it’s nearby again (next year it’s in Portland, OR) and if there’s some hands-on activity, I might go.

Me Made May Circa 2010

“Hey Soul Sister” was on the radio and my husband couldn’t put down his new iPad. It was 2010 and I made this shirt:

Mystery pattern top from 2010 and Simplicity 3688 pants.

This week’s highlight from Me Made May is the oldest me-made garment I still have. While this shirt is old, it’s still in pretty good shape – at least if you don’t look too closely.

I can’t remember what the pattern was. I think it was one of those “quick and easy” ones Joann has in racks near the pattern cabinets: See & Sew? New Look? Kwik Sew? Even If You’re an Idiot, You Can Sew This? Anyway, it’s your basic knit T-shirt with a handkerchief hem, made with godets and a Y-shaped side seam. It was an impulse purchase. I was in Joann shopping for Halloween costume patterns and fabric for my niece and nephew. I saw this pattern on the rack and thought, “Why not also make a top?”

I was heavier at the time than I am now, so this design appealed to me for its “lump hiding” ability. When I lost the weight, I ditched the pattern but kept the shirt for old time’s sake. I am tempted to make another doing a rub-off – how hard could that be?

I’m wearing this with black jeans made from Simplicity 3688 – high-waisted pants with a 1940s vibe.

Also in Me-Made fashion this week were these looks for the office:


I get a lot of “looks” when I wear the Oki Style “Joker” shirt, pictured here with RTW skinny pants. It’s a lot of look, but I like it. I had to go more business formal one day last week, so I put on my trusty eggplant-colored Cordova jacket from Sewaholic Patterns and my boring-but-serviceable McCall’s 6901 trousers (RTW shirt).

These are some casual looks – toiling in the garden in a faded and stretched-out McCall’s 7247 long-sleeved T-shirt, and walking the dog in my fleecy half-zip Kwik Sew 3452.


Plus, here are a couple of weekend outfits. The red bomber jacket from Simplicity 8174 was just the thing to spice up a look for an otherwise boring trip to the hair salon and the grocery store on Saturday – worn with the Simplicity 3688 pants again. The sweater and top combo was going to be my Mother’s Day outfit: the Jalie drop-pocket cardigan and a blouse from the Italian sewing magazine La Mia Boutique, worn with RTW jeans. Really need to make jeans!


Unfortunately, I was dealing with allergy-induced headaches and fatigue all weekend, so we cancelled Mother’s Day and I didn’t get out much. When you dress up to go grocery shopping, you really have to question your life.

An Upcycle 30 Years in the Making

College is a great time for trying on personas. Even if you’re like me, and you went to college to study and to get a good job, you also spend time trying to “find yourself.” I went to Boston University freshman year with “outdoorsy” affectations. I needed just the right look. The summer before school started, on a trip to Quebec I bought this:


It’s an iconic Hudson’s Bay blanket, 100% wool, keeping Canadians warm for centuries, in a style little changed over the years. This was a twin-size or “four-point” blanket, marked with four blue lines along the side. Growing up, I had understood that the points dictated how many pelts a trapper had to trade for the blanket, but the Hudson’s Bay Company says this story is apocryphal. Boo.

It goes with nothing in my home now and has been toted around for decades. (When I set the blanket out on the bed to photograph it, my husband said, “Where did that old blanket come from?”) I’d long thought of refashioning it into a iconic coat of my northern heritage, so the combination of the Refashion Contest and the Bargainista Fashionista contest left me with no excuses!

As long as there have been Hudson’s Bay blankets, people have been making them into coats, it seems. I’d see them around once in a while, growing up in the 70s in New Hampshire, and I just love these vintage ads:


While these looks are classic, I wanted something a little more modern. I almost keeled over when I saw this coat, from the designer Monse.  Cost: 1,990!

Monse coat

I figured I could make something similar for the grand out-of-pocket cost of NOTHING!

I’ve had Butterick 6244 in stash since it won a “PR favorite” award in 2016. The coat is semi-fitted and unlined, with the front extending into a draped collar. Seems like a good match, right?


The pattern calls for wool double-cloth or coating. The blanket was a bit heavier, so I had to adapt a bit. I added 1 cm to the side and center-back seam allowances to give me plenty of real estate for the turn of cloth into flat-felled seams. I hemmed the bottom and sleeves by hand to reduce bulk.

Instead of doing a bulky narrow hem on the front, I cut off the 5/8-inch seam allowance and finished the raw edges with a machine triple blanket stitch in navy upholstery thread. The stitch is a bit uneven, as the wool was heavy and was hard to feed through the machine. I have decided to pretend this was intentional, to give the coat a “rustic” look. Also, because the blanket’s right side was a bit pilled up and had a couple of small stains, I used the wrong side out.

I skipped the Monse coat’s buckled sleeve cinchers and the weird chest harness, in part because I didn’t want to buy buckles and grommets and in part because I just don’t like them. I sewed the original Hudson’s Bay label into the coat, to match the Monse coat.

It’s too hot (FINALLY) to wear it this year, but it will be perfect for next winter!

Paper Patterns vs. PDF and the Future of Indie Sewing Pattern Companies

It seems Colette Patterns is doing away with its paper pattern collection and is selling its remaining inventory at 50% off. This is a actually smart business move by Colette. The company is freeing itself of costly inventory and is relying on a subscription-based business model instead, which is a great model for a small business. I expect more of the indie sewing pattern companies will move to this model, or die out, in the coming years.

The vagaries of a paper-pattern model rely on seasonal variations in sales, printing and shipping costs, inventory headaches (Grainline Studio goes through this all the time) and dealing with middlemen at retail outlets. Unsold inventory really drags on a small business – hence the sale to unload the rest of those paper patterns. A print-to-order model sounds good in theory, but it costs much more than bulk printing and relies on someone to manage the process.

Subscriptions allow a business to more easily track its revenue, since most subscribers keep coming back year after year (even if they don’t use the product that much – think of all the unused Burda mags lying around). Subscriptions allow a business to collect revenue before they provide any service to the client. A subscriber pays in advance on the expectation that the product will be worth it later on. So the business can put revenue toward product development, marketing etc. before it has given the customer anything. And that business can more or less count on that revenue over the long haul, which makes it more attractive for financing or sale.

Because you a subscription-based business can count on the revenue, it can charge less per pattern than it would have to if selling patterns a la carte, The subscriber gets something – or the promise of something – for a lot less per item than if she bought just what she wanted. This can be a win-win for the subscriber and the company. Would you rather pay, say, $6 a month for the chance of getting two patterns you’d like, or $14 – $18 for one pattern you really want? Many people would take the chance if they really like the Colette product.

That said…

You have to actually value the product and trust the company to deliver what you like, most of the time, to subscribe!

I have decided that Colette patterns are not for me. I had a Colette Seamwork subscription for about 6 months. A few patterns were good, but most were unappealing or with many weird fitting issues. At the time, Seamwork came with two simple patterns a month, and subscribers either downloaded those patterns or spent pattern credits on back-issue patterns. Colette separately published more complex patterns in paper or .pdf formats. Sometimes an issue of Seamwork would come out and I’d think “Ugh – I am not sewing these up. Let’s see what next month brings.”

Some hits:


Some “thanks but no thanks” patterns:

And that’s the beauty of the subscription business model. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s how all subscriptions work. You can cancel anytime, but most people don’t. The subscription model, however, also allows a business to deliver an uneven product. I subscribe to The New Yorker magazine and the same thing happens – some weeks I read the whole thing cover to cover and some weeks I glance at the cartoons and put the mag in the recycling bin. As long as I get a few “worth it” stories regularly, I am happy with this arrangement. It beats buying at the newsstand.

It must have been very hard for Colette to keep up with two patterns a month, even as simple as the patterns were, AND do paper patterns that were more complex designs.

I got a survey a few months after I cancelled Seamwork that asked about preferences for future Seamwork issues, for simple vs. more complex patterns, and for .pdf vs. paper. Several months after that, Colette changed its Seamwork issue schedule, has promised to release more complex patterns. And now is phasing out paper patterns. I am not surprised.

This new model is smart, as I said, but it relies ultimately on a good product. I don’t think it’s good. I am not buying. I will be interested to see how it all unfolds. I expect other companies will follow suit, or will be winnowed out.