Friday, May 24, 2013

An Open Letter to Vogue Patterns

I came soooo close to writing this blog post about a month ago. But for some reason, I held off. Largely due to sheer laziness, I imagine, because a post like this takes a lot of thought and energy to write. But there have been rumors of a recent change in the leadership at Vogue Patterns (which actually flies under the McCalls banner, and they also own Butterick and Kwik Sew, but I mostly sew Vogue) and some of my sewing friends were talking about their satisfaction (or lack thereof) with the current Vogue product line. It got me thinking about this letter, which I had largely composed in my head weeks ago, so here goes.

Dear Vogue Patterns,

First, let me say that, after having used your patterns for my sewing life of over 40 years, I have loved your products. But it feels that, in recent years, you have lost your way. So, as a longtime customer who represents one segment of your market, let me tell you why I think that is.

Not that you asked. This is my gift to you. :)

You seem to have forgotten your customer and what she (or he) wants. I apologize, in advance, for the length of this letter. I had more to say, but I ran out of steam.

  • Fit is everything.

    Let me just say it again. Fit.Is.Everything. I can't tell you how many sewists I have met who tell me they have given up on sewing clothing for themselves because they can't get the clothes to fit. So they sew quilts, or purses, or baby clothes, or home dec items, with maybe the occasional pajama bottom.

    The basic block (or sloper) you use in your patterns is atrocious. When was the last time you updated this? You use far too much ease in most of your patterns (which are not consistent, by the way). Your shoulder is too wide for most of us - I often have to narrow it by 1-1/2" to 2". You have too much ease through the upper bodice area. Your bust point is ridiculously high - I usually have to lower it by 2". Your hips are too wide and your waist is too small, but I admit that these latter two are my own figure peculiarities. (But please keep in mind that some of us are not pear shaped.) Your crotch curve works for almost no one. No. one.

    When a poor, unsuspecting sewist has chosen to sew with one of your patterns, she is starting off at a huge disadvantage, fit wise. Are you familiar with the Australian pattern company, Style Arc? The success of that company is largely due to the RTW fit of the designs and the excellent pattern drafting. The same can be said of the Canadian company, Jalie.

    And before I leave the topic of fit, could you consider offering more fit options for pants? Maybe have a few designs that features your "classic" fit with the J-shaped crotch curve, so you don't alienate your existing base of satisfied pant sewists (if they exist). Then maybe offer a few designs with the European L-shaped crotch curve. I, for one, would really welcome a pant designed for women with no derriere, which happens to many of us in middle age.

    It would make pants fitting so much easier, if one could start with a pattern that had some of the fit issues worked out. I would find this feature to be much more valuable than built-in cup sizes, as you never offer a size large enough for my bust, and the bust point is always in the wrong place, so it's easier for me to start from scratch and do my own full bust alteration.

  • Enough with the Very Easy patterns, already.

    We are being flooded with Very Easy patterns. You seem to judge the difficulty of a pattern largely by how many pattern pieces it uses. This is often a false equivalency. In the process of reducing the number of pattern pieces, you eliminate facings, and simplify other aspects of the design, often to the point where it's not worth the effort of making it - you've lost the essence of what made the design appealing.

    When someone from the "Very Easy" target customer base (ie. a beginning sewist) chooses one of your patterns and sews it up, what usually results is a poorly fitting, boxy, shapeless, mess of a garment and good money down the drain. How about cutting back on the number of Very Easy offerings and make sure that they are stellar designs with a good fit?

  • Challenge and excite us.

    Gone are the days, at least for most of us, of sewing to save money. It has become almost impossible to sew clothing cheaper than what you can buy, thanks to the mass market globalization of clothing production. Most of us sew for two reasons (these are the reasons I sew):

    • To achieve a good fit.
    • As a way of creative expression.

    Therefore, we want to be challenged and excited by the pattern offerings available to us. While I am a member of the BMV club, and do enjoy buying Vogue patterns for $3 in those sales, I (and many of my sewing friends) are finding less and less that we want to buy.

    First, you recently dropped from offering new patterns 6 times a year to 4 times a year. This was a Bad Sign. But even worse, the patterns you offer are so repetitive. The silhouettes, the details... it reminds me of Dorothy Parker's famous quote about Katherine Hepburn: "she delivered a striking performance that ran the gamut of emotions, from A to B."

    Sewists are willing to spend money on an excellent product, as witnessed by our increased frequenting of independent pattern companies, which can't compete with your pricing, and still we buy. How about offering more variety? There is a strong niche of retro sewists, and you seem to have tapped into that market somewhat, but more of that would be welcome, I'm sure. The retro sewists are an enthusiastic bunch who really commit to their passion.

    There are many sewists interested in Lagenlook designs. You have offered some, in the past, but they were often rated "Very Easy" and didn't capture the best essence of Lagenlook in the fun details. They often were a bit "off" in the fit/style and were never shown, to advantage, on the pattern envelope. And you seem to be getting away from this look entirely, with fewer and fewer offerings. Personally, I pine for the great Lagenlook pants patterns that used to be offered by Marcy Tilton and others, but are (mostly) no longer to be found in your catalog.

    What about the plus sized sewist? She wants to be fashionable too. She doesn't want more patterns of sac dresses with ill fitting shoulders. She often has a waist and always wants to show her figure to its best advantage in stylish clothing, including career wear.

    Bring back juniors. When my daughters were in that tween stage, it was almost impossible to find stylish patterns to sew for them. I, myself, am no longer able to sew most of your pants patterns as I am now measuring into a size 4. Please bring back junior styles and sizing!

    I don't sew for a guy, but if I did, I would *hate* it. Where are the interesting patterns for men and boys?

    And why, oh WHY, do you offer endless dress patterns to the exclusion of better separates? I know we are currently in a "dress era", but really! Many of us live in separates and want fun options there, too. A wider variety of pants, please. (Did I mention I love pants?)

  • Offer more designer patterns.

    Please enlist new designers and offer us new, exciting patterns. Give us a wider range of options, and do a better job representing what is available in RTW, particularly in terms of details, and in a timely way. Don't underestimate our skills, or our desire to be challenged. Surprise us.

    And, before I leave the subject of Designer patterns: I understand that you receive the garment from the designer, and then draft the pattern using your own fitting block. You then write the instructions, using your own methods of construction, rather than the methods that may have been used by the designer. OK. But then you photograph the *original garment* for the pattern envelope. This can be rather misleading. How about having someone sew the pattern up and then photograph that garment? It would be a more honest representation of the product.

  • Details, details, details.

    Details are everything. (I know, I said "Fit is Everything", but it's both, really.) I really will buy a pattern just to get a great pocket, or a great collar or sleeve, or some other detail, but that happens so rarely these days because you just aren't offering much variety in these areas. I know sewists who buy patterns just to see how a technique is achieved, or how a pattern is drafted, especially if it's someone unconventional like Issey Miyake. Cooks will take a cookbook to bed to read. Sewists will take a pile of patterns. (That can't just be me.) Please respect us enough to up the ante. In return, we will flock to buy it.

P.S. If you want to talk, let me know. I'm open. :)