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All the Rage

April 18, 2014
tags: ,

Why are there so many patterns for T-shirts?

They’re comfortable. They’re easy to draft. They’re easy to make. They’re basic. They can be dressed up. They can be dressed down.

I get it, I like T-shirts too. But I’m not going to buy 15 different T-shirt patterns that are only slightly different (I’m counting all those knit dress patterns too that are actually just T-shirts with a skirt attached). I don’t have an answer as to why it feels like the pattern market is suddenly flooded with T-shirt variations, but there are some thoughts on it:

  • Is the fit better or worse on some of these patterns? it depends on your body type and that’s too difficult to find out without owning the pattern and making it yourself.
  • T-shirts are basic, one might even say the epitome of basic clothing. Not only are they easy to wear, they’re easy to make and easy to fit. Knits stretch, giving the wearer (or maker) more physical flexibility and fit forgiveness.
  • Building a better mouse trap… or not. There is only so much uniqueness you can put into a T-shirt pattern before it becomes ugly or non-functioning in some way. That’s why they’re all so similar, with a flared hem here, and a three quarter sleeve there. Tack on a gathered rectangle of fabric and you’ve got a dress (which I find both unattractive and lazy, but that’s just my personal taste).
  • Why buy what you can get for free? I’m not a pattern drafter, I don’t want to be, but as a pattern user I’m pretty certain that making a T-shirt pattern is easy. Hence why there are so many free versions out there. So what makes the “for profit” versions better? That probably depends on the quality of the instructions, packaging, and extra variations. If I’m going to buy something so basic, I want plenty of options for pattern mixing.
  • “Everyone thinks sewing with knits is hard, so we’ll make it easy.” No, actually you won’t, because there are already so many tutorials out there showing how to sew with knits and it’s always been easy. Besides, anyone who’s afraid of screwing up the first time needs to find a new life philosophy.
  • It’s really starting to feel like every indi pattern company has this idea that they aren’t a real pattern company until they put out a T-shirt. If you’re going to do that, make it special. I’m not very impressed by most of them out there.
  • Who has T-shirt patterns you ask? Here’s a not-all-inclusive list (T-shirt dresses and such variations are included), in no particular order:

Colette, Sewaholic, Deer & Doe, Angela Wolf, Tessuti, BurdaStyle, Grainline, Jalie, Megan Nelson, Named, Papercut, Cake, Pattern Anthology, Tilly and the Buttons, Skinny Bitch Curvy Chic, Hot Patterns, Lekala, Style Arc, Soma, Twinkle Sews, Dixie DIY, and of course McCalls, Butteric, Vogue, Simplicity, and New Look. There are probably more.

I probably sound really negative and I am because I’m disappointed in the creativity being shown in this category. But I also understand the up sides, I even have my first Renfrew in the queue to be cut out. I think what gets me the most is that every time I see a new-but-boring pattern I think UGH, but all I hear (in my head) on the sewing blogosphere is AAHHH I’M A FAN GIRL. Why is there no criticism? Constructive, positive, or negative. Are we actually so afraid of hurting each others feelings? These people are trying to make money off of us, they deserve criticism now and then, that’s how they grow and get better! Why is it ok for us to rag on McCalls and Simplicity, but not the new releases from Colette for instance (I have not been impressed by them for quite a while by the way)???

Above is my favorite T-shirt pattern, B4198. It’s perfectly basic and that’s all it needs to be, it also probably cost me $1. Oh, and it includes patterns for athletic shorts, pants, hoody, and tank top along with the T-shirt.

In conclusion, too many T-shirts. Step it up pattern companies, I’m getting sick of this.


36 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2014 6:29 pm

    great post 🙂 I feel the same as you do on the t-shirt matter – or even similar patterns for that fact. How many of the same version of the same thing do I have to see time and time again.

  2. April 18, 2014 9:11 pm

    I so agree with you. And I don’t get all the raves on the independent pattern companies that put out boring, been done sooooo many time patterns. There’s so little criticism too, one I brought and sewed had everyone raving but I found it to be poorly drafted!

  3. Elizabeth permalink
    April 18, 2014 9:47 pm

    You took the words right out of my mouth.

  4. April 18, 2014 11:13 pm

    You are the most awesome! That was everything i have been thinking and more. How about everyone getting ALL excited about them being free. Well, they should be…they are simple t-shirts.

    • April 19, 2014 6:57 am

      Yes, I love the free patterns and from what I can tell they’re just as good as the not free ones!

  5. April 18, 2014 11:22 pm

    ahh!!! you are brave to put your thoughts out here! i think exactly the same whenever i see a Tshirt/very basic pattern especially from indie designers. i feel like they can do better! but then again, if there are people buying them, of course they should make them! they are for profit company, indie or not!

    • April 19, 2014 6:59 am

      Thanks! And yes, I’m glad they’re doing something that is profitable to them – there wouldn’t be so many indi patterns if it wasn’t going well! and then it would definitely be a boring pattern market!

  6. April 19, 2014 12:35 am

    I think the Deer and Doe one is for free? I read a similar post to this when the Laurel dress came out. I bought the Renfrew when I had already made up a Burda T shirt top about 3 times which was perfectly good. I have tried to adapt the Renfrew to make a basic skater dress but I did find it hard to get the fit on the bodice right. It’s harder than I thought – not just a case of cutting it off and taking it in a bit. I have bought the Moneta purely to see if it is a better fit on the bodice than my DIY version! I haven’t bought any of the other T shirts on your list for the reasons you state. The Coco for example, I have an Angela Kane pattern that’s the same. Maybe people buy a couple of them for similar reasons to mine, but there may be others that by all of them! We have to remember these Indies are not just aiming their patterns at experienced sewers like us. Tilly for example but have a lot of newbies stumbling onto her pattern while being unaware of all the others (like me 3 years ago stumbling across Angela Kane’s patterns). Good for her and the others that manage to do this – their marketing strategy works!

    • April 19, 2014 7:03 am

      The Laurel dress is the same bag of worms, I was tempted to buy it when it came out also but I have a Burda pattern that is similar and I kept seeing some ill fitting Laurels. So now I always wait to see new patterns on a lot of different people before I jump in!
      I agree that most of these patterns aren’t aimed at us, especially the ones that promise to teach knit sewing techniques, but if a company is only for beginners they’re going to loose all their returning customers after not too long! I just hope they rotate, easy pattern then interesting/more difficult pattern

  7. Miriana permalink
    April 19, 2014 1:24 am

    The fact that independent pattern companies seem to be immune from criticism is rather baffling.

    • April 19, 2014 7:05 am

      Isn’t it? How many round up posts about ugly patterns do we see after the new spring Vogues or Buttericks? Everyone seems to love to rip them apart when I really don’t think they’re that bad!

      • April 19, 2014 10:00 am

        Totally agree! Definitely double standards IMO for no good reason.

  8. April 19, 2014 2:40 am

    “Besides, anyone who’s afraid of screwing up the first time needs to find a new life philosophy.”

    That’s just awesome. And just what I needed to hear. Thanks!

    Other than that: Agreed. Sometimes I get influenced by all kinds of raving reviews and lovely examples of a certain pattern. And everytime again, when I come to my senses, I realize: I have patterns enough that are almost exactly the same or can be, with minor tweeks. There is absolutely no need to spend more money to get more duplicates in my closet.

    So yeah. But I get it too. The support in the community is heartwarming. I guess we just have to learn that support doesn’t equal blind yes-saying, but can be way more heartwarming and effective if we stimulate each other to develop and grow to new heights.

    • April 19, 2014 7:07 am

      Thank you! I like the welcoming feeling that our sewing community has also, if you guys weren’t such nice people on the internet (as well as in real life I assume!) there’s no way I would even post this. Constructive criticism is key though!

  9. April 19, 2014 3:27 am

    I feed the same way about the patterns for t-shirts and knit dresses etc. I keep raising my eyebrows when each one comes out but then I remind myself I’m just not the target audience for this. I would never spend 18$ for a basic t-shirt or a shift dress pattern, but apparently many beginner sewers like to, especially when it comes from a blogger they know, in a pretty envelope etc. Based on the amount of basic patterns from indie designers, I am guessing that basic patterns sell a lot more than complicated patterns do and that’s why they keep putting them out. It’s not lack of creativity because you can see that some designers do have complex patterns available, they just don’t sell as much.

    Also, there are a lot of people in North America especially, and they have a lot of spending money, so there’s room for a lot of indie pattern businesses even if they don’t produce anything unusual. 🙂

    As for the over-praising — the sewing blogosphere is polite and friendly in general, so I guess the people who don’t like the t-shirt and shift dress patterns just don’t buy them and don’t comment on them. On the whole I like the positivity of the community. I just don’t like it when it encourages people to spend a lot of money on patterns they don’t need.

    • April 19, 2014 7:12 am

      Sometimes I worry though, that these beginning sewist that are being targeted aren’t well informed about all the options – so they spend $18 on a brand new pattern and might not like it from one reason or another. But we in North America do have it good, where we can drop that much money and not really think too much about (unless you have a pattern stash the size of mine! ha). We should all just start voicing our ambivalence toward these basic, seen-it-before patterns to say we want more variation, politely of course!

      • April 19, 2014 1:34 pm

        I completely agree — if beginners are misled by the enthusiasm towards indie designers into thinking that that’s their only option, that’s a pity. I’d like to see all small businesses succeed but I don’t think we should be encouraging people to spend too much money on stuff they don’t need.

  10. April 19, 2014 8:09 am

    I so agree! I haven’t bought any indie patterns at all. The only non ‘Big 4’ that I have are Style Arc and they are drafted beautifully. So far I’ve made 3 and everything lines up, the size seems true and they work. If I see another ‘skater’ type dress pattern out and raved about (or t-shirt). What’s the big deal? I haven’t been brave enough to write this on my blog but there you have it. Good post.

    • April 19, 2014 4:15 pm

      Style Arc seems to have great drafting, my wedding dress was one of their patterns. I just wish they would photograph their own samples when they come out with a new pattern

  11. April 19, 2014 9:57 am

    Yes, yes, yes!! I have been thinking this for some time and I’m glad someone has finally said it! As you say, T-shirt patterns are ridiculously easy! Knits are NOT difficult to sew (so everyone please stop putting out more and more and more tutorials and ebooks etc out about it thinking you are being oh so original and saving us all!!). And again, as you say, there seems to be a sort of unthinking cult like worship of most indie pattern stuff…what maks them inherently better and more worthy of our appreciation etc than the “big four”?? Their output is often ridiculous similar to things that the big four have put out and just because you have slapped the word “independent” on your company, doesn’t mean it is necessarily any more full of integrity, quality or worthy of my money than another company. Ok, rant over! 🙂

    • April 19, 2014 4:17 pm

      I agree, every company has it’s benefits and draw backs, including the Big 4. We are lucky to have so many options, but at some point we’re going to hit critical mass!

  12. April 19, 2014 10:26 am

    Great post! In answer to why we criticise the big Four and Burda: for me it’s because I love them. Most of the indies leave me completely cold so why would I bother reviewing them in the first place?

    One thing that does frustrate me a bit is that there are so few blogs covering the edgier patterns compared to the sweet, girly stuff that most of the indies do. I’d love to find more people sewing Burda, Pattern Magic, and the wackier Vogues.

    • April 19, 2014 10:41 am

      I agree! I spend a lot of time on the web now searching for more obscure sewing bloggers who don’t just keep reviewing the latest indie pattern release. i especially love your blog, showing older patterns that people may happen to have in their stash or could track down on the internet. Some blogs seem like marketing vehicles for new companies/releaes only. i may not be choosing exotic or difficult patterns but I’m working from my aging stash of fabric AND patterns. if you know of any cool blogs out there, let us know, ok?

      • April 25, 2014 5:22 pm

        I agree that many of the more popular blogs are slowly (or not so slowly in some cases!) turning into marketing vehicles, and this is a big turn-off for me. It’s just not the kind of blog reading I enjoy, and I’m slowly un-following those blogs.

        Did you see the recent sponsored post on Coletterie about Craftsy classes? Give me a break! I give up.

    • April 19, 2014 4:27 pm

      Great thought! I do love Burda and Vogue so they deserve my attention more than the other companies that I’m just meh about. Most of them do seem to be far too girly for me, but thankfully not all.

  13. jennifer permalink
    April 19, 2014 11:43 am

    Oh, all so true, I’ve even begun to think that the raving about indie patterns has passed the emperor has no clothes faze and entered the “if my out put doesn’t look clunky it’s not really home made” faze. I began sewing for myself with RTW as the low bar to surpass, I’m not seeking “look, ma, I made it myself” but that seems to be the current goal. Yes, I had a skater type knit dress when I was 12 and it was perfect then but no I won’t wear that as an adult. I will wear a vogue knit dress though, their knit patterns tend to have complicated seams that treat the body like a 3D object, not a paper doll silhouette and that is worth paying for. I haven’t seen a new to drafting offering that has matched the best Vogue patterns.

    I do make and wear many simple T’s and love them as quickie projects but yes they are easy to sew and always fit. I’ve subscribed to Ottobre forever so I use their T patterns. They do offer a variation in every issue and I never think oh wow a new T pattern, I just expect it and am happy for the subtle variations. I wouldn’t tell anyone they have to buy Ottobre to have a good T pattern just like I wouldn’t buy a new indie T pattern on similar advice from someone else. I’d even think twice about trying a free one as I don’t think they are a good introduction to a company’s fit. I have made one D&D woven dress and loved the fit but why would making the plantain have lead me to expect that, T-shirts always fit?

    The one recent exception I’ve made though is the Named Laurie T. I held out on that one for a while, but I really wanted a T that was less fitted and I just kept going back to the way that one looked on the model. I finally tried it and it is exactly what I was after. The front tucks on the pattern are nothing I couldn’t have achieved on my own, but again as drafted they were perfect as were the lengths and neckline. I think that is the other problem with all the T patterns, they claim to be expertly drafted and as such are always a second skin. To me a pattern which is body skimming and flattering is more sophisticated than a snug pattern which stretches to fit all comers. I also make is a distinction in types of indie pattern companies. There are the long time sewing/blogging new to drafting types and then there are companies like Named which are taking a design background and presenting a complete collection as patterns instead of RTW. I do think in the latter case an indie company does have a lot to offer me because they have a knowledge of industry trends and practices which I don’t have access to as a long time home sewer. I can draft my own pattern or copy a detail I like but if I’m going to buy a pattern I want either a new sewing challenge or a new cut or style I wouldn’t likely achieve by myself. I have become partial to Named but there are other examples just as there must be exception to the self taught indies.

    Sorry to blather on, you are right, it’s time for honest appraisals!

    • April 19, 2014 4:30 pm

      I’ve wanted to try Named, I’ll probably start with their jeans pattern. I’m glad you’ve found some good go-to patterns!

  14. April 20, 2014 6:04 am

    Geat post! I’ve been thinking about some of the things you are mentioning, espescially about beginners. I want to be challanged and most of the patterns i have bought the last year (apart from my beloved Burda), are Vogue and Lekala. Lekala in particular is my new favourite. I just want well drafted, innovating and exciting new patterns, is that too much to ask for? 🙂

    • April 26, 2014 9:26 am

      I haven’t tried Lekala yet, they have tons of neat looking designs though

  15. April 24, 2014 3:26 am

    Well written, and so true! Sometimes I feel quite stubborn about *not* making the popular ones, after all one of the reasons I sew is because I like different stuff. So I’m curious, if you already have this great fitting Tshirt pattern here, why did you purchase the Renfrew?

    • April 26, 2014 9:28 am

      It does sound silly doesn’t it, but I’ve wanted to try the Renfrew since it came out mostly because of the extra details/options it has like the cowl neck and whatnot. And my mom gave me a Sewaholic gift certificate for christmas!

  16. April 25, 2014 5:08 pm

    Very well said. I’ve been thinking about writing a post like this ever since the new Colette patterns came out, but you beat me to it. 🙂 Despite what anyone says or doesn’t say about the new patterns that come out, we all vote with our money, and Colette won’t be getting any of my money for their new book or patterns.

    It’s frustrating that so many indie books and patterns seem to be geared toward absolute beginners, but as you said, it must be profitable if everyone keeps doing it.

    Oh, and I don’t plan on making or wearing a knit dress with a gathered rectangle skirt. Ever. Or a body-hugging knit skirt. I just don’t think either of these are flattering!

    • April 26, 2014 9:31 am

      If you look at a timeline of all the patterns Colette has released, it really looks like it keeps getting more and more simple. That might not be a bad thing, I just prefer a larger mix!
      I do want to try some different knit dresses that I can wear to work though (obviously not gathered rectangle style!) because my favorite dress ever is a knit wrap dress – if I had 10 of those I’d be set.

  17. Kat permalink
    April 25, 2014 10:40 pm

    Very much agree with you. I have been dabbling in the world of pattern drafting, and have very quickly realized how easy it is!!! Once you have a block, you’re off to the races! I also agree on the lack of criticism of indie patterns – it’s ALL hype nowadays it seems (with the exception of a few like Sewaholic and Maria Denmark, whom I think are quite good). As far as Ts are concerned, I downloaded Maria Denmark’s Kirsten Kimono T and LOVE it – fits beautifully and no set in sleeves! AND FREE! Ah well, I think it’s a consequence of our times – with a few goodies you get many not so goodies – problem is it sometimes takes time to figure out which is which. I guess this is where honesty from bloggers would help out a lot 🙂


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