Tidbits is becoming an advice column: Issue 1

Tidbits is becoming an advice column: Issue 1

Dear readers,

Last week I suddenly got the idea that it would be fun to write an advice column. Since I was a teenager, I have always loved them in magazines, and that love continued well into adulthood with columns such as Dear Sugar, This column with change your life, the fashion NY Times newletter Open Thread, or (in French) Tendances de Mode.

I have not felt inspired to write a tidbits post in some time, but I sure continued to be extremely opinionated when it comes to all things sewing 😅. So I thought I would outsource the idea generation responsibility to you and use this space to give my (very personal) opinion over everything! I put out the first call for questions on Instagram to see if there was interest and the answer is yes. I have about a dozen questions to answer, and I will break them up into separate posts.

For my first post, I answer questions about sewing frosting rather than basics, including seam allowances in PDF patterns and what to do as a tester when you think the pattern being tested is bad. I also include the link to submit your own question at the bottom of this post. Let’s get started!

Dear Delphine, I am always torn. Should I sew what I will actually wear (jeans and tshirts) OR what I want to sew (fancy dresses, silk shirts with frills and big sleeves, wool coats for an area where they are hardly ever needed)? I don't have the time to sew both!

A Custom Clothier

Dear Custom Clothier,

This is an eternal sewing struggle, that I think a lot of us have experienced in a redoubled way because of the pandemic and the decrease in opportunities to dress up. A couple of months ago, I was complaining to a sewing friend that I “couldn’t” sew what I really wanted because first I “needed” to make myself a new pair of sweatpants as PJs. She told me to stop the nonsense, order a pair of sweatpants and get to my sewing table to work on what I really wanted to. That’s what I did and it was such a relief! I’m not sure where this sense of obligation and guilt towards utilitarian sewing comes from but I think we collectively need to let it go. Sewing is our hobby, we are living in complicated times, let’s let go of some of the pressure!

So here is my answer: sew what makes you happy and then wear it! It’s ok to sew only t-shirts but it’s also ok to wear a silk shirt with dramatic sleeves at the supermarket. The latter seems more fun to me, but you do you!

Dear Delphine, When it comes to digital patterns for sale, is it better to add the seam allowance or not? Thank you ☺️

Lore Piar

Dear Lore Piar,

This is probably my favorite kind of question!! Let me give you the quick answer: yes, you should include seam allowances on PDF sewing patterns.

The long answer is a bit more nuanced: not including seam allowances is mostly a European practice from sewing magazines (like Burda, Patrones, and now Fibremood). As far as I know, in the US, Big 4 companies have “always” included seam allowances on their modern patterns. Today’s customer is used to seam allowances, and I know that for some of them, the absence of seam allowances would be a reason not to buy. The reason for not including them is that there are sewists who find making alterations easier without seam allowances. Personally, seam allowances bothered me when modifying a pattern, and I like to offer nicely trued corners on my SA, so they help the customer align seams.

If you offer the layered PDF function (which I very much recommend), you can create 2 layers per size: one for the seam lines and one for the seam allowances. I don’t do it for Just Patterns, because 1/ it would take me more time, 2/ see above, I don’t think it’s necessary, and 3/ I never had a request for this feature. I used to display sewing lines on patterns, but I no longer do. It made everything too busy and confusing for people that were not removing sizes by deactivating the layers (for instance, people printing wide-format with copyshops).

In the end, it’s really a matter of how much time you spend on each pattern, how comfortable and fast you are working with Vector software (like Illustrator), and your own sewing preference. Also, remember that the choices that you make when launching are never set in stone. Your customers/testers will appreciate you listening to them and making changes accordingly!

Dear Delphine, What is your advice if you were in the middle of a pattern test and realized the pattern drafting is very poor and the construction is not so great either? Would you let the pattern designer know or just finish the test?


Dear JOD,

That’s a tough one. I’m going to try to answer from both points of view since I’ve been in both roles: pattern designer and pattern tester.

I’ve only tested a few times because I don’t have a lot of time to do it but those experiences helped me define how I approach testing for my own patterns. One of my concerns was always to appear hypercritical (I am a very critical person, including myself, and this has been an issue at my day job before). But when providing feedback, I think we need to remember that it’s actually solicited opinions and that the designer is still free to take them into account or not. As a pattern designer, I put my patterns through testing so that I get feedback (testers have no promotion obligation/responsibility). Learning to welcome all feedbacks from testers is an excellent practice. In general, they tend to be much softer than some customers’ feedback 😅. In general, I find that testers feel uncomfortable giving very detailed feedback like correcting all the typos at it might look like they are nitpicking but it is incredibly useful The more detailed feedback the better! For designers out there struggling with feedback (whether customers or testers) I would suggest: breathing, sleeping on it before responding, remembering that it is about a pattern not about you, and realizing that the person on the other side might be having a bad day!

So I would say: provide feedback as gently as you can, as early as possible in the testing process. The designer might still be able to put some other testers on pause to change things and re-start. Now, I also think that testing should be a joyful experience for testers. Even if you are getting financially compensated, we all know that it doesn’t fully cover the time/skills/resources you are providing. Pleasure and fun need to be part of the equation. If the test becomes tedious, or the garment makes you feel bad about yourself, I would suggest sharing this openly with the designer and not completing the test.

When it comes to sewing, personal preferences play a big role. You and the designer can feel very differently about things like design ease, staystitching or not, basting, pinning using facings or binding, etc. I do believe that in the long-term designers and testers with similar preferences find each other. That’s the reason why I do not put out a new testing call out for every pattern. Some people in my testing group have been testing for Just Patterns for years so they know what I’m about and they tend to agree with my style of sewing, which doesn’t stop them from telling me when I get things wrong!

That’s it for today! I hope that you had as much fun reading as I had responding. if you want to submit your own sewing question, you can use this form 😘.

Until next time, happy sewing!

About Tidbits

Tidbits is an advice column about sewing clothes, patterns, and more in which I answer questions about sewing, construction, sewing patterns, and the business of releasing them! I will do my best to answer them in writing, with short tutorials, finding resources around the internet, or asking my sewing friends who might be in a better position to answer. As a sewist of 20 years (and a French person 🤣), I have strong opinions about almost everything, but I do not consider them to be universal truths! You are welcome to disagree with me, and I would love to see a discussion in the comments. This column is meant to be light-hearted, friendly, and fun, but you can also vent because not everything is rosy in the world of sewing!

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