we’re all friends here; maybe that’s the problem

I used to sit on the editorial board of a student-run literary journal. There were six of us: the two breathlessly sensitive artistes (poetry and fiction) and one hardass (managing editor), plus our three guppies (editors-in-training). Guess which one I was. My comments were often met with whoops and giggles, as if I were trying to be mean. The writers and artists were never in the room, and I didn’t think we were doing anyone any favors by mincing words or instilling false hope. Rip. Off. The Bandage. There’s a frankness that I think that we owe people we respect and whose work we value. My co-editors. . .disagreed.

There’s a point here. Reader, I don’t know if we’re doing this right. Do I think that the sewing community should adopt the Charlotte Witherspoon approach to human interaction? HALL no. We all know that I’m going to end up alone, smoking mentholated cigarettes in a housecoat and rollers at the supermarket, while muttering to myself about personal space. It’s just that sometimes I wonder if we’re navigating this new social frontier as well as possible, you know?

I’m not saying that I think we’re dishonest (I say “we” because I am so totally in this bag, too), but rather that blogs tend to be obtuse when things aren’t so great. I spend my days parsing texts for greater meaning; I totally don’t want to come home and do that with blogs. What’s the difference between “The instructions were richly detailed and excellent for a beginner, but the pattern was poorly drafted,” and “The instructions were excellent, and I had to make the following adjustments: Add three inches to the sleeves, two to the hem, redraft the darts, adjust the zipper placement, lift the neckline, resize the waistband, and take in the hips. Personal preference, though”?

I bring this up because I came across a few less-than-laudatory offhand comments in some blog posts (eta: not reader comments, but the blogger’s comments about indie patterns or books)—some posts were more recent, others I found while dicking around in your archives. It was bracing, you guys. I’m no shrinking violet (uni is basically one step away from being a knife fight), but I was shocked. Now I have to wonder why. These weren’t personal comments, they weren’t offensive, they were rather direct and gently critical, but I just did not see them coming. Honestly? It was nice. Often, when I work with a pattern or book that everyone has l.o.v.e.d. but that I don’t quite get, I wonder if y’all are all better at this than I am (you are, hands down), or if there’s something that’s missing.

Maybe it’s because the sewing community is such a consciously friendly space? I have friends in the theater, and I’d never say, “The lighting was great, but I don’t think the piece gave you too much to work with. Frankly, it was not your best, but at least it’s over!” But! If I go see someone else’s performance, I feel completely comfortable being honest. This might explain why we all seem to put the kid gloves on for indie patterns but rip into the contemporary Big Four.

Here’s the thing, though: there are people on both sides of this fence. There are people in my friend’s five-minute play in some basement on the one still-dangerous block in the East Village, just as there are people in the big-budget Tennessee Williams revival. There are people who draft Big Four patterns, who answer phones, who style the shoots, and sew the clothes. Some of them read our blogs and read about how much they suck, in plain language. Granted, we don’t know the names of their cats, or that they like Motown music, or prefer green tea to black, but they’re still there, just a step out of our reach. Is distance or money why we don’t extend the same delicacy to them?

I have a HUGE test on Tuesday, yet I can’t quite shake this thought. Think of this (not proofread) post as more of a brain dump than anything.

26 thoughts on “we’re all friends here; maybe that’s the problem”

  1. Interesting point. People would likely feel more comfortable leaving “constructive criticism” if it was actually asked for. Many times, people may blog and really like what they made, and don’t really care too much about what others think of it. And, other times, (like the make I just made, sigh), they are a colossal failure and I am only too happy to ask for “why?” and “what went wrong?” and “why did I fail?” THEN, let the picking apart begin! 😛

    1. Oh, lord. With the stuff we all make, I’m all for being as nice as humanly possible, especially with the duds; however, for commercially produced things (books, patterns, etc.), I wonder if there could be a bit more directness in the community, even if we just love the people behind the projects.

      I think that in selling something, you are soliciting honest feedback, which is why almost every major retailer has a space for customer reviews.

      Also, you and Kitty don’t produce colossal failures. So says Basil and Clive.

  2. Where do you draw the line between regular fitting issues and a bad draft? I keep noticing a lot of comments implying that if the fit isn’t right, you just aren’t good enough. Now, for someone like me, who is so new to sewing that’s probably true most of the time, but for many others I think not. Yet, I barely see a bad review for an independent pattern company, (that’s especially true for Colette Patterns). It is obvious that the sewing community is always trying to be supportive, but leaving out any sort of criticism is actually the opposite in my opinion. At some point praise risks seeming fake because no one is saying what they really think.

    1. This is a huge question for me too, Arellis. I think most people have a handful of adjustments that they consistently have to make, no matter the garment. (FBAs and adjustment for length are usually it.) When I see bloggers across the community all making the same adjustments that they wouldn’t usually make, I get suspicious. Also, there are little things, like matching up the notches on two pieces only to have them look misaligned.

      Maybe the inability to make the distinction is part of the problem? People are quick to pin the blame on themselves if skirt hems are uneven or if darts have to be rejiggered. It could be user error, or not. I certainly just assume that I suck at sewing every time something goes wrong.

      Agreed on the praise ringing untrue after a bit. If you highlight everything, nothing is actually highlighted, etc. Though, I will admit, I think Colette Patterns almost sets the gold standard for clarity of instruction and responsiveness to customers.

  3. This bugs me too, actually. I’m not saying that people should be downright nasty about other’s creations or indie patterns, but sometimes the gushing just leaves me scratching my head. Why is it so bad to say something like, “this dress is really cute on you, but….uh….the invisible zip is less than invisible”? As for the pattern companies, I totally agree with pretty much everything you said. I guess it’s so much easier to trash some faceless entity than it is to trash an indie designer who blogs and you feel like you “know” them. Guess I should schedule that trip to tour the BMV plant, so I can maybe put some names and faces behind 3 of the big 4….

    And yes, I’m more apt to blame poor drafting on myself, since I have to rework so much of it to get it to fit my “nonstandard” body.

    1. Agreed! I’m working through major fit issues, and basically use my blog to workshop whatever I’m doing. I like hearing, “You have so much space at the shoulders because you have to make a dowager’s hump adjustment,” or whatever. Maybe it depends on your goals? I want to make the nicest clothing possible, and if my invisible zipper is wonky, I want to know!

      I wonder why the Big 4 patterns haven’t started their own behind-the-scenes blogs. I think it would be fun, and would offer insight into the process. I’ve seen some snips here and there, but not a cohesive effort. They should get some interns who can write, and put them on the case.

      Off topic, but I just realized that I’m not subscribing to your blog. Must fix that.

      1. I do too! I’m all for constructive criticism–especially on something that I specifically say that I don’t like how it has turned out. That’s sort of like my code word for saying–WTH am I doing wrong?!?

        And I’d be thrilled to have you as a subscriber. 🙂 I follow you too, but I don’t know if you can see it because I use a Firefox Addon to do it….that would be interesting to know though….

    2. Oh, I guess above I should have mentioned that obviously I would suggest a tutorial or other reference to help insert said invisible zipper all pretty-like–because I know how hard those little suckers are to put in nicely. Especially when you have intersecting seams.

  4. You know, I’ve heard the “are we seamster-bloggers too nice?” discussion before, but as a general thing, not specifically about indie designs. But I like that you narrowed it down like that. I mean, If somebody is putting their work out there professionally, that probably means they want to be treated like professionals, not just like friends, right? And they’re probably trying to be the very best they can be–so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with constructive, occasionally critical feedback. (With an emphasis on “occasionally”, I think! haha)

    As an aside (I’m playing devil’s advocate a little), do you think that our snarkiness/harshness toward big4, burda, etc companies (and I’m guilty of this for sure) shows that we, the sewing community, are not actually nicer than the rest of “the Internet”? Or, at least, not necessarily more professional? After all, part of what makes people think that they can be mean on the internet is the anonymity–maybe we’re just nicer to each other because (since sewing blogs require all those self-photos) neither we, nor the indie designers are anonymous while, like you pointed out, big4/etc workers are.

    ALSO (see, I comment here only rarely because when I start talking I can’t shut up) personal-ish question: can I ask if you’re studying literature at uni?

    1. I’m always so happy to see you stop by, Meraj.

      You’re right. Maybe we’re not as nice or thoughtful as we’d like to think. Part of it is anonymity, but I think part of it is the perceived difference between small business and big, bad corporations. For instance, there are some stores here in the Garment District that will basically rip you off or really make the hard sale, but no one ever really mentions it on their blogs. Some neglect to realize that pattern companies are small potatoes, in the grand scheme of things. It’s not like yelling at some huge, monolithic multinational corporation.

      Also, I study economics and philosophy at uni, which is apparently why I say things like, “We can’t edit a soul into this piece.” I’m trying to incorporate lit into my thesis, if for no other reason than because professors keep saying, “I thought you were an English major!”

      1. Oh, do we really see pattern companies as big, bad corporations? I guess I see them as a little incompetent and old-fashioned and not-with-it (I’m being so, so patronizing, I know! my opinions are based in part on the styling on the envelopes) and therefore not ominous and menacing in that ‘big, bad corporation’ kind of way. Maybe that’s just because I don’t buy/use patterns much, though — I guess when sewing bloggers talk about supporting indie designers (which is good!) that view of pattern companies _is_ what they’re subscribing to.

        And aw, not a lit student — I was fooled too, damnit! (But now I’m trying to decide whether your comments about small businesses/multinational corporations/the grand scheme of things are a result of you being an economics major. The questions never end.)

      2. I do tend to exaggerate, but maybe we create a false binary, and if a business is not small, it’s big?

        Also, yes, being an econ/phil major is a recipe for paranoia and pessimism. Then again, so is lit, if you intend to go into academia. The insufferable math nerd in me wants to plot some sort of chart about this.

  5. The line between frank and mean is tricky. I think it’s mostly about intention, and we all know how hard it is to discern intention on the internet. The hypothetical situation you describe (“This pattern is great! I changed the shoulder, armscye, dart angle, etc. and followed totally different instructions…”) is quite possibly the result of someone who started out frankly discussing a pattern’s flaws but reworded everything to sound less mean. Then again, I don’t want to ignore the fact that most sewing bloggers are also just regular people who are subjected to a rigid cultural beauty ideal on a daily basis, just like the rest of the non-sewing world. And even though many of us sew not only as a means to exercise creativity, but to create a wardrobe for our bodies and not the other way around, we’re still human and most of us do care what other people think about our(physical)selves at least once in awhile. So when we make a million adjustments to a pattern that looked really pretty on the envelope/model/line drawing, it’s easy to blame our own weird bodies and not the pattern drafting.

    And bodies ARE weird, too… there’s so much human variation (even leaving out things like my scoliosis) that it’s not even possible for any pattern to fit all people well. But, like you say, there are little things — notches that don’t line up, darts that are the same for all sizes, bizarre illustrations, instructions that read like google translate spat them out — that really are pattern issues and not user/body-shape issues. I really appreciate when someone bothers to post a review that covers those areas, so I don’t feel like a total dope when I can’t get anything to line up either.

    I should really remember to post failed projects for the same reason that I like seeing other people’s (learning! experience!) but it’s just hard. Usually when something sucks and I can’t salvage it, I get so frustrated that I chuck it so I never have to look at it again. Not helpful at all, though it feels good!

    Also: I like your natural frankness. I don’t actually love meanness (some of the overviews for Big4 pattern releases are a little over-the-top for me, and I can’t help but think: if you hate the designs so much, just don’t buy them already!) but I think frankness and directness are valuable, worthy traits which should be encouraged. (In life, as in patternreview, haha.)

    1. I agree that treading the line between frank and plain old mean is tricky business; however, it’s something we all have to do pretty often, I think. I suppose there’s an argument to be made here about women and niceness, but I’m not Sheryl Sandberg, so I won’t touch it.

      I just want some consistency across the reviews, so that I can read them the same way. I’m a really literal reader when it comes to this sort of thing, which has caused much confusion.

      Bodies, man. If Ven from Project Runway taught me anything, it is to. . .pretend that they don’t exist outside of a specific range. That’s healthy.

  6. I must agree with the indie versus Big 4 reviews. I have noticed that the feedback when regarding the Big 4 is more to the point and blunt. I feel this may be because these seem to be larger faceless organisations whereas indies have a designer that people may tweet or talk with and it makes it harder to provide critical feedback as it may feel like you are providing feedback to the person rather than the product. Anyway, that’s my two cents 😀

    1. Agreed. I’m just really dense, and sometimes if someone says, “Great pattern!” and their version looks really cute, I just buy it, only to realize that, holy cats, I do not have the skill to make [this] look like [that]. It’s just a selfish thing for me, I guess.

  7. A really interesting post. I just discovered your blog, and I really like it! I will be reading more of you…
    Usually when I don’t like something someone has made – be it to blame on a bad choice of fabric or in some cases just using a pattern I really don’t feel (a few of those have recently been published) or a style I just don’t get – I abstain from commenting. I don’t want to post something untrue – that would be lying – but I also don’t want to be the nasty person who brings the hard work of somebody down, because I know how much work goes in to making your own clothes and because that is just not something we do in the sewing community. And I think we should be nicer about the Big4-patterns, because – I have actually thought about this before – there are real people making those patterns, working really hard on them and not getting the personal appraisal the indies get. (Or if we don’t want to be nicer to the Big4, then maybe we should give our god-honest opinion on the indies more…)

    On another note, I also feel that the sewing community is getting really professional – I have been sewing for almost 10 years now (with a few periods where I didn’t sew anything) and the most complicated adjustment I have made was recently on my Colette Eclair to reduce the bustsize (I am fortunately/unfortunately ? not a C-cup-person for which the pattern is designed, other than that the pattern fit me really well). I tend to not alter my patterns and make them right out of the envelope and usually they fit me just fine – maybe they could look better if I took the time and effort to adjust them, but I usually don’t feel the need for that (Is it because I am easily satisfied, lazy or just not giving that much importance to “the perfect fit”? I don’t know, you tell me…). I also don’t make my own patterns, although I have bought a book about it, I just don’t want to go through all that trouble. I kinda feel like a stump for not altering every little detail to perfection, because usually the out-of-the-envelope-make looks better on me anyway than any RTW. The only thing I do almost everytime is shorten the hem of skirts and dresses because I usually feel like a 45-year old lady with hems ending on or just below my knees…

    And I will leave it at this, because this is getting way to long for a blog-comment…

    1. Welcome, Wendy!  I wholeheartedly agree with you.  I don’t know if it’s about being tougher on indies, better with Big Fours, or just striving to be more honest, thoughtful, and balanced all around, but we can’t go on as is.  (I think.)

      I’m a newer sewer, and fell into the sewing blog world through people like Erica Bunker and Meg at Mood (formerly Lindsay T), both of whom sew really impressive things, and aspire to couture and ready-to-wear finishing and techniques. If anything, I’ve always felt like the slacker who settles for a gaping neckline and a droopy back because, whatever, I wear cardigans all the time, anyway. I really have felt inspired to up my game now that everyone seems to be on the pattern adjustment train. (And, frankly, because you could fit a small child into my gaping neckline.)

      On the flip side, I wonder if the sewing community’s lean towards being more professional blurs the line between amateurs and authorities. I love crowdsourcing knowledge, but sometimes, a relatively new sewer positions themselves as an authority and I’m left with a raised eyebrow. Then again, there’s a huge aesthetic gap between those who are widely accepted as experts and the people who occupy my corner of the sewing community, and I suppose the weekend warriors make information more palatable?

      I feel like I’ve taken us down a crazypants long road. Anyhoo! You really made me think, Wendy!

  8. I kind of just fell in love with your blog after reading 2 posts! OMG I think I have a sewing blogger crush…

    Anyway, this is funny because I met with another Haiti based sewing blogger on saturday and we had the same conversation, especially about the patterns appreciation. Our conclusion was that in sewing blogland, people are very … hum hum… American! Meaning that, compared to other (for instance my own country), American people are always extremely nice! Go on some French websites and you will see some snarky comments, even about indie patternmakers (even though the level of sewing is often not as good as on American sites, here is my french snarky comment).

    Of course I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but maybe that’s one bit of explanation.

    1. Aw, shucks. Thanks!

      I love it when people call Americans nice. I’ve really tired of the hand-wringy, feelings-prioritization lately. (Because I’m an ogre.) Then again, as a student, I get told that I suck on a fairly regular basis, and don’t think very much of it when I extend the say the same to other people. This goes over just as well as you’d imagine.

      I also think that people who are slightly critical get dog-piled in the comments section, and that acts as a deterrent. Plus, critical comments that lack a certain degree of tact just don’t get approved. It’s sad. I have an “All comments welcome here” attitude. Let’s see how long it lasts.

      You must tell me what you do in Haiti (if you want to)! I’m absolutely fascinated, right this very instant.

      1. French students (which I was not so long ago) always make fun of the American system because we also think it’s too “nice and supportive” (but can you be too supportive?). I took draping and pattern making classes at FIT when I was living in NY and I have to report that teachers are really soft compared to French ones… I don’t know if it’s linked to the fashion element. I realized that you could not do all you homework and pass and that looked totally crazy to me! I’m guessing some fields are way more competitive (at the studying level, not referring to the job market afterwards) than others.

        It happened to me once to read a negative comment about myself on someone else’s blog. The (very nice) blogger used a picture of something I made to show the inspiration for her skirt and someone in the comments said that I looked weird, I was posing weirdly (this is true by the way), etc. I have to admit that it was quite disturbing, considering that it was comments on physical appearance, even for my tough french skin!

        In Haiti, I work for an international organization that tends to favor blue as its color. Can you guess 😉 ??

  9. I just wanted to say wow. What a perspective. I had forgotten that I followed your blog (didn’t sign up for email), but wow. Glad I came by to catch up and find this gem.

  10. As a pattern maker, sewing teacher and enthusiast of all things sew-ey I have to say this is sort of a strange thing to think about. Probably because my feelings are not even a little hurt when my boss tells me where my patterns need to be corrected. It’s just part of a process & I’m so used to it. We make a pattern, sample makers make a garment and we put it on the fit model and decide what needs changing and I change it…like within 1/8″…”would you shorten this sleeve 1/8″ is not an unusual request. Rinse, lather, repeat until the brand is happy with their fit.
    So if it was me who owned a pattern company and people insulted the fit and pattern drafting I would refit them and consider if there were improvements to be made because that’s my job. It’s easy to disconnect hurt feelings from work or your job I think and perhaps we cannot do that with people we feel so connected to via blogs. We imagine it would hurt their feelings because we feel so linked to them where in reality they may not see it that way.
    Actually I think snarking about the styling and the pattern jacket would be the only way to hurt my feelings! But if I was ever in the position I would take the safe road and use illustrations.

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