10 February 2021

Plans for More Pattern Sizes - and a Call for Testers!

Overhead photo of a yellow cutting mat and pattern making tools

As you may have read in my blog post from December, we’ve been hard at work behind the scenes developing a new size band for our sewing patterns. Read on to find out more details of what we have planned, the process involved, and a call for pattern testers to help us get a great fit!

First of all, why are we creating a whole new size band?

I started Tilly and the Buttons because I wanted sewing to be accessible and inspiring to more people,  and decided to do something constructive about it. One of our main focuses and points of differentiation from other pattern brands out there has been introducing sewing to new people, including the younger generations and those of us who had never been taught the techniques. We aim to break down the barriers of lack of skills and creative confidence with user-friendly patterns, a wealth of free sewing resources and a hearty dose of encouragement. 

This is still – and will remain to be – a big focus for us. But one of the other barriers stopping even more people enjoying sewing is the availability of sewing patterns that fit the variety of body shapes and sizes out there.

Over the past couple of years we’ve been adding additional sizes up to a UK 24 to our core collection of new and most popular patterns, making 18 patterns to date in this extended sizing. But we know there are more people outside of this size range who would love to join in the fun of making our patterns. If we continued to add extra sizes to our existing patterns, the proportions wouldn’t end up quite right. So getting a great fit means starting from scratch with the patterns and their proportions.

So what we’ve done is created a whole new size chart with different proportions, from UK 16 – 34 (US 12 – 30 / EUR 44 – 62). In our chart, this will go up to a 152.5cm (60in) bust, 134.5cm (53in) waist and 155cm (61in) hip.

The most noticeable difference in the proportions from our current patterns is that the tummy slightly fuller and the bust will be curvier (a 10cm/4in difference between high bust and full bust, as opposed to 5cm/2in difference in our current chart). This is great news for those of you who have been telling us you have larger boobs, including those of you in the upper half of our existing size chart – five of the sizes overlap, so you can choose which one to buy depending on your shape. 

(As with any size, bear in mind that a pattern is only a template, so we would always recommend you make any fitting tweaks needed to match your own unique shape – for example, if you’re more pear-shaped than the proportions in the size chart.)

Creating a larger size range is something we’ve wanted to do for a long time, and we started properly planning the logistics of this project in more detail a few months ago. We’ve been working with our new freelance pattern cutter who has extensive experience working with well-known UK fashion brands to analyse body shapes, develop size charts and draft patterns for plus sizes. Plus we’ve enlisted the expertise of a new-to-us grader who has specialist knowledge of extended pattern sizing and grading.

Scissors and pattern tools hanging up

We’re currently working on five patterns in the new size range which we hope to release over the next few months. They will be launched as PDFs to print either at home on A4 or Letter size paper, or at a copy shop or pattern printing service on A0. Some of these are brand new designs which will be released this year in both size bands, and some are popular designs from our back catalogue that our customers have been requesting in larger sizes. Once they’re out in the world, we hope to get cracking on more designs later in the year.

Since it involves starting the production process from scratch, and since we pride ourselves on doing lots of checks and quality control (read: we’re very pernickety!), it is a complex, involved, long-term project. If you don’t know much about us and see the number of social media followers we have, you may assume we are a large business with plenty of staff and resources to work on this – but the truth is we are a very small company, with one person (Nikki) working on pattern production, alongside some freelance specialists who we call in to lend their skills to individual aspects of the process.

The steps involved include drafting the patterns in the new proportions from scratch, making toiles, fitting, making pattern adjustments, grading each size, “truing” the pieces (in other words, measuring all the stitching lines and making sure they and the notches match up, and making the necessary tweaks), formatting and proofing the pattern files, coordinating a diverse range of pattern testers, making more pattern adjustments based on their feedback, adapting the instructions for any changes to the construction, preparing and photographing any additional instructions steps, fitting a model, sewing multiple samples, organising a model photo shoot, creating new cutting layouts and technical drawings, laying out the new booklets, proofing proofing and reproofing everything, getting all the files ready on our website, and then getting the word out there to a wider audience than our existing customer base. Phew!

In ordinary circumstances (i.e. pre-the-mess-of-a-year-that-was-2020!), each pattern we work on would take around 5-8 months to develop. To add an extra layer of complexity, the past year has been a testing one, with frequently changing Covid restrictions - as well as Brexit and a whole host of other behind-the-scenes challenges - meaning that our process has faced unexpected delays and practical hiccups. The current UK lockdown is leading to even more delays and postponements with things like restrictions over fittings and photo shoots, delays in posting patterns, fabric and supplies between the team while we’re working remotely, me (Tilly) and some of the freelance team juggling work with no childcare, me being pregnant and prepping for maternity leave, plus the general distraction of ever-changing business operations in the shadow of Covid and Brexit.

As we’ve learnt over the past year, plans and timelines are going to change all the time and launches need to be reshuffled. So while we have launch dates in our work calendar, unfortunately these are written in pencil as we know they may change. But rest assured we are hard at work on this and will have our first pattern ready for you as soon as we can. And the first one is going to be a goodie, so start getting excited! :)

Sewing space with machines, tools, thread and patterns

A call for pattern testers!

We are currently seeking pattern testers who would like to sew up samples of the new sizes and provide us with feedback to help us perfect the patterns. We are looking for people across the new size range, and are particularly keen to hear from those of you in the upper half of the size chart OR those of you who fit any of the sizes (UK 16-34 / US 12-30 / EUR 44-62) and have a larger bust.

With some of the patterns, the instructions have already been tested so we will only need you to test the fit and alert us to any issues with how the pattern pieces are formatted and come together. For our new patterns, we would also need you to scrutinise and provide feedback on the clarity of the instructions.

We like to enlist pattern testers with a range of sewing experience – so beginners can apply too. And you don’t need to have a blog or social media account – for us, pattern testing has always been a separate process to product reviewing, so you won’t be under any obligation to share what you’ve made. What you do need is a beady eye for detail, a willingness to share photos of you wearing the finished garment from multiple angles, and the ability to commit to a deadline.

We pay our pattern testers a stipend to thank them for their time and to allow them to buy some nice fabric, as well as sending them the finished pattern plus another free TATB pattern of their choice.

If you are interested in testing out one or more of these patterns, please fill in the pattern testing application form. We are aware that the majority of people who already follow us online are in our current size range, so we would love some help getting this out to a wider range of people – if you can help spread the word that we are looking for pattern testers, that would be amazing!

We can’t wait to get our first pattern in the new range out into the world. If you’re interested in the new size band, you can stay in the loop and be first to hear when they’re launching by signing up to our newsletter :)

Author: Tilly Walnes