Positively Contributing to the Sewing Community

My mission on “handmadephd” has been to explore and share my daily creativity with the hope that I can spark creativity in others. I’ve tried to keep my blog genuine, supportive, and about community. To that end, I have been open about my methods, process, fit issues, size, etc. so everyone can have access to my successes and failures. I recently experienced an onslaught of negativity and chose to step away from my Instagram account and to shut down my blog. It’s been over a month, and I’ve had some time to think through if and how I want to proceed.

The issue I’ve been struggling with is this: at my core, I am passionate about being authentic, honest, and open. If I can be helpful, I want to be helpful. And when it came down to it, I was deeply hurt when my genuine helpfulness was attacked by hate-fueled ignorance. I had to ask myself, why would I continue this blog, which takes up my time and energy, but does not in any way benefit me beyond the community I have built and the positivity it brings to others? I spend my own money to maintain this blog and I receive no other financial benefit at all: I don’t have ads, no one has ever sponsored me, and I’ve never received free stuff. Everything I’ve ever shared here has been purchased with my own money. Because of that, I can be honest about what I like and don’t like.

Here’s what sparked so much controversy:

In the United States, patterns are generally not eligible for copyright protection as copyright does not apply to methods or “procedures for doing, making, or building things.” Additionally, an item created from a pattern also lacks copyright protection if it is considered to be a functional object. Under the Useful Article doctrine in US copyright law, if an object has a practical or useful function, copyright protection applies only to the original, creative elements “that can be identified separately from the utilitarian aspects of an object”, but does not extend to the underlying design of the functional object.

Sewaholic Refnew, SBCC Tonic Tee, Hey June Handmade Union St. Tee, Secondo Piano Basic Instinct T, Grainline Studio Lark Tee, Deer and Doe Plantain

I published a blog comparing the many t-shirt patterns available and there’s many I didn’t include and many new ones that have been recently published. The reason everyone can have a t-shirt pattern is that copyright does not apply to functional objects like a t-shirt. How can it? Clothes, in general, cannot be protected unless there’s a unique, non-functional aspect like a design element or logo. If the first ever t-shirt pattern was protected by copyright then all of these t-shirt patterns would be in violation of that copyright and they all could be accused of stealing. Moreover, some of these patterns are awfully similar, but still they aren’t violating copyright.

Here’s where my honesty got me into trouble. I’ve wanted to share my personal pattern pieces for others to use if they want, but I’m open about what pattern(s) my pieces are based off of. For example, I have a pant body block and I’ll use the Jeans patterns I own to figure out what pieces I need: pocket facing, coin pocket, pocket lining, back pocket, fly, fly extension, yoke, etc. Obviously I have to take into consideration my original body block, but then I can use my Jeans patterns to guide how my pieces should look. The Instagram mob claimed that was stealing and called me awful names for sharing my self-drafted pattern pieces. But it isn’t stealing and in fact, I’m upholding copyright law better with my honesty because I’m clearly stating where I started given my personal pattern pieces are a variant of the original.

My pattern pieces are in red overlaid on all the other patterns.

This is how fashion works; you see an outfit in a store or on the runway, and there are no rules about trying to recreate that design yourself. Large corporations do it all the time and we as home sewists do it every time we try to recreate “a look”. I’m sure you’ve seen the Big 4 pattern companies posting runway looks and tagging their pattern.

So, where does this put me and my blog? I’m not going to stop being honest. I’m not going to stop being helpful. I want to support this community and promote people, businesses, and companies doing good work. I’m not going to hide where I get my information, and I’m not going to withhold help when I can provide it. People in this community struggle with the fact that patterns don’t often fit their bodies and I want to be completely transparent about how patterns rarely fit me. Just because a pattern doesn’t fit, doesn’t mean the pattern is terrible. If I took that stance, my blog would be a much darker, more cynical, and awful place. I’d have to hate every pattern I’ve ever sewn. I take a different perspective. I choose to buy indie patterns more often than the Big 4 because indie designers do an incredible job with their instructions, graphics, sewalongs, etc. I know their patterns aren’t going to fit me, but that’s not why I’m giving them my money. It’s everything else that comes with the pattern that I want and will support. So why would I hide what pattern I’m using and why wouldn’t I do everything to promote people to buy their patterns? Here’s what I’ve come up with about sharing my patterns and how I can continue to benefit this community:

  1. I will share only the absolute bare essentials for making a muslin or test version (e.g. front and back pieces, yoke, and pocket facing)
  2. Any pattern piece I share must be significantly altered
    1. Adjustments must be beyond what is listed on the pattern (e.g., “shorten/lengthen here” lines)
    2. Adjustments cannot consist of just grading between sizes
    3. At least one adjustment must be more than 1″ inch
    4. Main pattern pieces (e.g., front and back pant leg) must involve three or more common alterations so that the pattern pieces cannot be easily reverse-engineered
  3. I WILL always tell you the original pattern and my size
  4. I WILL NOT provide guided information about the construction or anything found in the instructions to the original pattern

These guidelines are ever evolving as I want to make sure I protect the original pattern designers and their copyright. Back to my t-shirt pattern example, I actually won’t share my pattern pieces for the t-shirt pattern because in the end, my alterations weren’t significant enough. Following my description on the blog, you should be able to recreate my alterations easily. However, the same cannot be stated about pants, namely, my version of Megan Nielsen’s Dawn Jean. I spent 6 months working on that pattern. In the end, I self-drafted the front and back pieces and then altered the rest of the Dawn Jeans pieces to fit. This meant altering the fly extension, fly, button fly, pocket facing, coin pocket, pocket bag, back pocket, waistband, and even belt loops. I like wider belt loops and use 6 instead of 5. Chances of anyone fitting into my jean pant pattern; NONE. But I’m going to share my hard work if it can be the least bit helpful for someone else. And in the meantime, if you want to try a really great rigid jean pattern, I highly recommend Megan Nielsen’s Dawn jeans, because the amount of options available is worth the money. Her classic high waisted rigid jean pattern includes an astounding 4 cuts (tapered, straight, wide, and shorts) in three lengths (tall, regular, and cropped), button or zippered fly options, and comes fully detailed with great diagrams and clear instructions. Her pattern might not fit perfectly, but it is an amazing starting point to develop a pattern of your own!

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