Sunday, February 13, 2011

Avoiding the 7 Deadly Sins of Pattern Malpractice

I can't believe that it has been over 35 years since I started designing, teaching and writing patterns for dolls and puppets.  Being an insatiable pattern collector has only served to whet my appetite to create more characters and share the excitement of designing with others.

In my quest to share what I have learned through experience, I have written pattern instructions that I hope have served my clients and students well.  Here are some tips I thought I would share with prospective pattern designers:

1.  Include concise details and measurements where possible.
      One thing that has always been the "fingernails on the chalkboard" creepies for me is finding a written pattern that assumes that I am on the same level of sewing, painting, detailing or crafting experience as that of the author and does not instruct me with those finite details which allow me to be more successful in crafting the end product of my desire.  For example, simply stating, "Place front and back of fabrics together, sew, cut out and turn," leaves the beginner with a myriad of questions and hidden secrets of technique such as:  Cut with any seam allowances?  Clip curves?  What size seam allowances?  Smoothe curves?, etc.

For the very experienced crafter, anticipating all the problems by leaving out these details would prove to be a slight challenge, but for a novice customer, this would be a disaster and cause much frustration and, of course, a loss for the designer in future sales, not only from that client, but from others with whom she/he would be discussing those frustrations (or with an infinite number of contacts through blogging!).

2.  Include "Figure" drawings to show and visually explain a detail included in your instructions.

     Nothing can be more frustrating than to have a critical detail of the instructions explained in writing and, for the reader, not to have a clue about what the author has just said even though it was fairly well-stated.  Always include drawings to demonstrate and clarify complicated (or even simple) techniques or details.  These can be simple "stick" drawings or cartoon-ish renditions but make sure they are clear to the reader.

3.  Drawings of pattern pieces should be clear, legible and as crisp as possible.

     I hand-draw my pattern pieces and use a very fine Sharpie pen for the initial product.  I then send them to my son who "tweaks" these drawings with his PhotoShop skills and makes the lines clearer, bolder and very concise.  Without my son's expertise, my pattern templates would be perfectly concise enough for use in a pattern, but I prefer the professional look of this technical step-up.

     If you don't have the advantage of the extra fine design step, be sure that your drawings are concise and smear-proof.  Your hand-drawn creation can be accurate enough for production; however, it doesn't hurt to use "White-Out" or white paint, etc., or any other correction products to help smoothe out the little bumps and lumps that might occur in a handwritten pattern.  Always checkout a test run of your template copy before proceeding with copying and assembling your pattern package.

4.  Include an accurate listing of materials needed to create this design.
     List appropriate quantities of yardages of fabrics; colors of items used such as flosses for details (even list the colors, color numbers and manufacturing names to help your client to make decisions about their artwork), varieties of metals, etc.

     A listing of alternative items that could be substituted for a material (eg.:  muslin, flannel, cotton, etc.) is very helpful and very appreciated by your client.  A suggestion of detail accessories that may be used to enhance your finished product is also important, especially if the photo of the finished item on the pattern has accessories that are not included in the pattern.

5.  Never, never, never print pattern templates on both sides of the same page!!

     Directions can be printed on two sides of a page (I strongly suggest that pages always be numbered and that you print out a sample page and check if the paper you used is of good enough quality not to allow the printing from one side of the paper to interfere with the legibility of the printing on the opposite side).

     Pattern pieces to be used to cut out fabrics, wood, metals, etc., must be free of any "bleed-through" of other pattern pieces on the backside.  I never cut my original paper patterns out from the original pattern; however, some clients may do this and it would be impossible for them to execute the design with a double-sided pattern.  Do not cut corners here!!!  (No pun intended.)

6.  Number pages of the written instructions (at least).

     Numbering the pages in the Footer of the page is so helpful, especially if the client might be inclined to lay the instructions on the worktable.  One good sneeze or breeze could set a negative tone for the entire day.

     I also number the pattern template and figure pages.  I include the copyright information in the footer on every page and have found that including the name of the pattern in each footer also helps keep things organized.  If the client works like I do, ideas from several different patterns and resources help in the design process.  At the end of the project, it is so easy to reorganize patterns, sources, etc., properly and quickly if they are labelled.  In most word processing programs, once you set up your footer information, it is automatically placed on each page.

7.  Proofread your pattern and check and double-check your pattern templates.

     It is so crucial that you proofread your instructions. If there is time, it is important to do at least two to three proofreading sessions on a pattern for typos and in order to make sure that the instructions make sense.  I find it so valuable to make a doll from one of my patterns by simply following the directions that I have written.  You can't believe some of the interesting things I have found and/or caught and corrected before these went to publication.

     Always double-check that you have included all the pattern template pieces.  This needs no further explanation.  One experience of extreme embarrassment through neglect will be all you need to remember this one!

     So, I hope this has helped you to alleviate the Seven Deadly Sins of Pattern Malpractice.  I haven't included everything in this blog on pattern publishing, but I have saved that for another time!

Happy Designing !!

Polly-Wog Patterns



  1. Oh, yes please! These guidelines would be wonderfully helpful. I can do nothing without patterns/instructions... well I am trying to learn to wing it.

  2. Hi, Holly ~~
    If you need any help just email me. I think it is so important to write instructions clearly and use many pictures and sketches.