I often find that the biggest hurdle for new sewists who want to learn to make wearable garments is the pattern instructions. It’s frustrating to me because I know the newb mistakenly decides it’s their own fault the pattern doesn’t work for them. No, it probably isn’t! Most instructions are written in a very particular (…some might say outdated) style and vocabulary, using questionable or difficult-to-master techniques and often omitting important steps like pressing or finishing a seam.*
The only patterns I unreservedly recommend to students and say “just follow the instructions and you’ll be fine” are Colette and Oliver + S. Kwik Sew (why the spelling, KS?) usually provides fairly decent instructions, as well. The “Big 4” patterns fall at the lower end of my preferences, especially for a novice sewist. And naturally, Burda with its brief wording-in-translation comes dead last.
Of course, for most garments an intermediate-to-advanced sewist might not even look at the instructions. I tend to skim, referencing back for any interesting design details. (Once again, my only exception is Colette and Oiver + S. I get excited when I buy one of those patterns. The first time I open one up I always think “Ok, Liesl/Sarai, what can you teach me today?” then carefully read through the instructions.) It’s my guess that most other experienced sewists are the same, which means pattern instructions exist primarily for those who are relatively new to sewing.
A few years ago, I spotted a Japanese crafting instruction sheet for the first time. It was for a sweet little purse to be made up in class. I was delighted! To me, the little diagram made perfect sense and I don’t even read Japanese.
Since then, I’ve discovered more to like about Japanese sewing patterns. How great is this diagram? It’s a “once over” of the construction process, with the seams numbered. I like this because it would permit me to scan the dress and understand how the designer put it together. From there I can decide if I need to read more in depth, or not.
I really, really like that.
Remember how I said I think poor/scary/unfathomable sewing pattern instructions turn people off from sewing? I love these instructions from Aranzi Aronzo- they make me want to dig out every piece of felt in my stash and madly stitch up little mascots. It’s cute, friendly, and clearly presented.
By the way, if you haven’t been there, check out the Aranzi Aronzo website. Too fun.
So, as I work on a not-too-secret project that eats into my blogging time, I’m inspired by these useful and friendly instruction sheets out of Japan. The instruction sheets from Sweden, however, remind me that some words are necessary. Diagram-only instruction sheets from Ikea inspired this parody:
I’d like to hear some venting about bad instructions, and props for good ones. Also, do you ever sew with Japanese patterns? What do you like? Do you have a favorite book/designer?
*Yes, yes, sure, it “goes without saying” to press and finish seams, but when you’re first starting out sewing it doesn’t go without saying. It’s confusing, figuring out where to finish and why and when and which way to press a seam. It really, really doesn’t have to be.