Thursday, April 13, 2023

My Patterns in Print and other updates

Happy spring, friends!

Although it feels decidedly summerish here in Minnesota this week at a sweltering 86 degrees. Temporarily sweltering, that is, as we expect to plummet back into the 40s this weekend. Typically neurotic spring in the upper Midwest, in other words. 

Speaking of sweltering, we were in Singapore a fortnight ago. This was the first time we'd been there as a family since the start of the pandemic. The girls had grown a lot in those 3+ years, so much so that my family could barely recognize them at the airport when we set eyes on each other after all those years apart. It was a sweet reunion. Mum is doing well. Being with my family again is like being filled with all good things. 

Back here in the US, we're prepping for a graduation party. I tell myself it will be like any of those insane birthday parties we used to throw when the kids were little, just bigger, although perhaps even less stressful, because there would be none of the manic role-playing-game-type activities - complete with ambitiously-sewn props - that we had to invent to entertain the guests.  I'm trying to be present in it all, and not let my mind sneak back to the past too much. Yes, I know this is all bittersweet, and that the kids were babies not that long ago and somehow I blinked, and here we are, 18 years later as if time ungracefully short-circuited us to this moment. I choose not to linger there. I've learned enough about grief to recognize this for what it is, and to anticipate that the emotions will come when they come. Even relentlessly so, there is a place for them, and the present isn't it. 

On the subject of old-ish things, I did something for myself recently that surprised me: I had my digital sewing patterns printed. Well, some of them, anyway. I've been writing sewing patterns for about 14 years, a fact that stunned me when I actually counted backward to determine when this pursuit first began. It has always struck me as ironic - the precision and methodicalness of teaching a person to do something creative and artistic - and as you all know, for a while I rebelled against the idea of sewing patterns altogether. By all means, have manuals for assembling a toilet or filling out an IRS form, I'd argue, but for Pete's sake, let people make a doll or a backpack whichever way they wanted, thank you very much. Eventually, I made peace with this by deciding that pattern-writing was not the same as bossing people around. Rather, it was like a recipe: here is what you need to make This Thing, and here is how I throw it together; follow if you have to, deviate if you want.
Whatever their motivation, these patterns (I think I've written 17, in addition to who knows how many tutorials and deconstructions) have been a fun distraction, and a sneaky but modest, source of passive income - pocket money to buy more fabric, was what I thought of it when they first began to sell. And then it began to look sort of like a small business, and there were taxes to pay, finances to document, customers to interact with. Some days it felt like an actual job and I'd wonder how to categorize myself: freelance designer? monetized hobbyist? Self-employed SBO (small business owner) who pays her sole employee in chocolate? What was most amusing to me, though, was that it was a largely invisible enterprise. These were digital patterns, designed on a computer screen and delivered remotely into someone's inbox following an online transaction. Nothing physical existed, except for the prototype bags or soft toys that were sewn to fine-tune the construction process - even these were ultimately sold off in my Etsy shop (yet another online arm of my unseen business). And if you'd visited me in my home/office and asked me what I did during my spare time, I wouldn't have anything to show you apart from pulling up an image on my phone of a screenshot I'd taken of the cover art.
Then last month, on a lark, I decided to have some of those incorporeal patterns printed for the first time ever, and found a proper printing company which didn't charge an arm and a leg for full-color pages. It felt incredibly self-indulgent, let me tell you. Especially at a time when everyone and their mother is making TikTok tutorials for those of us with the attention span of a flea, which makes a written pattern even more old-fashioned. But I did, and I forgot about it until the box arrived at my door and I opened it with no small amount of fear and trembling: would they be hideous? Would the fonts be blindingly mis-sized? Would the photos look like indistinct blobs? Would the text bleed off the page because I failed to consider print margins? Mind you, I'd stared at these same documents on my computer screen for days on end while I wrote and formatted them, so I knew that the photos were not low-res blobs, and I was well aware of the layout of each page, having printed out each subsequent revision on our economy black-and-white home printer for hardcopy editing.

But when I actually looked at them - the first color prints of my up-till-then-only-digital patterns - it felt unreal. I've had my work included in print magazines and books, and I always got a kick from seeing that, but it was quite different now to hold the tangible form of something that had only ever existed on my computer screen, or as one of those nebulous, ghostly things called pdfs. It was oddly validating. I remember thinking, "Hey! I actually did stuff! It wasn't me just imagining it, because here they are! I can touch the paper and flip the pages and everything!" Then I patted myself on the back and said, "You shoulda done this 14 years ago instead of just concluding you were going nuts for wondering where all those hours went."
So just wanted to share that sometimes when you do invisible work, like writing software, creating digital products, analyzing obscure data, or hey, even cooking meals that mysteriously vanish in 20 minutes so that you have to do it all over again several hours later. . . no, it really wasn't a dream. It actually happened. And it totally counts.

Incidentally, I do plan to get my other patterns printed eventually. And maybe put some copies in my Etsy shop to see if anyone's interested in buying them as print copies instead of the digital versions. The nice thing about bulk(ish) printing is not paying copyshop prices. Menagerie, for instance, would've cost $70 at FedEx just to print each page manually, but print shops could automate spiral bound books for less than half of that. A win-win.

Also, I'm working on Menagerie 2. Yes. Not lying, I promise. But we're talking years, not months, because I sew only during those rare pockets of time between swim meets and jazz concerts and the other wonderful things the kids are involved in. But I'm getting there. Two winters ago, there was an elephant and panda and several aquatic mammals. This winter, giraffes, two versions of unicorn and even an axolotl, all systematically photographed and documented. Menagerie 2 is looking to be bigger than the original, and I might have to do some culling to make the final selection more manageable. Thanks for being patient. I'm not giving up. This is something I need to finish, no matter how long it takes.

But now, the snow is gone and the townsfolk are emerging from hibernation. May you enjoy the beckoning sunshine, may you reconnect with neighbors whose names you struggle to recall, may wretched hay fever stay far, far away, and may the coming days be filled with projects that lift you up and expand your world.

Till next time -


  1. So glad you could finally see your family in Singapore. So glad exciting things are happening! Are the printed patterns going to be for sale?

  2. I’m so happy to hear from you again. Your physical patterns are amazing as usual. I just love to hear your voice, smart and vulnerable together!

  3. Those printed versions are beautiful! Would you ever consider a print on demand contract with one of the big box stores that offer that service?

  4. Checking in for a summer update. Wishing you well. Longtime follower, Jenny Anderson


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