Thursday, April 5, 2012

Up close and personal

I've stopped flitting about the countryside long enough to get back into some serious instruction-writing.  Yesterday, it was all about the minutae of how to do all the fiddly bits and I came away with 261 photos that looked remarkably like this...
Following a discussion with Carmel about the writing process, I was more aware of just how compartmentalised I am in the way that I develop a design from idea through to finished pattern.  If only to get the analysis of the process out of my head (and in case you were wondering), I thought I'd write it down.

I begin exploring a design idea between the computer and the sewing machine - drafting the pattern, testing toiles and tweaking samples in different forms, until I settle on a clear view of what I'd like it to be. (I might also add, that  - never one to leave well-enough alone - I'm often overwhelmed at this point by the possibilities for design variation...).  I then revise the pattern accordingly.

I make the project again and again, until I know the way forward and the construction processes inside out... until I can begin to write instructions in a stream-of-conciousness sort of way (Molly Bloom, eat your heart out).  I begin to map out the instructions this way, and simultaneously start visualising diagrams and photos that need to be included.  I cut and paste shared techniques from other instructions I've written and then see if I can improve them.
Then I go back to the machine and start making the finalised design again... several times.... while CONSTANTLY photographing details and distance shots.  If the project is a garment, I grade the pattern to multi-size, and use the making-it-over-and-over time as an opportunity to test each for size and fit.

I tend to sew for part of the day and sit at the computer for part of the day.... making necessary changes and adding minute detail and sewing tips as a break between extended periods of sewing and photographing.... clearing it all out of my head before I move on the the next part of the sewing process. 
This is the crucial part, where I hone right in on the detail to make sure that my pattern is as close to perfect as I can possibly make it.  My brain starts popping with ideas for communicating the processes.... and somehow, that's as exciting as coming up with a new design idea.  I'm a geek like that.

I'm reminded of a description I once heard of Joni Mitchell at work on song-writing - that she is blinkered and concentrating like a welder as she writes.  (I mean that I get the concentration-at-the-expense-of-all-else bit.   Unfortunately, I seemed to have missed out on the ability to play a guitar or write a timeless and perfect pop song.) 

I'm also reminded that more prolific designers like Amy Butler employ people to do this stage.... and can see the value in freeing up one's time to design.  I'm unsure if I could ever hand over such a key part of the product development process, although that seems like the only way to develop even a fraction of the ideas I have for patterns.  My way of doing things is  s l o w ....
And this is where I'm up to on my big-girl's dress, which currently has the working-title of "Best" (as in "Sunday best".... a slightly out-of-date notion, but you know what I mean, don't you?).  I'm buried deep in the nitty-gritties of the how-to and I kind-of like it here.  It feels like home. 
In a little while, I'll begin to feel a bit sick of it. The fun wears off, but I have to plough through and finish the writing, diagram-drawing and layout of the text and photos.
The next stage is testing the instructions on people from a diverse range of sewing skills, to make sure that the instructions make sense to all, tweaking the instructions based on feedback and then designing the cover. 

It's at this point that I. NEVER. WANT. TO. SEE. IT. AGAIN.
The whole thing is then proof-read by a few different sets of eyes and, depending how many changes have been made since testing, the pattern is tested again. Things are tweaked, refined, fixed, and it goes to the printers.

And it's at this point that someone points out a glaringly obvious typo.

So there you have it folks.... and now you know why it takes me so long to write a new pattern, and why the instructions are so very detailed. 

 I know a few people have offered, but I've forgotten who you are.... 
  • When I finish writing, I'll need to test the pattern on a range of sewing skills and experience with my patterns. 
  • If you're interested in becoming a pattern-tester for this latest dress, please email me (don't use the comment box unless you have an email address attached to your google identity, because I won't be able to contact you!).   
  • You'll need to be in Australia and preferably close to Melbourne - I can't email the pattern and I like hard-copy feedback. 
  • I need people who can sew and give detailed feedback within a week of receiving the pattern - and not just "Oh it was fine".  I want all thoughts and feelings noted and any typos or inconsistencies pointed out.  
  • And I need people with little girls aged 5-10 that can try the dresses on for me and give THEIR feedback, too (although I have the 6-year-old covered). 
Is this you?  Let me know if you're up for it and I'll get back to you in a week or so.

Ok... now it's back to that welding....

(And yes - there really were 261 photos of the bodice construction for one design variation).


Vintage Grrl said...

It's times like this I wish I had a little girl to be able to make these patterns! It's so adorable! In fact, I wouldn't mind a dress like this for myself... *so sweet*

Kirsty said...

email on it's way! I'd love to test out this pattern for a special little girl I know.

Claire - Matching Pegs said...

I take forever to write out my patterns and make lots of versions of whatever it is before and during pattern writing.

At the moment I am working on a really big project for a magazine deadline (as in the item itself is big) and I can't really make as many versions as I usually do.

I've been cutting up and re-sewing the same set of sheets, but soon I am going to have to cut up lots of fabric for the final version.

I just wish it was term time (and not school holidays) because I have to do each step one at a time, and finalise the pattern writing and diagrams for that step as I go.

I think it is so worth it to have a really comprehensive pattern though.

I love the orange spotty iteration of the dress, good luck with all the rest of the refining.

Lara said...

Nikki, I really LOVED reading about the process! I know that you are a perfectionist. And can I put my hand up to test sew for a 5 year old and a 9 year old? If you'll have me again, that is!

Katy Cameron said...

Heh, I now feel incredibly lazy! I usually write the patterns out in Word first, to get an idea of how it's all going to flow (and borrowing bits from other patterns as required). Then I set the laptop up on the cutting table, and try and follow through, taking photos as I go, and making any amendments/fix glaring errors as I go. Then I cross my fingers and hope... ;o) Just kidding, I haven't got to the selling part yet, so not reached pattern testing areas.

It's funny, I work as a software tester (well, I now manage a team I boss about ;o) ), but actually professionally pattern test for a couple of people as a lot of the skills are cross-purpose. It's just bags I do this for though, as I have no kids to make clothes for or anything like that, and I just tend to buy clothing patterns for me and alter as required for my odd shape.

I do often have an urge to e-mail certain people who have written professional patterns though to ask if they were smoking crack at that point, and why exactly they thought that particularly complex bit wasn't worth either a photo or a diagram. As yet, I haven't ever done it, but one day... ;o)

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

It's really interesting to see inside the process. Oh my, so much work and yes, now I understand why your patterns are so easy to follow :)

Helen said...

your patterns are really easy to follow and comprehensive at the same time and this explains why. they look a bit daunting with all the little writing and lots of pages but boy do they get you to a fantastic end result. if only remy was 5 and a girl, i could offer you my (sub-standard) garment sewing skills...!

pbtajr said...

Your patterns are much better written then Amy Butler's. I love her designs but the finishing often leaves a lot to be desired. Your patterns are not only stylish they are like taking a sewing class with a really talented instructor! Good luck with the new pattern.

Shelley said...

Oh, Nikki....

I can sooooo relate to your process (and it's great to know that I'm not alone in doing this for EVERYTHING I put my hands on).

Right now I'm elbow-deep in copy-writing to get your (incredibly detailed) patterns up into my store. Hope I do justice to all the hard works you've put in :-)

-- insert "we're-not-worthy" smilie --

Can't wait to see your new ones!


A Peppermint Penguin said...

I still want to be you when I grow up.

And I am slow. You are meticulous.

petiteleit said...

Thanks Nikki for giving us an insight on your creative and hard-slog process. It's so much more involved than I could have ever imagined.

I (re) started sewing because of your patterns. I dropped it after school and have only picked it up in the last few years. I love your patterns - they are so detailed and comprehensive and the finishes are top quality. There is no guess work or any dependency on past experience. I don't need to add any more notes! And what's more, they are inspiring. I look at your patterns and can see endless possibilities.

I have had a look at some other patterns and, not only do the finishes end up being sub-standard if I follow the instructions to a tee, but all I can see is that one end product and no more. Not the best value for money!!

And furthermore - the little tricks of the trade; the professional finishes; the detailed techniques - all of these coming from your patterns has given me the confidence to branch out to other sewing projects (like shoes!!!! And quilting!!! Imagine that!!).

So, in spite of the extra long comment, I hope you feel the love, admiration and deep respect I have for your patterns. Even more so now with this insight that you've given us.

So thanks!! Thanks for sharing, not only your creativeness and ingenuity, but all of your hard, hard, HARD work. Please, please keep them coming.

Fer said...

It'll be me in just over 2 years time, and by then I should hopefully have the time to be the type of tester you're looking for (I'd love the opportunity as well!).

I really admire your determination, and can see the driving force of 'finishing what you started' shining through - no matter how tedious it can be at times! Thanks for sharing.