Making ePatterns Part Three: Writing Instructions & Marketing Patterns

on April 13 | in Sewing Trends, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns, Small Business Ideas | by | with 10 Comments

Carla Crim is here with her third installment in her three-part series on drafting, grading, formatting and marketing your own ePatterns. Carla’s expertise is well-known in the industry; she’s the Scientific Seamstress and she works with Jennifer Paganelli to develop the comprehensive Sis Boom eBook patterns. In Part Three today Carla elaborates on pattern images, writing instructions and she covers how to distribute your patterns.

Part One focuses on pattern drafting and grading, and in Part Two Carla shows how to “eFormat” your patterns.

Today we’re offering a 20% discount on all Scientific Seamstress and Sis Boom PDF Patterns in the shop!

In this final segment of my e-Patternmaking series, I’m going to cover two important topics: writing instructions and distributing your work.

Research scientists often have to repeat the same experiments over and over again to get the data they are after (that is why so many of them are wacky). In grad school, I was taught to keep track of every detail in a lab notebook– reagents used, incubation time, etc.– so that I could either 1.) replicate the conditions if they worked or 2.) have a record of what I did wrong so I could learn from my failures. When it came time to publish, I could go right back to my notebook and easily write up my “materials and methods” section. These days, I do basically the same thing with my sewing instructions (except now my “materials” are much prettier and totally non-radioactive, and my lab notes are usually scrawled on scrap paper with Crayola marker).

Patricia Tunic

Usually I have to sew up multiple garments to get the fit just right for a pattern. I use this as an opportunity to fine-tune the assembly process. If a step is tricky or tedious for me, I know my customer probably won’t like it either so I try to come up with a better way. Once I have the steps figured out, I get going on the instructions. I find it much easier to do the photos/illustrations first, then add in the text.

Illustrations & Photos
A picture is truly worth 1000 words. I think that is why ePatterns have become so incredibly popular– they are usually loaded with color photos and diagrams, which aren’t typically found in the commercial paper patterns sold in big fabric stores. For someone who is new to sewing, the pictures can make all the difference in the world. I use a combination of illustrations and photographs. Here is a recent Sis Boom freebie that shows the basic format we use for our ePatterns.

Illustrations do not have to be computer generated. In fact, I think hand-drawn diagrams are quite charming and just as effective at getting the point across… I just can’t draw all that well. I draw my illustrations in PowerPoint, just like I described yesterday for my patterns. In fact, I often reduce full-sized pattern tracings down to 10-30% and use them as a starting point for an illustration. I draw the illustrations in the same file I dropped the pattern pieces into– I just add blank pages as needed. The nice thing about an illustration is that you can highlight relevant steps that might not show up well in a photograph, and you can show them in perfect sequence. This gives the user an instant idea of what she/he is supposed to be doing, and is easy for you because you can just copy and paste from one step to the next and modify as needed.

Above are some illustrations from the Tommy Boxer Shorts pattern (great for Father’s Day– Hint, hint!). If I tried to do the same thing with photographs, the folds would have flopped all over the place, and the stitching wouldn’t be visible zoomed out that far. Notice also that there is a clear difference between the right side and the wrong side of the fabric. I use tiled jpeg images to fill the diagrams. The “wrong side” image is actually the same as the “right side” image, I just adjust the brightness/contrast to make it look faded, like the reverse of a print. For the Sis Boom patterns, I obviously have permission from Jennifer to use her fabric designs. It is actually fun and easy to come up with your own textures by drawing or scanning. Things like dots, denim, and gingham work well and look cute. I usually draw all the appropriate images, then move on to photography.

For many steps, there is no substitute for a picture, especially if the hands are somehow involved in manipulating the fabric. I generally sew one sample (smaller sizes are easier to photograph), and take pictures of the process as I go.

Forming the bottom of the Rosetta Bag

Sometimes I have to use a tripod and the timer (especially when both hands need to be showing), but usually I hand hold the camera so I can quickly get just the angle I am after. If I need one hand in the picture, I’ll fake it and use my left hand (I’m not a lefty, but I play one in my eBooks). On the subject of hands… This may seem silly, but make sure yours look reasonably nice for pictures. They don’t have to sport a perfect French manicure, but your nails should clean and evenly trimmed (like if you were going to a job interview). You don’t want your hands to detract from your instructions. I’m just mentioning this because too many times I have gone to the trouble of taking a picture and been mortified by the condition of my hands. Things like glue-gun burns can be Photoshopped out, by the way!

Above are some pictures from the Sis Boom Betsey Apron. I find I get the best results when I use fabric that stands out against my background, which is usually a super cheap solid blue ironing board cover (which I ruin and replace too often) or my cutting mat, (which I need to replace desperately). I have an SLR, but I prefer my point-and-shoot set in auto mode for instruction pics. I have the resolution set to 640 x 480, which would be too low for printed work, but is great for e-format. I use the macro setting for extreme close-ups, but usually work in regular mode. I only take pictures if I have decent natural light coming in through the windows– the flash is too harsh, and bulb light is just ugly. Can you tell I’m not a professional photographer? Still, I get good images that nicely show the steps. After cropping, I usually use the sharpen filter to crisp up the details. Then I simply copy and paste the the image into PowerPoint, and resize as needed to fit my page layout. The nice thing about PowerPoint (and any other presentation software) is that it is very easy to add labels to imported photos, and you can easily move text and arrows around as needed.

Writing Instructions
With great graphics, your instructions will pretty much write themselves. Make sure to include important details like seam allowances, and avoid using jargon or abbreviations that someone new to sewing might not know. You have the space, so just go ahead and write out “right sides together” rather than RST. I would also rather err on the side of too much detail in the instructions rather than leave someone guessing. I figure more experienced sewists can glance over the images and know what they are doing, but I want to have everything there for someone who brand new to sewing. You can also include a glossary of terms and techniques, and refer to them in the text. The page layout is totally up to you, just make sure everything fits within printable margins. If you are graphically inclined, you can really make the pages a feast for the eyes. Just make sure that the “pretties” aren’t a distraction. It is fine to use colored, fancy fonts in titles and headings, but keep the actual instructions as readable as possible. Also, keep in mind some customers like to print out their instructions, and some work right from the computer. I try to stick with a format that can read off the screen without zooming, but also won’t take a ream of paper to print.

In addition to your patterns and instructions, you will need to provide some background information. For a multi-sized garment pattern, I include:

Complete list of materials – I divide this section up into to Notions/Supplies and Fabric. For the notions and supplies, I give the brand name of the product I use if it is the very best (or only) thing that will work (like Wash-Away Wondertape… Love that stuff). Otherwise, I’ll just be generic (example: Magnetic Fasteners) and maybe give some product possibilities. I generally don’t list the obvious (sewing machine, thread, scissors) unless something specific is needed. For the fabric, you will need to recommend fabric types and weights, and instruct the user to pre-wash if needed. You’ll also need to calculate the yardage requirements, which you can figure out by arranging pattern pieces on fabric (which can be done on the computer– see cutting layouts below). Make sure to overestimate the fabric needs a bit to account for shrinkage or uneven cutting. Your customers would rather have some left over than not enough!

Patricia Tunic Design Options

Design options – If there are multiple design possibilities for the pattern, show them off with photos or drawings. It is a great way to show off versatility and spark inspiration.

Size charts/fitting information – It is very important to help your customer choose the size that will give them the fit they are after. Above is the sizing info I provide for the Bowling Shirt. In the first chart, I give the range of chest measurements and corresponding sizes. I also provide a second chart that gives the finished across chest measurement for comparison purposes. Provide any additional fitting information about the garment that might be helpful to the user.

Cutting layout for the Maddie Dress/Top

Finishing Touches
Cutting layouts – For multi-pieced garments, layouts can help maximize fabric use and cut down on confusion that could lead to cutting mistakes. I actually shrink my pattern pieces to 10%, and arrange them on 4.5″ wide blocks that represent 45″ wide fabric. This gives me a cute little picture and helps me calculate needed yardage.

All that is left to do before printing is to add a cover page and possibly an introduction and a back page. Actually, I always grumble about adding the last bit of “fluff” to a pattern, but it is truly what ties everything together in a professional package, and the text and images you come up with now can be used for marketing down the line. For the Sis Boom Patterns Jennifer does all this stuff, thank goodness. She works with an awesome photographer, Tim Geaney, to get the gorgeous images for the covers. She selects an image that shows off the garment design and exudes that special “Sis Boom” feeling. She adds in the logo, pattern name, author names, and size range. She also writes up the fun descriptions for the intro pages, where we provide additional photos, a short table of contents, a little bit about ourselves and our product lines, plus our copyright statement. The last page is also a great place to let customers know about your other products, if applicable.

Back page for Scientific Seamstress ePatterns

Making the actual PDF file is probably the easiest step. In modern presentation programs, you can convert directly to PDF. I use Primo PDF, which is a free program. It acts just like a printer, but instead of output on paper, a pretty PDF file pops up. This program gives you control over the file quality/size. I use the eBook setting, which usually gives me a file size under 3 MB, which is great for digital distribution.

Before putting your eBook up for sale, I highly recommend that you put it through a testing process. Even if you read over your instructions 1000+ times, fresh eyes are much more likely to catch typos and things that just don’t make sense. If pattern testers have a great sewing experience, chances are your customers will too. I am so blessed to have a wonderful pool of testers. Not only do they catch boo-boos, but they offer ways I could make the pattern even better. Also, since I offer such a wide range of sizes, I really rely on them to confirm sizing accuracy, and I make fit changes based on their feedback. Another bonus: People line up to buy the pattern when the testers share pictures of their beautiful creations!

Tester-made Sophie Tunics

Distributing Patterns
Now onto distributing your ePattern! As with any product, you can sell it yourself or via an outside vendor. If you sell it yourself via your own website, you get to keep 100% of the proceeds BUT you are also totally responsible for delivery and marketing. Etsy is a great place to sell because people actually go there looking for PDF patterns, and the fees are quite reasonable. There are lots of guides (both free and for sale) to maximizing Etsy sales, and the same advice applies to downloadable products. If you are new to selling ePatterns, that is a great place to build a reputation and customer base.

If you sell through an outside vendor, expect to get a 50% commission on the retail price. This is actually a great deal because they handle the delivery (via email or instant download) and also get you in front of a totally new audience. Some sites, like YouCanMakeThis.com, specialize in ePatterns, while others, like Sew,Mama,Sew!, sell titles that fit with their fabric and physical pattern lineup. Every site has different requirements for getting listed, so it is best to contact the shop owner for details. Don’t be disappointed if your product isn’t accepted right away. Just keep working on building your reputation and perfecting your product.

And that brings us to marketing your ePattern. As with any item sold online, the main product image is key. Make sure it shows off your product, and stands out even at thumbnail size. If you are going to have a line of ePatterns, strive for a consistent look. As I mentioned, Jennifer has creative oversight when it comes to the Sis Boom covers, and we just modify them to make the main product image for the different sites. For my Scientific Seamstress patterns, I use a white background and high contrast, key pictures. Since the pictures are so important, I leave that job to the professionals. There are lots of talented photographers willing to exchange great images for the item modeled and/or a small fee. Some sites only have room for 1 or 2 product images, while others allow multiple images – pick your best!

Main product image for Simply Sweet Tops & Dresses

In addition to the images, you should have a great description of your product– What makes it special, where/when it could be worn, etc. Make sure to include a size range and difficulty level (if it is easy, that is a selling point, and if it is more advanced it should be disclosed). It is helpful to include a basic list of materials as well.

Once your product is listed, there is so much you can do to promote it. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc., are great places to share the news about your new publication. Again, many of the marketing tricks for handmade goods apply to PDF patterns, and there are lots of resources (like this site) devoted to the subject. I have to admit, I haven’t done that much in the way of advertising (not that I don’t believe in it… I just haven’t put the time into it), so most of my publicity has been via word of mouth. I’m also a firm believer in freebies (like the Folding Templates and Frayed Rosettes). Not only does it give potential customers a good sense of your skills and style, it is also a nice way of saying “Thank You” to the customers who support you.

Bowtie made from freebie paired with a Sis Boom pattern in the works!

On that note, thanks so much to Sew,Mama,Sew! for allowing me to share here over the last few days! I never dreamed I would become an ePatternmaker, but thanks to sites like this and customers like you, I’m able to spend my days doing something I love immensely.

It’s Digital Delivery Sewing Month!

Today we’re offering 20% off all Scientific Seamstress PDF Patterns AND all Sis Boom PDF Patterns in the shop!

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10 Responses to Making ePatterns Part Three: Writing Instructions & Marketing Patterns

  1. Amy says:

    Thank you, Carla, for all the great information in this series! It’s easy to see why you are successful. Your generous spirit comes through, and I feel so excited to be able to learn from what you’ve contributed!

  2. I am featuring all three of these articles for making an ePattern at somedaycrafts.blogspot.com. They are incredible!!! My viewers will love them.

  3. Katrina H says:

    Very interesting information, thank you.

  4. Cathy says:

    Wow! Lots of work to make a pattern! I have sewn form the bowling shirt pattern and it’s terrific! So easy to understand and follow and everything fit together so nicely!

  5. Seanna Lea says:

    This is a wonderful series of articles. While I don’t think I ever will make my own patterns to sell, I feel a bit more confident picking up an ePattern to make!

  6. Cathy says:

    I have really loved reading about all the steps you take to create your wonderful patterns Carla! I love how you explain and illustrate/picture each step along the way. Until I found your patterns, I was extremely frustrated with commercial patterns. The directions were sketchy and hard to follow. I love how versatile your designs are and how many sizes are available. Not having to deal with tissue paper nested sizes is worth a million bucks to me! I recommend your patterns to everyone I know!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

  7. Lorrie Orr says:

    This has been a great mini-series. I’m definitely bookmarking these. Thanks so much, Carla.

  8. I just finished making my very first sewing project, the Sis Boom Jamie Dress. As a brand new sewer, I was a little scared. Every time I attempted to make clothing before has ended in frustration, but not this time! Your patterns are wonderful and the instructions are so great for a beginner like me. I learned so many things, such as installing a zipper, using basting stitches to gather fabric and hemming. I plan to try some more of your patterns, like the Tommy Boxer Shorts and the Patricia Tunic. I also look forward to more womens’ clothing patterns in the future. Thanks so much for giving me the confidence to sew!

  9. This has been a really interesting and informative series! Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of knowledge.

  10. thank you, that was a very thourough intro to the world of epatterns, i appreciate all the work that goes into them!

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