ask me: popular patterns and new sizes

Greetings from extra-cold northern Michigan (it was -29 degrees Fahrenheit when we work up this morning!), where we’re spending a few days with family and celebrating S’s 10th birthday tomorrow. Can you believe S is 10 years old already! S has pretty much grown up within this company. I started Oliver + S when she was 2  1/2, so I suppose we should celebrate a company birthday party sometime soon, too, since our first collection of patterns was released in March 2008. That’s seven years ago already!

In any case, I thought it was time for another installment from our ask me series. You’re continuing to write in with questions, so here are a few answers for you.

Ask Me

Which patterns surprised you with their popularity or unpopularity? And which pattern has resulted in incredible interpretations which have changed your vision of what the pattern was in the first place?

I’d like to say that I’m never surprised by the popularity or lack of popularity of a pattern, but that just wouldn’t be true.

I think that I’ve been most surprised by how popular some of our easiest patterns have been. The Ice Cream Dress, the Roller Skate Dress, and the Playtime Dress have all been unexpected hits. I know some of you clamor for more challenging patterns. But those are the patterns that are really difficult for us to sell, so I try to maintain a balance between the more challenging and easier patterns. The Fairy Tale Dress, as much as many of you love it, intimidated a lot of new sewists. Yes, you learn a lot from sewing it, but I think it still frightens people. The School Days Jacket and the Secret Agent Trenchcoat didn’t sell as well as I had hoped, and I think it’s because they look difficult to many sewists and have a lot of pattern pieces. Todd adds that he’s been surprised by how the Croquet Dress has been a weak seller. It has such a cute silhouette, but for some reason it’s never really caught on with our customer base.

Lately I’ve been working on developing some more approachable patterns that look really cute but have fewer pattern pieces and fewer details that might look overwhelming to someone with less experience. I’d love to develop the more elaborate patterns that some of you have requested, but I also need to think about which patterns will sell. (We tie up a lot of money in paper patterns, not just in the cost of printing them–which is substantial–but also in the cost to warehouse them so we can keep the patterns in stock for a long time.)

On the other hand, I can predict the popularity of our women’s patterns very easily. I know that a dress with a fitted waist will sell extremely well, and if I wanted I could design those dresses all day long. But I think it’s my job as a designer to challenge our customers a bit and to get you thinking about clothing in new ways. I’ll be talking about that more in the near future. To be perfectly frank, I get bored with the classic dress with a fitted waist. There are so many other interesting ways to wear clothing and so many different silhouettes to play with, and so many ways to flatter a woman’s figure! I’m hoping that some of the styles we offer will give you an opportunity to discover new ways to dress. And I feel strongly enough about it that I’m willing to forgo higher sales in exchange for more interesting styles. But I’ll talk a lot more about that in the months to come. It’s sort of a passion of mine.

Do you plan to upgrade some of your older patterns for bigger children? I would really love to sew the Puppet Show ensemble for my 9-year-old daughter, or the Sunday Brunch jacket or the Birthday Party dress for my 11-year-old girl.

I’ve refrained from re-visiting existing patterns so far, in part because I have so many ideas for new styles and I prefer to work on new styles. But we are considering re-releasing some of those older styles in a larger size range. The Puppet Show Shorts would be a good candidate, as would the Sailboat Top. It takes a lot of time to grade and format a pattern so it’s just right, so I’ve been holding off on this.

I’m really interested in the evolution of a design through the pattern making process. Do you have any examples of how a design changed while you were developing it? Any “aha” moments where a new detail was added, or a new technique was included? I find your designs so clever, I can’t help but wonder how the came to be!

You know, I need to do a better job of documenting my design process! So much of the time I’m alone in the studio working on new styles, and I don’t take the time to stop and photograph muslins or scan my sketches. I’ll try to do this more going forward. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been showing muslins and original sketches from the Lisette collection on Instagram, but my design process for that collection is quite different because I’m working with design partners and I need to communicate with a large team of people at Butterick. Those designs need to be clearly formed before we even begin the patternmaking process. For Oliver + S and Liesl + Co., I’m a team of one when it comes to pattern development, and that conversation is largely internal and not as well documented. I allow myself a lot more time to experiment and to add or change details as I’m working. I’ll try to do a better job of showing you when we release our new patterns this spring!

 

If you have a question, email it to askme@lislandco.com and I’ll add it to my list!

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29 Comments

  1. Erica Guadagnoli

    I love your patterns. I wish you had more in stock as paper patterns. I don’t want to have to mess with printing them out and taping together.. part of buying a pattern for me is already having all of that done. I would buy so many more of your oliver and s patterns if they were in paper!

  2. Linda Lee Steaples

    I love everyone of your patterns but at the price their at I can’t afford to buy them.. also not many designers think of the larger women so we still have to ware GRANNY style clothing or go bankrupt dressing ourselves everyday.. sorry don’t mean to rant … I really love the girl patterns but just can’t afford them… thanks Linda

  3. Lauralee

    I love your patterns! Thank you for answering some of these questions. I love that I learn a new skill every time I sew one of your patterns. I have become quite experienced in that way. I don’t sew for myself, but I love the new line that is coming out this spring and plan to pick up one or two of those and try them out! Thanks for your wonderful designs.

  4. Thanks, Liesl. This is very thought provoking. Especially about the women’s styles. You could hire out the upsizing of the smaller patterns, I know I’d love to have them in larger sizes.

  5. Your “ask me” posts are some of my absolute favorites and this one is no exception! Right now, we are putting the finishing on our first “School Photo” dress, and we have two “Jump Rope” dresses and a “School Days Jacket” in the beginning stages. All three are three scissor patterns. We’ll be the first to admit we are sloooow when it comes to sewing even the simplest patterns, but sometimes you need to push yourself to better your sewing skills set and these patterns are bound to teach you something new! Yes, I procrastinated the zipper portion of the school photo dress. And once I finished it, it wasn’t perfect (as well as other parts of the dress), but I finished it. Am I proud of the end result? You better believe it, and I feel more a sense of accomplishment when stretching myself to learn something new! Because these patterns tend to be ‘slower movers’ have you ever considered only offering them digitally?

  6. Danae

    So sad to hear about the Croquet Dress – my sister recently gifted it to me, and it is already one of my favorites! It’s so cute and comfortable, and I’ve been able to easily customize it (including into a blouse that pairs with the Lazy Days skirt). Everyone else is missing out!

  7. Melanie

    I’m surprised about Fairy Tale as well, because in addition to learning so much, there are also so many ways to simplify the dress and make it more approachable. Also, it’s such a staple piece that can be made again and again in endless ways. Try it, people, it’s totally worth it!

    The school days coat I’ve only made once and it is a time investment, though I got several years out of it between my two boys. Coats are a very satisfying sew and look really great even if you aren’t an expert. I would love to see another Oliver and S coat. One that could be styled in lots of ways for different seasons and details.

    I appreciate your goal to challenge us and actually, I have been letting you lead me out of my comfort zone lately. It’s fun to do and I’m pleasantly surprised at how much like things I didn’t think I would love.

  8. I was a little intimidated by the finer details of the Fairy Tale dress at first but having sewn with many of your other patterns I knew the instructions would be stellar. Sure enough, although it took more time to assemble and sew the results were great. I would be glad to sew it again! I have learned so much from both the children’s and women’s patterns that to me they have been worth the higher cost. Although printing the women’s patterns in large format is getting so pricy as to discourage me in future. Now I choose only patterns I see myself making multiple times. I agree that for kids clothing, a faster turn around time is especially desirable!

  9. Holley

    I would LOVE to see the swingset tunic and skirt in the bigger size range… My kiddos have outgrown it and it was one of their favorites:) as was the Sunday brunch jacket. Pretty Please consider adding additional sizes to those classic patterns.

  10. Megan

    Love your patterns and it’s great to hear that you “may” be sizing up the puppet show shorts. I think they would still be darling in bigger sizes!

  11. Kiasa

    I love your patterns! I learned the basics of sewing when I was a teen, but didn’t really like what I made myself. But I sewed a few items for my daughter 5-6 years ago, which I loved (and she did too). Then I had more children and didn’t sleep for several years. But now I’m getting back into sewing and it feels so good. I’m toying with making my daughter one of your jackets. But they do make me nervous–you were right about that!

  12. KarenK

    I love reading these “insider glimpse” posts, too. My favorite will always and forever be the bedtime story pjs. I can make them in my sleep now but they never cease to delight my kids. I’ve always wished the bubble dress went up to size 8.

  13. I love these posts! And I just wanted to pop in and ask for the swingset skirt to be added to list of possible upsizing! It seems like that would be an easier pattern than some to do.

  14. Thank you all for your comments and suggestions! Have a great weekend. Xo

  15. Katie

    Seconding the plea for bigger sizes of the swingset skirt – an absolute favourite in our house. I love your patterns which have taught me to sew – and now I make most of my daughters’ clothes from oliver and s. Thanks Liesl!

  16. Marcy

    I vote for the sailboat top in larger sizes; I’d even like to see it in women’s sizes! I love that top. So classic and cute. I was going to attempt to scale it up on my own to my size I like it so much.

    One of my favorite patterns is the school days coat. I made a heavy wool one with Thinsulate and real horn toggle buttons in size 4. Yes, it’s a time investment, but I love coats (one of my favorite clothing items) and it should last my daughter a couple of years since it came out on the large size for her.

  17. Pamela Rigby

    I am wondering whether I dare ask this. Last year I made Apple Picking dresses for two great nieces. They loved them- the double skirt – their mother loved them and I enjoyed making them. However, the younger one 2 1/2 will not lea ve the tie neck in a bow. She has it untied as quickly as my niece can re-tie it. I am wondering whether there is any way I could put a collar on this dress instead of the tie? I am not a pattern drafter or anything but wondered if you could suggest anything.
    I love your patterns, the concise directions and the attention to detail, and they regularly are given glowing reports in the FB Pattern Reviews Group. I am a Brit and until a couple of years ago I didn’t even know what a PDF was. I do much prefer paper because that is what I was used to but PDF’s are instant and with yours I haven’t had any problems taping. I find that by mistake I now have 2 copies of several designs but that was my own fault. As mentioned. By some of the others I would like to see the size range extended but it won’t bother our girls for a while. I am a hand smocker by profession so it will be interesting to see which of your patterns I can incorporate that in.

  18. Chicmamainedh

    I totally get what you’re saying about the patterns people will buy. I sew for myself and my nieces. For myself, I am willing to go for something a little more complex. On the other hand, he simplicity of the liesl patterns makes them almost like bare canvases for personalization. My most recent make was the cinema dress and I really love it. As for the little girl stuff, I want the things I make them to be really special, but also something that they will wear often and is worth my time investment. I stay away from patterns like the fairytale dress for this reason. I love seeing them on flicker…but this girl ain’t sewing one.

  19. noelle

    I just want to say thank you for the time you spend designing and producing your patterns. I know you hear this all the time but I have learned SO much from sewing with my Oliver + S patterns. I want to be sure my gratitude gets expressed because it’s the right thing to do – but also just in case there are ever movements when you feel under-appreciated. I feel like the cost of your patterns is absolutely reasonable – a bargain actually – and will be sure to purchase all of the more difficult patterns that get released in the future. I want you to know there is a segment of the market who is totally up for the challenge. Thank you!

  20. Wendy

    Please make the puppet show shorts in larger size! I’ve adapted it to a bigger size, but it just isn’t the same. Those are my favorite shorts and look darling on all age girls :). Love your patterns!!!

  21. Esme

    With two small children and little time to sew, I’m excited to hear about your plans for some more ‘cute but simple’ patterns. Any patten that looks awesome with less time and effort is my kinda pattern! I’m a big fan of the ice cream dress and roller skate dress for those reasons (although the library dress is so pretty that I’m sure I’ll make the time to sew it again…). I’d love to try the more advanced patterns sometime, but quick results are important when you’re a new-ish sewer with little time to play with!

  22. Well my daughter would wear a Fairy Tale dress every day of the week, in fact she wore one today. No special occasion, just doing the grocery shopping! I’m about to make another as it’s such a lovely pattern and there’s no doubt it won’t be loved.
    It is fascinating hearing what sells, what doesn’t and what you were most inspired to create.
    I’m starting to feel I need to introduce an Oliver + S pattern rota so that they all get a fair go at my house. Let no pattern be left behind!! (I haven’t found a dud yet 😉 )

  23. I enjoyed reading your post- thank you for a glimpse inside of your business. I really appreciate what you said about developing women’s patterns. I too love a great dress but feel the need to make clothes for myself that lean toward more everyday wear so when patterns are released like your wonderful new Butterick line (which I bought every one of those) I always look first to see if any of the pieces can easily fit into my everyday wardrobe. Again thanks for a thoughtful post!

  24. Jennifer

    This post was so interesting! I personally found the Fairy Tale dress intimidating. I did buy it, and I learned a lot making the dress but I can see it being a harder sell. Neither my daughter nor I really like wearing dresses so I love your skirt, shirt, or pants patterns. I just bought the two new Butterick patterns that did not have dresses. I can’t wait to make them! Such fun looking lines.

  25. What an interesting set of questions and answers, and it’s so interesting to read about the wide range of experiences. We sewists seem to run the gamut! I love the ‘objectness’ of the paper patterns, but prefer tracing from the big sturdy sheets from the printer. I don’t cut & tape, but the print shop is convenient for me and might not be, for everyone.

    I didn’t have any point of comparison when I started sewing so these patterns didn’t seem expensive to me, especially when I realized I didn’t have to cut into my original, so I could use every size a million times if I wanted. Then I found out that I could get Big 4 patterns for 99c on sale at JoAnn, or PDF indie patterns on Etsy for just a few dollars — and when I tried to sew from them I found out that they were worth every penny. Very much like sewing with craft fabrics vs sewing with garment fabrics, or buying shoes with plastic soles vs leather soles. What seems like a big saving up front feels more like a false economy down the road. Still, if you don’t have the money you just don’t have it, so of course my wishlist is a lot longer than my buy list!

    My experience with 3-scissor patterns is more similar to Noelle and Lightning, above. I actually think of the Fairy Tale as a quick sew, because it doesn’t have any tricky curves, pockets, lots of interfacing, lots of seam finishing, curved hem that needs to be eased, or buttonholes. It works so well in the simplified version I make (drop the sleeves, collar, darts, and tulle, gather the full width of the fabric, sew the zip wholly by machine with an invisible zip foot) that it’s just an everyday dress around here. I think you need to have a kid who’s used to doing everything in dresses, though, and knows how to crawl through tunnels at the playground in one and keep her dress/skirt out of her bike’s spokes.

    If you do make a really special one in nice fabric and make a ‘the works’ version then you do almost need to look for occasions to wear it. My kid, at least, does not get invited to a lot of formal events, haha!

  26. Amy

    I tried emailing you, but the email address didn’t work.

    I love your patterns, and especially the way you present them, making it
    approachable for me as a new to sewing person. I am especially excited to
    make your butterick 6168, but need to make a full bust adjustment. I love
    how your cappuccino pattern walked me through this! Can you give me any
    advice on doing this with the butterick pattern? I do have some fitting
    resources (fit for real people and readers digest sewing), but am unsure if
    those adjustments would work for the bodice with the shape, getting it to line up with the collar, etc. Also – if you are adding width to the side and bottom of the bodice front pieces as I see in a lot of FBA, how do you make it line up with the back and skirt?

  27. What a fascinating read! Seeing the evolution of a pattern would be very fun to see! And I’m surprised at the most/least popular patterns. I love the style of the secret agent trench and am planning on sewing it this spring for my daughter. And it’s funny that my very first two patterns I bought/sewed by oliver+s were the School day’s jacket and fairy tale dress, which are your worst sellers! I guess I’m an odd duck 😉

  28. Tassiemum

    I must admit I love sewing a pattern that is a quick sew due to work and kids sport but I also love a more complicated pattern that advances my sewing techniques. Maybe the more complicated patterns could be released as digital only so there is not the cost involved with printed patterns. I love Oliver+S and cannot wait for the spring patterns.

  29. Hello! This is interesting. I think the reason I prefer simpler patterns is not because I am intimidated by more difficulty. I sewed my wedding dress. I just prefer simpler silhouettes- for myself, and especially for my daughters. Also, I think it is nice to be able to sew a garment up quickly when one only has snippets of time- especially when raising little ones. Another reason for my simple pattern preference is that kids grow up so quickly. I can keep quite busy sewing for two growing girls and myself.

    I was actually surprised that the fitted waist dresses are the favorites. They look great- and maybe that is what inspires buying. I just like the more relaxed silhouettes for comfort and flattery of my own figure. Just thought I’d add my two little cents worth! 🙂 I love your patterns and look forward to each new release!

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