May 31, 2022 23 Comments on Pattern printing changes (and woes)
by Molly Hamilton
You may have heard from other small, independent pattern companies (and I may have mentioned it before), but we are changing up how our sewing patterns are printed. We are transitioning our pattern printing away from the way our patterns have been printed for decades. While this behind-the-scenes decision making in our company could remain behind-the-scenes, I thought you might like to know why some of our patterns are out of print, just available as PDF, or why the prices are going up. This story isn’t only about supply chain issues, although they do affect us - pricing, gas/transportation, and paper shortages hit all industries. This story is about how and why our patterns are available in different formats and why it is my goal to have nearly all, if not all, our patterns available as paper patterns, while also digitizing our patterns so they can be available as PDF patterns and be preserved for the future.
For many years we have printed our pattern tissues, instructions, and covers at McCalls printing facility in Kansas. McCalls printing (and the associated pattern company) was bought by a large multinational corporation several years ago. They changed their business strategies. This past fall they shut down the Kansas plant and transitioned to a plant near Chicago, eliminating the only printer in the country who could print on wide format tissue. This printer served most smaller independent sewing pattern companies like ours. With the new plant, our pattern minimums increased by double and the only tissue option was a lighter tissue than we normally print on. We have printed on 12# white tissue for the last 5 years and the new option would only be 8# brown. The much higher minimum order would also mean that it would not make sense to continue to print our patterns that sell more slowly. If I ordered 1000 of a slow-selling pattern, it could take 20 years to sell them at their typical rate. That means 5+ years to break even on the investment, and we have to store the patterns and pay for the place to store them. It does not make economic sense for a small business like ours. The seemingly best business option is to only do PDF patterns, especially for these slower-selling patterns.
With all of these factors, it may not seem to make economic sense to have nearly all of our patterns available as paper patterns, but that is my goal. First, there is a demand for paper patterns. But for me, this is also an accessibility issue. Patterns only available as PDFs become less accessible to customers who don't have reliable internet access or don't have a computer and/or printer (or a print shop nearby). This is especially important for many of our folk patterns which we know are purchased for special occasion outfits. For example, I have seen this with our 120 Navajo Blouse pattern. It is a slow-selling pattern, and often (probably mainly) used by Navajo women to make clothes to wear for important occasions. We know from conversations with these women, and from our orders, that the print pattern is an important option for these customers. Having our patterns available as PDFs may give instant access to people internationally (and more tech-savvy customers), but paper patterns also provide accessibility in other ways.
Before the McCalls plant shut down, I got as many patterns printed as I could. We do have some patterns with the lighter, brown tissue, and they are priced accordingly (see the 503 Poiret Cocoon Coat). Over the last 6 months I have explored options for printing so that we can have flexibility and the paper options we want going forward.
This is complex. Some of our pattern pieces are quite large and don't fit on most available wide-format printers. Many printers will not use paper less than 20#, which is quite heavy and expensive for larger print runs. After many conversations and much research, we have found some options that work.
We are currently working with two printers who can print at reasonable prices. They print on a bond paper, which is not the tissue we prefer, but still lightweight enough (and is more durable than tissue). As we have sized patterns up, we also have to use more paper to print the patterns, which also affects the price of the pattern. In some cases, very large pattern pieces won't fit on the paper available to print. We have to "tile" the pattern and you will need to place the pattern tissues next to each other to get the full pattern. For the largest pattern pieces, the price is higher because the printers need to charge more to meet their bottom line. This means some of our pattern prices will need to go up to afford the printing; but most will remain close in price to what we have currently. Because these printers do not have minimums we can print the number of patterns we need, which does save us some overhead costs and makes it convenient to make pattern changes or even to offer new patterns. We are using a local print shop for all our instructions and covers now, and we are assembling patterns in-house. The paper size for our instructions decreased a little, but it is not terribly noticeable. The local company does a great job and we are very pleased to work with them.
This is all to say that the printing process can be complicated and there are a lot of moving pieces - and we have a lot of patterns to print! Ultimately, we may also have to decide which patterns to keep in print, depending on how well they sell, the printing minimums for that pattern, the importance of accessibility, and the cost. These decisions will be hard as every pattern in our collection has fans who love it dearly.
If you have read to the end, I hope you have enjoyed a bit of information about how, and why, our patterns are available the way they are. As I mentioned before, it is my goal to have nearly all of our patterns available as paper patterns and PDFs. The road to doing so is sometimes tricky.
Please let us know if you have any questions about our pattern printing or what we are doing. And, as always, we deeply appreciate your interest in, and support of, Folkwear over the many years!
September 03, 2022
I have loved Folkwear Patterns for over 40 years, so I was delighted to find you on the internet. I can still buy those luscious patterns! I’d never before seen a complete list of what was printed. I’d only seen a box at a fabric store of “this is what we’ve got now.” So, congratulations and thank you for your contributions to my life. I’m making l list of what I want next and shall likely order in bunches. As a long-time sewer (since 1955), it’s a joy to find designs that are deserving of the attention I want to give them. Many blessings on you, Molly!
August 10, 2022
Being a fabric merchant, it is always beneficial for me to have the paper patterns on-hand for clients, especially when they don’t want the bother of downloading pdfs. I’ve sewn a few of the Folkwear patterns, and they fit beautifully (and there is nothing more comfortable than the Rosie the Riveter pants with those big, deep front pockets!). I found this to be a very interesting read. I have had several pattern companies go through the same process lately. Huzzah for those who have found a way to keep the paper printing for all!
June 18, 2022
Most of my Folkwear pattens predate the tissue paper ones. The heavy paper pattern pieces used to be an advertised feature, lol. I guess what’s old is new again.
June 15, 2022
Hi I am one of your UK fans and found this information very interesting. As an older person lots of technological developments are hard to cope with and I have yet to use a PDF pattern. I make lots of things and look after my patterns by putting them in cellophane bags so that I can see what us in there. More people want to make things so thankyou for your great products and service.
June 15, 2022
I’ll add my thanks for the info, and my personal frustrations with the continual stream of change. I too have Folkwear patterns from the original designers, some still pristine, others well-used. I continue to prefer the paper patterns. I recently enjoyed making the pinafore pattern ( though my alteration was to make it less full ). Keep up the good work. I look forward to what you have in store for us!
June 15, 2022
I appreciate the lengths that Folkwear has gone to to have paper patterns. I’ve used pdf patterns, but they are not a favourite. They are difficult to store once ‘constructed’, and easy to mess up in comparison to a company printed pattern. Thank you for all that you do.
June 08, 2022
I would not worry too much about having to tile patterns together. I’ve had to do it for a number of years with patterns from the big four and it is not a problem.
June 08, 2022
Thank you for this information. I’ve been out of the loop for a number of years, and didn’t know the McCalls printer closed. Heck, I didn’t know that you have been printing on tissue! All my Folkwear patterns were bought long ago when they were printed on heavy paper. Now I trace may patterns in the correct size on exam table paper. Works well and I don’t have to cut my master copy.
June 06, 2022
Very interesting. Personally, I’m not completely sold on the whole PDF download model- often you wind up wasting a lot of paper, especially if you’re printing at on off of a standard printer on 8 1/2 × 11 paper. Plus it’s a lot of time and sometimes the printer settings can be fiddley.
Please keep what you’re doing. I’m definitely behind it, both as a retailer and an end-user.
May 12, 2023
September 25, 2022
I, too, am a long time sewer and have been buying Folkwear for maybe 40 years, give or take. A lot of mine are the original heavy white paper and I prefer it because it is much easier to trace a pattern off of that to to trace it off of tissue, which I am doing right now with some vintage patterns my Mom wants outfits made out of. I think I have almost all of the but have likely missed a few new releases. I love that I can order them online. For a few years I would have to make the rounds of some boutique sewing and fabric stores in my area periodically to see what new patterns have come in and of course, they all didn’t carry all of them so I had to go to each store. I’ve repurchased a few because of the expanded sizes availability (and my expanding size.) For some I’ll buy the PDF for that reason since I already own it in paper. I have made quite a few of them, the Dirndl and Jewels of India the most often. I am getting ready to make the Mu’u Mu’u and perhaps the Pinafore. Of all of the patterns I’ve purchased over the decades it is my Folkwear I will never sell, give or throw away. They will remain with me and then be passed on to my heirs through my trust. Oh, and that tiling thing? Forget about it. Not an issue. The price increase is understandable if you are going back to the heavy paper. I always liked that heavy paper.