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.

Moving Forward

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!