5 Tips to Cater to Your International Customers

With the international sewing community growing steadily, it has become increasingly important to cater to all those that might buy your sewing patterns. If I look at my customer base, over a hundred countries are represented – quite astonishing right? And it would be great if all those countries would use the same standards in measurements, paper size and such, but unfortunately this is not the case. If you want to cater to national as well as international customers you have to make sure that all can use your patterns easily.

There are two areas where the different standards matter for your pattern design: length (fabric requirements and pattern measurements) and paper size (used for printing). Basically it comes down to the US standards and the rest of the world. That is just one country, but it holds a lot of people. Just look at your analytics: for us, 40% of our customers are US based. So whether you’re based in the US or anywhere outside, if your stats are similar, it is worth adapting your patterns. Here are 5 tips on how to suit your patterns to international customers.

1. Use seam allowances that are easily translatable

In Europe, 1 or 1.5 cm are the most common seam allowances. In the US, 1/2″ seems to be the most common. However, as this translates to 1.25 cm this is not easy for European sewers. Our sewing machines simply don’t have that measurement on their feed plates. For international suitability purposes, use 3/8″ (1 cm) or 5/8″ (1.5 cm) as seam allowances. 1/4″ translates well too, to 0.5 cm. They’re not exact (1/4″ is actually 6 mm), but they’re close enough to be usable. So use these three, and convert your numbers every time they’re mentioned in your instructions. It’s confusing in the beginning, but after a while you’ll know the conversions by heart. I use this table to look up the conversions.

All our patterns come with measurements in both metric and imperial.

2. Convert your measurement and fabric tables

This derives from the first tip: state metric and imperial in all the places where numbers are mentioned. That means your body measurement table, your finished measurements, and your fabric requirements. Body and garment measurements are given in cm and inches. Fabric is measured in meters and centimeters in the metric system. The imperial system measures in yards and fractions of yards (1/3, 1/2) for the length of fabric, and inches for the width. Converting your tables will no doubt give you a bit of a headache, but your customers will thank you for it!

3. Make your patterns suitable for all types of printers

Besides different systems for measuring length, there’s paper sizes to take into account. The standard size for a home printer in the US and Canada is Letter, in Europe and Australia it’s A4. Letter is slightly wider and shorter than A4. Every printer has margins as well, so it’s safest to take the smallest length and width of these formats, and deduce an amount for the margin. That means the length of Letter (11″ or 297.4 mm) and the width of A4 (8.27″ or 210 mm). We deduce a further 3/4″ (20 mm) for the width and 1″ (25 mm) for the length. You don’t want to make this margin too big, or you’ll need lots more pages to fit your pattern on.

Copyshop format is another matter. In Europe, the largest size they can print is sheets of A0 size, which are 33.1″ (841 mm) by 46.8″ (1189 mm). Although in the US a copyshop can usually print up to 36″ wide and on continuous length, they’re able to handle the sheets layout as well. European copy shops cannot handle that width or continuous length, so it’s best to format your copyshop pattern option in A0 size.

Sewaholic offers free downloadable translations

4. Offer translations of your instructions

The most spoken language in the world is Mandarin, but that is probably not the best way to go for your pattern translations. Instead look at your stats. Although English is the most common language for patterns, your analytics will reveal what other languages your customers speak. This can depend of where you’re located – I’ve noticed an increase of orders from France since we moved here, even though I am Dutch and offer patterns in English. It is also noteworthy that the level of English in countries such as Spain and France is generally not very high, so even though they are not the biggest countries, it might still result in an increase in sales. Note also that your stats do not say everything – maybe a translation in Mandarin will give you a whole new customer base. Just keep in mind that customers can ask questions, so in that aspect Mandarin might be a bit too much of a hassle. Pauline Alice speaks French, Spanish and English, and offers her patterns, instructions and blogposts in all three. Sewaholic offers translations as free downloadable files, a good option if you want to offer them after you’ve printed your paper patterns.

5. Include seam allowances and don’t overlap pattern pieces

This tip is mostly directed at European designers. Even though we grew up with Burda’s patterns without seam allowances and overlapping patterns, that doesn’t mean this is the way to go. I don’t think there are many people who prefer this method to the ones that Indies mostly use. Especially when you offer only PDF, you’ll want to make your patterns as easy and quick to use as possible. Including seam allowances is an extra step for the designer but in my opinion, the patterns are more accurately cut when it’s included. Resulting in a better fit, resulting in better reviews of your patterns, etc.

So those are my 5 tips for catering to international customers! If you have more ideas, please share them in the comments.

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  1. Helo! I’m Canadian and french speaking. At school, I learned imperial(USA and UK)measurements. In the mid seventies, the metric measurement has been gradualy establish. Even now, like most of my age people, I referred to imperial when I’m not quite sure with the metric. All that to say how it could be hard to switch from one system to the other. So thank you Lisa for this post. The 5 points are important. Since I discovered indie patterns, I never bought other kind of pattern. The creativity and the choice of styles are extraordinery. Your generosity and helpfullness with your
    customers and between you, designers, are remarquable. I hope that your post will be read and apply by all designers with professional care.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Suzanne! I agree that the level of care is what sets Indies apart. Switching systems does cost a bit more time (converting tables and such) and it takes up more space, but I think it’s a must, too. Thank you for your support!

  2. I just bought and put together your Jasper pattern last month, and one of the things I really liked was the two different files of size sets. That was probably a practicality decision but, I liked that I didn’t have to cut through all the sizes to get down to mine. This was mu first PDF pattern, and my first non-crafty/quilt indie pattern so I don’t really have anything to compare it to but keep doing what you’re doing!

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