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.
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.
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.