Beth is also a sewing blogger and vlogger and launched her PDF pattern line in 2015 with the Lou Box Top. At 5’11” (180 cm), Beth is a tall sewist and designs her patterns for a height of 5’10” (178 cm). Her patterns go up to bust/hip 58″/147 cm. Don’t worry if you are not that tall, all of her patterns have shorten/lengthen lines so you can easily adjust for your height. She addresses that in this interview, which coves her early sewing experiences as well as her pattern line and YouTube channel, which has more than 9,000 subscribers. As the organizer of the Bay Area Sewists monthly meetups, I asked Beth the following questions, some of which were submitted by members of the group.
When did you start sewing and who taught you to sew?
My mom sewed a little bit so I was aware of the idea of sewing from a young age. I think the first time I actually sewed an object was in a middle school home-ec class. We made lip shaped pillows. In high school, I took a garment sewing elective and really got into making clothes for myself then.
What was the first garment you sewed?
I think it was a pair of boxer style sleep shorts in my high school sewing class. After that, I made dresses and tops using Big 4 patterns.
What is your favorite thing to sew?
It’s really hard to choose a favorite. I tend to have different moods where I want to sew different things. In general though, I like to have an easy, smooth, even fast sewing experience. For example, I don’t really like sewing jeans because they seem to take forever. I’m not the type to try really challenging techniques just for the challenge of it. I’ve gotten to the point in my making where I want to sew things that I know I’m going to wear. So, living in Southern California, that tends to be more swimsuits and dresses than winter coats or blazers.
What classes have you taken in garment construction? Where did you learn?
As I mentioned, I took a year long class in high school. Then, in college I took a semester of costume construction and design. I also took a beginning quilt making course after college which was great for learning precision and rotary cutter skills. From there, it’s mostly been hands-on practice and of course, reading lots of sewing books.
What was the most useful class?
I think they were all valuable and there are things I learned in those classes that I still use to this day. I’ve found that one helpful thing about taking classes is that it can give you a confidence boost to start sewing, in addition to the technical knowledge. That said, I took all of these classes before YouTube existed. The learning opportunities are really different these days.
Sewing advice & garment construction
What’s the best sewing advice you’ve received?
This is a hard one. Maybe, to change your needle to match your fabric? When I started out, people mostly sewed with woven fabric. I was really scared to sew knits for a long time. My best advice that I learned through practice is to not force the process. If you’re getting tired or frustrated, it’s a good idea to take a break and come back to a project. I’ve found that when I push through, things usually get worse.
What garment construction books do you recommend?
The Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing is fantastic. I got it for Christmas years ago and at the time I thought it was just not a cool book. But, it’s the one I go back to over and over. I also recommend Wendy Ward’s sewing books. I think she does a great job explaining construction techniques.
Do you have any tips for adjusting or crafting patterns to accommodate a fluctuating body weight?
I tend to wear styles that are oversized or have an elastic waist. Those styles are really forgiving for changing bodies. I actually don’t make a lot of fitted clothing because I prefer to be comfortable. But, one thing I learned about in my costume design class, was that you can make fitted trousers with an extra large seam allowance at the center back and a seam in the waistband at the center back. Then, the trousers are easy to alter for different sizes. Men’s trousers are often made that way.
How did you get started designing patterns?
After I graduated with my degree in graphic design, I got a job doing design work for a very small company that made embroidery designs for home sewing machines. Because I knew how to sew, part of my job ended up being designing projects to go with the embroidery designs. I drafted the patterns, wrote and illustrated the instructions. They were included as pdf’s on a CD-rom. Doing that, I had the idea to make my own patterns to sell on the internet. It took a few years for technology to make it easy to sell pdfs though.
Eventually, in 2014 I released my first pattern, the Lou Box Top. It was a really simple shape and just four sizes. Things have slowly grown from there.
What inspires your patterns?
I mostly design things that I want to wear. Living in LA has definitely influenced those garments to be more warm weather, casual styles. Now that I have ten patterns, I’m thinking a little more about what would go with those patterns. So, for example, I don’t have a pants pattern and would like to do that next year. I’d also like to design an oversized button down shirt because that style is something that I wear often.
How long does it take you to develop a new design? Do you grade your patterns or do you have someone do that for you?
It takes anywhere from three months to over a year to develop a design. Some patterns are easier than others so those go quickly. But mostly, things take longer for me because I do other design work outside of Sew DIY. Some years, I’ll be very busy with that work. It’s a tricky balance. I draft and grade the patterns myself. A few years ago, I did hire someone to draft blocks for me. But, otherwise I do it all myself.
Does your pattern come with cup sizes?
At this time, my Miri Tank top pattern is the only one with cup sizes. It includes A/B, C/D and E/F cup size options for all sizes.
What software do you use to design your patterns?
I use Adobe Illustrator. I also use it in my work as a graphic designer so it was an easy transition.
Before you officially launch a new pattern, you ask for volunteers to test the pattern. Do you try to get people for every size? How do you select your pattern testers?
Yes, I generally try to have 1-2 testers in every size. For the Miri Tank Top, I did about every other size because there were so many more sizes. When selecting testers, I first look for the size needed. And then, I look for people who are enthusiastic about sewing and who have followed the application directions well. I often use the same testers that I’ve used in the past because I know that they can be reliable.
In 2019, you expanded your size range so the bust and hip measurement goes from 32 to 58 inches. What were the challenges of expanding your size range?
For drafting, the hardest part is that more sizes creates a lot more work. Besides each pattern piece, you also have to place all the markings and notches for each size. All that just takes more time. I’ve also had a really hard time finding testers for the larger sizes. Most applicants are in sizes 8 to 16 and sometimes I’ll only get one person in the largest sizes.
Body types and height
Do you design for a particular body type? I noticed that your bust and hip measurements are the same and that the waist is 10 inches smaller. So a size 14 has a bust of 40″, waist 30″ and hips 40″. Would that be a slender hourglass?
Yes, a slender hourglass is a good description of the body type I design for. It’s essentially my body type and what I was looking for. I have had some good feedback from people appreciating the large hip to waist ratio so I think it’s something that’s needed and not as commonly available.
Your patterns are designed for a height of 5’10” so I assume all of your patterns include lines indicating where someone can shorten or lengthen one of your patterns. Your blog is full of sewing tips as well as tutorials about how to lengthen or shorten a pattern. What should people keep in mind as they adjust a pattern for height?
Yes, I definitely include lengthen/shorten lines. It’s a personal pet peeve of mine when they’re not included. The thing you need to keep in mind is that we all have really different proportions. So, someone who is the same height as you could have shorter legs and a longer torso. Unfortunately, there’s not a good rule of thumb for how much length you need to add or subtract. You’ll need to figure out what works for your unique proportions.
[Check out my (C Sews, that is) sewing pattern height chart, which includes Sew DIY Patterns.]
Adjusting for petites & yardage for tall sewists
Would it be difficult for someone who is petite to adjust one of your patterns?
I don’t think it’s very difficult because the patterns are fairly simple design wise. I have a lot of testers who are shorter and they always adjust the height.
If someone had an average size pattern, how much yardage should they add for a tall person? What height are mainstream patterns designed for?
I’d probably add ¼ to ½ yard of fabric. It would depend how much you’re planning to lengthen and what type of garment it is. Most patterns are designed for about 5’6”. [To see the range of heights patterns design for, see my sewing pattern height chart.]
Sew DIY Patterns videos
You began your YouTube channel two years ago. What prompted you to start producing videos?
I think I did it a little bit on a whim. I’d noticed that videos were becoming more popular and I thought I should give it a try.
How long does it take you to produce a video?
It depends what kind of video it is. A shorter video, where I share some tips or something simple, might take 1-2 hours to film and another 2 hours to edit. A longer tutorial could take 8 or more hours to film and 3 or more hours to edit.
What is your most popular video?
My most popular video is one of my first videos, and it’s about adjusting serger tension.
Sew DIY Patterns slippers
Can your quilted slippers pattern be modified to be slip on? Have you done that? I saw on the blog that there are other modifications, but I would love to hear more about it.
Both designs of the slippers do not have closures and slip on to the feet. I haven’t tried to make them without a back going around the heel. I don’t know how the construction method would work for that style. Plus, I think you’d need something to stiffen the sole so it doesn’t fold up while wearing.
I’m often asked how to make the bottom of the slippers non-slip. I haven’t done this myself but my testers had some great ideas and I have them in the fabric and supplies post of the sewalong. You can buy non-slip fabric, or apply dots of a puff paint like substance to the fabric to make it non-slip. (Here’s a link to Beth’s blog post on fabric and supplies for her quilted slippers.)
I also had a customer add leather soles to her slippers. As I recall, she sewed the slippers and then attached the leather by hand.
Thank you, Beth for taking the time to write your answers to the questions so I could share them here!