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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why is it so Hard to Find the Right Pattern?

One thing I have observed is that it seems to be pretty difficult to find the right sewing pattern, in particular, when you have a particular idea what you want to make. Here, I ponder why.

When you look around in sewing communities and forums, there is one thing you will invariably find: Threads (or even whole subforums) dedicated to finding the right pattern for a project. People seem to have pretty specific ideas of what they would like to make. Someone who isn't into sewing might wonder why these people don't just use search engines to find what they're looking for. I'll tell you why.

The reason is... it's nearly impossible to find these patterns using regular search engines. Search engines as of today are decent for finding one thing: The content of web pages. So, for the search engines of today to find a pattern, it needs to have a web page. But that alone is not enough: That web page must describe the pattern using the words of the person searching for the pattern -- and since natural language is a very flexible beast, two different people will search for the same pattern using completely different words.

So, we know that the pattern needs to have a web page with a lot of text (since the search engine only understands text) that describes the pattern using the words of people searching for it. Now is a good time to look at an average pattern web page. Here is a link to a Vogue pattern on McCall's site. The complete description of the pattern comes down to:
MISSES' DRESS: Lined, princess seamed, flared, floor length dress has underskirt (which is part of lining), fabric loops, buttons, invisible zipper closure and pleated ruffle with lace trim. Attached foundation has boning. Purchased petticoat.
 Amazingly, if we open Google to search for "princess floor length dress bridal pattern" the web page of this pattern even shows up on the first page of the search results. However, if we add the term "Carmen neckline" to our search, the pattern is gone from the first page of the search results, despite the pattern clearly having this neckline style. The search engine simply can't see what's on the picture -- and there is no text about a Carmen neckline on the page.

Another issue with using regular search engines to search for patterns is that when you search for a pattern, you'd ideally like to see images of finished objects made from the pattern. So, you type in something into the search engine, you get a long long list of websites and now what? If you're not discouraged yet, you start checking out the websites that look like they might contain information and pictures on the patterns.

So, if people actually can't use search engines to search for patterns effectively, what else do they do to find patterns? There seem to be the following options:
  1. look at pattern catalogues
  2. ask other people if they know a pattern that matches the description
  3. check out sewing websites where people post about their sewing projects
Looking at pattern catalogues in my book means on the one hand side looking at the pattern catalogues that are present in sewing stores and on the other hand to browse through the web sites of the individual pattern companies. Asking other people can, e.g., be done in person or by posting a thread in a sewing forum. Lastly, there seem to be several websites that allow people to post about their sewing projects and they sometimes tell you what pattern they used.

Maybe I'm just totally not getting how to search for a pattern properly, but maybe I'm right and this world is as crazy as it seems. It would be so much easier to search for patterns if there was a sewing pattern database with a proper search.

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