Monday, December 21, 2009

Specialty Sportswear Pattern Review: I Don’t Like ‘Em

Note from Ice Mom: Please read the Updates at the end of this post. Some readers disagree with me - that's great. You'll be able to read about their experiences at the bottom and in the comments. Thanks, readers, for sending in your opinions.
 
Bah, humbug. Here I am, a Scrooge for the holidays, but it’s high time I wrote this review. Remember that figure skating dress I ruined a year ago? Well, part of what made me cry when I ruined that stupid dress was that it was a Specialty Sportswear pattern. I'd spent hours on that stupid dress, trying to figure out the Specialty Sportswear pattern, trying to make it fit, and struggling with the zipper. When I finally had it perfect, I painted it and totally messed it up. Throwing it away was painful, but satisfying, too. That stupid Specialty Sportswear dress is in some landfill where it belongs.

Here are my likes/dislikes:

Style. Charlie has a ton of neat dresses on her site. Very cool styles and lots of them.

Website. The navigation for the Specialty Sportswear site isn’t very clear. What’s a series? What’s a system? What’s a multi? How do I know which skirt to buy? What's with the 300, 400, 800, etc. numbers? It’s pretty confusing.

Manual. I know I’m a professional writer and pickier that most, but the Specialty Sportswear instruction manual is very poorly written. If you’re not an experienced sewer, a lot of it won’t make much sense to you. The instructions for drafting your own patterns are really vague and the sewing tips have terrible diagrams. Much of the advice in the manual is: just try it or just play around with it! I don't have time for that.

Pattern. The Specialty Sportswear patterns come on sturdy paper, which I like. However, for my $17 plus shipping, I only get one size in the envelope. That makes alterations more difficult and if my kid grows, I have to buy another $17 pattern. The pattern doesn’t have markings on it, either. No notches, no bust or waistline markings. The pattern I attempted had a sleeve that was combined with the top of the bodice. It was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen and I had no idea what it was. The label on it was top. Top? How about top and sleeve? How about letting me know where the zipper goes so I have a clue how to orient the piece? A nightmare.

Instructions. The instructions for the Specialty Sportswear pattern I sewed looked like Dr. Frankenstein had pieced them together from the decaying remains of other pattern instructions. I’m not kidding you. The diagrams didn’t match the pattern and they were weird looking. It was hard to tell from the diagrams what I was supposed to do. The sewing order didn’t flow well and some of the instructions didn’t match the pattern I was sewing. The instructions for the invisible zipper were: follow the instructions on the zipper package. Not very helpful.

Fit. The panties are enormous. I have no idea what kinds of rear-ends other peoples’ skaters have, but the Jalie and Kwik Sew panties fit Ice Girl's behind. The Specialty Sportswear panties would have fit me. It was amazingly hard to alter the bust line because I had no idea where the bust line was on the pattern until I constructed the leotard. I know a gal who sews these patterns all the time. How does she get the dresses to fit? She sews a practice dress first. Look. I have this job thing I do. I don’t have time to sew two dresses. I barely have time to sew one. I just want it to fit, O.K.?

Assistance. You can call Charlie and she’ll help you over the phone. This is absolutely true. However, when I called her, she seemed eager to get me off the line and insisted that it was all very simple and I should just go for it. I was no better off after our call.

Bottom line. You can tell I harbor resentment toward Specialty Sportswear patterns. I’ve been sewing for over 20 years and I had a tough time with the pattern. I spent hours cursing at it, ripping out stitches, and inventing ways to make the stupid dress fit Ice Girl. I can’t imagine how a novice sewer would sew a dress successfully from the patterns. My time is valuable and the pattern and fabric cost money. When I plunk down my $17 plus shipping, I expect that pattern to fit and the instructions to be clear. Nope and nope. I don’t recommend Specialty Sportswear patterns; although, I do really like the styles. Bah, humbug.

Update: From reader Skittl1321: I've never bothered ordering because I was always so confused by the website.

Update: From reader Anonymous: I have worked with Charlie in the past, and she was amazingly helpful both for me and my friend who agreed to sew the pattern for me. My skater has no bum to speak of, so all panties fit pretty much the same.

My daughter and I designed her dress, and with help from Charlie, we got a completely custom and basically couture dress for a fraction of the price.

Update: From reader Anonymous who disagrees with me completely. This is very good for you, readers, because you get a better picture of the Specialty Sportswear experience. I'm putting her comment here in full and I want to thank her for offering the opposing opinion.

This is a very unfortunate review of patterns that I personally think are far superior to Kwik Sew or Jalie patterns. I have had nothing but success with Specialty Sportswear patterns and just taught myself to sew this summer. After the first 200 line dress I made for my daughter, I had the hang of them and have been to the moon and back with Charlie's patterns. The Jalie dress patterns are sized too small (I didn't find that out until the dress was just about finished) and the skirt lines on many are too low.

The wonderful thing about Specialty Sportswear is that you can mix and match bodice lines with different skirts and vice versa. I was able to make my own pattern with Charlie's manual with ease just following her directions. With any dress, I try on the dress before fitting panties with elastic. It is simple to cut away the excess panty before putting elastic on.

My experience with Kwik Sew has been mixed. Most of the Kwik Sew dresses I see look like Kwik Sew dresses - kinda boring and cheap looking. I stick to Kwik Sew for practice dresses and skirts.

The fact that Charlie actually took the time to talk to you (or any other customer) is amazing. You cannot get that kind of customer service from Jalie or Kwik Sew. I had a very difficult "Flame Cutout" pattern from Charlie that I was struggling with and she stayed on the phone with me for 45 minutes talking me through the pattern.

I would recommend that readers give all patterns a try until they find the line that works best for their skater.


Update: From littleskatersmom: Charlie has always been helpful, but I've always felt a bit talked down to... and I've been making skating dresses for over 10 years. I've made, with some success, my own patterns (not following directions), and yet, I have trouble following her directions. I usually just toss the directions and put it together how I feel it should go... sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
 
All of that being said, some of the most beautiful dresses I've made have come from Charlie's patterns. Kwik Sew is probably my favorite for practice dresses, but I find I always have to lengthen the back of the skirt.
Tons of you are going to disagree with me. That's great! Voice your support for or displeasure with Specialty Sportswear patterns in the comments.

12 comments:

Skittl1321 said...

Thanks for the review.
I've never bothered ordering because I was always so confused by the website.

$17 and only one size? That's absurd. I'll stick with Jalie for sure (though their panty's don't cover my bottom...)

Xan said...

I hated every specific-to-skating pattern I ever bought. Best things I found were KwikSew basic skating patterns, which you can then adapt to designs stolen, um I mean, inspired by the skatewear companies.

Nancy said...

Wow, I sure won't try one of these patterns now! I just made my first skating dress from a hybrid of two KwikSew patterns and it fit perfectly with just one adjustment to lengthen the bodice slightly.

J said...

Thank you for posting this! I keep finding myself lured over to the Specialty Sportswear website, but I cannot figure out what to order! Now I won't bother. I've been successful with Jalie and Kwiksew, so I'll stick with those. Thanks for saving me time and money!

Anonymous said...

I've tried a couple of her patterns, they are OK . I agree the directions are not very good and I have sewn for over 20 years so I feel I can say that confidently. I too am tempted by all the styles but seem to just go back to Jalie patterns. I just can’t seem to justify the cost for only 1 size. My skating daughter is only 7 but I do sewing for some of the older girls at the rink. I like that I can use Jalie for all sizes. In fact I just placed another order for some more Jalie patterns and am looking forward to their arrival.
-e

TnT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TnT said...

The first skating dress I ever made was Jalie 2790. It took me a while, but it was only the 3rd time I sewed anything at all (after 2 pairs of practice pants).

I then tried a Kwik Sew pattern and it seemed really easy after the Jalie, but the Jalie was do-able for a beginner. I just took my time. Both fit just fine.

I have found that I can customize skating dresses myself, except for the skirts. I fail miserably with skirts if I don't follow the pattern exactly.

I wish I could buy a basic upper body pattern that I can customize with several skirt styles that I could choose (vs. just working with the skirt styles included with the pattern). I thought Specialty Sportswear would give me that option, but their website confuses me too, so I have never ordered. I thought it was because I am a beginning sewer

bethalice said...

I have used a Butterick Pattern (not sure if it is good or not because I messed up by not getting the correct stretch of fabric - but hey, it was my first skate dress). I made another with Kwik Sew, which I loved and use a lot now - easy for me to alter to different styles. I will soon be using a Jalie for the first time. I am making it for one of my daughter's skate friends. I asked Emilie at Jalie about sizing, and she had me send her the measurements. She then sent me the info on what size to use, and what alterations to make for a custom fit. VERY helpful! BTW, they just came out with new designs. As for Sportswear - the site was way too confusing, and it was too expensive for just one size.

Sew Kidz said...

I love the concept of Specialty Sportswear but I could not even figure out how to order from them. Thanks for saving me the headache with this review.

Anonymous said...

I have worked with Charlie in the past, and she was amazingly helpful both for me and my friend who agreed to sew the pattern for me. My skater has no bum to speak of, so all panties fit pretty much the same.
My daughter and I designed her dress, and with help from Charlie, we got a completely custom and basically couture dress for a fraction of the price.

Anonymous said...

This is a very unfortunate review of patterns that I personally think are far superior to Kwik Sew or Jalie patterns. I have had nothing but success with Specialty Sportswear patterns and just taught myself to sew this summer. After the first 200 line dress I made for my daughter, I had the hang of them and have been to the moon and back with Charlie's patterns. The Jalie dress patterns are sized too small (I didn't find that out until the dress was just about finished) and the skirt lines on many are too low.

The wonderful thing about Specialty Sportswear is that you can mix and match bodice lines with different skirts and vice versa. I was able to make my own pattern with Charlie's manual with ease just following her directions. With any dress, I try on the dress before fitting panties with elastic. It is simple to cut away the excess panty before putting elastic on.

My experience with Kwik Sew has been mixed. Most of the Kwik Sew dresses I see look like Kwik Sew dresses - kinda boring and cheap looking. I stick to Kwik Sew for practice dresses and skirts.

The fact that Charlie actually took the time to talk to you (or any other customer) is amazing. You cannot get that kind of customer service from Jalie or Kwik Sew. I had a very difficult "Flame Cutout" pattern from Charlie that I was struggling with and she stayed on the phone with me for 45 minutes talking me through the pattern.

I would recommend that readers give all patterns a try until they find the line that works best for their skater.

Littleskatersmom said...

Charlie has always been helpful, but I've always felt a bit talked down to... and I've been making skating dresses for over 10 years. I've made, with some success, my own patterns (not following directions), and yet, I have trouble following her directions. I usually just toss the directions and put it together how I feel it should go... sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

All of that being said, some of the most beautiful dresses I've made have come from Charlie's patterns.

Kwik Sew is probably my favorite for practice dresses, but I find I always have to lengthen the back of the skirt.