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Oct 30, 2013

A Reader Asks: "Could My Sewing Idea Work?"



Friends, I received a very interesting email from MPB reader Chris today, and I thought I might run it by you (with Chris's permission of course) and find out what you think.

Here's Chris:

I ran across your blog recently, and since you write about sewing a lot, I was hoping I could ask for some feedback about a sewing-related idea I've had recently. I love to sew, but hate to lay out the pattern and cut the fabric - I always just want to get to the actual sewing!

So I've had this idea that I've been trying to figure out if anyone else would want - I imagine a website where you could enter your measurements, pick your fabric, and pick your pattern, and get the pre-cut fabric pieces shipped to your door, ready for sewing!  (A variation is that it would just print the pattern right on the fabric, but not cut it out.)



So my question is: do you think anyone else would want a service like that?  It removes some of the fun of picking your fabric in person, and messing with the pattern - but it would seem to save so much time, and get you right to the good stuff.

Anyway, I was just curious to get people's reaction to my idea, and if you had any thoughts about it.  Thanks!

What do you think, readers?  Could you imagine something like this taking off?  (Naturally, I am trusting that none of you will steal Chris's idea -- that wouldn't be in the spirit of MPB, would it?)

There does seem to be a market for sewing shortcuts, easy patterns, machines that do it all, etc.

Is Chris onto something?  Could his idea be part of the future of home sewing or is this the sewing-equivalent of a Betty Crocker cake? (Or both)

Jump in!

64 comments:

  1. YES.

    I have, forever, lamented that there was no cutting service available to sewists. I absolutely loathe cutting out my own patterns.

    That being said, I'm guessing it wouldn't works as well in reality. It's so rare that avid sewists cut a straight pattern. We make so many fitting adjustments, from FBAs to forward shoulder adjustments, that accounting for those would be a headache for the company and the sewist. Specifying those adjustments for the order could work, but fitting is such a detailed, personal process.

    So: in theory, I love it, but I probably wouldn't use the service myself, because of fitting issues.

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  2. I think it's a great idea. One of my earliest sewing projects in middle school was an apron that came with all the pieces printed on the block of fabric. It was an easy make, like Betty Crocker cake. For more personalized/fitted garments, I'm not sure how practical of an idea it is. Altering a pattern for a good fit and picking the right fabric are too vital of steps to outsource. But I think it could work for certain types of projects.

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  3. I teach sewing workshops and my boss and I are playing with this idea as well (of printing the pattern pieces on the back of the fabric. It's quite expensive to do so for now, but technology is getting more and more accessible. I think it's a good idea, but it will really depend on the pricepoint!

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  4. There's a company called Clothkits that does fairly simple patterns like this already. The pattern is drawn onto the fabric rather than pre-cut, and the user just cuts and sews. They mainly do skirts and simple dresses and use fabric with borders or that are fussy cut so you have, for example, a massive bird on the skirt. They also do kids and toys. The prices are pretty insane though -- they start around the equivalent of US$60 for a simple A-line skirt kit.

    Here is the website: http://www.clothkits.co.uk/womens-kits-c-29.html.

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  5. YES! I totally had that same thought yesterday after spending several hours just cutting out a muslin! And I still have to cut the real fabric after sewing the muslin. I would totally go for something like that. I don't love not having a full range of fabric available, but sometimes, you just want to create *something*.

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  6. I've seen garments made from pre- cut patterns on the We Sew Retro blog- don't recall from what decade, but sometime in the first half of the last century. It might be good to know why that system stopped before trying it again. That said, I would love it if someone else cut it out for me! (my most recent I managed to cut out with the noticible grain going two different directions...)

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  7. I have an old Sears catalog reproduction that offers partially-completed garments shipped to you to finish sewing - they do all but the sleeve setting, side seams & hems. Similar idea...

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  8. nope - how would I do all the fitting and adjustments I need?

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  9. Sounds nice in theory - but practical probably only for simple projects. And for a simple project cutting is simple enough too, so I would be far to cheap to spend money on this service. And for a difficult project I would need a lot of convincing that this would work.

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  10. Cutting the fabric is my least favorite part. The biggest hurdle for me is not having the space for a good size cutting table. I probably wouldn't use a service such as Chris mentioned because I usually have to do a lot of pattern adjustments, but I think it would be appealing to many and I certainly would encourage Chris to explore the possibilities.

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  11. If a nested, multisized pattern was printed onto the fabric, that would allow for your minor fitting adjustments at least.

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  12. The thought of this makes me cringe. I am too controlling and likes things to be just so. I take to much pride in my sewing. I would never trust such a vital part of it to be done by some one else. I enjoy the entire process from beginning to end.

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  13. I like the idea for simple projects (circle skirts, aprons etc. - where little to no fitting is needed). Larger seam-allowances for more tricky style garments would help for fitting too. I like Sarah's idea of printing nested-patterns onto the fabric. I'd prefer to have the pattern printed onto the fabric + then cut it myself (especially if I had to lengthen/shorten anything at all). My major concern would be... what about the issue of pre-shrinking your fabric? And problems wit pattern-matching (e.g. florals, plaids/checks/tartans).

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    Replies
    1. Oh, and if the fabric were pre-cut into garment pattern pieces - I'd be concerned about pieces stretching out on any bias-cut edges at all during handling in the factory / during transit.

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  14. Because of fitting issues I think it would be fine only for non-garment sewing, like bags, aprons, hats and pillow covers. Many years ago I made up some unique and adorable dresses, coats and dolls for my daughter out of the Clothkits. They were great because the fabric was printed in a piece-specific way, i.e. border print on the skirt and central motif on the bodice. At the time they were not too pricey. I also remember making down garments and bike bags from Frostline Kits. I think the pieces were precut according to your specified size, and you just followed the directions to put them together. They would send little pellets of compressed down, marked with which part of the garment they were to fill.

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  15. The idea has some appeal for things like simple tops and already exists for circle skirts. As others have noted, it won't really work where you need to alter the pattern for fit or where the fabric needs to be shrunk. Maybe it would make sense to pay another sewer to do the cutting for you? You could always trade jobs - you do the sewing the cutter finds a chore, he/she does the cutting you dislike. Also, I found cutting time reduced and the job made more fun when I
    1 stopped cutting on the floor and used my kitchen bench with a self-healing mat on it
    2 stopped pinning and used weights (stones, tins of food, etc) to hold the pattern pieces down
    and,most importantly ,
    3 swapped swapped using shears for cutting with a rotary blade.

    I notice that you do 2 and 3 Peter. I need to do 1 as well these days- knees aren't what they were!

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    Replies
    1. Believe me, neither are mine! (the left one in particular)

      Delete
  16. It's hard to imagine what level of sewing ability this would be pitched at. If you're a beginner - how will you learn if you don't layout and cut out? If you're experienced - wouldn't you have very specific requirements and adjustments that you've built up the knowledge on by going through the process - to then become a 'back seat driver'? I'm old school. I don't even understand those pancake making kits you get in supermarkets.

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  17. I think it would be interesting if you could upload a pdf pattern of your choice and have it do the cutting, that might allow someone to upload a pattern complete with alterations.
    I don't think I would use the service because 1) my pride enjoys being able to say I made it myself from scratch 2)I sometimes buy fabric thinking I will do one thing and then change my mind, a precut pattern piece means I need to be decisive much sooner. 3) my measurements are substantially different than modern patterns, I would worry that my size wouldn't be available in a precut pattern 4) I like to save the scraps from cutting for other things.
    Then again knitting and embroidery kits seem to be popular, so obviously not everyone is as controlling about their craft projects.

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  18. When I was a kid, there were fabrics pre-printed with designs for Barbie clothes. You just had to cut them out and sew them together. That's a lot easier than laying out a tiny pattern and cutting it out.

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  19. I think there would be quite a lot of trouble with fit. As Cation Designs recently stated in her pants pattern alterations post, even a pattern drafted to your exact measurements will need to be adjusted because the way the measurements are distributed around the body is different on different people.

    Cutting may not be very enjoyable for some people, but I really don't think it's worth going through the trouble of mailing pieces. I also don't like the idea of committing to a particular project in a particular fabric before you have even seen the fabric in person.
    I find cutting to be much nicer if your cutting table is covered with a layer of cork, or similar material, with a layer of stiff brown paper on top of that. That way you can pin directly into the table top and it makes things go much faster.

    I hope I do not sound too crabby, but in my opinion this is all rather idealistic.

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  20. I rather like cutting out - and tend to do a few nips and tucks as I go along . . . . and I also enjoy hand-sewing (hems, facings etc) . . . . so I am not too sure how much regard you should give my comments!!!

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  21. I agree with others - there are too many fitting issues for most people to make this useful. What I would like is if I could get cheap muslin fabric cut to a certain size. Then I could sew it up and see what alterations would be necessary. Cutting is my least favorite part, and I really hate that I have to do it twice because of muslins (and I ALWAYS make a muslin for a new pattern).

    I also agree with others that I don't always end up making up the fabric I buy in the pattern I had in mind when I bought it. I wouldn't like being locked in to a particular pattern/fabric combo.

    Also, no offense to Chris, who I'm sure would try to run a respectable business with good quality, but I think many people would be paranoid about pieces being cut off-grain.

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  22. I would do this in a minute! It is a great idea!!!!

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  23. I tried the pattern thing already with Lekala patterns. Sent them my measurements and what pattern I wanted. They sent me a pdf of the pattern already in my size and it didn't even fit, it was like a tent. Like everyone else said so many fitting issues so it wouldn't work for me.

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  24. I personally love patterning & cutting, and sometimes loathe the actual sewing! We should be able to work something out ;)

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  25. I like the idea, but I think it would work better if multiple sizes were printed on the fabric, as others have suggested. I don't mind the actual cutting out so much, but I despise laying out the pattern on the material and pinning it. I think the idea has potential, myself.

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  26. Personally, I also find the cutting step a bit of a drag and it is the step on which I do the most procrastinating. Once I'm cut out, I'm good. But having said that, I wouldn't use a pre-cut service. So much thought goes into making sit and style adjustments to the pattern at the cutout stage, which contribute to the overall success of the pattern. A lot of why I sew is to get something that fits me, with details that aren't necessarily on the pattern. I don't think you can outsource the cutout stage, and expect to get anything like the same result.

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  27. I took a fit class from Marta Alto, & she taught me to think of the time it takes to complete a project in thirds:1/3 fit, 1/3 cutting, 1/3 sewing. Each is equally important to the process.

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  28. Spoonflower has a couple of those patterns. It's mostly kids clothes anf plushie's I think though. I have seen a few circle skirts on there too.

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  29. I don't like the process of getting pattern and fabric ready for sewing either, but it helps focusing the mind on the sewing and any problems that might pop up with it. I would like an experienced patternmaker though to make my patterns to fit!

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  30. Why not just go to the shop an buy your clothes. Choosing fabric and laying out you pattern on the fabric and cutting are all part of the creative process even if it is not the most enjoyable part. I have learned over the years to value this time and take time to do it properly and then you get real satisfaction from a job well done. JJ

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  31. I like cutting things out myself, too... in part because I'm usually able to squeeze the pattern out of less fabric than it calls for, and I would not want to delegate that process to someone else! As JJ above me says, I could just as well just buy RTW then... big part of why I love sewing is the possibility to use up lingering stash and someone else's unused stash and use the material from old/unworn clothes. So I'm definitely not in the sewing niche for such a business!

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  32. Sometimes you have to go through the hard work to appreciate the result. It´s like the cakes, you guys always use that pre-mixed boxes because it is easier and faster. Then rediscover the goods of the paleo-diet, that is just as easy as doing things from the scratch.It is an example, but I really think getting things done quickly is not the goal when sewing. Just my opinion.

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  33. Along with a few others here, I enjoy the cutting out process: for me it's part of making stuff. And pattern-matching and fussy cutting are important to me, so that might be an issue. But the real problem would be fitting. Along with many women, I am not a standard dress size.

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  34. Also, wouldn't there be some copyright trouble related to patterns, maybe?

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  35. I would use it! IF the fabric was not cheap quality. It would also be an awesome gift for someone who was interested in getting started with garment sewing.

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  36. Alabama Chanin does this, they sell garments as kits with everything pre-cut and ready to sew (hand sewn but the concept is the same). Prices run $110 to $340.
    http://www.alabamachanin.com/diy-kits

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  37. SeamsterEast@aol.comOctober 31, 2013 at 7:30 AM

    That is a high-cost, labor-intensive value-add. I've seen it offered in various non-sewing related areas. Usually, the company offering such is not offering such anymore within a couple years. The price of the kits is very high, the market quite tiny. I kindly suggest anyone considering starting any such company in any area to thoroughly check the market value of kits before investing any large sums of money.

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  38. They used to do something like this, with the one yard pencil skirt designs. They sold it like a kit, pre-cut to a size. Sometimes you can still find them at yard sales.
    Personally, that's my favorite part. Everything after that seems like real work, haha!

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  39. The only way I could imagine this would be to hire a sewist to custom cut patterns for you. Certainly there is someone who needs a little extra income wouldn't mind being paid to buy fabric and cut it out for you making standard adjustments (ie add 1" to length & cut armhole 2 sizes smaller).

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    Replies
    1. I actually think that kind of small-scale solution is the easiest to imagine: team up (i.e. hire or swap services) with someone who will do what you don't want to. It's like hiring a house painter.

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    2. Now There's an Idea! A cut/measure/sew collective!

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  40. Alas, when you think you have a great idea, it is hard to let it go. And although there are some great examples out there that prove it sometimes pays to persevere. Like when most business minds thought people would never buy things on-line like clothing and furniture or even books. But the market here is already a bunch of do-it-yourselfers, even though the whole process might not be fun. Maybe if they com out with inexpensive full body scanners that can produce formulas we send off to order clothing made by even more complicated robotics. . . todays science fiction is tomorrows daily routine.

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  41. The do print patterns on the fabric for craft items (like the cat & dog pillows) and I know Mom had gotten a panel with doll clothes printed on it (in the 60s?). For clothing, it might work if you could overcome the issues of fitting. As for shipping cut pieces, there's the issue of how to pack without stretching bias edges.

    Personally, it's the fitting that gives me fits (sorry), not the cutting.

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  42. I think it is an interesting idea. The only way that I would see it working well was if it was a machine, kind of like a printer/cricut combo that would be in your home. You would on the computer load your pattern (you could edit the pattern for alterations that way). You load the fabric into it (ironed and folded or single layer up to a certain width). Then it would cut the pieces out.

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  43. I'll be Chris's first customer if he can pull this off :)

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  44. I think there is a market for this idea, just as there is a market for cake mixes, but it’s not for me. I have a lot of fitting issues. I’m not sure if providing measurements or having multiple sizes printed on the fabric would address them all. Maybe if they used Anonymous’ idea of a body scan.

    What if a pre-cut piece had a big flower or something land on an unfortunate body part?

    When I was a kid, there were kits to with pre-cut pieces to sew simple aprons, stuffed animals and such. Although I suppose there was some learning from these kits, even then I found them to be largely unsatisfying because I couldn’t really say, I made that.

    Similarly, I hate Betty Crocker-type things. The ladies around here are always bragging about all the cakes they bake, when all they do is open a box and add water.

    Even though laying the pattern and cutting are not my favorite tasks, I enjoy the whole process of considering what to make, searching for a pattern, choosing fabric. Sometimes I have the fabric first and then decide what to do with it later.

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  45. Sorry, my comment got cut off. I wanted to add...

    Even when the process is frustrating, when I have the final garment, I like being able to say, I made that.

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  46. I see Sandbags already mentioned Clothkits. My Mum made lots of their things in the 70's, it used to be a lot cheaper and more of a hippy vibe (lots of paisley). I remember various psychedelic shirts that I wore when eating home baked bread while all the other kids laughed at me. The present company is a revival of the name aimed more at the yummy mummy rather than the earth mother originals.

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  47. Cutting is a separate service in the clothing industry - the fitted and graded patterns along with the fabric are sent to a cutter, who cuts out the pieces in the most efficient way possible, then the pieces are sent to the sewing shop. I don't see why this couldn't work for the home sewist - the pattern would have to be in the final fit, however. Personally, at that point I think the cutting out of your fabric is the least of the work.

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  48. We sew to make unique garments. This would be the equivalent of RTW with the customer having to do the sewing.

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  49. I fully respect the concept, but, like others, don't believe I would use it. Besides the fit issues identified by others, the delivery time would kill me.

    It's a great idea to do market research, but I suspect that the MPB audience is generally too skilled for that service. Maybe you can find a different focus group that would be more receptive to the concept.

    Home economics teachers? Local sewists that give beginner and intermediate lessons? Seniors' centres? Maybe something along those lines. Maybe going wholesale and offering it at local fabric stores. You'd probably have to make samples, but they might provide the fabric at a discount? Maybe users could come into the fabric store, select the fabric and pattern, then submit to you.

    Good luck with developing your idea!

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  50. I don't look forward to cutting out my patterns, but this time spent communing with my fabric and examining it up close before sewing pays off in the long run. I'm more likely to discover a fabric's quirks here, which helps me anticipate and avoid errors while sewing. So I personally wouldn't be a user of this service.

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  51. Don't think it would be practical for garments. Only the most simple shapes would fit without alternations or making a muslin first. I think it would also be difficult to offer enough range of patterns and fabric, and you would not then get the economies of scale. Could perhaps be more suitable for a slightly different product or audience, those learning to sew rather than experienced sewers, or to make items or to give as gifts that do not need to fit - such as aprons, wrap skirts or perhaps bags and home décor items. Personally not something I would use, as coming up with a one off combination of pattern and fabric is part of the pleasure, I don't really pick ready made combinations as this is part of the creative process I enjoy, although like most people I don't like cutting out, but is a necessary evil

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  52. I've bee thinking along these lines myself. I have a digital cutter (vinyl cutter) that can cut fabric, single layer, and was looking at using this to cut the pattern pieces.... down side is I can only cut 18 inches wide so most garments would need centre seams as well as side seams but......
    reason is I don't have room to cut out - I need to use a boar
    and I'm NOT Anonymous, google makes me sign in then still says I am or I'm unknown...sigh

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    Replies
    1. damn stupid posting and loosing half a sentence....
      reason is I don't have room to cut out - I need to use a board on the bed and it's not the easiest or best way!!!

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    2. We have a sewing lounge in my city where you can pay to use their cutting tables and machines, a great idea for when you don't have the space at home ( http://www.threadden.com/_pages/news_and_events/2012/20-12-2011.html )

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  53. Personally, I rather like the cutting stage: it's filled with promise. However, I read all the time about people who don't like it.
    I think there have been businesses in the past which sold patterns with the cut cut fabric pieces included (I think someone on We Sew Retro found a couple of those things at a vintage fair a while back) but I don't know of any in existence today.
    That said, I'm not sure it would work. Just have a look around some sewing blogs and you'll see how everyone is always altering and tweaking patterns to get the fit right. When dealing with 'normal' patterns, there will always be fit issues (also, you would have to investigate the issues of copyright/re-sell rights when working with existing patterns on a website like the one in this idea). There is software available, like Pattern Maker, which apparently adepts patterns to given measurements. However, I don't have personal experience with that and here the rights-issue might be a problem as well. And even then, there may still be issues with fit preferences and different ways of taking measurements.
    I can see there being a market for this idea but I think it deserves careful consideration.

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  54. This could be a great idea for crafts and such, but being a fitting maven, I'm sorta iffy about how to cut and tailor the garment to fit a person just right. Even when I have a client's measurements, I have to do muslins and fitting - that gets into ease, psychological and physical comfort/ease and that stuff just can't be printed on a piece of fabric and work very well.

    Over at Spoonflower, there are gobs of wonderfully thought out projects that are printed onto the fabric, but as yet no one has gotten into garments, and I think fitting is a lot of the issue here.

    It's a novel idea and would work for some beginner garment projects (aprons, scarves, accessories), but because of the fitting issues, it leaves me wondering how those would be solved.

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  55. I don't know if I would personally use it but pre-cut fabric based on measurements sounds like a cool idea. It's like a 3D sewing pattern. Some Etsy sellers actually offer this. They sell "dress kits" where it's cut fabric and you sew it together yourself.

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  56. I confess I didn't read all the posts, but if the pattern for marking placement and pre cut excess seam allowance on the fabric were included it might be okay or I may as well alter a pattern or make my own, or, buy and alter a shirt. Good thinking though.

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  57. I'm torn. On one side, I have contemplated making a laser cutter table big enough to handle 60 inch fabric without the fold so that I can just sew instead of cut, but on the other hand, being a huge fan of bespoke tailoring, I understand the lure and the love of a cutter. The intricate moves and shapes, the soothing drawing of lines and cutting of fabric and the love of tailors chalk. So, yes, I think it would work and be very huge, but fear that people will lose touch with the classics.

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