Jo-Ann’s mobile app – a wasted opportunity to reach out to new makers

A nice coupon, but newbies need more

A nice coupon, but newbies need more

Embarking on a Halloween sewing project for the first time, I decided to go big and sew from a real pattern. Having found my pattern online, I took a trip to Jo-Ann, my local craft store, to seal the deal. Naturally, I downloaded their app before heading to the store and it’s not all bad. In fact, it saved me a few bucks because it offered me a 60% off coupon for my most expensive item, which happened to be the fabric. It also showed me where the store was, a bit redundant since I had Google Maps on my phone, but never mind. But that’s more or less where its usefulness ended.

A sewing project starts with choosing a pattern. At the store, there are catalogs of the patterns and customers leaf through them. After finding the pattern they want to sew, they walk over to a wall of drawers that hold all the patterns, sorted numerically and by brand. Hopefully, out of hundreds (if not thousands) of patterns currently available, the one they want in the size they want (plus or regular) is there. I was lucky. Mine was.  

The back of the envelope: a complicated list of ingredients

The back of the envelope: a complicated list of items

The second step is to decipher the back of the envelope, to decide what size to sew and what materials to buy to make it. As you can see, not a very simple task.

For those readers not wanting to strain their eyes, here’s what the wannabe tailor needs to do:

  1. Enter their body measurements to figure out their size in this pattern.
  2. Understand the yardage of fabrics and trims that are required, according to their size.
  3. Understand the quantity of notions (zippers, thread, etc) that are required.
  4. Find those items in the store and bring the items that need a specific length to the cutting table.
  5. Hope that every necessary item was purchased. If not (that’s me) return to store to pick up the missing items.

As a newcomer to sewing, I had no idea what some of the items even were, starting with the types of recommended fabrics. Satin? Broadcloth? Muslin? Fusible interface? Where can I find some in the store? What part of the costume will each fabric become? Where do I find zippers and buttons? All in all it was a frustrating experience which took me about an hour in the store the first time, and another half hour to find what I’d missed the first time. All this before I had even put a pair of scissors to the polyester.

Now, let’s reimagine the process.  

Every project starts with having all the necessary ingredients

Every project starts with having all the necessary ingredients

After choosing a pattern, the user can enter their measurements and answer a few questions to choose various pattern options such as one or two colors for the skirt, or lace or fabric for the sleeves? From this information a check-boxed shopping list is created in the app with the exact amounts for every item and where in the store to find it. Taffeta? Aisle 2, get 5 yards. Thread? Aisle 7 section B, get two 100m spools. In addition, add basic tools like fabric scissors, pins and a sewing machine needle that can sew the type of fabrics chosen. Also, since it’s almost only fabric that benefits from a tactile, in-store experience, perhaps a “just send me everything else” feature could help. Of course, even fabric buying can take place online.

Beginners need help with more than a shopping list. They need an explanation of sewing terms, fabric types, notions, and techniques. An app could include a glossary and links to an online community. Currently, the sewing community exists but it’s scattered on so many different sites. There are YouTubers sharing some excellent tutorials, there are sites where patterns are reviewed by people who have sewn them, there are great blogs with sewing tips, and there are even forums on Reddit where sewing questions are answered. It would be great if all these tools and resources were concentrated in one place.

Why is this important? Because right now none of this happens on either the pattern-makers’ sites or craft store sites like Jo-Ann. Sewing is becoming hip again and it would be great to help all the newcomers succeed, even if that success is just getting all the supplies they need in under ten minutes and in only one store visit.

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