A Story of German Engeneering – My Relationship with Burda

Since I only started sewing about two years ago, and have only been interested in sewing normal clothes for less than a year, I avoided being part of the Great Burda Schism of Ought 10.  This was when all English speaking followers of Burda felt lost and abandoned as their beloved burdafashion dot com was torn from them and replaced with the work-in-progress Burda Style beta.

When I first heard of Burda (through a sewing google search) I did what any relatively tech savvy person would do – I looked at the Burda website.  This, of course led to massive confusion.  What was Burda exactly?  A company?  A project sharing website?  The lack of advertisement for their patterns and magazine left me thoroughly confused as to what Burda was actually supposed to be.  Now, I may not be a business person, but if you are selling a product and a potential customer can’t even tell what or where that product is, you probably aren’t going to be making much money.  I was able to figure out that you could buy patterns to download and print at home, but ink and paper are expensive, and then you have to piece them all together… it seemed like such a hassle.  This was back in the time when I would blindly cut directly into my pattern tissue sheets (no longer an issue, I assure you), and doing all of this extra work seemed silly.  So I left the website and didn’t bother going back for several months.

Well, a few months latter another google search led me to the Selfish Seamstress.  Alas, for I only started to appreciate and enjoy the snark a few weeks before she left the internets.  Of course, there was a lot of back posts to read, so I was thoroughly entertained for the better part of a month.  In any case, it was through her wonderful assessment of the ridiculousness of Burda’s costumes and styling that I came to understand that Burda was much more than a pattern download website.  The company actually does, in fact, make real patterns and monthly fashion magazines.  Indeed, the Burda Style Magazine (formerly Burda World of Fashion; again, I am sorry I am not from that era and I won’t refer to it as such) harkens back to the age old tradition of American seamstresses waiting for the latest fashion plates and fashion dolls from Europe to arrive so they could copy the latest and greatest from that side of the Atlantic.

Tales from those who used these strange European patterns were wild and slightly frightening – European sizing (I’m a size 42?!?!), no seam allowances (ummm, wait, what?), crazy awful instructions (translated from German to Korean to English?), and pattern tracing (wait, you can’t just cut it?).  It seemed so bazaar.  So of course I was desperate to find one of these mythical magazines just so I could take a look.  Which is actually a more difficult task than it may seem.  I had never seen any Burda patterns or any Burda magazines at JoAnn, all of the Hancock’s within a 50 mile radius are gone (one of the great things about regionals – different fabric stores!), and the local/independent fabric stores stock KwikSew, but not Burda.  So, indeed, a conundrum.  That was when I went to Borders.

This was one of the newer Borders book stores in the area – a parking nightmare, but a much larger more well stocked store than many of the others.  That was where I saw it.  Burda Style Magazine for January 2011.  I was able to look through the pictures, look at the line drawings, and stare perplexed at the mass of patterns stapled in the middle of the magazine.  Those of you who know, know.  Those of you who don’t – I will post a picture sometime, but let’s just say that if printers could vomit ink, this is what it would look like.  In any case, I decided that there weren’t any patterns I really needed to have, but I was happy because I had found a store that at least carried the magazine.  We all know what happened next, right?  Yup, that’s right, Borders announced chapter 11.  Sigh.  And guess which ones were going under?  Yup, the nice big fancy Burda-carrying one.  And the close one.  Yeah.  I know.

So anyway, I thought I would at least make the best of a bad situation, and high tail it to Borders to hopefully pick up a remaining Burda at 40% off.  Well, when I got there they didn’t have any January 2011, but they did have one February 2011.  So I got it.  I decided at first that I didn’t really like any of the patterns, but at 40% off I wasn’t going to complain.

So a few weeks passed, and I looked at the pictures, and I looked at the line drawings, and eventually I decided I should try to make something, just to get the Burda experience.  I decided I should ease myself into the process, start slow.  So I first traced not a Burda pattern but a Simplicity one.  I figured fewer lines would mean a better time of it.  And that actually seemed ok.  In fact, I liked tracing the pattern because I could make some obvious adjustments on the spot without cutting and taping and all that other pattern adjustment nonsense.  So after that I figured I could move on to the Burda.  I picked a simple shirt pattern – just three pieces, so not too much tracing.  It took a while to find things, but once I figured out the system it wasn’t too bad.  And, actually, going on a limb here – I like tracing the pattern pieces.  Cutting them, no, not so much, but tracing is ok.  I know, I know, I am a heretic.  I actually don’t find the directions to be that beastly either.  I mean, sure, they forgot to tell me to stitch up the side seams, but really nothing was too hard to figure out.  I think Burda instructions are like cook book instructions – they tell you what to do in what order, but not how to do it.  They leave the fussy details up to you, which actually gives you more freedom for what you want to do.  So, even the instructions I didn’t mind.  And then there was the fit.  Oh, the glorious fit!  I made a knit shirt, which hides a multitude of sins, but really, without any major pattern adjustments it fit right out of the book.  Amazing.  Now, I don’t expect this to happen on more constructed pieces (ok, I know it isn’t going to happen on more constructed pieces) but really an un-adjusted Burda pattern seems to already have fewer fit issues than most of the Big4 patterns I have tried.

So after using the February pattern (and using the online preview to decide I could live without the March edition) I turned my attention to the Burda pattern line.  I saw a few patterns that I couldn’t live without, and ordered them from PatternReview.  Of course, no sooner did I order these than all of the local JoAnn stores started carrying the Burda envelop patterns.  Perhaps around the country you all had more access to these?  I don’t know.  But I know for a certainty that none of my local stores had these patterns until the end of March.  So I haven’t tried the enveloped patterns yet, but it will happen very very soon.  If they are anything close to the magazine patterns then I expect very good things.  Now here’s hoping that a $0.99 Burda sale may occur at JoAnn at some point in the future?  And that JoAnn gets some sense and starts carrying KwikSew as well.

After the happy incident of newly available Burda envelope patterns, the April magazine previewed and then I saw these:

Ok, so while I agree that Hollywood has taught us that it is acceptable to use curtains for clothes, using the bed sheets is just not cool.  Indeed, the pint on these pants may just be one of the ugliest things I have seen in a long time.  But then I looked at the line drawing:

Heaven!  It is the pant pattern I have been looking for.  Slight flare but not too much.  Fitted at the hip.  Fitting darts on the back.  I can change the waistband from straight to a curve.  Back Seam for easy swayback adjustments.  Pockets for a nice pair of trousers, but with a change to the pockets – the perfect pair of jeans.  I have some pants from the Big4, but they all seem to have something about the fit that I just don’t like and can’t find a way to fix.  And by then I was drinking the Burda fit Kool-Aid, so I simply had to find this magazine.  A scouring of the remaining Borders yielded nothing, and a scouring of the internet reviled little.  But then, by happenstance through a blog discussing their latest stash acquisitions, I found it – a website that sells individual Burda magazines!  Score.  Fashionista Fabrics you are officially on the permanent list of awesome.  (By the way, for those interested – they already have the May issue for sale.  I already scored mine, so it’s ok, you can order one if you want).

So while I ordered the magazine for the pants, in a recent epic failure of a dress pattern (review to come) I was desperatly searching the stash for a quick and suitable replacement.  Indeed, I am making a second dress to wear to the wedding.  My first dress – very “bride, mother of the” if you know what I mean.  So in my frenzy I saw a dress pattern in the April Burda which I had originally dismissed but decided would be perfect for my stash fabric.  While the fabric was pre-washing I was madly tracing and stitching up a muslin.  The result: despite needing major alterations (needs length, needs FBA, needs swayback adjustments) it looked amazingly cute.  I mean, we are talking crappy ill fitting muslin and already I am looking much better than my fully fitted nicely made, perfectly-invisible zippered Simplicity pattern.  A few pattern adjustments, some good fabric, and I am thinking the result is going to be on the money.  I hope.  We shall see.  If, indeed, it does get to go to the wedding you get to see it after the big debut at the event.  There will be a full pattern review in either case, once the thing is finished.

So yes, I have drunk the Burda Kool-Aid.  In the era when many a home seamstress is dropping subscriptions, complaining about pattern choices, and, in general, proclaiming their displeasure with the company, I am starting a new love affair with German engineering for the human body.  My first impression of most of the Burda patterns usually falls somewhere between “boring” and “wtf,” but when I go back and look at the actual designs I find so much to love.  Very Beauty and the Beast.  So much good stuff hidden behind crazy prints, dowdy florals, and crazy poses.  I suppose we are still in the courting stages; I don’t have a subscription yet, but I think my infatuation is growing.  So, dear Burda patterns, I see that a rocky relationship may be in our future; I am not loving the potato sacks, and how many shirt dresses does a person really need?  But then you give me something simple, classy and elegant and I go weak in the knees.  Try to understand that I tease you because I love you and I accept you for what you are: a totally awesome but rather insane product of German engineering.

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