Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ravelry for Sewing

   I am spoiled. I've been a member of Ravelry since 2008, and it's become an important tool in my life as a fiber and textile artist: my very large stash of fibers and yarns are inventoried, I have a library full of patterns (and more in Ravelry's extensive library of 500,000+ patterns), and I keep track of spinning, weaving, knitting, and crochet projects in my project pages. As I've said many times, it's as if Casey and Jess Forbes, the creators of Ravelry, crawled around inside my head and created an online solution to all my fiber arts organization problems.
   Unfortunately, fiber arts are only a portion of my creative life. I sew, everything from stuff for the house to historical and fantasy costumes. I have a huge fabric stash (my yarn stash only recently surpassed my fabric stash). I have several hundred patterns (including multiple copies of some that I forgot I purchased). I need some way to keep track of everything I get for a sewing project, what patterns I have, what fabrics and notions I have, and what changes I make to a pattern in the process of sewing something. I need a Ravelry for my sewing!
   I know I'm not the only sempstress with this dilemma, so I started searching online for solutions. My criteria:

  • be as simple and intuitive to use as Ravelry
  • be able to store inventories of fabrics, notions, and patterns
  • be able to create individual project pages that, preferably, link to the fabrics, notions, and patterns 
   This doesn't seem like very much, but there are precious few sites for the sewing community, in spite of the popularity of quilting, and the resurgence of home sewing. These are the ones I looked at (with my opinion of each):

  • Kollabura. Too diverse: more of a Do-It-Yourself, everything-to-everybody site rather than being specific to sempsters/sempstresses. 
  • Threadbias. Too basic. Does not have a basic pattern library feature.
  • PatternReview. Primarily a review and chat site. Charges $30/year for access to pattern "stash" feature, but paid membership also gets a 10% discount at Jo-Ann's and other sewing-related businesses.
  • Seamed Up. Shut down in 2012, due to lack of interest.
  • Sew Mama Sew. Lacks ability to store member information.
  • My Sewing Circle. Closest to Ravelry in look and feel (not surprising, as one of the creators is a Raveler). Fairly simple to use. Has ability to store inventories of fabrics, notions, and patterns. Has individual project pages, with ability to link stashed fabrics, patterns, and notions. 
   I've been playing around a bit with My Sewing Circle (I'm dtjacobson on it), and it's...OK. Not great, just OK. My Sewing Circle has been around since 2010, but has only 16,000 members. By comparison, Ravelry had over 2 million members at its fifth anniversary. Member numbers are important: it takes a certain number of members to maintain an active online community, and 16,000 is barely enough.
   There are also a couple of potentially serious problems with the site itself. The single biggest one is the inability to search a forum thread (online community-speak for an online discussion) for specific information. This means that one either has to read every single post to a topic (and there can be hundreds of posts) to find that bit of information, or simply ask someone to repost it or directions to the original bit of information.
   The other potentially serious problem is the way fabrics are organized. They aren't. There isn't any way to add a thumbnail image of the fabric in an individual stash without creating a new "fabric" entry for the entire site. As a result, instead of a single fabric entry for a fabric with 18 patterns and colorways, there are 18 fabric entries (one for each design and/or colorway). 
   My Sewing Circle has recently changed hands. I sent a message to the new owners regarding continuing support for the site and, I must admit, I'm a bit hesitant to recommend it. The new owners have not been members very long (less than 4 months), and don't seem to be using the site very much. In fact, nobody seems to be using the site very much, other than to catalog sewing projects. If the site is given the support and "push" it needs to begin growing, it may, eventually, turn into every fabric lover's dream: a Ravelry for the sewing and costuming community.