All images courtesy of Ditto.
Ditto, a joint venture between JOANN and Singer, is the first pattern projector made for home sewists. The product launched at New York Fashion Week last week and will be sold at JOANN and at Singer dealers.
The ability for home sewists to project sewing patterns directly onto fabric makes the process of starting a new project quicker and easier than using paper patterns. According to the Ditto marketing materials, “This system is the first evolution of paper patterns since their invention in 1860.” That’s a bold claim, but does it hold up?
Ditto is a small digital projector attached to a floor-to-ceiling tension rod. It comes with its own rotary cutter, a 24”x36” cutting mat, and a cord cover. Users download the Ditto app, take a photo with their phone and use that to calibrate the projector.
Ditto is also a library of customizable sewing patterns to project. For a monthly subscription of $9.99, users get an all-access pass to the library. Ditto patterns can be customized according to a user’s measurements. Ditto patterns can also be purchased a la carte for $12.99 and downloaded. There are non-Ditto patterns in the library as well, but these aren’t customizable (a selection from the Big 4 brands as well as some from Style Arc, Liesl + Co, Named, and Madalynne Intimates). Ditto is a proprietary system which means subscribers can’t use the projector with their own designs or with patterns bought elsewhere. Ditto retails at $799.
The real revolution
Although Ditto is the first projector made just for home sewing, it is not, in fact, the first evolution in paper patterns in 160 years, despite the marketing claims. That took place sometime around 2010 when designers first turned sewing patterns into digital files. It was the digitization of sewing patterns that was truly revolutionary and that transformation has led to many significant innovations, the use of projectors being just one.
When patterns went digital, the barrier to entry to becoming a pattern designer suddenly dropped significantly. Without gatekeepers or the financial hurdle of printing and distribution, the door was flung wide open. Over the next decade, tens of thousands of designers began self-publishing sewing patterns, carving out niches for every body type, style, and level. Indie designers wrote pattern instructions that were easier for new sewists to follow and conducted sewalongs that broke down the assembly process with community support.
As that digital revolution continued, pattern files got more useful. With direct consumer feedback about some of the challenges of printing a pattern at home, indie designers started putting each size in its own file layer and creating large format files to be printed at copy shops. And then, when it became clear that many sewists were projecting the files directly onto their cutting mats, designers began creating files designed just for projectors. Today, many avid sewists have collected libraries of dozens or even hundreds of PDF patterns by independent designers.
For those sewists who were especially drawn to using a projector, a whole community sprouted up. An avid sewist named Missy Pore became one of the first experts. She began buying projectors and trying them out. She started the Projectors for Sewing Facebook group in 2019 to bring other sewists interested in projectors together to help one another. Today, the group has over 60,000 members and Pore still interacts daily with helpful tips. Over the years, other members of the group have gained expertise as well, including Sheredith Hardy who created the website projectorsewing.com with all sorts of resources, and Branalyn Dailey whose YouTube channel has videos explaining how to set up and use nearly every projector on the market.
During the pandemic, interest in sewing with a projector accelerated. On average, 1,000 new members joined the Projectors for Sewing Facebook group each week in 2020.
Into this scene enters Ditto. The product is one of a whole suite of investments JOANN has made in recent years in state-of-the-art technology including the augmented reality tracing app Cupixel, laser cutting startup Glowforge, the acquisition of the print-on-demand fabric company WeaveUp, and the acquisition of online course platform Creativebug.
The patented technology that the Ditto projector is built on was originally developed by Elizabeth Caven, founder of now-defunct indie pattern marketplace UpCraft Club. Back in 2016, Caven was working to develop a projector for sewing she was calling KITE, but it never made it into production. She sold the patent to JOANN in 2017. JOANN and Singer contracted with product design company Nottingham Spirk to use that technology to create Ditto.
Is Ditto a good investment?
Ditto is sleek. It’s all white, reminiscent of Apple’s minimal aesthetic. The whole unit weighs less than 10 pounds and its all-in-one system feels simple to set up and easy to use, especially the calibration which can be the trickiest part of a DIY projector setup. The $799 price tag is high and that concerns Dailey who says it could give the public a false perception that projector sewing is out of reach. “I think that people could double down on their resistance,” she says. “They’ll be like, ‘Projectors? I could never. It’s too expensive.”
In reality, projector sewing can be quite affordable. Quality projectors run about $100 new, and they’re available for less used. A mount is another $20 or you can make one with parts from the hardware store.
The advantage of a regular projector is that it’s multi-functional. Use it to cut out sewing patterns, give a presentation, show a movie, trace a design onto cookies, or as Dailey recently did, trace a pin-the-tail-on-the-unicorn design onto a poster for a child’s birthday party. In contrast, Ditto’s single use is sewing.
Ditto is not only a projector, though. It’s also a parametric pattern generator, meaning users can enter parameters and Ditto will generate a pattern made to those dimensions. Ditto’s proprietary patterns can be customized along 17 different data points including height, and the circumference of the neck, hips, thighs, etc. (It’s not clear yet whether more complex customizations like a full bust adjustment or a sway back adjustment will be possible.) This capability is definitely appealing to beginner and advanced sewists, but it’s not brand new or exclusive to Ditto. Pattern companies like Apostrophe and software like Tailornova already offer customizable patterns based on a user’s measurements.
Projector file momentum
One of the most remarkable parts of the Projectors for Sewing community, beyond the expertise and support, is the innovation it’s encouraged. Charlotte Curtis is a software developer in Calgary with a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering. An avid sewist, Curtis joined the group in 2020 and noticed members struggling with pattern files that hadn’t been formatted for projectors. She knew she could come up with a solution.
Curtis created PDF Stitcher, an open-source software that allows users to turn any PDF pattern into a projector file at the click of a button. The program is free, user-friendly, and has now been translated by volunteers into four languages (there are enthusiastic projector sewists all over the world).
“It’s a stop-gap solution,” says Curtis. “Most pattern designers are making projector files now so likely nobody will need to use PDF Stitcher in a few years. The need to stitch together PDFs will go away, and that’s okay.”
For Curtis, the way Ditto is being marketed feels dismissive. “It takes away from all the work that’s been done before this. The collaboration of lots and lots of sewists, the innovation of people who looked at what we were doing and said, I can write a program to solve that problem, or I can build a mount that will solve that problem for you.”
It’s confounding that the Ditto team didn’t reach out to Curtis, Pore, Dailey, Hardy, or seemingly any of the projector sewing experts active in the existing burgeoning community. Their input would certainly have been helpful, and their buy-in could have made all the difference in marketing Ditto to consumers who want an all-in-one high-end solution.
Who is Ditto for?
Looking at Ditto, Hardy says, “There is no way someone who is just starting out in sewing is going to invest in a system for $800 when that’s more than the price of their sewing machine. This is the Rolls Royce of projectors.” Maybe Ditto is for experienced sewists, then, who are willing to invest in a top-of-the-line tool, except most experienced sewists have already large libraries of digital and print patterns. All of those can be manipulated to be projector-friendly, but not on a Ditto which doesn’t allow users to upload their own patterns. So then maybe Ditto is best seen as an addition to a devoted sewist’s existing studio setup.
For Pore, Ditto’s entry into the market is a signal that projector sewing is finally getting the recognition it deserves. “It’s amazing to finally see the mainstream sewing industry make advances by beginning to understand our needs,” she says. Despite Ditto’s limitations, she says, “It’s still exciting to see the movement continue to grow and begin to embrace the technological advancements we are capable of now, with even better products to come in the future.”
Abby co-founded Craft Industry Alliance and now serves as its president. She’s a sewing pattern designer, teacher, and journalist. She’s dedicated to creating an outstanding trade association for the crafts industry. Abby lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
My local sewing machine dealer is promoting Ditto and I received a email about Ditto from the Pfaff sewing machine company. It will be demonstrated at the Sewing and Stitchery Expo in Puyallup WA, the first weekend in March.
I think that this is a very limited device with a high price tag. It limits you to what they have in their catalog and you have to subscribe to get more. A customer can purchase either a long throw (ceiling mounted) or short throw (table top version) projector and be able to use almost any pattern they want. They might have to use PDF stitch or a similar process to assemble letter sized pattern pages, but that software is free. If they decide that projector sewing is not for them, they can easily resell the projector or use it for viewing TV and movies instead. Technology with a high price tag and very limited useage is really not the way to go. It looks like Ditto wants to be the Cricuit of the projector world.
I agree completely and it makes me sad that these forerunners are not getting way more credit! They are incredibly talented yet reachable and supportive.
Exactly! We should be promoting the more cost-effective projectors and software – not the “Designer” version. It definitely gives the wrong impression. The sheer cost turns me off.
After all, it is a hobby, not a business or life-saving procedure. 🙂
That a lot of money for a single purpose device. I also read that it requires high ceilings to work correctly (I can’t find the reference, so I don’t remember exactly how high, sorry). And when I heard the pitch about custom sizing, I immediately was reminded of a company back in the late aughts or early teens that supposedly customized McCalls and Butterick patterns that had so many issues with bad fit that they went out of business. I would wait for at least a year to see how the technology shakes out.
I found it: the projector requires a ceiling height of at least 7 1/2 feet, which makes it a non starter for me in my mid-century Cape style house.
I agree that “Dismissive” is the precise term I was thinking of. Elbowing your way into a technology and ignoring all those who came before you and who actually developed the technology you claim as your own is more than dismissive, it’s insulting. And the fact that you then actually try to appropriate it and create a closed end, proprietary system that only works by demanding the customer continue to shell out $12.99 per month to use it ( that’s close to $150 per year over and above the $799 to even purchase the single-use projector!) is, well, outrageous. Abby, as usual, you really did your research on this article. I only hope people who are considering this purchase have a chance to read this before they buy it. This product is just plain wrong on so many levels. And I’m so proud of all the creative and brilliant women you mentioned, upon whose shoulders this product is standing, who not only developed it but who are releasing it to the public for free.
JOANN also “elbowed it’s way” into our communities and knocked out most of the wonderful local fabric stores with their limited choices and cheap crafts, and candy filled long waits for service. So, no surprise here.
Have you tried Joann’s online? HORRID! It took many weeks to receive my order and it came piece by piece. Any respect I still had for the company died when they messed up Christmas and cost me extra because of their incompetence. Terrible, so I am not surprised at this. 🙁
Wow, I’m not the only one that feels this way
There are quite a few folks on PatternReview.com who have projectors and use them this way. Converts to the projector often because of the nuisance work of taping indie pdf patterns together. Buying a projector, setting it up and calibrating it for sewing use is more cost effective the way they do it as opposed to the closed and limited Ditto. Should I ever consider using a projector, I would go my own way. Ditto? No, thank you.
I think that if the technology to alter patterns actually works really well – does full bust adjustments for you, or adjusts for narrow shoulders, say – then it could be incredibly successful, if not for the projector, then for the software. However, based on my interactions with them during development and the level of knowledge about pattern adjustments it’s not clear to me that this will necessarily be the case.
Several people I spoke with for this article mentioned that they wish the software and the hardware were sold separately. The customizable patterns that could be projected from an app sounded really appealing to a lot of people and they mentioned they’d be willing to pay the subscription fee if they could use them with their own projector.
Hi, were you consulting with them or on development team? Thanks
You can do adjustments on current projector files. There are plenty of people who are a part of the Projector Sewing Facebook page who make these adjustments within the file and never use paper patterns. You can purchase a Vivmage projector for under $200. There is a LOT of help via Facebook and YouTube on how to properly calibrate it for sewing patterns. Same with other brands of projectors. Honestly, I do not see where being able to do full bust adjustments or other alterations for you justifies paying more $600 more for the projector. Most sewists who make adjustments, do the same adjustment for almost every pattern. Its a matter of learning how to manipulate the lines in software instead of cutting paper. And for $600 you could pay someone to do every pattern you own. Also, if you cannot bring the current PDF patterns you own into this system, it really is extremely expansive and not very appealing to me.
I’m aware you can make alterations to projector files. My point is that in my years of teaching fitting I know that 1. Few people actively enjoy it and would rather it be done for them if possible and 2. A lot of people either don’t know how or are intimidated by it. The prospect of software where you pick a pattern from a company, put in your measurements, and it creates that pattern fully customized to you would be, I believe, highly appealing. As Abby notes it would make sense independent of the projector offering. In reality, no one has cracked this yet and my suspicion is that ditto haven’t either. The first person to do it though will have a winning proposition on their hands!
I agree that making FBAs can be time consuming but these days for us lazy people many companies include options that already cater for multiple FB adjustments. Other adjustments are more easily done on a projected pattern, including changing the bust point. I can see that some aspects of the software are attractive but subscriptions clubs just as Cashmerettes offer not only additional patterns but also considerable support to members.
That support is really important and one of the key reasons why someone would join a membership (in addition to maybe more access to the designer). Great point!
I love projector sewing! It’s so fast and easy to cut things. But the mist popular projector used only costs around $100, with unlimited pattern options. Joann wants me to pay $800 and not even be able to use any digital pattern I want??? Oh heck no! There are too many incredible independent designers for that.
Agree 1000% will be short lived with so many affordable options available not even getting into open source solutions. Hard pass on this. Even including a cutting device is a NO.
This is not the 1st projector to do this there are whole groups online that have been doing this for a while.
Correct. I wrote about them in the article 🙂
This is not new
This article really helped me to understand that there are alternatives. I’m grateful for the information and for the perspective.
We’re glad it is helpful to you!
I’m so happy for this article! I had no idea pattern projection existed, so when I saw the headline in my feed my first thought was “I must have this.” But then I read further and went “I already have this!” I have a decent projector sitting around from a painting project years ago. Post-covid fatigue has kept me from doing any sewing, and this will make one of the most annoying steps a lot easier. Thank you thank you thank you!
Brittany, selecting an adequate projector is essential. It needs to meet certain parameters. My Vivimage was half price from $100.00. Read in the projector groups first. (By the way, the price of patterns makes an investment of $100.00 reasonable- especially because you can always get your size!!)
I definitely have some reading to do. I have a pretty extensive paper pattern collection thanks to Joann clearances, but even if I have to digitize those myself at least I can do that sitting down!
Guess this means I have to undelete Facebook, grumble grumble
Thank you for this article! It was very informative!
You’re welcome. I’m glad it was helpful.
I’ve never heard of pattern projection before and I have been sewing for years. I previously had my own business. I’m 6’2’and I’ve always wished for a better way create my own design besides manipulating 2 or 3 patterns. This sounds so exciting to me and I can’t wait to learn more about it. I thank everyone for their comments, if anyone has any suggestions for me I would appreciate it.
Ditto is a mo-go for me. I already have a Vivimage which costs around $100 new and A used Epson Ultra Short Throw projector I got for $125. Both work with any PDF pattern. Ditto is too expensive and too limiting.
I didn’t know about using a projector for sewing until a week ago. Thanks to Suzy Furrer on Craftsy.com, I learned flat pattern drafting and started making my own patterns per my measurements in 2016. I’m petite, have a sway back, and somewhat of a large bust for my figure. If the program could help me fine-tune my own patterns and issues or help resolve fit issues with my paper commercial pattern library, then yeah what’s another investment after spending countless dollars since 2009? Ditto, unfortunately, won’t work for me. Being limited to only Ditto’s patterns is a turn-off. The pattern style selection probably isn’t diverse enough anyway.
Thank you for your article. I think people should keep an open mind. If it isn’t for you, then stick with what you prefer. I think that for a sewest who would like to dive in without researching this or that and doing this or that, or doesnt want a learning curve-just wants something now- which seems (no pun intended) to be very common- it is going to be a game changer for them.
When will this be available? When will the be demonstrations available in Jo-Ann stores?
Thank you for this article. I have been standing at the sidelines regarding projectors and absorbing info so that I can make an informed decision. This really helps my absorption process!!
We’re glad it was helpful to you, Kathy.