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.