Is Burda dumbing down?

I’m a big fan of Burda Style magazine. I started buying it in 2009, and eventually got a subscription. I don’t make something out of every issue but I think I get my money’s worth.

Burda has a rating system for their patterns which uses dots. It seems to combine both difficulty and time, so one dot is ‘quick and easy, great for beginners’, one-and-a-half is ‘Easy to sew with simple features’ and two is ‘Easy to sew but more time-consuming’. The highest rating is four dots, the description of which is ‘Challenging, detailed, and time-consuming – for pros’. Those almost never appear in the magazine; I think there are five such patterns in my whole Burda collection, including the glorious Karl Lagerfeld jacket pictured below.

When I started out, two dot patterns were about the hardest I could contemplate making. These days I’d tackle a three dot pattern (‘Intermediate difficulty, for advanced learners’) without a qualm and have even managed to make a three-and-a-half dot dress. But I’ve been thinking there have been fewer difficult and detailed patterns in the magazine lately, and an awful lot of one and one-and-a-half dot sack dresses. Now it’s possible for a one dot pattern to be great, and I can think of at least one example in the amazingly simple and versatile 105-05-2010 – my version’s below and there are many others on Pattern Review. But in the main I find the very simple patterns a bit dull and they certainly seem to be multiplying.

Burda 105 05/2010

So I set out to check if Burda really is sneakily reducing the difficulty level of the patterns. I worked out the average dot rating for the issues in my collection, skipping patterns for children and accessories, and plotted a graph. (Argh I just noticed my y-axis label’s fallen off the plot. Sorry. Also I deliberately didn’t start the y-axis from zero.)

And actually, although it looks as though there’s a slight downwards trend, there’s so much variation that I don’t think there’s any real evidence that the patterns are getting easier. (No I didn’t do a proper regression analysis or anything like that. I could have, but that would have involved getting out a stats textbook to remind myself how to do it properly. You may call me a lazy slacker if you like.)

I’m putting the impression of easier patterns down to the extra editorial emphasis that’s been placed on them in recent issues. They get a special ‘Easy’ flag in the ‘All Styles at a Glance’ pages and there’s always an ‘Easy sewing’ section with very detailed instructions for one of the patterns in the magazine in addition to the ‘Sewing course’ pattern each month.

What do you think? Has Burda got easier? And even if it hasn’t, what sort of patterns do you prefer to find in it?

19 thoughts on “Is Burda dumbing down?

  1. Yes they are. Although they’ve been doing it since 2010 so I imagine by now its good and done X)
    Just do a t-test – you might as well if you’ve already counted all the dots-no need to get a stat book out- Excel will do it for you XD
    Then post the results on the burdastyle forums and watch the trolls flock… XD

  2. OK, I’m afraid I don’t have anything at all useful to say regarding the mag as I don’t get it (though I’m always tempted to get a subscription!), but I’m loving your scientific approach!!! Who doesn’t like a good graph on a Sunday morning? Brilliant! XD

    It looks like that perception might also come from there being some issues that have a much lower average than others? 1/1/12 for instance – perhaps that issue did have quite a few 1 and 1.5 dot projects compared with 1/11/11, from just a couple of months before?

    I see what you’re saying about the increased awareness of the ‘easy’ patterns, which also makes sense considering the increased interest in sewing and the fact its attracting new people. I’d love to be able to do a comparison like this of sewing books over the last 10 years – I suspect they’ve been bumbed down for that very reason. It seems very easy to find beginnings books, but not so for intermediate books and then it seems like there’s a jump to couture techniques books. Though I might be missing some good middle-ground books, so let me know!

  3. Mmm hard to know without reviewing the data 🙂 but my impression has also been that there are more of the Easy patterns for a while. And they now really highlight the Easy patterns which does seem to suggest that’s a big part of their current market. I also have the impression there are fewer distinct patterns – I know they have always presented things that are virtually the same as different patterns, but the pages of tech drawings look less crowded these days… maybe they looked around at the number of patterns included in competitor magazines or something!

    Having said all this, I got a subscription for Christmas!

  4. At first, I would agree that Burda is getting easier. But my impression is based on my personal experience, not an objective count. I use Burda Magazine patterns almost exclusively and I’ve become familiar with their techniques and methods. Since, I’m such a fan, I’m in favor of almost anything that encourages people to use them. I think the easy patterns are highlighted so readers or potential users won’t be afraid to use a pattern company that has the reputation for being difficult.

  5. I think the major culprit on the difficulty of the patterns is the fashion trends. Lately the trend seems to be for looser fitting clothes which make sewing such styles very easy; and since Burda is always ahead with the fashion trends, we have been seeing these styles for a while.

  6. I also still feel I’m getting my moneys worth out of my Burda subscription (especially since I have no where to buy them in person) and I don’t really mind the multitude of dumbed down patterns (because it just might encourage others to start sewing and because I really only need to find 1 or 2 patterns I like in an issue to be worth it).
    It seems like the current trend is to have an issue with several difficult designs, then the next issue wont have any/many difficult designs, maybe as an attempt to keep everyone happy.

  7. I would agree with lisette – it seems to be the current fashion trend, barring the couture shows. Even BMV seems to have endless amounts of patterns marked “easy” except for the odd designer piece they pick up. It would be interesting to review the data for patterns actually purchased AND sewn up for the more difficult designs, even from BMV. A cursory look through Pattern Review seems to indicate that either the people making the difficult patterns cant’ be bothered doing a pattern review, or people tend to sew the simpler patterns.

  8. I certainly think they are easier, and also too many versions of one pattern making more, it just changing the sleeves or length of a garment gives them another pattern – which is not strictly true. I have been buying Burda since 1993, and they have definitely tailed off in the last 12-18 months.

  9. Its interesting because (statistical text books left firmly on the shelf!) I have noticed fewer reviews on blogs on the advanced BS. I’m happy enough about the simpler patterns cos I’m a beginner, but wonder if this is along the lines of Anne (of Gorgeous Things) “rant” about the lack of advanced sewing books ( Perhaps the encouragement of newbies is getting a little more than the challenging experienced and advanced sewers across the board at present??

  10. Like you I am a huge fan of Burda and started buying them 15 years ago! However, I had a big gap in the middle of that time and picked them up seriously again in 2007. I do have a small collection from the early 90’s that I picked up in a charity shop when someone was doing a clean out.

    In the early 90’s there were no ratings at all. I do have access to a Burda library in our sewing club and they date back to the early 2000’s – what I noticed then was that all jackets (with or without welt pocket flaps) were rated as advanced sewing, so in some respects they’ve tightened up their criteria because now a jacket is just an intermediate number as long as it doesn’t have welts.

    My impression is that perhaps Burda are trying to appeal to a broader audience rather than the sewing afficionado – by spotlighting the easy styles they are saying, “yes, there’s something for you too even if you can barely thread your machine.”

    I don’t think there’s any danger of them losing sight of their cutting edge fashion editorial slant with some degree of complexity- they sell huge numbers in Eastern Europe where the standard of home sewing can be outstanding.

  11. I wouldn’t have said there were a lot of easier patterns ( and your lovely graph suggests that I’m right!) but there do seem to be a lot of dumber patterns. By dumber I mean less shaping and less style. But that’s a personal opinion, of course..

  12. I can’t comment on whether the patterns have got easier, as I only started getting the mag in December. I can say, however, that I thought the latest (March) issue is poor. Some of those dresses actually look like night dresses. And not even nice night dresses (is there such a thing?) I do like a pair of trousers but it’s in the Plus section and I don’t know if I could scale the pattern down (mostly due to laziness on my part).

    I gasped out loud at one of the dresses and had to check the description to make sure it was indeed, a dress!

    I found your post interesting, despite not having much Burda experience.

    Must dash – school run (that’s just the start of it!)

  13. interesting post. I just got my very first BurdaStyle, the Feb issue for the couple of dresses that are sure to be popular. Not sure about the difficulty but I know I won’t pursue Burda further. The tracing is a nightmare and I think Vogue has plenty of interesting patterns, no tracing required – no contest in my opinion which I would rather work with. So I am not going to become a Burda magazine sewer. I think because of printing fewer sheets the sack dresses make it easier to trace?

  14. I don’t think they are dumbing down. I think the variation in your graph is because issues with more jackets, bridal and formal gowns (fall and winter) have a larger number of 3 and 4 dot patterns while issues featuring T shirts and simple blouses and skirts (spring and summer) have higher number of lower dot rated patterns, though I have not done any statistical analysis to test this hypothesis. (and I have 30 years of continuous issues I could use to do it) I do think Burda has recently increased the number of articles on sewing simple garments, in an attempt to attract the younger, less experienced sewer. The other advantages of shapeless, unfitted garments is that they easier and quicker to sew and more likely to fit a wide range of body shapes.

  15. Wow, thank you for doing all the math! But, Mary Nanna highlights an issue: if how the ratings are applied has changed, then it’s harder to draw conclusions based on the ratings. It does seem to be true that there are lots of beginning sewers out there. Yay! And then that means a smaller proportion of advanced sewers in the overall market, at least for a while. The question is, will the balance shift toward advanced in 5 years? Or will all those beginners go on to something else?

    high five to the sewing/math crossover population!

    Erika (epidemiologist)

  16. I obviously haven’t crunched the numbers, but I’ve been noticing the plentiful 1 and 1.5 dot patterns in recent issues. Unfortunately, that seems to be part of a larger trend – vast numbers of sewing blogs/books/patterns dedicated to beginners, and not so much for the people in the middle.

  17. 1. Burda put the easiest patterns in summer when people don’t want to sit in the house a lot.
    2. Also the difficulty level depends on the fabric (i e leather) and the details as special kinds of pockets.
    3. Also it is a personal matter what is difficult to you, I know people (like me) who’d rather sew in 10 zippers that 10 buttonholes, and other people are completely the opposite.

  18. And what about the shrinking # of patterns themselves? They put now one pattern in 2 or 3 different fabrics or different lenghts (a blouse and a dress) and count them as different patterns!
    This concerns me a lot, as well as the quality of pattern sheets – too many patterns on 2 sheets. I think they reduced the patterns sheets to reduce the # of work for them (the # of original patterns to make). And they put a lot of old patterns that were published already!

  19. I agree with you there seems to be an awful of sack like dresses and blouses with no shaping in them at all. When they are sewn up they dont look good at all. I learned to sew using Burda magazine, but have lately stopped buying the magazine, because all the patterns are pretty much the same now.

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