Friday, January 6, 2012

Shopping for Sewing Patterns

A fellow blogger and fairly new sewist (Hi Viktoria!) recently asked me for some advice on a choosing a pattern for a dress.  It got my wheels turning, and I thought perhaps I could share some pointers with my readers.  Most of my experience is with patterns from Simplicity, McCalls, Butterick, and Vogue (or, 'the big 4', as they are often called), but there are some great independent companies out there (Colette Patterns, Oliver + S, and Decades of Style, just to name a few).

Take your measurements before you shop, and don't be freaked out by the size number.
As you may or may not already know, pattern sizing is different from ready to wear sizing.  For example, I typically buy a size 10 or 12 in ready to wear clothing.  I cut a size 16 pattern when I sew.  That's quite a difference!  Relax.  It's just a number.   

Consider your sewing abilities.If you've never sewn with a pattern before, try to choose something simple.  There are plenty of cute, easy to sew patterns out there, and people will still be impressed that you've made a piece of clothing with your own two hands.  Trust me.  I'm not trying to prevent anyone from expanding their horizons.  I just don't want people to get discouraged and give up on sewing altogether because of a pattern that was too difficult.

A few examples of some easy to sew patterns that are currently available.

The back of the pattern envelope is your friend.
The back of the envelope holds a wealth of information, including a size chart, how much fabric you will need, notions you will need, a list of suitable fabrics for the project, and a line drawing of the garment.  Speaking of...

Check out the line drawing.
Seriously.  Do this.  I can be so easily swayed by what the garment looks like on the front of the envelope.  Remember the blouse I made a few posts back (Simplicity 2188)?  I wasn't a great fan of how any of the items from this pattern looked.
Rather than just dismissing it as a pattern I didn't like, I studied the basic drawing.  As it turns out, it was the way the blouse was styled that I didn't like.  Things like fabric choice and styling on the front of the pattern can really influence the way you feel about it.  Try to keep an open mind, and look. at. the. drawing!

If you can wait to buy, then please do so.
Please, please don't pay full price for a pattern from the big 4.  JoAnn's typically has a sale on these patterns every couple of weeks.  Simplicity, Butterick, and McCall's usually run between .99 cents and 1.99, Vogues are typically 3.99 (I did see them go down to 2 for $5 a couple of times, but that doesn't seem to happen very often).
A few of my most recent pattern purchases...on sale of course!
Remember, the major pattern companies have their full catalogs available to view online!  I like to glance through every so often, and keep a list of patterns I might like to pick up at the next sale.  It beats fighting the crowd at the store to get your hands on a pattern book!

I hope that some of you found these tips helpful.  Feel free to comment or email me (asbuchholz AT gmail DOT com) with questions!  I'll try to be as helpful as I can.


  1. Thanks, Anna! This is really great advice. Sewing sizes was one thing that freaked me out the first time I used a pattern with my mom. I was in denial until she explained.

    Great post!!! I'm headed to JoAnns today to pick up one of the patterns and probably an easy top pattern. Thanks again for the advice!

  2. this is such a great post. i have made so many errors i my new adventure in sewing, from not wanting to take my measurements for the first skirt i tried to make with my mom and wanting to abide by what i thought my size was on the pattern (it didn't fit, go figure!), to not heeding the recommended fabric or yardage for a blouse pattern i spontaneously bought. i feel i am getting smarter though and know what to look for on the back of the pattern and i can see promise in the pictures on the cover! i really can't wait to pick up simplicity 2188 when they go on sale for 99c next weekend!

  3. Thanks ladies! I can't wait to read more about your sewing adventures!