Sew you have a sewing machine – next a pattern

cutting pattern costs

When it comes to sewing patterns, there are three basic routes:

  • a ready-made pattern,
  • make-your-own or
  • wing it (not so much a pattern).

Following on from my last post about fabric, if you are going to make an item of clothing, some kind of plan has to be followed. I’m going to talk about the ready-made patterns today. Hopefully, next time I can show you how to make a few basic ones of your own.


pattern muddle1

When you start out sewing, most people would recommend following a ready-made pattern. Either from a big design company like Simplicity or Burda, or an independent designer like Oliver + S, or Amy Butler. Some beginners swear by the independent designers as they tend to spell out each stage in more detail. A big helping hand. The bigger names assume that you know which is the best type of seam to use where and how to neaten edges. They may not be explicit. I learnt using this kind of pattern and find them more flexible to use.

Which type of pattern  to use, is up to you. Once you’ve tried a few, you may find you prefer one designer to another. I would suggest that you have a go with both types, as the choice of patterns is obviously greater. There tends to be lots of finished projects posted up on the internet, where people have used independent designer patterns. Usually with tips and hints. Also true of the big names.

Pattern layout vw camper shirt

When you buy patterns, the cost can really mount up. I’m going to give you ten tips on how you can make the most of your bought patterns and keep the cost down.

1. The big names often have a few weeks each year, where they will reduce the price of their patterns. They can be half the price. This can be a great way to add to your collection. Keep an eye on their official sites and twitter feeds.

2. Most fabric shops will have a collection of discontinued patterns. My local shop has a couple of old ice cream tubs on the top of a cupboard, full of old, unused patterns.

The price is dropped to just a couple of pounds at most. It’s worth flicking through these to see if there is anything that you could use.

AJ new top

(current sewing project)

3. Some patterns, will include several different clothing items. I have children’s patterns that have shorts, skirts, tops and jackets all in one pattern.

I love this kind of collection, because I can make a whole wardrobe from the one pattern. It costs more initially, but still cheaper than buying them individually. Admittedly, you need to like all the items, otherwise, its not such a good deal.

4. Check out charity shops and car boot sales. I’ve found some fabulous vintage patterns. Make sure the pattern is complete and no one has started cutting it up. It would have to be an amazing pattern for me to buy one that’s already been used. Missing bits and bigger sizes may be cut away.

(Check out Simple Simon & Company’s “Ugly Duckling” Pattern challenge. They could make it into a coffee table book. It is fab, especially if you love vintage)

vintage patterns

5. Pick and mix which features you like in a pattern. Alter the length of the sleeves. Change the neckline. Add the embellishments that you want. Put the dress bodice of one dress with the skirt of another. Why not? Especially true of vintage patterns, where basic shape may be fine, but the huge puffed sleeves are not desired.

6. If you are unsure, use some disposable fabric, like an old sheet, to cut out the pattern and tack together. Try it on, or use a dressmaker’s mannequin, to see if the fit is right. Before you cut into the more pricey fabric.

secondhand pattern

(old sheet cut out to check fit)

7. I always use pattern tracing paper to copy the paper pattern. Especially when making children’s clothes. This way if I’m making a size 8 then I don’t cut away and lose the size 10 of the printed pattern. I can make any alterations, such as length or neck line. Also the tracing paper survives repeated pinning so much better than the thin tissue paper. I use some patterns over and over again. They need all the help they can get, to survive!

8. Ask around. Friends and family may be a good source of unused patterns. (Keep it a secret, but we all buy patterns, that we don’t end up using. Shh!)

setting up pattern

9. Take a serious look at the patterns you already have. Just how many straight skirt patterns does one girl really need? (Not looking at anyone in particular!) You really do not need a huge collection of patterns.

10. Check out magazines. Some craft/sewing magazines will have pull out patterns. I made a lot of my work clothes, when I first started working, using magazine patterns. Including a suit! Also worth searching for free sewing patterns on the internet. You’ll need to print out and tape sheets of paper together.

laying out pattern

And one for luck:

11. All pattern sizes vary. My girls are tall and skinny. I find I use a much smaller size than the age suggested on the pattern and then add length. The actual measurements given on the back of the envelopes are usually a good guide. I check their measurements before I go shopping. Ask to look at the envelope before you buy.

So there you are. If you buy wisely and use patterns over and over again, then the initial outlay per outfit made from the pattern, will be reduced. I’m going to include a couple of easy ways to make your own patterns next.

Anyone else got some good tips on buying cheap patterns or finding free ones?

4 thoughts on “Sew you have a sewing machine – next a pattern

  • Tuesday 29 April, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Great advice! I have been meaning to take the sewing machine out of the cupboard for about two months and keep accumulating little projects I want to use it for as well as things to mend. It will have to come out eventually (and I will enjoy every minute of it!). I have never bought a pattern, but that would be the next step, really! So far, I am more of a straight line kind of person! Mel

    • Tuesday 29 April, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      Straight line sounds good to me. Hope you managed to get the sewing machine out soon. Mine has to be put away at meal times, which is a real pain, but I so need to stitch.

  • Thursday 1 May, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Great tips. I’ve just encountered pattern sizes varying. I made 2 sun dresses for the girls. I had to make them 2 sizes smaller than I would normally and then add to the length. Luckily they’ve turned out great. 😀

    • Friday 2 May, 2014 at 11:04 am

      Really is worth reading the actual sizes on the back of the envelope. Saves on fabric too. Goes against the grain to make it several age sizes smaller, but the fit is wrong. I guess I need to see it as an age guide.

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