How to buy a dressmaking pattern

When you want to start making clothes, the easiest way is with a readymade pattern.   This poses the first (and sometimes most daunting!) problem for new sewers.  Where to buy a pattern?  Which brand pattern to buy?  How to choose a pattern?  How do I know which size to buy?  In my classes I’m regularly asked these questions so, I’ve decided to write a short guide to buying your first dressmaking pattern.

It can feel daunting, so let’s take each of those questions and demystify the scary world of patterns!

Where to buy a pattern?
If you’re local to Brighton, Fabricland on Western Road has a good range of patterns and often has sales on different brands.  You’ll also find a slightly smaller selection at C&H Fabrics (Western Road) and at Ditto (Kensington Gardens).  You can also buy patterns online:
Ebay is also a good source for vintage patterns, but be careful!!!  Sizing of vintage patterns is very different from today’s sizes, for example a vintage size 16 would be roughly equivalent to a size 12 today.  Always check the actual bust, waist and hip measurements given on the pattern.

Which brand pattern to buy?
So, you’ve found where to buy your pattern, you’ll then be confronted by quite a choice of big brands and some smaller ones.  The big main ones are; Vogue, McCall, Butterick (these three are ultimately the same company), Simplicity, New Look, Burda, Kwik Sew.  Kwiksew in particular do some simple classic styles and their patterns are very clear and easy to use.  Burda patterns have some more up to date styles, however, their patterns have quite limited information.  Vogue have a really good range of styles, including some vintage patterns that have been updated for today’s sizes.

There are a few small independent companies producing patterns, the main ones are; Colette, Amy Butler, Oliver & S (children’s only).  These patterns can often cost slightly more than the big pattern brands, but the difference is attention to detail and clear instructions.

How to choose a pattern?
If you have never used a pattern or made a garment before, a skirt is a good garment to start with – you’ll practice seams and hems, possibly have a go at putting in a zip and skirts are the easiest garment to get to fit well.
In shops you choose your pattern from big pattern books a bit like catalogues such as Argos.  All the patterns are categorized.  Look for something described as easy or very easy (in Vogue patterns only look at very easy for your first garment!).
Don’t be mislead by bad photographs or strong feelings about the fabrics used in the pictures.  Look at the style lines.
For your first garment avoid pleats, button fastenings, lots of curved seams.
One last thing – make sure you don’t choose a pattern that is only suitable for stretch/knit fabrics.

Good pattern choices – on the left Kwiksew pattern number 3794 and on the right Butterick pattern number 5613.

Not so good pattern choices – on the left a pattern for stretch fabrics (described on the pattern as suitable for stretch knits only), in the centre and on the right some fiddly details that would be difficult for a beginner to sew.

How do I know which size to buy?
When it comes to size – DON’T buy the dress size that you would choose when buying clothes.  Measure your waist and hips and take the measurements with you to choose which size you need.  Find the size which closest matches your measurements on the size chart.  If you cross a few different sizes, choose the biggest.

Here’s what the size chart will look like on the pattern envelope.

There will also be size charts in the back of the pattern books when you’re choosing your pattern.  This is the Vogue one.

So what are you waiting for?  Get yourself measured up and get out there shopping, it’s not so scary after all!

4 responses to “How to buy a dressmaking pattern

  1. Really helpful- thank you. Off to the shops tomorrow…. Jen x


  2. Thank you Wendy, This is really useful


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