As a beginner sewist, choosing a pattern to sew can be mind boggling. There are so many choices out there. I don’t think you can make a wrong choice as whatever you choose you will learn from but here’s a little guide to help you think about a good choice for you.
Please note that names in bold are links to particular pages on websites to help you find what I’m talking about.
Indie patterns can be the most expensive patterns out there but for good reason. Don’t be put off by the price, you can often find some great alternative fashion styles which you wouldn’t find in a shop. The overall finished garment can sometimes feel far more bespoke.
When you buy a little indie pattern like Tilly and the Buttons, Made by Jacks Mum or Closest Core, the pattern paper is often a thicker quality. Great because it will last a lot longer especially if you’re a bit heavy handed, it wont get ripped so easily or if its going to travel around quite a bit (like to and from my sewing lessons). That said it is a little annoying trying to pin through thicker paper when laying out your pattern and doing your tailor tacks (never ever ever ever skip notches and tailor tacks!).
The instructions tend to have colour photos which is really useful when battling through on your own and the writer will sometimes have links to their blog or an email address so that you can ask for help. I personally have never emailed but if they have a video linked to an instruction on their blog, it’s incredibly useful especially if this is your learning preference.
Great places to look for more indie patterns are Fabric Godmother, Sewessential, Dragonfly Fabrics, and of course Etsy but there are plenty more independent sewing shops and websites that sell indie patterns.
Indie patterns often have the option to buy them as downloads at a fraction of the price of the printed patterns. You can buy patterns such as Brindille and Twig and Puperita to download and they’re instantly in your hand (great for lockdown) and you can get going straight away. You can usually choose to print off one particular size if you wish, which loses the confusion of which line to follow for your size. You can also cut out a particular size or variation without worry that you won’t be able to use the pattern for anything else and if you lose a piece you can just print it off again. Brilliant! However if you’re making anything adult be prepared to be printing off 30+ A4 sheets just for the pattern pieces so have plenty of sticky tape to hand to attach all the bits together.
As with printed indie patterns, the instructions tend to be full of colour photos and have email/blog links. I love how indie pattern instructions tend to be more conversational and you feel like you’re sewing along with the writer. They often include little tips for helping you through tricky bits and little alterations you can make so that it’s more bespoke to you. However my only small annoyance with indie patterns is that the instructions/patterns don’t always have the same rigorous product testing as the commercial patterns and I often find little bits which aren’t clear, could do with additional notches/tailor tacks to help you line up your pieces or don’t quite sit right.
Sewing pattern books
If you find a particular indie brand that suits your style then it could be cost effective to invest in a pattern book. Indie brands such as Tilly and the Buttons and Merchant and Mills have books with patterns to build a capsule wardrobe as well as giving good sewing tips and tricks.
Big name commercial patterns
The pluses for commercial patterns are, they extremely well tested before they are released and I’m yet to see a pattern that doesn’t go together well (just beginners who haven’t quite wrapped their head around instructions), there are plenty of notches/tailor tacks for ease of sewing together, the designs are latest fashions you can buy on high street and they are often clearly labelled “quick” or “easy” which is great for beginners. The paper is very fine which is great for pining and pulling tailor tacks through but it does mean its easily ripped so they need to be cared for. By the end of my sewing lessons, some pattern pieces look very battered after being attached to their fabric counterpart and being carried around for so many weeks.
The main draw back I can see with commercial patterns is that the instructions are on basic paper and printed in black and white. I find students get very confused with the pictures especially about right and wrong sides of fabric. Sometimes the instructions have so much detail and choices its a little overwhelming. For example you can buy patterns that accommodate several different cup sizes and slim/curvy body types which sounds great but the amount of pattern pieces can be very confusing. But if you’re an experienced sewist this is great and gives you plenty of choice. I just wish they had colour pictures to help you out.
Finally lets have a little talk about vintage patterns. I often find students are drawn to vintage patterns if their wardrobe is full of vintage inspired pieces. Vintage patterns can be bought from all sorts of places like charity shops, Etsy and Ebay. The main issues you have to look for is that sizing in vintage patterns is quite small compared to modern patterns and they will often only have the one size in the envelope. The instructions often assume you know how to sew and the pattern pieces will be cut out and probably used. I once used a vintage pattern and didn’t realise until I cut out the fabric that the previous sewist had cut the seam allowance off a few pieces. Thankfully I had enough fabric to recut those or I would’ve been screwed!
At the end of the day when choosing a pattern, my advice is always look at other people’s work. If the pattern envelope has only an illustration on the cover this is particularly important. A drawing won’t show detail and just sells an idea on a slim silhouette. When I select a pattern, I google it or search for hashtags on instagram, you will find a plethora of images of the garment made for wearers of all shapes and sizes, and different fabrics will create very different outcomes. You will see what you think works and doesn’t work and you can apply this to your own version. Also choose something you know you will wear or similar to what you would buy in a high street shop. I find it very surprising the amount of students who finish a garment and say they wouldn’t actually wear what they’ve made because of their pattern or fabric choice.
And a final word….
Wash your fabric before you start and follow every instruction to the letter! Unless you know that certain alterations/customisations will work, do everything the instructions say. They should have been thoroughly tested so will work if followed correctly.
Thanks for reading. Happy shopping…