Sewing Patterns 101: How to buy a sewing pattern

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With most of my beginner sewing lessons, I dedicate some time to explaining why we use patterns, what to look for and how to read them.  I feel that lots of beginners are overwhelmed by this process and it puts them off even starting to sew. I don't want that!


So I thought I would start a little series, Sewing Patterns 101,  on all those tricky questions to get you started.  Over the next few posts, I will take you through how to buy patterns, how to read the back of the pattern to know how much fabric to buy etc, how to read the instructions and how to lay out including what the grainline means and how important it is.

First let's take a step back and explain how we get hold of a pattern in the first place.  There are three main ways to buy a pattern. 

1: Big 4 Pattern companies - Vogue, McCall's, Butterick and Simplicity

The more traditional way, is to choose the pattern from a huge book at a fabric store such as Spotlight or Lincraft (or Joann's or John Lewis for our international readers). 

The main pattern companies, or known as The Big 4,  are Vogue, McCall's Patterns, Butterick and Simplicity (which includes New Look and Kwik Sew).  At your local fabric store, there will be large books dedicated to these companies.  They usually produce one book per season and the book is broken up into different garments with dividers such as dresses, separates etc. 

I've been known to spend hours going through these book pouring over the pictures and making sure I was making the right choice as they aren't cheap especially as a Fashion Design Student.  Thankfully the stores provide a chair, although the space given to this in the store is reducing more and more. 



When you have chosen the pattern you would like, you take note of the company along with the number you see in big letters on the page.  In this example in the photo above, the pattern company is Simplicity and the number is in the top left corner, 2178.  I tend to take photos of them on my phone as I can never find a pen when I need one. 

Take this info to the serving counter and the assistant should go find it for you in their massive drawers.  And then you have a perfectly folded neat pattern and enjoy that as they'll never be the same again. 



2: Independent "Indie" Pattern Designers


The second way and my favoured way of buying patterns is from an Indie Pattern designer.  These are the new wave of designers who are making their patterns digitally available for download and you can print at home from a PDF file. 

Most print at home files are A4, or letter, sized and you will need to stick them all together using the matching prompts on the pattern.  This can be tedious and is not my favourite thing to do.  

However, Indie designers now offer the file to be printed at a copy shop onto A0 paper which is the largest size.  This is much for practical for time and is quite affordable being $4 per page at my local Officeworks. 

Once you have all the pieces put together or the A0 sheet, you think trace the pattern onto some tracing paper, or trace'n'toile interfacing.  Or as my Mum used, baking paper (Aldi have the widest in Australia!)

My favourite places to buy Indie Patterns are, with suggestions of easy beginner patterns:


3: Pattern books


Pattern books are lovely things to keep and use again and again.  Here are just a few to love.  You might even find some in your local library. 

The most popular in the blogosphere, and for super cute reasons, are Japanese Pattern Books for kids and women.  Here is site to get you started with them - great for beginners. 

Tilly & the Buttons, who featured on the first season of The Great British Sewing Bee, has released a lovely beginner sewing book. The instructions are super clear, the project easy and the photos are super cute.  Buy it here!

I hope this had helped you unlock the mystery of patterns!  They aren't so scary!

I would love to know the what the first pattern you have bought was?

C xxx

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