Friday, July 29, 2011

Get The Most From Your Sewing Pattern Dollar: Part One

Recently reader Vildy left a comment that got me thinking, "What a great idea for a post!" Her thoughts: "... I haven't sewn anything from scratch for ages. Long ago enough to have eyes widen at pattern costs nowadays." Indeed! Sewing pattern prices have gone through the stratosphere! I remember Vogue Designer patterns as being pricey, but worth it at $12.50 a pop when i was in high school...nowadays they run $28.50 to $30.00. JUST the pattern. For * a * dress - no variations! This is the type of thing that takes home sewing from practical pasttime to showoff mega-consumption strategy. However, there are many ways to get more out of the patterns you do choose to buy as well as ways to get the same patterns on the cheap. Read on to find out, and be sure to fill us in on your own angles in the comments!

A major strategy for getting more for your pattern dollar is to buy patterns that you'll use over and over again. How to accomplish this? Do your research before you buy!!!!  To begin with, in order to pick a good multi-use pattern you need to identify your own wardrobe workhorses. Do a spreadsheet, turn your hangers around, keep a list of all your outfits for a month, take a picture of yourself everyday for a year- whatever works. It doesn't matter if the pattern shows a baker's dozen different variations on the package if they are all sundresses and you're a corporate lawyer in Chicago. I made the first blouse pictured from the same Butterick 4985 pattern as the striped linen one just above. I already have material for two to three more versions of this blouse waiting in my stash. I've known for a few months that small, cap-type sleeved, button down blouses are a wardrobe workhorse for me (especially in summer).  But i had the devil of the time finding an appropriate pattern until -

i saw Carolyn's buffet of blouses, all made from Butterick 4985, on her blog Handmade By Carolyn. The web is an excellent research tool for pattern research. But to get the most out of if you need to go beyond the pattern companies' online catalogs. Look at seamstesses' sewing blogs as well as pattern review sites to get a feel for the range of ways the pattern makes up, how it tends to look, how it flatters different figures (or not), the success of different style variations and fabric choices, and so on. is a great site and i so appreciate the people who write the reviews! I find it's really hard to navigate and search this site, but if i stick with it i its worth it. Don't forget to search for the pattern company and number with your favorite search engine - i've found some great blog reviews that way.

Finding a pattern that has a number of 'views' or contains a 'wardrobe' is the classic approach to getting the most out of a pattern. Again: sewer, know thyself! I know that the chances i will make up Butterick 4985 view D (a puffy, banded sleeve with purchased trim right on the puffiest part of the already puffy sleeve) are remote to none. However, i will make the plain band collar, the classic collar on the band, the band with applied trim collar, the long tie collar.....I've already made the blouse in black cotton jersey and a lightweight linen. I can see it in cotton swiss dot, cotton  or rayon jersey solid or print, cotton lawn or voile (solid or print), nylon or cotton lace........i've made it with a split set in sleeve and sleeveless. I'm contemplating a  set-in cap sleeve and gathered cap sleeve with and without band hem.

the seaming and piecing of this blouse make bust, waist, and torso length adjustments a snap

The point is to do so much research and brainstorming that you are confident in your ability to generate enough variations that will suit your wardrobe and your taste for variety. This will * ahem * 'vary' from person to person. Read the information on the pattern provided by the manufacturer to see if they recommend a wide range of fabrics or if it's only appropriate for specific materials (two way stretch, etc.). Evaluate what fabrics other sewists have used to make this or similar designs. Be honest with yourself about how much variety you want and enjoy in your clothing items. I enjoy having a bunch of versions of one basic item (cap-sleeved button down blouse). For me, keeping the bodice pretty standard but being able to make substantial changes in the collar and sleeves provides enough difference for me to want to purchase this pattern (while avoiding the hassle of making constant fit adjustments in the torso and bust). Other people would find this way too boring, and want more differences between their clothing items - they want a tank, a cap sleeve tee, a tunic, etc. For these people, finding a good 'wardrobe' pattern may be more their speed.

Regarding 'wardrobe' patterns, i've never purchased one. These patterns contain a selection of pieces designed to be worn together (some examples here). They tend to be career-wear focused, though i've seen the occasional 'resort wear', more casual wardrobe pattern. These type of patterns seem to pop up a lot in SWAP (Sew With A Plan) competitions. Again, evaluating your own wardrobe needs and researching other sewists's experiences will help you make a good decision . Making sketches, story boards or croquis with swatches can help you envision what a particular pattern can do for your wardrobe.

Another consideration is how much of your own creativity you will bring to the pattern in question. For the black version of this blouse i added a couple of more buttons than indicated in the directions and placed them closer together to highlight the booty i scavenged off another blouse. The standard sleeve opening on this blouse allows any number of different sleeves to be created or stolen wholesale from another pattern and applied to the bodice. Carolyn added adorable lace-trimmed pockets to one of her versions of this blouse. As a rule, patterns with a lot of complicated seaming and details or unusual silhouettes will be more difficult to make up in different version or 'graft' onto other patterns. Again - think it through before you buy and don't be afraid to sketch, swatch, etc.

After you've chosen a pattern that will be a wardrobe workhorse and you have a billion ideas for different ways to make it up, the next step is to get the best deal, money-wise, on your pattern. That's the topic of my next post. But in the meantime, here's a couple of videos from Trudy and Jeremy of Hot Patterns with a look at a few different ways you can make up their Sonia Rykiel-inspired Weekender Cabana T-Shirts. Trudy's patterns aren't outrageously priced, but they are not cheap, so she puts a lot of thought into her patterns so that you can get the most out of them in the ways i've outlined in this post. These videos are an example of that thoughtfulness and give you a feel for the type of thinking that will pay off in figuring out how to get more out of your sewing patterns. Enjoy, and comment with any of your own secrets!!!

Blouse: Butterick 4985
Skirt: own design
Sandals: Aerosoles


  1. Pattern prices can be high enough to give you a heart attack! LOL However, now through Sunday Vogue, Butterick and McCalls are on sale for around 4.00 each.
    If you sign up for the mailing list, they tell when they are on sale. Definitely don't pay 30.00 for them!
    My new obsession seem to be Style Arc patterns out of Australia. Just the postage alone is enough to scare you. ;)

    Good job on reusing the same pattern! I have so many now, it's sinful. Wouldn't it be fun to do a sew a long, using only one pattern to make different styles? Hmmmmm.....


  2. This is a fun post even for us non-seamstresses - you give a lot of info on how to ID the styles that form the backbone of our wardrobes. I love the flickrs of the SWAPS too.

  3. I can see why you gravitated toward that pattern. The seaming is great for your body type, playing up the things that ought to be played up!

    I'm still on the fence. I'm intimidated by sewing garments. You may inspire me out of this rut!

  4. Your two shirts look great! It is a pretty good little pattern, isn't it?

  5. Welcome Brenda! you make a great point about some of the sales....i'm planning on including that on 'Part Two"! (great minds, etc.) i had a lot of fun checking out the Style Arc patterns, too - new to me, so thank you!

    that type of sew along sounds like a lot of fun! (are you up to leading it? :)

    Thank you Patti! it's a good point, a lot of the wardrobe planning stuff applies whether you are shopping or sewing. thinking it through always pays off!

    hullo P! heeheehee, we'll get you sewing garments before you know it!!!

    Hi Carolyn! thank you for letting me use your pictures, i think it gives people a wider idea of what you can do with one pattern. It IS a great basic, and all of your variations are what really opened my eyes to the possibilities.

    : ) steph

  6. I remember when Vogue designer patterns were $5.00 and if I'd bought one, even with my own allowance, I would have caught heck at home for being so extravagant.
    I taught myself to sew with the instructions on pattern directions. My mother could not cope with a pattern and she did everything by draping.

    I do a massive amount of remodeling of my clothing but don't know that I'd have the discipline to start sewing what I wanted in the first place. I limit my expenditure and once you start adding up the cost of sewing... Though I do like the idea of using
    thrifted garments as fabric and I often think of some of my purchases this way. :)

    I'll have to go and think now about whether I tend to wear the same repeat styles of garments. I'm just edging up to the point of questioning whether I don't prefer collars or maybe shirts at all. That's one of the slated thinking projects.

  7. Your black blouse turned out beautifully and I can easily imagine it in the dotted swiss you mentioned. I seem to recall that C. has also written about tracing one's own patterns...

  8. Just got this pattern for 40p from a box of old, packetless patterns at my fabric store. I'll go back next week and have a rummage to see what else they have. What a find! Great to see what the possibilities are. A very flattering pattern.