An Absolute Beginner’s Guide: Choosing a Pattern

Welcome to my new series An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Sewing. I don’t claim to have all the answers but I will hopefully provide new sew-ers some with some ideas for your new endeavour – being an awesome seamstress. Every Monday I’ll post my thoughts on a given sewing topic and I encourage you to comment on the posts if you’ve got some advice too! So today’s topic? Choosing A Pattern


Start Simple

One of the big pull factors for getting into sewing is the ability to make amazingly fashionable clothes and half the cost of buying them. The risk with jumping in at the deep end though is the bitter disappointment of spending $35 on a DKNY for Vogue pattern only to discover that the garment is very complicated to put together.

The Big Four pattern companies (Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick and McCall’s) all provide “sewing ratings” that rank the difficulty of making that pattern. There are four ratings – very easy, easy, average and advanced – so my advice would be to go with a very easy or easy pattern. You can also ask to read the instructions in the shop before you buy your pattern. Once you pick you pattern number from the look book ask the sales assistant for the envelope so you could look at the instructions while you’re standing at the counter. This will give you an idea of how many pieces the pattern requires as well as how many steps it is to complete the garment. Trust me this isn’t weird!


Choose a Modern Pattern

Starting simple also means starting modern. It’s pretty hard to miss the 1950s vintage renaissance currently happening, particularly in the field of sewing blogs. But I would caution new sew-ers against learning to sew using vintage patterns. Vintage patterns instructions assume that the reader has a lot of sewing knowledge so it’s not uncommon to read instructions like “insert zipper” or “finish edges” without enlightening you with the details. You’ll be left asking but how? Most, if not all, modern patterns break every step down.

The other pit fall with vintage patterns is that they the vast majority of them only come in one size. Nearly every pre-1970s pattern, and even some 1970s and 1980s patterns will only have one size option. This means that it can be very difficult to grade up or down if your measurements aren’t exactly the same as their sizing charts. My experience of buying vintage patterns is that I’ve only ended up sewing the ones that are my exact sizing, the rest are untouched.

If you really want to learn to sew using a vintage patterns I’d suggest using the modern reproductions of Vintage Vogue Patterns. I presume they’ve updated the instructions for the modern seamstress – perhaps someone could confirm this for me?


Try a Skirt

When you’re learning to sew the less pieces a pattern has the better. Skirt patterns usually have four pieces – the front, two back pieces and a waistband. This is important because it means it is easy to adjust if the sizing is not quite right by taking it in or letting it out down the side seams. If you sew an A line or circle skirt the only part that needs to be fitted is the waist which is even easier. Some good beginner patterns are Sewaholic’s Hollyburn Skirt and By Hand London’s Charlotte Skirt.. Next Monday I’ll be making some suggestions on choosing fabrics.

My final piece of advice on this topic – don’t go for trousers! Which patterns would you recommend for beginner sew-ers?