Sewing Pattern Guide: Buying Patterns

I remember my former days as a sewing newbie and being so excited and nervous about buying my first pattern; then overwhelmed at the many choices because I didn’t know exactly what pattern to buy or how to read them.

I personally understand how nerve-racking shopping for patterns can be when your sewing skills are limited. Therefore, I wanted to create a guide to buying patterns in an attempt to help ease the stress when you’re searching through the file cabinets of patterns.

In the first part of sewing patterns guide, it’s all about buying patterns; therefore, I’m going to discuss what the front and back of a sewing pattern mean, so you’re a more informed shopper and so your sewing projects go as smoothly as possible.

When you’re in a sewing section, you will see various patterns from different brands. The most popular brands are McCalls, Vogue, Butterick, Simplicity, and Kwik Sew. Depending on the store, they may carry all these brands or a few. They are all great brands to work with, and provide different apparel options you can sew. All, to some extent, have a line of easy patterns for beginning sewers with no to limited sewing skills. I highly recommend stocking up on a quite a few of those.

Helpful Tip: patterns are rarely organized by style, for example, dresses, outerwear, pants, etc. They are organized by style number. The style number is located either in the right or left upper corner with the size and price underneath. The style number is usually a letter (representing the pattern company like “v” for Vogue), followed by four numbers. The style number represents the type of garment you will sew.

Along with the style number is the size which can be represented by a single or double letters showing numerical sizes or small, medium, and large. Be very careful to look at the size because you will hate to buy a pattern that is too big or small, and then end up spending most of your time making alterations to the patterns. It’s especially no fun when you don’t have any idea how to make alterations to your patterns. Most of the time price is found on the front of the envelope, but if not, check the back.

The next thing you will see on the front is an illustration of the style. The illustration will either be of a life model wearing the finished garment or a sketch. Depending on the style, there will be various views– multiple garment styles. The views can be as simple as a long or short garment, or more complex as one jacket with four different collar styles. The front of the envelope usually tells you the skill level for the pattern.

Now on to the back.

The back of the pattern envelope is where new sewers get tripped up most of the time, which is why I want to cover this area thoroughly.

Depending on which brand you’re buying, the style number, size, and price are located at the left or right upper corner or along the side.

The center back is where you find the important information. View description(s) is where you learn more details about the garment you will be sewing, and it also includes back views of the garment as well.

Measurements are listed for each size, and these will help you for accurate fit. Your personal measurements will not always be exact, but you can choose the size closest to your measurements and then make the appropriate adjustments. Rule of thumb: if you’re unsure about your measurements or size, go one size up because it’s easier to take in than it is to let out.

Fabric widths for your garment is also listed underneath your size. Say for instance you’re a size 8, then you go to size 8 and scroll down with your finger to find the fabric width and yards needed. Helpful Tip: fabric widths come in different widths, and most fashion fabrics are about 58 to 60 inches wide. To save yourself time and aggravation, go with the 60 inch width if you can. All pattern pieces fit on the 60 inch fabric unless you need extra fabric for lining and interfacing. I remember taking on a project that called for 60 inch fabric, and mine was like 35 inches. It was a hot mess and took me three times as long to cut my pieces. I was really hot that day.

One of the most important things not to be overlooked are the fabrics and notions listings. When I first started sewing, I made the mistake of not thoroughly reading the back and skipped the fabrics and notions completely. I thought all I needed was thread and fabric I liked. Man, when I sat down to review the sewing guide, I realized I didn’t have the right fabric or the notions. I was missing the correct fabric and a 14 inch zipper. I attempted the project anyway, but it turned out a hot mess because I didn’t know how to work with knit, and I didn’t know how to take in the area where the zipper was supposed to go. Hot mess! If you do nothing else, PLEASE, read the suggested fabrics and notions because it will make your project a lot easier to do. Interfacing and lining suggestions are listed as well.

Final measurements are listed which are the measurements after you have completed your garment. I personally don’t pay attention to them because I always either have to take in or let out a few inches. Therefore, my final measurements never match the patterns. However, if you’re one of the lucky ones and your measurements are exactly like the size you purchased, then try to strive for the final measurements.

Hopefully this guide has helped you feel more at ease and confident when buying sewing patterns, and I will leave you with just a few more tips. Come back for part 2 and feel free to leave any comments or questions.

Try to buy sewing patterns in every style because you will perfect your sewing techniques, be more comfortable sewing different garments, and you learn about the individual pattern pieces and eventually learn to create your own.

Try and purchase sewing patterns in various sizes because you learn how to make alterations, and you learn how the different sizes should look and feel if you want to be an expert in fit.