Choosing your first pattern

So you’re ready to get stuck in and try making your own clothes. Where to begin?

Most people start with a commercial pattern – all the pieces you need to cut and instructions are provided. But which one should you choose?

1. Choose something you love

If you don’t love it, you won’t feel like finishing it, or wearing it when you’re done. So go with something you really like. Try to see past any cheesy illustrations and imagine it made up in a fabric you like, or with different trims. Smaller, newer pattern companies often have better illustrations  – and much more stylish packaging if that’s your thing. Check out Sewbox for a good selection.

2. Know your limits

If this is your first make, then pick a pattern that doesn’t call for too many different skills, tools and techniques – they’re often graded for difficulty, so pick something easy. Look critically at the design and description and try to work out how many pieces of fabric are involved. Six or fewer is a manageable number to begin with. If you can open the envelope or find them online, then read through the instructions too to see what’s involved. I’d suggest you avoid welt pockets, a fly front or lots of buttonholes for your first project, for example.

3. Go for something small in a cheap fabric

If your first make is an Atonement-style, long, silk evening dress, then it’s going to be quite an investment – perhaps £100 or more just in fabric. You might opt to start with a loose-fitting cotton top, an A-line skirt, a T-shirt or even an item of childrenswear for one of yours, or the child of a favourite friend. And children are easier to fit than women, as well as smaller, so you won’t need so much fabric!

4. It’s OK to ask for help

If you choose your pattern online, then smaller shops often have an email address (or a Twitter account) that you can contact for advice. They’ll tell you whether it’s suitable for beginners, or suggest another option that might be better. You’ll find the larger pattern companies stocked in fabric shops and some department stores, so staff there might be able to help you. Failing that, the more experienced sewer leafing through the bridal patterns can probably give you some good tips!

5. Check out reviews online

Sites like Sewing Pattern Review house thousands of reviews of commercial patterns, and just typing the pattern’s brand name or number into Google or Pinterest can bring up photos and blogs about other people’s makes you can cast your eye over. People love to share information about how they’ve adapted a pattern, so you might get some useful tips from looking through their ideas.

What was your first make, and how did it go? Is there a pattern you’d recommend to a beginner?


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