beginner's sewing pattern envelopes

Dressmaking for beginners – sewing patterns and making stuff that fits

You don’t absolutely need to buy a sewing pattern to start dressmaking but it’s a good place to start. If you want to design your own clothes, it’s good to get a working knowledge of how patterns are put together. The best way to do this is to buy a commercial pattern or two and start sewing something.

Good sewing patterns for beginners

Look for a sewing pattern that says that it is ‘quick’ or ‘easy’ so you can be sure that there are no complicated techniques. Garments with just a few pieces that are fairly easy to fit together are ideal. The fabric you choose should be easy to work with, not stretchy or slippery, so a woven cotton is a good choice for beginners. See good projects to start with for more about this.

Sewing pattern brands

The big sewing pattern brands are:

  • Vogue – as you’d expect, Vogue tends to focus on sewing patterns for designer clothes. They aren’t all difficult to make though. All the patterns have ratings so you can pick out ones marked Very Easy or Easy. Vogue is owned by McCalls.
  • Butterick – another huge range of sewing patterns. Patterns all have ratings – again look for ones that are Very Easy or Easy. Many patterns are marked as ‘Fast and Easy’. They have a good collection of patterns for beginners called See & Sew. Butterick has been owned by McCalls since 2001.
  • Burda – based in Germany, Burda has a more European style than the big American sewing pattern brands. Burda produces a monthly magazine Burda style (in English and German) that contains fashion trends and sewing projects with patterns. I’ve never managed to find it on sale anywhere in the UK but I’m sure that someone must sell it! Burda also sell a large range of sewing patterns – all the patterns are graded in terms of difficulty and you filter them on the website to just see the very easy ones. There is  a collection of patterns for beginners called Burda Easy.
  • KwikSew – another large range of dressmaking patterns. Their beginner’s collection is called KwikStart.

Smaller, more specialist brands include:

  • Folkwear – fantastic sewing patterns for ethnic clothing and historical costumes. Some are very simple and others are very complicated indeed!
  • Jalie – sewing patterns for sportswear and casual outerwear.

How to buy a sewing pattern

Where to shop

I find that the best way to buy a sewing pattern is to shop online. All the brands have really good information available on their websites and you can take your time and check out the patterns in detail before deciding which to go for.

You can normally look at the back of the pattern envelope with all the critical information, the front of the pattern with a photo of the finished garment, and sometimes even the instructions.

Good places to buy sewing patterns in the UK:

  • Habithat – Burda, Folkwear, Jalie, New Look and Simplicity. I really recommend Habithat – I’ve ordered from them quite a few times and have been very impressed with their fast service and low cost of delivery.
  • Jaycotts – Simplicity and New Look, Burda, Kwik Sew, Butterick, Vogue, McCalls.

I generally look at what is available to buy in the UK from Habithat or Jaycotts then have a look at the pattern on the brand website to get all the details. It’s fairly easy to find the patterns on the brand websites as you can search by pattern number.

How to pick a sewing pattern

When you are choosing a sewing pattern, the main things to look for are:

  • Something you like and think that you’ll wear
  • A pattern that’s labelled as quick or easy or for beginners
  • Something you can make in an easy-to-sew fabric like woven cotton

You can also check out the pattern on PatternReview.com to see what other people thought of it.

Buying the right size of pattern

Most commercial sewing patterns have multiple sizes on the same pattern. Check your measurements against those on the back of the pattern envelope to make sure that the garment will fit. Sewing patten sizes are not the same as sizes for ready-to-wear clothing so look at the actual measurements rather than the size number.

Sewing patterns are sold for a range of figures:

  • Misses’ patterns – for well-proportioned and developed figure, about 5’6” in height
  • Women’s patterns – for a larger figure, about 5’6” in height
  • Girls’, boys’, children’s, toddlers’ and babies’ patterns
  • Girls’ plus patterns– for older girls
  • Men’s patterns

Most of the patterns you see for women will be labelled as “Misses’ patterns” – don’t worry about this too much. You can tweak the patten to improve the fit. It’s fairly straightforward to lengthen or shorten garments, and many patterns contain instructions for how to do this.

Understanding pattern markings and instructions

When you first open a sewing pattern, it can be a bit of a daunting experience. Because they generally have lots of sizes on them, there can be an awful lot of lines. Take your time! You can work out your size from the measurements on the back of the packet and highlight it on the pattern.

There will generally be an explanation of the symbols used. Sometimes the instructions can seem a bit cryptic – have a look at a sewing reference book to get more details of how to do the different techniques.

Free sewing patterns

Good places to start include:

  • freeneedle – links to free patterns and tutorials

Not free but fairly cheap, some beginners’ sewing books like Sew Everything Workshop contain sewing patterns.

How to alter patterns so that they fit

One of the great things about making your own clothes is that you can adapt the patterns to fit you exactly. Most patterns show you where to shorten or lengthen them. You can also combine two sizes together by merging one size into another.

Pattern alterations are generally covered in some detail in sewing reference books. If you want even more information, see Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina.

Read more

  • Dressmaking for beginners
    Equipment and books, courses and tutorials, where to get help and inspiration, choosing patterns and buying fabric.

If you have any recommendations or things you’d like me to cover in this guide to dressmaking for beginners, please leave a comment.