Choosing a pattern can be fun and exciting. But before you rush off and purchase the first pattern you fall in
love with, first:

Take your body measurements

    If you’ve decided on a garment for your first project, you need to take your body measurements (or those
    of whomever will be wearing the item). This is an important step because sewing patterns are sized
    differently from ready-to-wear garments. So if you regularly wear a size 6 off the rack, don’t be surprised if
    you take a size 12 in a pattern.

       Use your tape measure to measure your:

  • Bust or chest (around the fullest part)
  • Waist (around the narrowest part)
  • Hips (around the fullest part)

    Write these measurements down and take them with you to the fabric store. You’ll be looking at the size
    chart on the pattern envelope to determine your size (see further down under “retrieve your pattern”).

Choose your pattern*

    Now begins the fun part. If you’ve never been inside a fabric store before you’ll find these big, thick
    catalogs of pattern designs to browse through. Each pattern company publishes its own book. You may
    recognize the names of the major pattern companies like Simplicity, Vogue, Butterick, and McCall’s. But
    keep in mind there are also many other smaller pattern companies out there that you may want to
    eventually explore.

    The books are categorized by type of project – blouses, evening wear, home décor, etc. to make it easier
    to find what you’re looking for.

    As you browse through the designs, you’ll notice many contain patterns for several items. For instance, a
    pattern may come with different variations of an item (pants may be offered in a shorts version or a skirt
    may be offered in different lengths) or a pattern may contain designs for a skirt, pants, and jacket.

    Now, before you start digging through these books and fall in love with a pattern, I suggest you look for a
    simple design for your first project, such as:

  • Boxer-style shorts with an elastic waist
  • An elastic-waist skirt made from a woven fabric
  • Elastic or drawstring-waist pants made from a woven fabric
  • A simple, no-waist slip dress
  • A simple, unlined collar-less jacket
  • A kimono-style robe
  • A cape
  • A poncho
  • A jumper
  • An apron
  • A tote bag
  • A purse
  • A square or round pillow (no zipper)
  • A pillowcase

    For now, stay away from the following:

  • Anything with a zipper (zippers can be challenging to put in)
  • Any item with complex pleats or tucks
  • A blouse or shirt with cuffs
  • A skirt with a kick-pleat
  • Items that need lots of tailoring such as suit jackets or coats

    Look for the words easy or quick on the pattern envelope. A pattern company may even have a specific line
    of patterns labeled easy, which you can keep an eye out for. Once you gain more skill, you’ll work up to
    more complex designs later. Remember, the goal of a first project is to complete it quickly and successfully
    in order to feel a sense of accomplishment and be motivated to keep sewing.

Retrive your pattern

    So, you’ve found a pattern you like and it’s a nice, simple design that should be pretty easy to sew. The
    pattern should have a number – like 9867. Jot this number down.

    Most stores keep their patterns in drawers (although some patterns are displayed on racks) and
    they’ll usually let you pull them yourself. They should be arranged by pattern company and be in numerical
    order. Find your pattern design.

    Determining your size:

    If you’ve chosen a garment pattern, there should be a size chart on the back of the pattern envelope. Look
    at this chart to determine your size. Generally speaking:

  • Choose tops based on your bust or chest measurement
  • Choose bottoms based on your hip measurement
  • Choose dress or “outfit” patterns based on your bust or chest measurement

    If your measurements don’t match the size chart exactly (when do they ever?), keep in mind that as you
    sew your garment, you can often “take in” an area that’s too large. And as you gain skill, you can start
    making alterations to the pattern pieces themselves to get a better fit.

    The size or sizes contained within the pattern envelope should be printed on the front of the envelope.
    Note that many patterns contain several sizes. So, instead of seeing “10” on the envelope, you’ll likely see
    “8, 10, 12.” Once you’ve determined which size you need, pull the pattern that contains that size.

Doublecheck the pattern’s design details

    Look on the back of your pattern envelope. There are a couple of useful bits of information to help you
    make sure your pattern has the design details you think it does.

    There should be a brief description of the item(s). Example: Skirt A has a back vent, pants B have an
    elastic waist. Is this what you want? It can be so disheartening to buy a pattern for pants you thought had
    a front zipper and it turns out the zipper is on the side. Or a pattern for a straight skirt you thought had a
    waistband and it turns out it doesn’t.

    There should also be an additional drawing of the item, usually a back view. This can give you a clearer idea
    of the item’s proportions and design details, which can sometimes be difficult to discern from the picture on
    the front of the envelope. For instance, a pair of pants can look tapered on a model, but the drawing on the
    back of the envelope may show the pants actually have a straighter leg.

    Your local fabric store may have periodic sales on patterns, such as “All Simplicity patterns, $1.99, three days only.” Therefore,
    you may want to wait for one of these sales before actually purchasing your pattern.
Learn to Sew Lesson #2: Choose Your Pattern
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