This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of sewing patterns, looking at how to decide upon your correct pattern size, a walkthrough of the information on every section of the pattern envelope, and what each marking and symbol actually means!
In the latter half of the 19th century, married couple William and Ellen Demorest would host at-home fashion shows presenting their latest styles, then go on to sell those designs afterwards in the form of paper patterns. As interest grew, the entrepreneurs eventually expanded this little project and created Madame Demorest's Emporium of Fashion, creating and distributing patterns to middle-class Americans. The duo then went on to publish The Mirror of Fashion, a trendsetting magazine providing hundreds of one-size patterns pre-cut into shape - but lacking instructions.
Despite popularity, the Demorest pattern revolution was only short-lived as American tailor, Ebenezer Butterick, kick-started The Butterick Company in 1863, initially manufacturing cardboard pattern templates for children's clothing. This rising star soon moved into the world of women's fashion and men's clothing, offering patterns in standard sizes to cater for multiple body measurements. As Butterick's business grew, the way he designed patterns also changed - providing envelopes to hold the paper patterns, and then separate instruction sheets with far more detail.
Butterick wasn't the only lead contributor to pattern-making, though. Scottish tailor, James McCall, launched the McCall Pattern Company in 1870, and was printing colour illustrations on all of his pattern envelopes by 1932. Vogue Pattern Service started as a business in 1899 as Vogue magazine's pattern-making spin-off, evolving into Vogue Pattern Company in 1914 and going on to sell their fashion-forward patterns in department stores in 1916. The final big-name brand that we still recognise today is the Simplicity Pattern Company, setting up business in 1927 with the ultimate goal to create easy-read, low-cost patterns for the wider market - selling in over 60 countries!
Today, you can still find patterns from the majority of these big names, each striving to provide designs at the top of the trends. But why not just go to the high street and purchase pre-made fashions? That's a great question. Many believe that creating your own garments provides a better fit to standardised clothing sizes found in the shops - you can tailor the shape of your project to suit your body shape. As well of offering a better fit, making your own clothing provides a sense of individuality that's often absent when wearing mass-produced, ready-made clothing lines - it's a valuable form of creativity which allows you to express yourself through your hard work.
With all that in mind, why should you use patterns to create your clothing? As well as making the creative process far simpler with guides, instructions and templates, sewing patterns can save you a lot of money spent on materials - they tell you exactly how much fabric you'll require and the specific quantity of notions needed. Your pattern is your teacher, guiding you to success; although at first glance, they can be a little confusing to read. But, before we get into the thick of decoding them, consider this: how do you decide which pattern is right for you?
Firstly, what type of item do you want to create? Patterns are available for anything from dresses, trousers and t-shirts, to cushion covers, bags and table runners - there's so much you could create! Once you've decided upon the type of garment you'd like to create, you should think about the style - what suits your personal taste? The great thing about patterns is that they usually come with several design options per item, featuring pictures of each variation on the front of the envelope to highlight the diversity within.
Have you ever used a pattern before? Do you have much general sewing experience? If you're still learning to sew or are a pattern-newbie, it's recommended to start with beginner patterns and work your way up as your confidence grows. Beginner patterns generally contain fewer pieces, more detail in the instructions, and require simpler sewing techniques. However, if you fancy a challenge, you may want to pick a higher difficulty rating - after all, the contents of pattern envelopes are there to help!
What sized pattern should you purchase? Sizing varies from brand to brand, so it's best to take your own measurements with you when picking a pattern out, ensuring you choose the right size. Click through to the next page of this guide to find out exactly how to choose a well-fitting pattern size - it includes information on how to accurately take your measurements, how to decide upon your figure type (i.e. Misses', Women's Petite, etc.) and finally, how to identify your body shape.
Purchasing a pattern is all fine and dandy, but don't forget about the other materials you may require! Luckily, patterns hold all the information you need - including fabric material recommendations, the quantity of fabric you'll need for each project, and other notions you'll require to complete your projects, such as thread, buttons and more. It's advisory to follow the suggested materials list as using different fabrics or notions could affect the overall look and fit of your finished piece.