How I Don’t Buy a Pattern

…Until I do!

Like many of us, I looove new sewing patterns. I also looove keeping my money (dragon-style in a big pile would be top preference). It’s a push-and-pull. So, how do I decide if a sewing pattern is worth the moolah? Obviously this will vary – when I was beginning I prioritized instructions and pattern support. My current priorities have evolved towards fit and value.

Value is simple: does it have a few views, or if it has one view, is that one super classic and useful? For me, that’s the Ginger jeans. I only sew view B but I sew it a LOT. If it’s a rectangle or a circle with some pleats or gathers, is it priced accordingly, or does it offer something else? The Raspberry Rucksack is a draw-your-own-rectangles pattern, but I’m a bagmaking newb and the designer shared a detailed sew-along, so I’m happy with that pattern.

Next, evaluating fit! I’m certainly not a pro, but I’ve figured out some ways of looking at a sample and seeing if it’s right for me. I don’t expect perfection right out of the envelope, but I hope to see evidence that some specific fitting needs have been considered. Come pick a nit with me.

Let’s look specifically at the MN Curve Dawns jeans, a recent purchase of mine. I’ve wanted them for a long time, but I procrastinated. I’ve seen dozens of people look like Flaming Hot Cheetos in this pattern and I want that spice, but the samples have fit issues – specifically, mine!

Don’t be distracted by this gorgeous Valkyrie’s glowing smile. First alarm bell: of the 16 images that show the front of the pants, 10 of those are posed with the model’s hand in her pocket. In the straight sizes, you can see the front in 15 images, only 1 of which has the model’s hand in her pocket. To me, this feels a little like camouflage – probably concealing drag lines, which I’m guessing means, they (and I) need a full stomach adjustment. Next, look at the yoke on the back of the shorts. It’s too tall, so it’s buckling. I only see this happening on the shorts sample, but I’ve made that adjustment before so I’ll probably have to remove height there, too (if it was a darted back I wouldn’t worry about it; it has to do with the particular shape of my bum).

Now take a peek this beautiful cozy angel.

Do you see those diagonal lines pointing towards her inner thigh? It looks like the pattern could use an accommodation for full inner thighs! I’d want to scoop the back crotch to be more of a “J” shape, as the need for a full rear/hungry bum adjustment is indicated, too. And finally, the back pockets are far too small for my taste.

So, was this pattern a good purchase? Well, I got it on sale, and it has 4 views with the potential for everyday usefulness, so to my mind, yes. Even though a close-read of the samples shows me a list of necessary adjustments, if I pull back for a second they’re still gorgeous. And I’m going in with a sense of what I need to do; prepared is half the battle. I’ll get a lot of bang for my buck once (if?) I fit them correctly!

Okay, now let’s do tops! While these patterns aren’t on my I-wanna list, they do have nice clear images. I don’t understand upper body fitting very well, but there’s one thing I can check right away.

First, the CC Cielo top and dress – look at the bust dart. Way too high, right? Again, it’s not that these samples aren’t beautiful; I’m just looking for indicators that the pattern needs more adjustment than I feel like (even something as simple as a misplaced bust dart can stop me from buying something; thanks, #Smaughordegoals).

Compare that to the Grainline Uniform tunic, where the dart is clearly too low.

Especially if the pattern is simple, I want to see that done right!

You might notice all of these samples were sewn in the higher range of each designer’s sizes. Most of my standard adjustments are made for convex curves – full stomach, full thighs, full biceps – so even if my actual size fits in either range, I get a better read on how it will fit my body from what many designers describe as their ‘curvy’ block. 

Of course, I’m not always this particular. I bought the RTS Papao pants more or less instantly. I loved sewing and I love wearing my two pairs (so far!). But if I give the pattern sample photos the business, I can see room for improvement.

There’s some pooling at the center back –the model may need a swayback adjustment. However, I usually don’t (by the way: a lot of suspected swaybacks are actually butts or hips that need more space! Something to consider). There’s also excess fabric at the thighs (more visible from the back), and sure enough, I get the same excess on my pairs. But that’s a pretty short list of potential changes, and if I had let that put me off at the time, I would be a sadder and less awesomely-trousered person today. So contrary to my pro-fussbudget propaganda, sometimes it’s fine to just let things go!  

This might be completely self-evident to all of you. And listen, I can always find a reason not to buy something; this is good, or I’d be up to my ears in mugs and novelty baking pans and seasonal cereals and pristine notebooks and sock yarn I don’t know how to use. Okay fine, that life doesn’t sound so bad. But if you want look at patterns with a more critical/thoughtful eye, and this was useful at all, I’m glad!

Here’s a few more tempting patterns I haven’t bought recently –

The Assembly Line V-Neck Jumpsuit – it’s over $20, only one view, and it wouldn’t go with the winter boots I wear nearly every day from December – March. Also, many of the samples are sewn in black, so I can’t see what the heck is going on. But I like it. This falls into the category of ‘maybe I’ll buy it with a gift card’.

The Sicily slip dress – it’s so slinky and lovely and dreamy and where would I wear this?! Ever? Professor Boyfriend suggested “to a murder mystery party” which, WELL PLAYED, PROF. BF, but that’s a post-rona discussion.

The Soho sweater – hey, it ain’t boring! But I doubt those sleeves would fit comfortably inside a coat, and I don’t have a source for full-bodied knits, so the likelihood that I could make this, let alone would make this, is extremely low.

Fibre Mood Leah jumpsuit – I have a pattern credit for this so it wouldn’t even cost money! Plus its name is a homonym for my name! Is it destiny?! Or is it riding up the model’s crack? I probably won’t use several yards of fabric to find out.

Well, that got wordy. Next time, another finished object – it’s a straight-lines-and-rectangles kind of pattern, but one I definitely got my money’s worth from!

29 thoughts on “How I Don’t Buy a Pattern

  1. I hear what you say. Patterns can be expensive and you really only want to get something you’ll get good use from. I tend to buy for style lines – so things that are classic I’ll wear a lot, or interesting style lines that aren’t in my collection already. Also, I love picking up old patterns in charity shops or vintage shops – they’re usually very cheap and if you use modern fabrics the whole look of the garment can change.

    Just a question – why do pattern designers dress their models with things that don’t fit? When I buy a pattern I’m looking for something inspirational, something that poorly fitted doesn’t fill me with confidence. I wouldn’t mind if they made adjustments and told us – “X is where view A in size y with a full-bust adjustment”, especially if they provide a tutorial for that adjustment.

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    1. I just read Pursuit of Love and the main character, after spending time in Paris, is aghast to realize her clothes have no ‘line’. That’s a great way of reviewing patterns!
      And I completely agree! Gorgeous photos of ill-fitting samples is such a sideways move. Make changes, then tell us. I want as much sample information as possible! Model measurements, adjustments, fabrics used. Get it right and tell me evveerryytthing.

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  2. I agree with steelyseamstress. I find it quite disturbing when patterns do not fit the model. Make it fit! If they can’t do that, then why are they making patterns? I do love looking at either the tester versions or the versions made by previous purchasers. The most promising patterns tend to look good on a wide variety of bodies when made by sewists with a range of skills. The pattern designer understands bodies and has chosen style lines that work.

    But I do agree with you Lia, that there are far too many patterns out there to buy, and one must give a lot of thought to a pattern before purchasing. One big thing for me is whether a top or dress comes in cup sizes. Of course I know how to do one, but it saves a ton of time if it is included in the pattern. Always worth it for me. I also give a lot of to whether it can be made in a variety of fabrics. There is nothing so frustrating as owning pattern which I love but really cannot be made in any of the fabrics I bought because I love them!

    I almost bought those Dawn jeans when they were on sale this past week, but ultimately decided that I already had some casual pants patterns that work for me, and can continue to make those in different fabrics for a while. But I agree it is a good value pattern, especially on sale. And I look forward to seeing how they work out for you.

    Great blog topic!

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    1. It’s sounds like you and I are in the same camp – looking for a reason *not* to buy! And of course a poorly-fitted sample can be just that. Re: cup sizes – that detail is often harder to find than I’d like. It would be great if it were common practice for a designer to put their block measurements front-and-center. Fabric versatility is another good point – if it can only be made with hard-to-source (for me) fabrics then I won’t get it, since it’ll never be used. Also, I’m glad to know that the Cielo works well! Bust fitting continues to be a mystery to me, but if I get a chance I’ll try an armscye-originating dart and see if it fixes some of my woes. 😀

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  3. Oh, I forgot to say that those Cielo darts actually come down, out of the armhole, instead of up from the side seams, and in my experience they fit beautifully and are one of the secrets to the pattern’s success 😉

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  4. Yes, digital patterns are a money pit since they’re non-returnable and non-pass-on-able. So very easy to hoard or forget about once they fall out of view in Google Drive “recents.” I’ve learned my lesson from: 1) buying digital patterns from Etsy that NOBODY else has made or reviewed elsewhere. It’s like “Oh! Only $9? Fantastic” and then you open the pattern file and immediately get that sinking feeling when you see the shape of the armsyce and just know the grading is not based on true human anatomy. Or 2) buying a viral pattern that EVERYONE has, without thinking through how my body is different from the ladies wearing the samples or getting the most likes on IG. (Persephone Pants)

    When I get that itchy feeling to buy a pattern, I usually wait a couple days and if I have the thought more than once when I’m getting dressed each day that “damn I wish I had X garment to wear” AND perhaps I know what fabric I want to use, then I’ll allow it.

    Looking forward to your take on the Dawn Jeans. I couldn’t get them to fit me but I didn’t try very hard. The yoke is weird on every size, just beware. It’s super pointy at the top and makes no sense.

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    1. Oh absolutely. Or I’ll buy a PDF pattern I *wanted so much* a minute ago and suddenly the idea of actually printing it out and using my beloved beloved tape gives me ennui. Even paper patterns on sale can get me. I put everything on one Pinterest board that I do my best to ignore; sometimes I come back and realize it was luv, but mostly I’m like “Why did I think I needed a pattern for a longline safari vest?”

      Thanks for the warning about the Dawn – I just assembled the PDF and even at first glance these crotch curves look shallow and there’s less shaping than I’d hope (same hip-to-waist curve for all sizes in the Curve range, hmm). We’ll see!

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    1. One thing that could save some $$$ – buy an on-sale Big 4 paper pattern you like, and find a similar indie pattern with lots of support info to supplement the directions. My new favorite button fly directions come from a pattern I don’t own, eek!

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  5. This is a fun topic. I’m personally *shook* at how it seems to be the norm to buy dozens of patterns the buyer doesn’t intend to imminently sew! When I (rarely) buy a pattern, it’s right before I actually want to sew the thing and only then if I’m 100% sure I can’t draft or hack it from something I already have. I absolutely won’t buy anything with poor samples or boring style lines in particular. You’re right, those Curve Dawns don’t look right at all.

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    1. I’m not clear on what angina is but the idea of buying a bunch of patterns or fabric I don’t have Intentions for gives me that, probably. I get the impulse for sure – especially with the deep sales in the US last week – but I think it comes down to whether you get satisfaction from collecting as its own hobby or mainly from function/practicality and collecting causes stress. I am definitely Side B.

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  6. Good round-up of the ways we assess whether a pattern is “for me” or “not for me.” I personally look at the line drawing first so I can see the style lines. Then I look at the model photos. With a live model, you’re right that the fit if off sometimes – but I am of two minds on this. On the one hand, I wonder how great can the pattern be if it doesn’t fit the model well, but on the other hand if they make a ton of adjustments to the pattern to get a great fit, is it really the pattern anymore?

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    1. It’s the Ship of Theseus but for pattern alterations! It’s an interesting question – grading between sizes seems okay. I know I wouldn’t want to see, say, something to correct back neck gape – I would want that pre-corrected on my pattern – but but what about FBA/SBA?

      It would be nice if line drawings included a side view when there’s a special feature there. I just decided against a pattern based on the side view, but I only saw it in tester photos, not in the line drawings or samples.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for this analysis and things to consider. New sewer here so it’s all… very overwhelming and tempting to hoard all the possibilities in fabric and pattern form. Plus sales and wanting to support small businesses (esp if they do good tutorials, but that’s a different skill than drafting…). I’ve been lucky with the free/purchased patterns I’ve used so far that the block and I have similar shoulder slopes and dimensions. Now I’m facing the first pattern where that’s not true. Off to hoard all the fitting books from the library to untangle this mystery.

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    1. Ooh, good luck! If you’re sewing pants I’m a huge fan of Singer’s Sewing Pants That Fit, it’s a late-eighties gem! And if you find a bodice fitting book you like, I’d love a recommendation – I’m such a beginner in that area still.

      I agree, a good tutorial is NOT the same as a good pattern. Both are to be valued (but you can’t wear a tutorial, haha).

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  8. I’m so easily enticed by the popular PDF patterns. I stopped using instagram mostly because I got tired of seeing all these new patterns and feeling FOMO. I have a running list of patterns I want on Evernote and I keep notes on why I should/shouldn’t buy it and try to talk myself out of it.

    The Cielo is one of the ones I sort of wanted but had written myself all these notes reminding me why I shouldn’t buy it. I ended up having a moment of weakness and bought it during their last sale. My method’s not foolproof.

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    1. HA! 😂 I know what you mean! I’m as practical as can be until I decide I deserve a treat, something that can be caused by a good event (birthday!) or a bad one (strep throat!). I hope you end up loving the Cielo anyway!

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      1. LOL yes! “Until I decide I deserve a treat”, which for me is often. I usually do fabric for that treat though. The tangible-ness of fabric makes it feel extra treat-like.

        I did make the Cielo but haven’t gotten to wear it! I finished the top and then immediately travelled to a country where I have a strict 2 week quarantine so I’ve only really worn sweatpants and leggings. Excited to wear the Cielo when I am clear of COVID and can step outside though. It’s going to be a real treat to wear.

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  9. This is such a great read…and so many good points to consider. I’ve had the fabric pooling at the back issue with some pietra pants I’ve been muslin ingredients…very similar to that you show in the papao pants, any suggestions on how to handle that?

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    1. If you’ve got adequate room in the hips then it sounds like a swayback to me! My usual issue tends to be that the pants get caught on my hips so there’s a pileup on the badonk, so I haven’t tried it myself, but maybe something like this could help – https://blog.deer-and-doe.com/9162-safran-adjusting-the-back/. Colette also has a post about swayback – https://www.sewalongs.com/clover/clover-swayback-adjustment/ – I’d be hesitant to try all those adjustments at once, but if the simpler change doesn’t help, it might be useful!

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      1. that’s amazing thank you – I suspect I have a combination of a pile up on the badonk (this made me chuckle) and a sway back – because creating room for my curvy booty doesn’t still leaves the pooling around the legs issue – I hadn’t come across the clover suggestion before, I’m excited to try it…..when I’m ready to dig the pattern out of the naughty corner I threw it in

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  10. This post is fantastic. Made me laugh (as usual) but also totally made me think “I’m going to imagine my dragon pile of money and critically assess the model shots before I jump on the next shiny new thing!!” I feel like maybe some leeway on fit issues on models could be given for brand new patterns created in COVID times as proper fitting of a model peehsps couldn’t be done, but all of these great examples are pre-COVID so no excuse for not fitting the model. BTW I’ve never gone for Dawn for the same reasons you point out, the fit isn’t just a bit iffy, it’s bordering on properly bad. So many people seem to love the pattern though so it can’t actually be as bad as the photos make it seem!!

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    1. You’re right about COVID modelling, that hadn’t occurred to me! Also this might be the first time ‘COVID modelling’ referred to photoshoots and not data science. 😂 I’m glad I’m not seeing things; the tester shots look better-fitting than the samples, so I’m cautiously optimistic I can smush the Dawn pants into my shape. It might be a fight though. Put up yer dukes, Dawn!

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  11. I can be as thrifty as the next skinflint, but I seem to have a pattern buying ‘problem’. My collection fits in a basket, but the basket keeps getting bigger… and bigger. I’m looking for a sponsor…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your growing basket made me laugh! I live in a beloved but closet-less apartment; maybe someday I’ll have room for one of those magical baskets, and then we’ll see what happens…

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