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The best sewing patterns.
March 12, 2014 3:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for simple clothing patterns that don't scream 'homemade,' and are easily alterable.

The short;
I'm looking for clothing patterns that can yield us some utilitarian clothing, that doesn't necessarily scream 'home-made.' Vintage patterns are nice. Modern-but-simple patterns are nice. Patterns from the 80's and 90's; not so much.

The long;
My wife and I can sew clothes (but she's much better at it than I am). We're both fairly good at modifying existing clothing and hacking together simple changes to patterns. We have really specific style ideas, and to purchase them off the rack is way more expensive than we can afford. Lots of Japanese, Swedish and German clothing gets bookmarked when we go 'shopping' for clothes online. All of it is just way out of our price range. We can usually make similar pieces for less than half the price. We're okay spending the time doing this kind of stuff. Please don't tell us to consider the labor, we have. Our time outside of work doesn't really count to us because we're not…well…working and earning money.

Our most recent clothes-constrution binge was percpitated by this very expensive Fjallraven Anorak. Way out of our price range, and since we like to roll our own stuff when we can, it was a good project. We were able to find a pattern for an Anorak, from Green Pepper Patterns. The pattern itself was pretty great, and with some work we were able to modify it to have similar characteristics to the Fjallraven buddy without nearly the expense. The patterns off Green Pepper are really interesting because they're almost blank slates. They're sort of generic outdoor gear patterns…which is perfect! It frees us up to focus on details we want and spending more time considering fabrics and the overall feel of the garment. We don't like wearing outdoor gear that looks like REI threw up on it; we like simple lines of clothing that works and has no frills outside what we need it to do.

Another example is again, for rain jackets, we've disassembled regular old hoodies to make a pattern, and then rebuilt them using technical waterproof fabrics. No one makes a waterproof hoodie. I've had one for years and it's the best raincoat for biking I could possibly ask for. No pockets, one zipper, no drawstrings, a nice big hood. It only cost me a couple afternoons of work and a $75 bucks. It has worked well for years, and another will be made…but hopefully more refined.

The most frustrating part, is that regular google searches for patterns didn't really turn this company up…we stumbled across it on survivalist and hunter blogs. It was in a total blind spot of ours that we just stumbled upon. I'm sure there are other resources like this out there that we're not finding readily. Googling for patterns without knowing the right vernacular is really, really difficult. Lots of stuff comes up as nonsense, and we're both having difficulty sorting through the noise to find anything worthwhile.

We're really trying to find stockpiles of good, classic patterns. My mom made alot of clothes for me as a kid, and I'm trying to avoid what we've coined at the house the "Butterick Syndrome" of ill fitting, poorly designed patterns that have a "homemade-but-kinda-off" feel to them. I don't quite know how to explain it. I've seen this askme, and it has been helpful for more modern stuff, but we're hopefully trying to find more vintage and outdoor patterns.
posted by furnace.heart to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (11 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
There is a really good resource, but you will have to wait for it until the right time and place magically appears to you.

Men's custom tailors - and I mean the real kind, not the made-to-measure we do mostly alterations anymore kind - used to keep all of their core patterns archived. I've seen everything from suits to golf pants to riding pants to hats to winter coveralls for expensive mountain trips. It will be mostly suits and jackets, but there is more there than that.

The problem is that there aren't very many of them around anymore and you can't just ask for their patterns and slopers if there are. You want to keep a sharp eye out for commercial auctions closing tailor shops and garment factories or estate sales where there are clues that one of the deceased was a tailor.

The other thing you may want to do is look through your social networks for anyone who does film and/or stage costuming. A lot of the time they will be pretty free with letting you duplicate things.

If you were interested in really getting into the nuts-and-bolts of it and you already knew all of the basics of sewing, you may want to pick up a pattern drafting book and start working out your own shapes and styles. The one I use and recommend to folks is Helen Armstrong's Patternmaking for Fashion Design. If you've already done a number of pieces, then you should be seeing the continuity in shape, this will help you work out your own details from the core basic pieces.

I am totally not kidding about that. Folks are always amazed at the things they can churn out from the Armstrong book. I think it is mostly the idea of making the pattern itself that freak them out rather than the reality.
posted by Tchad at 3:35 PM on March 12 [4 favorites]


I've advocated for this place before on AskMe, but Vogue Fabrics (online and in Evanston IL) carries a dizzying array of different patterns. For example, Great Copy Patterns and Folkware Patterns might be good places to start.
posted by DrGail at 3:38 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Decades of Style, perhaps? Folkwear?
posted by Vervain at 3:40 PM on March 12


Listen to Tchad. If you are already willing to spend the time to alter an existing pattern and sew your own stuff, I would 100% recommend that you invest the time in learning pattern drafting. I haven't used the Armstrong book suggested; I was taught pattern-drafting by a friend who teaches costume design at the college level, and the textbook she uses is The Costume Technician's Handbook by Ingham and Covey. This book contains detailed instructions for making a sloper- basically, the world's plainest example of a garment (shirt, pants, skirt, etc.) to your own measurements. Once you have done this, you can then alter it as you like (type/length of sleeve, pocket, hem, etc., etc.)

This is an especially useful skill if either of you are at all unusually-shaped, because you can tweak your master pattern until the garment is a perfect fit.

The other advantage is you don't have to waste time finding a good pattern for whatever garment you want to make. You can look at your dream garment and analyze it - "oh, I see, that's an a-line dress with cap sleeves and applique around the hem. I can make that."

On a practical note, in my own sewing I've found that the factors that help the most with getting rid of the "poorly homemade" look are pressing as you go, using appropriate fabrics, lining and interfacing where and with what you should, paying attention to grain lines and seam directions so you don't get drape/pucker strangeness, and finishing your seams nicely.

You may also find useful resources in learning how to draft and alter patterns to re-create pictures of a garment in the SCA/historical re-enactment world, where people are quite frequently trying to make garments based on portraits, statues, etc., and often write detailed accounts of their process.
posted by oblique red at 4:05 PM on March 12 [9 favorites]


There are a lot of independent sewing pattern companies out there that make patterns that fit what you're looking for, I think.

Jalie makes patterns for both men and women in a wide range of sizes. They have a reputation for drafting patterns well. Their focus is on sportswear, but have other patterns as well. The stretch jeans have been especially popular. (159 reviews so far)

I will look some more when I have a bit of time. There are some fairly comprehensive lists of pattern companies out there.
posted by annsunny at 5:34 PM on March 12


My mom is a seamstress and made a lot of our clothes, formal dresses, Halloween costumes, and wedding gear... so I've looked at (and rejected!) a LOT of patterns.

I like the BurdaStyle website and Collete (female only or mostly though).

I also REALLY like a lot of the Japanese sewing books that come with patterns. Basic, simple, modern, easy to alter. You can get them at Kinokuniya or Etsy... MeMail me for Etsy shop suggestions (on phone). IF they look home made, it's due to decor/fabric and its 'cute' zakka home made... not 'my mom made me this' home made.
posted by jrobin276 at 6:41 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


I'm looking through some of the links thrown up here (and on the linked askme) and some of them seem poorly designed. I know this may be a case of judging a book by it's cover, but how do you filter that out? I'll admit my bias; I have a hard time taking seriously a pattern that doesn't have an accurate depiction of the end product. It took a while to buy the Green Pepper pattern because of that instinct.

An example is Collete; the patterns seem just as quality as anyone else, but the execution is clearly much better than some of the 'copy patterns' (just to pull a link). It's easy for me to look at the Collete site and go 'awesome. legit pattern.' I'm starting to think we might be overlooking something because we're not accurately able to judge quality without a sewn, visual example.

How's the best way to go about looking for good pattern candidates?
posted by furnace.heart at 7:54 PM on March 12


So, I found a good place for links to independent companies: Threads published this late last year. There are a huge number of links to follow, but I thought I'd throw it up there just in case. Most of these are exclusively for women.

To answer your question about how to know if patterns/companies are good, I usually look at ratings for patterns at Patternreview. You could just google for pattern company plus pattern name/number plus ratings. The smaller pattern companies usually try to provide some extra information so their products are more competitive. Many times, they will host or have someone host a sewalong for a new pattern release. Case in point: Sewaholic is going to be having a sewalong this month for the new skirt pattern. Collette not only has sewalongs, but tries to make their blog content very high-quality.

I would recommend Burda patterns, too. I know the website only has print yourself patterns, but they also offer paper patterns at the store. They have a reputation for being well-drafted, but are also notorious for having few directions, especially since the native language is not English. You can preview or buy the paper patterns at Simplicity.

And lastly, Since you mention wanting to have clothes that fit well, you might consider trying something like Lekala, which is a Russian company, but they have their English site up and running pretty well. They customize to your measurements, and you can do that with the free sample patterns available too. They carry both Men and Women's patterns, and also have few directions, same native language problem.

A book, besides what are recommended above, that might come in handy is Sew U. It is a beginner book, but comes with a few basic patterns. It's great, because she walks you through making style alterations to acheive different looks. You know, different pockets, sleeves, necklines, etc.

Sorry about the novel. Good luck!
posted by annsunny at 8:37 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


If you are looking for something slightly more vintage with a good track record, have you heard of the Lutterloh System? I started buying the pattern books on ebay when I was looking for vintage patterns, but some of it could be helpful for what you are looking forward (and a good intro in to understanding customising patterns).

My husband is very much a 'hacker' rather than 'sewist'- he pulls apart backpacks and outdoor gear and resews them to make what he wants, so I just wanted to say thanks for the link to The Green Pepper as that looks like a definite next step for our household!
posted by Megami at 12:35 AM on March 13


You can sometimes get great fabrics from thrift shop clothes, including outerwear fabric.
posted by theora55 at 10:57 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I'm starting to think we might be overlooking something because we're not accurately able to judge quality without a sewn, visual example.

Google Image search the pattern name/reference. Particularly in the case of Colette Patterns - there are a LOT of people making things and blogging about them. I have preferences for particular shapes and have particular fit issues, and being able to see the garment made up in a variety of shapes, sizes and fabrics is really helpful. You'll also be able to read about the particular alterations or issues people had with a pattern.
posted by mippy at 4:51 AM on March 14


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