What are the most flexible, classic beginner sewing patterns?
April 12, 2016 2:38 PM   Subscribe

I have basic sewing skills and would like to improve and be able to make some clothing for myself and my (currently small) children. What I think I'd really like is to choose one (at a time) patterns/items of clothing and make it many many times, in different sizes, different fabrics, and gradually adding modifications as I become more comfortable with the basics.

What are some really for easy, flexible, and modern patterns? Is there a (not terribly difficult) way to scale a pattern up/down for adults/children? Or pattern sets that are sold for both (that aren't terrible mini me outfits)? Or do I need to just try and find similar patterns in adult and child sizes?
posted by pennypiper to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Simplicity has a line of unisex patterns for children through adults, mostly in the hoodie and loungewear space. When I was trying to learn to sew (I never got past my very sad zippered attempts) I found Simplicity patterns to be easy to follow.
posted by xyzzy at 2:50 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just feel compelled to tell you that freezer paper is amazing if you're using a pattern in the same size more than once. Trace the pattern onto it, iron onto the fabric so you don't need to use pins, and it can be reused indefinitely (without falling apart like the awful tissue paper patterns are printed on.)
posted by metasarah at 3:02 PM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Jalie patterns has patterns that include up to around 30 sizes, from infant to plus size. They run pretty heavily towards the sporty (originally they were mostly ice skating costume type things) and knit fabric, but they've got some really cute, modern designs for tops and dresses. They're also very popular over at patternreview.com, so you can read reviews of patterns before you buy and can always find someone helpful if you've got questions while you're working on a pattern.
posted by katemonster at 3:02 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

A-line skirts, basic pants, and basic t-shirts are easy to duplicate using existing clothes as a pattern. Just fold clothing article in half, lay on the fabric fold (t-shirt or skirt) and cut out, allowing for a 1/4" seam. Will need to cut a strip of fabric to make waistbands. Easy to size up a wee bit, adjust, or embellish.
posted by lizbunny at 3:06 PM on April 12, 2016

This caftan pattern is great because it fits and is flattering on every size, and is basically... a square with a few small adjustments. Super quick. Super easy. Super flattering.

The pattern is no longer in production, hence the somewhat hefty price on Etsy. If you can find an identical one for free, I'd go for it.
posted by nightrecordings at 3:17 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pajamas, probably; it's nice to have lots of clean ones, really simple ones are useful but you can put in details (fitting, pockets, piping) as you improve; and your children won't have to wear the Homemade among cruel peers. (May no longer be a problem. Would not gamble until competent.)

Do you know if you want to mostly sew woven or knit clothes? You can sew knits with a modern sewing machine, but if you're only sewing knits, you might just start with a serger.
posted by clew at 3:25 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, so yeah, I thought stretchy fabrics (jersey, knits and such) were harder to work with, so I was thinking woven fabric. I have a basic serviceable machine for that, but not a serger. Kids are 1.5 and 3, so I have room to experiment and um, make some really ugly kids clothes ;)

I've done pj pants before, though I wouldn't say I'm terribly confident with them, but I'd be more interested in "mastering" a basic top/dress (possibly one pattern that could work at different lengths for both?) since I could see that being something that I might find useful to be able to make for myself as well.

I guess my idea was to practice the pattern in kids sizes where fabric cost is more reasonable and fashion standards more flexible/fun then scale up to adult sizes when I'm fairly confident I'm not just throwing good fabric/money away or making something that I'm going to hate.
posted by pennypiper at 3:38 PM on April 12, 2016

Best answer: It really seems to vary person to person what they find difficult and easy. Like you said, I've always had a harder time working with knits than with wovens, because the latter seem to stay where you put them better and I have an easier time getting precision measurements. But there are people who find knits to actually be easier to work with because they're more forgiving -- especially relevant if you're dressing small children, who will pretty much only care if they're comfortable. Similarly, I found pants to be a cinch to fit property, while there are people who fight for years to find a pattern with the right crotch curve, waist darts, etc. I have a hard time fitting tops, and there are people out there who get a good fit straight out of the envelope. So basically, don't make assumptions that because something's hard for someone else (or according to common wisdom) -- find out what works for you personally, and don't feel bad about the things that are challenging even if other people find it easy.
And while sergers are nice, if you've got a machine that has a zigzag or a lightning bolt stitch you've got everything you actually need.
posted by katemonster at 4:06 PM on April 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

If your kids are anything like I was, homemade pajamas are one of the coolest, especially if you let them pick out material.
posted by rhizome at 5:07 PM on April 12, 2016

It's jersey but leggings are ridiculously easy to sew. It's criminal what you pay for store bought leggings. I used to order material from, I think it was Spandex House in NYC.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:40 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Built By Wendy books will step you through variations on basic patterns (the patterns are included). For example, a basic pair of pants becomes jeans, shorts, skinny jeans, bootcuts etc. A basic crew-neck tshirt becomes a boat-neck top, a baseball top, a dress.... There's also some information about pattern drafting which would be useful for scaling up/down.
posted by girlgenius at 7:10 PM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The thing about scaling kids' clothes up to adult sizes is that it's more complicated than just lengthening some seams, because adults have different proportions in several dimensions that complicate fit -- think breasts and hips and shoulders and torso length for example. Any adult-size pattern, no matter how well designed, might need adjustments to fit the specific person who's going to wear the thing. So while it's easier to start with kids' clothes, it's not easy to scale them up; you'll get better results if you start with an adult-size pattern because more of the fitting work is done for you.
posted by clavicle at 7:12 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Check out the patterns at Made By Rae - they're mostly very simple, her instructions are great, and they're reasonably wearable. I've made a couple versions of her Washi Dress, Beatrix shirt, and Ruby tunic. They really helped me find my sewing groove. I haven't tried any of her kids' patterns but there are lots.
posted by mskyle at 7:48 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might find something you like on MADE Everyday, there's a lot of random craft stuff but if you dig around there are a good number of patterns for simple kid clothes.
posted by emilyw at 2:56 AM on April 13, 2016

Best answer: Seconding katemonster in that you won't know until you try! I've been sewing for years and had a huge phobia about knits, it turns out that they are really not that hard to sew, just a little different from wovens. Mind you, if you are approaching this from a cost savings perspective, cheap knit fabrics can be harder to sew than ones that are a bit more expensive. Take a look at the cut edges, if they are curling, you'll have to deal with that -which is do-able, but again, is different than wovens.

Also agree with clavicle, that pattern drafting is a whole other project - which, again, is do-able, but if your goal is to master the sewing part, maybe you don't want to mess around with all the scaling up and down of a single pattern.

Were I in your shoes, I would find a couple of patterns for the kids and a couple for you that you can see making modifications to (tunic to dress) and wait for Joann Fabric's sale when all/most patterns are $1.99 and work through them at your leisure.

Also, for the kids clothes, you might find buying clothes from the thrift store and cutting the pattern pieces from those garments might make the process a little less scary than cutting right into some nice, new cloth.
posted by sarajane at 8:28 AM on April 13, 2016

Another vote for Jalie. This blogger sews extensively from Jalie for herself and her children using the same Jalie patterns.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 8:28 AM on April 13, 2016

For kids' clothes, I love the Oliver + S patterns. I am a very average-level sewist, yet I have managed to turn out some fairly cute, non-embarrassing dresses for my daughter.
posted by medeine at 1:25 PM on April 13, 2016

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