NLS #4, Pattern Talk

There is so much to talk about when it comes to patterns that it is hard to know where to begin. So let's start with the actual pattern envelope. There is so much to be gleaned from this little package. The front of the pattern will give you the Pattern number, which can belong to more than one company. If you have ever searched Pattern Review you know that when you search a pattern number often more than one design and company come up. For whatever reason the numbers seem to be recycled which a google image search clearly shows as well. If the pattern is a designer pattern, like the one below, their name will be on the front. Different versions of the garment are shown, each having it's own letter designation. Some are drawn. Others are photos. The letter is important for following the cutting layouts and instructions inside the envelope.  But here is what I really want to impress on you. Before sinking money into a pattern purchase, look at the photos REALLY CLOSELY.   Notice below view B is no where near as full as the other views, but the other three views show lots of volume in the sides and back. Do you want the voluminous look or the more shape hugging look? 

This is when you have to flip over the pattern and look closely at the technical drawing, also known as line art. Are they all the same volume and maybe the collar or closure is what's different? The tech drawings will give you much more information than any model pic on the front. The front picture gives you clues. The tech drawing gives you reality.

We can see they all have the same volume and it is the way the photo is styled that makes them look different. You can also see all the separate pieces that are necessary to make this garment. It's hard to see  that in the photo.

Pull your pattern out of the drawer, if your store lets you, and really look closely at both the photos and line drawings to see what  you are getting. I don't hesitate to pull the directions out of the package to make sure I see what I am getting. 

This is the Donna Karan dress I recently made into a jumper for myself. I did not look at the pattern closely enough. This bodice on this dress has issues that are clearly visible but I was so taken with the design I did not see them. Love is blind and it applies to patterns too. 

The little black arrow is pointing to the diagonal wrinkles. This woman has no bust to make those wrinkles.  My garment didn't get the diagonal wrinkles until I wore it a few times. The bodice is on the bias. There is huge volume in the lined skirt and it is therefore heavy and pulling weight on those bias straps. This could have easily been solved with some fusible interfacing to counterbalance the bias and weight making those wrinkles. There are non instructions in the pattern to interface this area. Do you see how on the left side of the dress here hair is covering them up? Read these pictures and lines!  ( I still love my jumper!) Look for gaping, wrinkles, bad shoulder placement, how low sleeveless armholes are, etc....

Remember, these are stick thin beautiful  women in the photos. They are "selling the sizzle". We need to see beyond the sizzle and ask, is this a really good design and will it work on my own body? If the model looks "hippy" in the photo and hips are your styling concern, you can bet the farm it will look even more hippy on a real woman with glorious hips. We all need to be more objective in our pattern purchases. If it's for kids, how are the sleeves hanging? Is the crotch dragging? Where is the shoulder line? Buyer beware. 

Some garments on pattern envelopes do not fit the model well at all and it shows.  Do you have the skills to make the pattern work with alterations? If so go for it.  But look very closely at the fit on the perfect body of the model. If it has issues with her, it will definitely have issues with a real woman and move on.  

Th McCall Pattern Company now has it's own blog, which is great, by the way. There is also a community Pinterest board that you can follow and post your garments on. It's pretty inspirational. It encompasses Vogue, Butterick and McCall patterns.

According to their blog, this post,   you are seeing the actual designer garment in the photo on the cover of any of their designer patterns. 

On the back of the pattern is a description of the garment. It almost always starts with something like "loose-fitting" or "fitted" or some other description of how the garment fits the wearer. If you find this confusing, and it is mysterious for sure, in the back of the pattern catalogues and on the websites of the Big Four you can find "ease" charts which well tell you exactly what that description means in inches of ease in the garment. I highly recommend you check that out when pattern shopping.  These ease charts are specific to the pattern company so don't cross reference them. 

There are suggestions for fabrics on the back of the pattern. A few years back I had reason to get involved with customer service at I think Simplicity.  They answered my question about my pattern and then we had a nice discussion. I learned from that conversation that the first fabric listed on the pattern is the one the designer used to make the original garment as well as the fabric that is used in the photo on the front.  Suggested fabrics are really important to follow. Two things always stand out to me as the sign of an inexperienced sewist, lack of  ironing and the wrong fabric for the pattern design. Read the fabrics listed, ask the store clerk for help or look at the more detailed fabric descriptions on line.. Getting the fabric to work with the pattern is one of the toughest things to do in sewing and it can take years to acquire that skill. Let the pattern help you. Follow it's suggestions. 

Notions are listed on the back of the patterns of the Big Four, not necessarily on all the Indies. It's nice to come home with everything you need to start your project so this list is worth looking at. On this Sandra Betzina pattern I am currently working on the pattern actually tells me  what to get for notions, specifically.  

Not all patterns get this specific with the notions list but I like how Betzina's patterns do. 

Also on most patterns are finished garment measurements. I can't tell enough how important this is. If you are not the standard 5'6", B-cup body that the pattern has been sized for you can now look at the finished garment measurements, measure yourself and before cutting or even buying the pattern you can decide to make your garment longer or shorter or wider, etc. 


Let's discuss differences in patterns. There are the Big Four: Simplicity, Vogue, McCalls, Butterick. My understanding is the Big Four all use the same sloper based on measurements taken many years ago from many women across the country. The book "Overdressed" gets into exactly this. If you know the alterations you need to make to get a garment to fit you well, you can usually do them to any of the Big Four and get the same results. Nancy Zieman says there is no difference in their slopers and I have read that elsewhere as well. I know many sewists feel there is. 

There are also Indie patterns, as in Independent, not associated with the Big Four. Indie patterns run the gamut from very professional designs by trained and educated pattern makers to the most basic design for a child that a SAHM mom has had success with and now markets through her blog.  Here are some of the differences I see:

* Big Four patterns can often, in the U.S., be purchased for as little as 99 cents on a regular basis. PDF and paper Indie patterns can run from some promotional freebies out there on the web  to 32.00., like one I saw the other day, a wide variation. 

* Big Four patterns are almost always on thin tissue paper which some use to fit directly on the body. Marfy and Sandra Betzina patterns, part of the Vogue family, are the exception, using better quality papers. Indie patterns, depending on the designer,  are often available only in PDF format which you download, tape together and either trace or cut out. Some Indies  put out paper patterns as well. PDFs are generally less expensive than paper patterns. 

*Big Four patterns subscribe to the same measurements for their slopers. If you learn to fit one, you can fit them all, and I can personally attest to that. Many will tell you that only Vogue fits, or they only have to adjust such and such on Simplicity but I really think it is more the nature of the design, not the sloper that they all share.   Many are introducing patterns with different bodice pieces for different cup sizes, Hoorah! Indie patterns are often geared to a specific body shape, which I think is wonderful. Some are designed for C cup bra wearers. Some are designed for the "Petite Plus"  or the "pear" and so on. There are many variations you can seek out for your specific fitting challenges with the Indies. Just be aware of these differences. I f you are slim hipped and buying a pattern designed specifically for a "pear" you will have to make adjustments. 

*Big Four pattern companies have access to the big name designers. Cynthia Rowley is one of my favorites but there are so many. You can literally follow the runway shows and see the designs come out in patterns not too much later.  Indies are designed by themselves, so there is a wide range of ability and experience and name recognition. 

* Big Four patterns have those technical drawings. Some Indies have them, some don't. 

* Big Four patterns aren't handholders and may not give all the instruction a newbie sewist may need. But most of the Big Four have patterns specifically aimed at the beginning sewist now so those are worth checking out. This is when a great sewing book comes into play. I've made a few Very Easy Very Vogues and liked them. Some of the indie patterns are really good at the hand holding type instructions and assume the sewist needs every bit of instruction along the way. Not all are like this but I think those that are are really filling a niche and I applaud them. 

* I have heard and seen good things about customer service with the Big Four. They are responding to bloggers and BMV is starting to get more aggressive with social media, something way overdue. Simplicity patterns have a customer service number right on the pattern to call if there is a problem.  Their website is not the easiest to maneuver. Some Indies are very responsive to their customers and function professionally, but not all ,unfortunately. I would advise any and all to check out the pattern they are interested in on Pattern Review, Indie or Big Four.  They no longer put the number up but I believe there are over 200,000 members and I would venture most have done a review at least once. It's a great resource. They have every pattern company imaginable on the site.

* The Big Four all have websites and Facebook pages. Many of the Indies have sites and FB pages as well but quite a few of the children's designs are marketed through blogs as opposed to a separate business site so may be more difficult to find. 

About sizing: Pattern sizing has absolutely nothing to do with ready to wear clothing sizes, ever! 

This is the most important thing you need to know about a pattern. Most patterns are made for a 5'6" tall woman who wears a B cup bra. You don't wear a B cup? Fully expect that any pattern won't fit well until you learn to do a Full  or Smaller Bust Adjustment for your cup size. It won't fit, I tell ya, until you do. 

Not 5'6"? Big Four patterns all have adjustment lines in the bodice and skirts and pants legs to lengthen or shorten and even lines to "petite" the pattern. It won't fit correctly until you make these adjustments. 

Sewing is Fitting. I read somewhere that there is only one woman in a thousand who has the same figure as Barbie. I would venture that the odds are even higher in reality. But I think the odds of anyone buying a pattern, cutting it out and sewing it as printed and having it fit perfectly are just as high as the Barbie odds. If you want to sew, fully, fully expect to make alterations to get your garment to fit. Sewing is Fitting. 

There is sooooo much more about Patterns that I want to share so I may do another chapter of this next week. I think we need to get into the actual tissue and that could be fun. I have a few tricks regarding that part. This post has been pretty much expository, but it sets the groundwork for what is to come with using patterns and sewing. Below the pic I have printed some lingo you may find when dealing with patterns.........Bunny

photo courtesy

Some lingo:

the Big Four---this is the term for the four major pattern companies in the US. They are McCall's, Butterick, Vogue and Simplicity. Today McCall's,  Butterick and Vogue are one company and Simplicity is its own separate company.

BMV---Butterick, McCalls and Vogue, again, the same company

McVoguerick---same as above.

KS----Kwik Sew patterns, reknown for their great knit and undie patterns

Simplicity---A member of the Big Four but not owned by BMV. The Simplicity Creative Group owns New Look patterns as well as other needlework related companies.

Burda---European pattern company. Their patterns are available in the US at the chains. Those have seam allowances included. They are also available in their magazine, without seam allowances.

Burda magazine---Published in several languages in Europe, including English,and available here. There are many patterns in each issue. The patterns are "nested" with all sizes and styles on a few sheets that must be traced in the proper size to make the pattern. Direction assume you know certain techniques and they are therefore not mentioned. Directions are chancey and patterns have no seam allowances included.

Marfy - Hand cut designer patterns from Italy that are fabulous and come with NO directions. They are under the Vogue unbrella and are famously drafted well.

Indies----These are pattern companies unaffiliated with the previously  mentioned companies. There are many and more new Indies every day, Indies as in "independent".

OOPs---These are Out Of Print patterns. You may be able to pick them up from Ebay or Etsy but often they are still available on the pattern company's website.

Technical drawings--- These are the line drawings on the back and inside of the patterns of the big four. They show the details/seams  without the distraction of fabric prints or body posing by the model. They are found on all of the Big Four patterns  but only some of the Indies. I find them critical to making my decision to buying and making the pattern. They are sometimes called "line art".

Views---These are the garments shown on the front of the pattern envelope.They have letter designations and each vary somewhat from the other. These letters need to be matched up to the  fabric amount needed on the back of the patterns for the style chosen In order to have the right amount of yardage


  1. I am loving this series!!!!!!!!!! Thank you!

  2. This is a fabulous and thorough post Bunny! I congratulate you and totally agree that sewing is fitting. I just finished sewing costume dresses for 75 women ranging in ages from 18 to 70 and all of them required pattern adjustments. Furthermore, only 2 of them came 'close' to fitting the actual pattern as printed. Most ladies needed numerous adjustments.


    1. wow, you've earned your crown in heaven and some incredible fitting experience with that project! Thanks for the input.

  3. Another wonderful post! I've heard great things about Marfy, but that thing about no directions.... I'm not quite to the point of tackling something without any guidance. Maybe someday though.

  4. Nice post Bunny! This should help some new folks be more realistic when choosing a pattern. For the most part, I taught myself to sew as I was raised my wolves, um I mean men. No one explained about fit and as a teenager, I thought my body was at fault. When I began sewing again as an adult I needed to remind myself of the fit issue, and the truism that "Sewing is fitting".

  5. I also agree, 1000%, that sewing is fitting. And it's why so many folks have given up on garment sewing. What a great post for the sewing community! (And it makes me realize how much I have learned over the years and seems so obvious to me, but certainly is not for the newer sewist.)

  6. Great post. I've often looked at a pattern and said "if I don't love it on her I am not going to love it on me". I thought I knew all these things, but I did not know about the ease charts, going to go look that up on the websites!

  7. A great roundup of information here. You are so right about sewing = fitting. And learning to accept and deal with changing body shape is part of it.

    1. Wow, do those bodies change! Having babies, taking up exercise programs, weight changes, reaching menopause - we need to know how to make the changes because we just do not stay the same. I may way the same as I did years ago but it sure has shifted.

    2. I really do know how to spell weigh. More caffeine needed, obviously!

  8. This was so awesome! Thank you! And yes, super please continue this series. I would love to sit down and pick your brain on everything sewing pattern related, and this would be the way to do it. So I'll be watching for your next installment.

  9. Good information! Thanks so much.

  10. Thank you for these awesome insights. I'm an "intermediate" seamstress, but love your blog. I have gleaned so many tips and ideas from you, and found other wonderful sewists through you. ..excellent job!

  11. This is undoubtedly the BEST article I have ever read on the subject! Thank you for the time and effort.

  12. Thank you so much for a GREAT blog - - one of my VERY favorites. What a wonderful series this is - for those who are new to sewing and to those of us who've been here a long time. Thanks so much for all you do for us in the sewing world! You're always an inspiration to me.

  13. Something I've always been confused about... Are the Vogue designer patterns made with the Vogue sloper? I think they get the pattern from the designer and grade up/down, so does that mean that the sloper is whatever the designer uses? Those are often the patterns I have trouble with fitting strangely.

  14. This is just a great series Bunny. It's been decades since I sewed, but am coming back to it. Great tips here, I've learned a lot, and realized my mother taught me better than I knew!

    1. This is what I am trying to supply here: those things your Mom would teach you and that are not in the new round of sewing books. So glad this is helpful. Thanks for your thoughts, Anon, and everyone.

  15. Fabulous post Bunny. I am looking forward to the next instalment.
    So thorough and enjoyable to read.

  16. Very enjoyable post. Thanks for this!

  17. Yippiee another fantastic post Bunny. It does take a while to catch on to the fact that the photographs can be deceiving---- always check the line drawing myself, I've learnt the hard way (no wonderful blogger back in the day to give you a heads up ). I also am in total agreement about the fabric suggestions. I have waivered off the chart, but soon I realized they aren't just promoting certain fabric for no reason. . I like the patterns with the C cups too. You really should be putting this together as a book (perhaps that project is on the back burner?)
    I didn't realize there were other patterns outside the four, until I started to follow some blogs... good grief, the sewing world has been fast paced since I last dropped out out of it (decades ago) . Its hard catching up! All the abbreviation explanations... who knew?? - till someone tells you, so thanks. I thought SWAP...was some kind of clothing exchange...ha.......sewing with a purpose.......ok!! got it. geesese.
    Anyhow...I won't go on......but thanks again...looking forward to next week!

    1. SWAP is also known as Sewing with a Plan, something I am not particularly guilty of! LOL! Glad you are enjoying the posts!

  18. THANK YOU! I have read every word and will be looking forward to learning more. You have taught me more in this one blog post than 50 years of sewing, 4H- Home Ec-Classses included.

  19. Bunny, Thanks again!
    I appreciate everything you are sharing and especially your diligence and kindness in posting your sewing knowledge for us.
    Lynda from Toronto

  20. Thanks for this post. Very informative. Would love to read more!


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