How to Choose a Pattern for Beginner’s Dressmaking

When you first start out dressmaking the amount of choice available in dressmaking patterns can be overwhelming! Don’t worry I’m here to help you choose and get the most out of your first dressmaking experience.

Although the course is called “Beginner’s Dressmaking” you can make any garment you choose, for any age or gender. However I will encourage you to choose to sew something for yourself, as we cover taking the body measurements during the first week of the course. It makes more sense when you can take, use and compare your own measurements to the pattern.

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What to Avoid

A note of caution… I would stay away from the free patterns with magazines. I have had a few instances where students have brought these types of patterns, and have struggled because the patterns are not well drafted and the instructions are poor. If this was your first go with a sewing pattern then you might be scarred for life!

Check the Sizing

Pattern sizing is completely different to shop sizing, so DO NOT assume that because you wear a size 16 in the shops that you will need a size 16 pattern. We delve into this in more detail during the first lesson.

You will select your pattern size based on your body measurements (bust, waist & hip). You should be able to see the body measurement chart before you buy. Most patterns come in a range of sizes so you don’t need to worry when you are buying. However, some patterns have split size ranges (eg. 8-14 & 14-20). If your chosen pattern comes in 2 or more size ranges, just check that you are buying the correct size in relation to your body measurements.

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Commercial Pattern Designers

Commercial patterns are your more traditional style of patterns, from companies like McCalls, Butterick & New Look. You can see the full range of patterns online and in catalogues in sewing shops. Some sewing shops will keep the full range in stock, at others you will be able to view the catalogue and they will order for you.

These patterns are printed on tissue paper, which although it can be flimsy, has the advantage that you can see through the paper to your fabric underneath. 

Most of the commercial ranges have an “easy”, “very easy” or a “learning to sew” range. Until you grow in confidence and experience, I would suggest that you choose from these ranges.

Independent Pattern Designers

Over the last 10 years or sew there has been a big rise in the number of Independent Pattern Designers popping up. This is great as it allows for a bigger range of diversity in the market. 

You will find designers, such as Tilly & the Buttons, Sew Over it, By Hand London & Helen’s Closet.

One of the best resources I know of for these patterns is the Fold Line website, as they have a growing, searchable, database of patterns. You can search by garment type, style, designer, size, fabric & sewing level. It means you can find new to you designers and styles that are perfect for your style.

With indie patterns, the quality, format and instructions can vary. Check out online reviews to see what others say about them to make sure that you’re getting a good one. Many designers will offer a free PDF pattern, so you can try their patterns and see if you like them before you spend any money. Indie patterns can be more expensive, but I’ve always found the ones I’ve used to be worth the extra.

Fabric Type

The fabrics you use will directly contribute to the success (or otherwise) of your make. Selecting a fabric that is suitable for your pattern will make a big difference, ask in the fabric shop for help on fabrics that will work for your project. Be prepared to take their advice – they probably know more about fabric than you do. 

You will develop your fabric handling skills with time and practice, but when you are starting out a stable woven fabric is the easiest to handle. Avoid fabrics that could be described as: slippery, shiny, textured, stretchy, open weave, or mobile. All these descriptions make a fabric trickier to handle.

I hope these pointers help you to choose your pattern for Beginner’s Dressmaking. You can email me at if you need further help.

Alison xx