A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Sewing Patterns (Including Indie and Vintage Brands)

Now that you’ve got your sewing machine… let’s find something to sew! There are thousands of sewing patterns to choose from. You’re sure to find something great to sew in this post.

Let’s get started!

A sewing pattern is a template for a piece of clothing, accessory, etc., typically made on very lightweight paper.

Do you need to sew with a pattern? Not necessarily. Sewing without a pattern might be good for:

  • Absolute beginners: look on Pinterest for some “no-pattern” ideas.
  • Very advanced: if you’re experienced enough, you can create an outfit on a dress form without a pattern.

I fall somewhere in between those two categories. Note: if you are an absolute beginner, you can go the pattern route as well. Look for an “EZ” pattern, or one that is marked for a beginner skill level.

Pattern-Buying Tips

  • Paper vs. PDF? I stay away from digital or PDF patterns, because I don’t have a great printer. So any attempts to print and piece together digital patterns ends in frustration. I would advise going with paper patterns whenever possible, especially if you’re a beginner.
  • Save money: Who doesn’t love sales? Often, craft stores will have a sale on a few brands at a time. So if you see a Vogue or Simplicity pattern you love, you can make a mental note and come back when it’s cheaper.
  • Difficulty: Look on the pattern itself (or in the pattern catalog), or online to see what the difficulty level is. Also check out this pattern review site before you buy, if you are unsure.
  • Sizes: Make sure that the pattern you are buying includes your size! It’s a bummer to get home only to find out that you can’t use the new pattern you bought.

Pattern shopping is easiest when you know what you’re look for (since there are so many options), but it’s nice to buy patterns for the future, too. We all have that pile of projects to get to, right? ūüôā

When buying patterns, you have a number of options to choose from: commercial brands, independent brands, or individual bloggers. Here are my picks for each category.

Commercial/established pattern-makers

The home sewing pattern industry started in 1860 by¬†Williams J. and Ellen Louise Demorest. ¬†The two of them–Ellen a milliner and sewer, and her husband in the publishing industry–hosted fashion shows in their home. ¬†Their magazine, The Mirror of Fashion, offered hundreds of patterns, but without instructions, and only in one size.

Source: Wikimedia

Things have certainly changed a lot since 1860.

When it comes to buying patterns, there are a few companies that have been in business forever.  Four of the most recognizable names have been in business for a century or more.

Butterick started up shortly after the¬†The Mirror of Fashion, in 1863. ¬†McCall’s followed shortly after, in 1870. ¬†Vogue jumped on the bandwagon at the turn of the century (1899), and Simplicity Patterns sprung up around 1927.

Major commercial pattern maker brands:

These are the seven most common pattern maker brands, and also the brands with the largest selections. ¬†Across all brands, you can find mens, women’s, and children’s clothing, as well as special occasion wear and costumes.

Vogue: ¬†high fashion and stylish patterns. ¬†There are often collaborations with high-fashion designers. ¬†Vogue features a wide range of Misses, Formal/Bridal, as well as Men’s, Girls’ and Boys’ clothing.

Vogue V1534

McCall: ¬†current trends, with styles for Misses, Plus Size, Men, Kids, and Costumes. ¬†They aren’t as fashion-forward as Vogue, but have some designer collaborations.

Butterick:  styles similar to McCall, with Misses, Plus Size, Men, Kids and Costumes.  Bonus:  check out their retro collection.Simplicity 1233KwikSew: another McCalls-owned brand, with a focus solely on easy-to-sew beginner projects

Simplicity: ¬†Simplicity features a wide range of pattern styles and skill levels for Misses, Plus Size, Bridal, Men, and Kids. ¬†They have a few collaborations, notably, with Project Runway. ¬†If you or your kid is¬†a Disney fan, be sure to check out their Disney collaboration featuring “Princess” costumes for kids, adults, and dolls.

Simplicity 1233

New Look:  a Simplicity-owned brand that is meant to be more fashion-forward.  Styles for Misses, Plus Size, and Kids.

Burdastyle:  another Simplicity owned brand with current designs.  Styles for Misses, Plus Size, Men, and Kids.

Burda Style 123B

Where to buy these patterns

  • Through the individual brand websites linked above
  • At a craft store (best for sales!). ¬†Most craft and fabric stores have giant catalogs of each brand’s sewing patterns
  • Through a third-party retailer such as WeaverDee or Jaycotts¬†(UK)
  • Through Amazon

Indie Marketplaces

If none of the commercial pattern-makers are catching your eye, take a look at some of these indie options. ¬†Indie marketplaces are stores or platforms that specialize in small designers. ¬†While you won’t have as many options to choose from, there’s more variety of styles than¬†you might find in a commercial brand, because most their designs need to fit their company’s branding.

There are several online marketplaces that sell the patterns (in both PDF and paper form) of independent designers. This gives you unique designs, and also gives you some assurance about the quality of the patterns by their ratings or popularity.

Indie marketplaces to know

First up is good old Etsy. You’ve probably shopped on Etsy before, but did you know that there are hundreds of sewing patterns for sale? Like most Etsy categories, there can be a LOT of search results, so try to narrow things down as much as possible with your search terms. ¬†For example, you can search by the size/gender of the pattern (mens, women’s, and different ages of babies and children), by type (dress, shirt, etc.) or by style (vintage). ¬† PDF and paper options, depending on who is selling. ¬†You can also find designs for non-apparel items, such as quilts or home decor.

Mingo and Grace on Etsy

Purl Soho is a much smaller marketplace, but they have a number of designs for men, women, and kids, as well as home decor and quilts. Notable designers include Grainline Studio, Merchant & Mills, Colette Patterns, and Purl Soho. Mostly paper designs.

Jalie is another independent pattern shop selling patterns for men and women, as well as kids. Notably, they have patterns for activewear, dance and gymnastics.  Great for sewing parents who have kids in dance or cheerleading classes.  Patterns offered in PDF and paper.

Jalie

IndieSew focuses on PDF-only designs, but there are hundreds to choose from. Mostly women’s clothing. Notable designers include Named Clothing, Megan Nielsen, and Made by Rae.

Bags, dresses, quilts, men’s clothes… you name it, Urban Sew will have something for you. ¬†PDF and Paper.

Attention men! Guys are often left behind when it comes to sewing and patterns, but Thread Theory has you covered. They have a number of paper patterns from Merchant & Mills, Walden by Colette, and their own in-house pattern brand.  Paper designs.

Something different

Sprout Patterns have a really cool process, which is perfect for beginners and people who want unique patterns. You choose a pattern, and then choose what fabric print you want. Sprout will digitally print the design and pattern onto the fabric itself, and then send it to you to sew and finish. ¬†Mostly women’s and kids designs.

Sprout Patterns

Another unique store is Lekala. They have hundreds of designs for men, women, and kids. So what sets them apart? When you order your design, you provide your measurements, and they will custom tailor the pattern to your body!

Individual Designers

Indie designers are great.  You look totally unique in their designs, and are also supporting their work by purchasing their patterns.  A few of my favorites:

Colette Patterns has a ton of beautiful designs for women and men.  They remind me quite a bit of Modcloth, which might explain why I like them so much.  Printed and paper designs.  Sizes 0-26.

Colette Patterns

For some more dreamy, Modcloth style, check out Pauline Alice designs.  Feminine, retro yet contemporary.  PDF.

By Hand London has a retro, vintage style for women.  Most of their patterns are PDFs.  Very cute!

Megan Nielsen‘s designs are sold in several of the indie marketplaces listed above, as well. ¬†She has designs for women, including maternity clothes. ¬†Several of her designs have the holy grail of women’s clothing: ¬†pockets in skirts and dresses.

Sew Liberated is a pattern shop and blog owned by Meg, a mother of three, and early seller in the indie pattern market.  Lots of dresses and tops.  PDF designs, sizes 0-20.

Sew Liberated

Named Clothing is a European retailer, and has several dozen fashion-forward designs.  Patterns available in PDF or print.

If you love vintage style, there are several vintage options.

First, Christine Haynes, whose shop and blog offer both PDF and print patterns of vintage styles.

Secondly, Sew Chic Patterns has some gorgeous vintage styles, complete with vintage graphics on the packaging.

Tilly and the Buttons has a bunch of super-cute retro looks as well (PDF and print).

To finish the list of indie designers, we have Sewaholic Patterns, which features cute but polished women’s looks, including activewear.

Sewaholic Patterns

Blogs

Last but not least are blogs! ¬†While you usually won’t find a huge number of patterns in a given blog, designs are often free and have great step-by-step guides for those following along at home. ¬†Pinterest is a great way to find patterns from people’s blogs. ¬†Search by specific terms (i.e. “a-line skirt pattern”). ¬†

If you know of a blog, or have your own blog that has sewing patterns available, please let me know in the comments.

SewMamaSew has been around for 12 years and has a ton of great material. Check out her tutorials and patterns section to find mens, women’s, kids, activewear, accessories, home decor, and gift ideas. ¬†Also includes quilt designs, hats… you name it! ¬†

Sew Mama Sew

Another great blog is SewDIY. She has a few of her own patterns, as well as a series of ‘DIY’ posts that show completed projects from commercial or indie patterns. Lots of great, wearable clothing (including dresses with pockets!)¬†

SewDIY
Made By Rae is sold at some of the indie marketplaces mentioned above, but you can also buy her patterns directly. Lots of cute clothes for kids and adults. 
Bonus:  while not a blog, I found this pattern review site that people might find useful.

Let’s Get Sewing!

I hope this post has been useful and inspirational for you. ¬†What sewing projects are you planning next? ¬†Do you have favorite designers or brands who aren’t on the list?

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