Sewing School: Picking Your First Sewing Pattern (Or, I Want THAT One!)

Note:  We interrupt the daily feed of regularly scheduled activities (eating, wearing, and shaking of my boom-ting for healthful purposes) to bring you the very first in Sewing School, a series of posts on how to start sewing.  This post features no food.  But I guarantee that, if you sew, you will get hungry and think of food.  Or eat food while wearing the stuff you sew.  Or, if you really get into it, forget to eat because you love sewing so much and can’t stop until you finish your showstopping item.

Comments and suggestions from sewers experienced, new, aspiring, or McQueen-esque are welcomed and wanted.


I’ve been sewing for a long time, though by no means would I consider myself an expert.  Watch me attach facings or hurl expletives at the buttonhole attachment on my machine and you’ll see the kind of seamstress I really am.

However, I’ll gladly deal with facings and buttonholes if I’m making something I absolutely love–and so will you.

The trick to starting is to find a pattern for sewing something you actually like and want to wear.  It may be really easy to make a cushion cover, but unless you actually want to use it, you’re not going to feel as inspired to sew it.  Nothing against cushion covers, though–and if you do make one, make one for me too because I can’t make myself sew one.

So, onto patterns:  pick something you like and would actually wear.

You probably want to find something that isn’t too fitted to avoid dealing with finicky measurements, raising and lowering waistlines, etc.  By no means am I advocating that you make  yourself a muumuu.  Though, if you want to make yourself a muumuu, go right ahead and rock it on your own bad self–but no need to send me one.

For men, a good starting pattern might be a simple button-down shirt.  I don’t sew for men and I’ve never made anything for my man (which is why I cook with guilt), but I assume that a simple button-down shirt would be the easiest thing to make (bar buttonhonles, which would take a bit more work but are not inordinately difficult).

For ladies, I’d go with a skirt or a tunic-type top, maybe even a tunic-like dress that could be cinched at the waist.  These things don’t require lots of fussy fitting.  Basically, if it can be bought in a small, medium, large, etc. at the store, it’s a good bet it will require minimal fitting–and therefore minimal frustration for the beginning sewista.

“Pattern Suggestions, Teacher!”, I hear you ask?  But of course!

We can go with something like this skirt (Simplicity 2451)

Or this skirt (Simplicity 2606), which I admit has what appears to be an elastic waistband (that can be covered with a nice belt in these fashionable times):

Or even this gorgeous Burdastyle skirt (the Michelle skirt), which you’ve seen plenty of times on me, as here?

The good thing about all three skirt patterns here is that, even in the case of the slimmer tulip skirt (Simplicity 2451), the only place where you need to 100% ensure that it fits properly is around the waist, because they all float outwards from the waist to accommodate all shapes so you don’t have to worry about how it fits on the hips.

If you are blouse-inclined, something like Simplicity 2892 might be a good start.  Just ignore the hideous billowy main picture (unless billowy is your bag-it’s just not mine) and check out the sassy belted options, which would look adorable with a pair of shorts (if going casual) or a sharp pair of jeans or pencil skirt (for more glamour):

Or even something like this:

Of course, there’s nothing to say that you can’t go for a dress!  If you do, I’d suggest trying your hand at something with the same basic lines as the tops above, such as the Burdastyle Anda Dress or something like this:

Now, don’t let me be a bossy madam and tell you exactly what you should or shouldn’t be sewing; if you cannot live a second longer without trying to sew a fitted-body dress as your first dress, or a frothy and ruffled and flared cupcake of a blouse, by all means go right ahead.  And if you feel the need to make something with a slinky knit, more power to you (and make sure the pattern is labeled “for knits”).

But there’s a method to my madness advice.  The reason I’m pushing suggesting the looser, more forgiving patterns is that they are more loose for interpretation and more forgiving of beginner gaffes than items where you need to worry about the placement of the waist or the exact alignment of the pattern’s darts in relation to your very real, um, assets.

In all honesty, the most important things to keep in mind about the pattern you pick for your first sewing foray is that it should be something you can conceivably make, wear, and feel like the coolest girl (or man) on the block for putting together.  The easier the pattern, the more you’ll enjoy your first sewing project–and the likelier you are to sew again.

My true agenda is now revealed:  I’m out to make converts of all of y’all.


So, ready to start looking for patterns?

  • Check out, which is my undisputed number one, cheap pattern mecca.  It carries a HUGE variety of the  big four pattern makers (McCall’s, Butterick, Simplicity, Vogue), available for delivery by mail or–my lifesaver–by download.  Trust me, this site’s downloadable patterns are what keep me in sewing fun now that I live in Trinidad and having mail sent from abroad is impossible without having it stolen unreliable.
  • If you want to see the patterns from in larger detail, you can always search for them on (where you can buy them too, if you’re into paying a bit more than on
  • Of course, you can also search directly on McCall‘s, Simplicity, and Butterick‘s sites, where patterns will be full price.

Now, I don’t want anyone reading this to assume that I don’t support Vogue, Burda, or Hot Patterns, or even the beautiful and creative designs by small pattern-maker Colette.   I just find that the instructions in Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick are incredibly easy to follow (even when patterns aren’t marked as easy, which most of the ones I’ve picked out are) compared to the instructions provided by Vogue and Burda (the latter of which makes instructions for even the easiest of designs so complicated that it makes my eyes cross), and I haven’t yet made anything from Colette or Hot Patterns.

So, though the McCall’s/Simplicity/Butterick patterns may not be Project Runway-worthy, they will sew up nicely and provide a great base for some beautiful fabrics, which we’ll be talking about soon.  But I’ll give you an idea… think pretty, think cotton.

4 Responses

  1. Learning to sew and knit is on my bucket list … maybe when I FINALLY have my own place and am somewhat settled (aka next month) it’s something I can slowly start to learn. I admire people who can create this amazing things.

  2. I’ve always wanted to learn how to sew! Thanks for the tips!

  3. This is brilliant for me. I’m going to take your advice and actually open my sewing machine cover and take out that machine this week!

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