Matching Sewing Patterns And Fabric

the little book of sewing.jpg

At which point during a make do you feel confident you’ve chosen the right fabric?

  • At Moment Of Purchase
  • During Cutting Out
  • Sewing The Outfit Together
  • Trying It On
  • After Wearing For A Few Days

It’s a tricky one, isn’t it?

I was mulling this over as I cut out fabric for a new outfit. I’d ordered online and felt certain the fabric was perfect for my chosen make. But during the cutting out stage, I started to wobble. And honestly? I don’t think I’ll fully know until the final seam has been sewn.

So, what are some of the considerations to bear in mind, when matching a sewing pattern to fabric?

PRINT – Go big, or go home. Well, that’s one theory. A big print can provide all sorts of challenges. I think I dodged a bullet with this dress and its huge daisies.

vintage vogue dress

DRAPE – Not enough, and your dress can stand up on its own. Too much, and your outfit ain’t ever gonna work. This beautiful dress – Butterick 5880 –  was spoilt because the fabric had too much drape to support the notched neckline. Sob! Such a crying shame as that dress was uber-flattering.

notched neckline B5880

SEASONAL – Does your fabric suit the season? Not gonna lie, this V9275 longline bomber jacket has been a much-worn big success. The wool, bought from Fabric Godmother, is thick enough to stand up to the coldest winters. And don’t forget the lining – this quilted lining from Stoff & Stil is worth every penny.

bomber jacket

PATTERN RECOMMENDATIONS – What fabric does the pattern advise you to work with? Yeah, if you’ve figured out how to follow those rules, do let me know.

sewing patterns

BUY IN PERSON – Ooh, contentious as the high street dwindles before our eyes and shopping moves increasingly online. But I don’t think you can beat the feel of fabric between your finger tips. It lights up your imagination, but more than that – it allows you to judge how the finished item might wear.

walthamstow market fabric stall

LOOK AT READY TO WEAR – What is our elusive high street selling and in what fabric or print? I regularly trawl websites or pop into shops, to judge not only fashion but also how clothes work. Pop down your local high street. Maybe it looks like this? Maybe not…

Regents Street

Okay, over to you. How do you match fabric and sewing pattern and what have you learnt from your mistakes – and your successes!

matching sewing pattern and fabric

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22 Responses to Matching Sewing Patterns And Fabric

  1. Sue says:

    Matching pattern and fabric is a dark art, for me it’s one of the hardest skills to learn. Spending ages on fitting a toile worked in my favour recently, as I had time to realise my fabric did not have enough drape, and swapped to a different style top.
    Surprised you couldn’t save your dress neckline with layered interfacing Karen, on a facing if it wouldn’t work on the bodice? It kept a similar shaped neckline sharp in a droopy light cheesecloth for me, or was that not the problem?

  2. lauriesannie says:

    I smiled when I looked at your “daisy” dress. I thought it was lovely when you first posted it and I still do. But I was also reminded of a fail of mine, due to poor fabric choice. Motifs were too large and I looked like a pinwheel in motion. So sad as I had put a lot of work into it, lined, etc. And it was supposed to mirror something I’d seen in a magazine. I bought the material on-line. And I had to move it on to another life!

  3. Emily Kitsch says:

    I still have a tough time with this. I try to always follow the suggested fabrics on the pattern, but that can be tricky because the fabric store I’m stuck shopping in my city mostly sells quilting cotton and polyester or polyester blends. They do have some knits, but they tend to be hideous, poor quality or way too expensive. I usually get frustrated and buy whatever cute quilting cotton I can reasonably afford because I know it will at least be good quality and not pull everywhere, unless there is a huge sale and I manage to find some hidden non-polyester gems. Right after the holidays I found just over a meter of linen on sale for $5, which was astounding. It seems to be next to impossible to find linen for under $25 a meter in my country, which is epically frustrating because i need 2 1/2-3 meters to make a dress for my sister, but I just can’t afford it at those prices.

    I guess what that long ramble is trying to get at is that it seems hunting down the types of fabric patterns suggest is getting harder, especially good quality fabrics. And finding them at prices I can afford is even more difficult, even when I resort to looking online. The number of patterns I own and desperately want to sew but can’t because finding the right fabric is so difficult is getting pretty sad!

    I do have a bit of a tip when it comes to matching fabrics to patterns though – a lot of vintage sewing books will give tips on this based on the type of garment you are making, if it has pleats, gathers, etc, what kind of purpose it will serve, all sorts of stuff. I’ll have to have a look through my vintage sewing book collection and see which ones are good when it comes to this stuff. I highly recommend vintage sewing books on the whole though, they have so much valuable information and teach you about things modern books don’t ever seem to mention, like whole chapters on mending and caring for garments and how to remove specific stains and wonderful things like that. They’re incredibly helpful, no matter what era you’re in!

    • Mary in Thailand says:

      There is a post on fitting standards over at the lasewista blog. The comments section appears to agree with you, these older books on fitting and alterations are very helpful.

  4. Allison says:

    Love both the dresses on you!

  5. Shannon D. says:

    Confident after trying it on or wearing it a few days. I have started buying fabric on line when I can’t find what I am looking for locally, and that has turned out to be hit or miss after it arrives in regards to suitability for the project that I had in mind. Also, I have found that the descriptions of the fabrics and the recommendations on the patterns seem very arbitrary as to what fabric would actually be best. Maybe it is my age, but the words describing fabric type seems to have changed. Does terry cloth mean mid to heavy weight with little stretch or light to mid weight with drape, stetch and small loops? I have both but would call the former terry cloth. I have seen the latter referred to as terry cloth but I think loop back jersey is a better description, which I have also seen it called. I was astonished when I started sewing again to see references to ponte de roma, which when I worked in a fabric store late 80’s, early 90’s was polyester knit in solid colors that was sold for choir robes and elastc waist pants like grandma would wear.

    • bracken says:

      Hello and thank you because I never understood what Ponte de Roma is! It turns out I have tons of it but I reverse it because I hate the right side. Bought it all online and recently discovered that it works fantastically for heavy winter weight leggings and sportswear but I have been trying ( on my blog) to describe what I am using and just called it polyester. Thanks so much for solving my mystery!

  6. Laurel Graham says:

    I’ve been known to donate patterns & fabric which are all cut out and ready to sew because sadly, that is when I realize if it is going to work or not. Or worse, sew half the pattern and know for sure it is not going to work and not to waste any more time on the project – just get rid of it. I am much better now. I will leave the fabric out where I can see & touch it until I find the perfect pattern for it, or leave the pattern out until I find my perfect fabric.That dress with too much drape though is perfect on you! I think you should rescue that beauty!

  7. BeccaA says:

    Too many times I have cut out a project thinking, “this is going to be great!” Then when it is part way done and begins to look like a garment I realize that it doesn’t work at all or that the print is just too big/loud for me. Or I finish it and realize it isn’t something I’d ever wear–wrong style, color, pattern, combination of fabric and pattern. This is particularly likely when I leave my comfort zone. Of course there are successes too where it all comes together and I make something I love wearing.

  8. I think I MOSTLY get it right these days, and can judge online buying pretty well too, but still get the occasional mismatch. The latest example of this would be my attempted Xmas party dress, which is glorious embroidered silk dupion…except it just didn’t look right. Fortunately I have enough to make something else, so not a complete write off, but it’s still irksome…I’m much better at selecting interfacings and underlinings now as well, which helps!

  9. Learning to line stuff has been an added bonus – some fabrics look so much better when they are lined, even if the pattern doesn’t say to. Jo xxx

  10. Mia says:

    I tend to agonize over choosing the right fabric and the right pattern. I don’t want to put all of the work of fitting a muslin, and doing pattern alterations, and then get the fabric wrong. Sadly, I often see the wrong fabric choices on Pattern Review posts. It’s an easy mistake and we’ve all done it. I try to visualize as best I can, and I usually get it right, but the agony of choice continues.

  11. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) says:

    I think it is a case of practice and experience to choose a fabric that is different to what the pattern might specify. I teach a class about choosing patterns and this is a really important discussion. I tend to use knits a lot on patterns that are designed for wovens – although you have to pay attention to weight and thickness. You can often use fabrics that aren’t the specified and change the texture with interfacing etc. I think your beautiful Butterick dress above could have succeeded with some serious supporting interfacing for the notched neckline. I often notice beginning stitchers choose a fabric that is too heavy for the chosen pattern. Like I said, practice and probably some costly mistakes along the way, we’ve all made them 🙂

  12. kssews says:

    I’ve gotten pretty good at choosing appropriate fabric type, weight, opacity, etc. Sometimes I still get prints wrong. And it still amazes me how a print can make an AWESOME dress but AWFUL top or vice versa!

    I usually check the recommended fabrics but compared to the pattern envelope too. I’ve seen things that recommended say, cotton lawn but I know I want drape so I use rayon challis.

    I buy a lot of fabric online but only from sites that I have enough experience with to trust their descriptions. I recently purchased denim from a local store. Washed it and it is MUCH lighter than it felt on the bolt!!!

  13. Beth Duffus says:

    I tend to work the other way round. I see fabric I like and add it to the stash and decide later what to make with it depending on the pattern and drape. Online shopping is a mixed blessing; often cheaper with bigger ranges but SO tricky to second guess drape or even colour from the website images.

    The mistake I have made several times is making tops in crisp white cotton. I suit white, and cotton is lovely, but every time I end up with a garment that makes me look like I should be doing a shift in a clinic or, in the case of a wrap top I made, like I am prepped for surgery and about to be whisked into theatre. Yet rolls of crisp white cotton still draw me like a magnet!

  14. shoes15 says:

    I best match fabric to pattern and purpose when I buy fabric for a specific project and don’t hunt around in a stash looking for something that might be suitable.

  15. bracken says:

    Like Beth, I do it the other way round. I buy fabric add to my stash and then find a pattern to use it. Very occassionally I will buy for the pattern but not usually. In the end though I am never sure if its the right choice till I wear it. I have a very much too big stash though I must admit! I prefer online shopping for just about everything though I do like to spend at least an afternoon each season feeling real clothing and inspecting how it is constructed in high street fashion shops. Then I get inspired and match my stashed fabric to my ( also usually stashed) pattern. I am currently though trying to delete much of my stash of fabric because it has grown ridiculous so things may change next year once my current fabric is used up. I do not have a problem with quality or weight really because I simply try to just use what I already have so there are no surprises with it arriving different to envisaged and I simply try to match a pattern I own to the right weight of fabric which I also own. If I do not own it I make something else and wait until the right fabric arrives at the right price. I also rarely spend much on fabric and buy ends of rolls and remnants of decent size ( 2m minimum) so I usually have enough of the right kind of fabric to make what I want.

  16. Lorraine Hannan says:

    Oh I am SO with you on this ‘tricky’ subject…I have lots of lovely patterns and buy fabric very regularly (possible addiction!) I am quite guilty of being ‘drawn in’ to vlogs, online shops and reviews and see what other sewists have beautifully made, posted & look amazing & think oooh I’ll buy that and make that so I dutifully purchase and on arrival realise…actually….I don’t suit/wear that colour/pattern etc… i’m not 5ft 5 or super slim with an easy to fit shape…reality is I’m 4ft 8ish and have a ‘wonky’ spine so nothings as it should be and that outfit that I admire & praise the maker really isn’t for me…I’m guilty of starting said project, working on and finishing with pride then realising and feeling so disappointed… but (its a good but : ) ) I’ve gained SO much experience and thankfully enjoy to tackle any sewing project…I need to stop, look and think about sewing for my own self before I’m swept along… think we are all the same in some way…my need to sew is greater than my common sense quite often…but its still fabric & pattern happiness x

  17. Karin says:

    I think I’m getting better at this. I learnt it the hard way (even doing stupid things like using a woven fabric instead of a knit one in the very beginning) but lately I’m quite pleased with some of my own choices, lol.

    Usually when I buy fabric, I only do so when I have a specific pattern for it in mind. Sometimes that changes after a while though, so I don’t pre-cut fabric- I only cut it when I’m certain I’m going to be making that project.

  18. Robin says:

    I too am a stasher, of both fabrics and patterns. I tend to make and wear what I like, not necessarily what looks good on me. Being postmenopausal, I would not know what looks good on me anyway. It’s now about what feels good, and provides enough coverage, or options for coverage, for layering. Because I have a large stash and tried n true patterns, I usually get the pairings right, and always shop from stash (never seeking out specific fabric or patterns) but I am an opportunist, purchasing bolt ends and mystery bundles, and uncut patterns from thrift stores. I have the luxury of space! I buy online from a trusted source, and now prefer online over in-store purchases. The occasional miss is passed along, or it is in the back of the closet for wearing occasionally. Not so much that it would annoy me too much – others find it perfectly acceptable, or at least no one has ever commented!

  19. I’m usually inspired by the fabric and then I mull over what to make with it for a little or a long while until it speaks to me and tells me what it would like to be made into. Whilst there’s nothing like the joy of touchy feel it can also be fun to get a surprise packet in the post. You can play safe and follow fabric recommendations but it can also be rewarding to go off piste and do the opposite. A coat in sheer organza or part of a dress in leather. It’s all about finding your personal style – as get that wrong and however good your stitching you won’t feel a million dollars in your finished creation. As my favourite author Adele Margolis says in her vintage pattern cutting book. “It’s only fabric and there’s plenty more of it in the world”! The main thing is to enjoy yourself be creative and if it all goes belly up make something smaller. Tweed handkerchief anyone.

  20. While I do consider recommended fabric, the one time I was concerned was when doing frill collar bishop sleeve shirts for Halloween…I didn’t want to use interfacing because it would show through, but I think they came out fine.

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