Morning muskrats! There was no sewing completed at the house of the Snug Bug today, but I taught a class this evening and as I was droning on about understanding pattern envelopes, I thought it’d make a good post. A lot of you are already ALL over this, so you can enjoy my poorly lit photography and chime in if I miss something or mess something up! Let’s kick it with a lovely 70’s Simplicity in honor of my current maxi dress obsession (yes, muskies, I know it’s not a dress. It’s pure 70’s lovely, though!)

I like the shoes on the right! OK, down to business. Ima going to slog through the pattern information I usually attempt to share in our level 2 classes. Level 2 classes are Beginner level and are usually the student’s first class with a pattern. So here goes.

Pattern Companies

First let’s go over the different pattern sources. Not where to buy… more like what to buy. There are a lot of contemporary pattern designers churning out great work – from big companies with international distribution to Etsy sellers offering hand-drawn downloads…

The Big 4

There are four large pattern companies (The ‘big 4’) with large scale distribution that are sold through major sewing chain stores like Joann’s, Hancock and the retailer that shall not be named (walmart). These names are pretty well known: Vogue, McCalls, Butterick and Simplicity. They offer a LOT of options, mostly for women and children. We’ll talk more about pattern sizing in a future post, but one thing to know about the Big 4 companies is that they all use the same base measurements for their sizing. So if someone says that “Simplicity runs big,” that’s not true, although Simplicity designers may design with a lot of ease*. A size 18 is the same from one company to the other. Vogue, Butterick and McCalls are owned by the same company and each has a slightly different style angle.

*Ease is the amount of space from the body to the garment – how ‘loose’ fitting it is.


[the Big 4]

Smaller national/international lines

There are also a few other pattern companies that are sort of ‘second tier’. Smaller companies with a smaller pattern offering, lower(ish) prices, but still sold through big chain stores. Three that I like are Kwik Sew, New Look and Burda. We use Kwik Sew patterns for a LOT of our classes, they have very clear instructions and easy-to-sew-styles for studio/class projects. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about New Look patterns, but I like a lot of their styles, although most are only available through size 18, which is annoying. Burda patterns can be a bit oddball, but they have some of the more cool offerings. And men’s patterns, which the big 4 pattern companies sort of don’t do well, unless you’re looking for cowboy shirt or pajama bottoms.


Mid-day update! OMG, I can’t believe this, but a couple of commenters mentioned Jalie Patterns and I thought I’d actually update the post! Jalie is similar in size to Kwik Sew and is a good source for activewear. They also print a jeans pattern that everyone seems to adore! It looks like you can order straight from the Jalie site, or through Pattern Review! Thanks commenters!!


[Jalie 2908. Reportedly the best jeans pattern ever!]

Indie Designers

Now let’s talk about my FAVORITE pattern companies – the independent designers! There are a lot of talented people producing ‘boutique’ style patterns. These patterns have a few things in common; the sizing is often more in line with ready to wear sizing, there are better options for those who wear sizes larger than 18 (and kids’ clothes, I think. I don’t look that much at kids’ patterns!!), the instructions are more thorough and most importantly, the designs are innovative and exciting. Of course, these patterns usually have a higher price tag and the pattern lines have fewer offerings, but they’re totally worth it. At the shop, we do carry a small selection of Kwik Sew patterns and can special order anything from the pattern catalog and have it in our hot little hands (usually) by the next day since Kwik Sew is based in Minneapolis, but all of our other pattern lines are from small independent designers. My favorite of the indie designers is Colette, Hot Patterns and Sewaholic. At the shop we also carry Amy Butler, Anna Maria Horner, Heather Bailey, Oliver + S, Mod Kids, Serendipity Studios and a few others that are slipping my mind at the moment.



Next, how about a favorite of many sewists – vintage patterns!! Like everything else, vintage is getting more and more ‘recent’ (really? the 80’s are vintage?) but there are some great patterns out there from the 30’s up to 1995!! We have a nice haul of 70’s stuff in size 12 at the shop. Speaking of which, pattern sizing has changed over the years, so be sure to check the measurements before jumping in. Of course, grading is easy enough, but even if you’ve reconciled yourself to the concept that your “from the store” size is 8 and your pattern size is 14 in contemporary patterns, you might wear a larger size in vintage. Most vintage patterns are from the ‘big 4’ pattern companies as well as a company called Advance which produced patterns from 1933 to 1966 (according to the vintage pattern wiki!) I have a few vintage patterns, but have never sewed from them… here’s a couple I got just because I liked the envelope art so much!



Another source of patterns are real, live books. Many sewing books include full size pattern pieces in an envelope in the back of the book – just like if you buy a pattern in an envelope. The book contains some general information as well as the specific instructions for the included patterns. It seems that a lot of the books will include a few basic patterns with variations outlined in the book. I recently made a coat from Sew Serendipity, a book with patterns included. In all, I liked the experience.


[the patterns!]


OK, I’ve NEVER sewn from a magazine pattern, so I’m just going to include the basics here and then direct you on to a great post from someone who clearly knows what she’s talking about! There are quite a few sewing pattern magazines out there – the big names are Burda, Patrones and Knipmode. The sewing magazines usually include a fashion editorial showing what’s included, and then there is a pullout sheath of pattern sheets where all of the patterns are printed, on top of each other, on as few pages as possible. To use a pattern, you have to trace out the pieces for your garment, usually adding seam allowances by either eyeballing/measuring out 5/8” or using a special double tracing wheel with a 5/8” attachment.

Sewists possessing more patience than I seem wildly fond of the pattern magazines. I flip through the Burda magazines every time I visit Treadle in St. Paul, and the styles seem current and fun. Also, Burda publishes a plus size special edition twice a year and I believe includes a couple plus size designs in each regular issue and those tend to be MUCH better than the tent-like offerings from the Big 4 pattern companies!!

To read more about the different magazines, check out this post from Melissa at Fehr Trade. For some cool pictures of different pattern sheets over the years, check out this post from Sigrid at Sigrid – Sewing Projects.


[image Sigrid – Sewing Projects]


e-patterns, PDFs and other downloads

Another pattern source are downloads available online. These patterns are normally sold as PDFs and the buyer will purchase, then receive an email with a PDF file or download from a link. The PDF files are large – 40 or 50 pages – and the buyer will print off, check to ensure that the the print is to scale (there’s usually a 4” x 4” test square) then tape all those pesky pages together. It’s actually much easier than it sounds – the pages are numbered to make matching a cinch!


[image blog – good tutorial on dealing with downloaded patterns]

I’ve already mentioned Burda as a smaller envelope-pattern distributor and the magazine. Burda Style is a well known online pattern source as well. This site is community based, with user profiles and a sharing element – sewists and crafters show off recent projects on the projects page. There’s also a pattern database that includes free and for-a-fee pattern downloads from Burda, as well as patterns designed and uploaded by community members.


[Burda favorite: the Jenny skirt]

Another source for pattern downloads is Etsy. Smaller designers with a bit of graphic design skill create and package PDF-based patterns for sale in their Etsy shops. A lot of these patterns seem to be for kids’ clothes and fun things like pincushions and stuffed animals. I like to look around at Etsy offerings, but it there’s a LOT of barely-concealed copying of other designers going on in Etsy that gets on my wick. I know that’s to be expected on the site (and in the craft world in general), but some of the knock offs are a bit over the top, with the envelope styling EXACTLY like the original designer’s envelope styling! Below is an image from a kids-clothes designer with some cute designs (this is NOT an example of the knock-off envelope art…)


[Double Breasted Coat from dmkeasywear]

And I can’t leave the Downloads section without mentioning that one of my favorite bloggers, Taran from Tanit-Isis Sews just released her own download – an adorable little shrug! Check it out, then go download yourself a copy and settle in with some scissors and tape!!



Buying Guide

Alright, you adorable little semi aquatic rodents!! While the point of these sewing school posts will be primarily to educate (and to serve as my own notes when teaching!) I thought I’d include a few links here… Obviously, working at an independent sewing shop, I think the BEST place to buy your patterns is at your local small sewing business! Most largeish cities have at least one shop like where I work – well stocked with patterns (and fabrics) from independent designers!

A note on buying used, out of print and vintage patterns. This is a great way to go for more variety! When buying not-brand-new patterns, be sure to check the pattern pieces. The best patterns are new and uncut – sometimes the seller will even note that the pattern is still in the factory folds. Older patterns were packaged one size to an envelope, so if you are buying a vintage pattern that’s been cut, but all the pieces are there, that is probably OK. If it’s a multi-size pattern, make sure that ALL of your pieces have been cut in your size before buying. This is one of the few times that I think buying online is preferable to buying in person – at least, buying from a reputable online pattern seller. Online sellers typically check each pattern and will note any damage or missing pieces, so you know exactly what you’re buying! I think the worst place to buy used patterns is at an antique or thrift shop that is not specifically focusing on selling patterns – they won’t check the envelopes and it’s very much buyer beware. And obviously, you can totally luck out at garage and estate sales, but it takes time to unfold and check all that tissue…

A non-sponsored tooting of Sewtropolis’ Etsy shop horn!! The shop where I work operates an Etsy store where we offer many of the independent lines… the best part? FREE SHIPPING in the US! Check out the shop and if you don’t see what you’re looking for, feel free to ‘convo’ the shop. Egad, I hate saying convo!! As usual, I don’t get anything special for pushing the Sewtropolis Etsy shop – I just think it’s a super-rad deal that the owner offers free shipping for patterns (and books, even!)

McCall Pattern Company – Vogue, McCalls and Butterick

Simplicity Creative Group – Simplicity and New Look

Kwik Sew and Burda – These two companies do not sell at the retail level from their websites. If you can’t find locally, I’d try Pattern Review!

Colette Patterns

Sewaholic Patterns

HotPatterns – current offerings, out of print offerings

Amy Butler does not sell at the retail level from their website, and the offerings on Pattern Review aren’t that great. The shop where I work has most of the patterns in stock, so check out Sewtropolis’ Etsy site!

Anna Maria Horner

Heather Bailey

Oliver + S

Mod Kids

Serendipity Studios

Ebay – new, vintage, out of print

Etsy – new, vintage, out of print

Pattern Review

The Blue Gardenia – vintage patterns and jewelry

Lanetz Living – vintage patterns

New Vintage Lady – nice selection of vintage and vintage reproduction patterns with a focus on plus sizes

Decades of Style – vintage reproduction prints in sizes up to 46” bust

OK, next up in the sewing school series will be all about envelope art and technical drawings! In the meantime, experienced sewists please feel free to chime in in the comments, especially on good pattern buying sources!

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