My Blanken World

My world of boys, textiles and moving.

Sew many projects June 9, 2012

Filed under: Sewing,Sewing lessons — blankenmom @ 6:01 pm
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You’ve sewn your paper, your spare fabric and maybe even your fingers and you’re still thinking you want to try this whole sewing thing.  Well that’s good, because you’ve already invested a good amount of time in it already, so marching on is a great idea!


But what should your first project be?


I usually tell my student’s to start with something simple.  If they’re more into crafting, a pet bed or curtains.  If they’re more into fashion an “A-line” skirt, no zipper (elastic waist).  If they have children, a blanket or very easy top/dress.  Easy enough projects, but without a pattern on your first try, not much progress is going to be made unless you’re one of those genius freaks, but then you wouldn’t be reading this!


There are A LOT of pattern companies.  I don’t even know most of them, but I can give you a heads up on the most popular ones and a few of the lesser known ones.  From there, you can go and explore their sites and start drooling over projects.  I can help you with a lot of things, but picking out your sewing pattern isn’t one of them.  I’ll point you in the right direction, but from there it’s all personal!


When you’re looking at their sites, you can usually look at the front and back of the patterns.  This will give you all the information you’re going to need before you even get to the fabric store.

I want to make an important note for when you’re looking at patterns – don’t look at what’s on the cover and judge by color or the pattern on the fabric.  That’s the perk to sewing.  You get to pick the color and/or pattern (or lack-there-of) on the fabric!  My boys do this.  They’ll see a pattern I have and say they don’t like it, until I show them the fabric I was thinking of and then they start to like it.  This also goes for length and width for the most part.  If you see a pattern you’ve fallen in love with but something bothers you about it, you can change it!  With practice, you’ll be able to take a few inches off or add on, a few inches in or out, change a collar, pockets, sleeves or change buttons to a zipper (or visa versa). 

I’d also like to say – you are NOT going to be the same size as your RTW (ready-to-wear… aka: store-bought clothing.), you WILL be a bigger size in patterns.  Get over it!  No on will know – there’s no tag!  I am about 4-6 sizes larger in patterns, I’m fine with that.  (If it makes you feel better – sew in a tag that says a smaller size.)


Here is how to take your measurements before you head off the to the store –






Popular patterns in the US:

  • Simplicity – Very easy patterns, youthful, very popular.
  • Butterick – Easy patterns, classic clothing, very popular.
  • McCall’s – Easy patterns, stylish clothing, very popular.
  • Vogue – More difficult patterns, very nice clothing, very popular.
  • Burda – Easy to difficult (your choice), trendy, very popular.
  • Jalie – More for athletes, sports or “undies”, more difficult because of the fabrics.
  • Green Pepper – Very easy, not as well-known.
  • Folkwear – More vintage wear, great for costumes.
  • Kwik-Sew – Easy patterns, great for lingerie, very popular.
  • Marfy – Easy patterns, nice designs, becoming well-known.
  • Ottobre – More for children (I believe it’s German?), very cute.
  • Onion – Easy to sew, lesser known company.
  • Amy Butler – She also has her own line of fabrics, very popular, very cute stuff.


(Here is a whole list of several more – most I’ve never heard of, but DON’T let that stop you from checking them out and loving them!)



Most patterns will include a hem allowance, which is usually 3/4″.  They will tell you on the pattern if they’ve included this or not, or if they’ve changed the amount.  It doesn’t make it any harder to use, it just adds an extra step to your cutting.  Not an issue! 

Some companies include ALL sizes, not just a range.  Which is nice if you’ve been elected to sew your entire flag teams new uniforms.  You don’t have to buy 2-3 sets of patterns to make them all!


Simplicity is just like it says, simple.  So this may be the one you want to start out with – as opposed to Vogue, which tends to add extra pieces or in one such case I’ve come across, only included French directions…. I don’t know French?  (They do have a great feature that tells you which patterns should look best on your body shape however.)  And Burda on occasion omits the seam allowances and that may be burdensome for your first time out.


All but a few come with picture directions, which is great for people like me who are visual, and for people who are just starting out and need to see what-the-heck the designer is talking about!  An even smaller amount don’t include any directions, just the patterns.  (When patterns first started, it was just the directions and measurements!)


*Money saving tip here*

Joanns craft/fabric store will have pattern sales every so often.  Either 5 for $5 (limit 10), 10 for $10 for Simplicity, Butterick or McCall’s or $1.99 – $3.99 for Butterick, McCall’s or Vogue – a great time to stock up!!  When this happens, go to the pattern companies website, pick out the patterns you want and then head down to the store.  Make sure to write out your list with at least 5 extra wants on there because a few on your list may not be there any longer.


Once you’ve picked out your pattern, you have to decipher the “coding” on the back.  I promise they’re not trying to keep anything secret, once you understand what they’re trying to tell you, it’s all good things!


Over the next few weeks, we’re going to cover pattern instructions – today we’ll just go over the back cover, so you can actually walk out of the fabric store with your fabric and notions in hand.

(Patterns are copyrighted, so I’ll be taking my best care to make sure I protect that while attempting to show you the information you need.)




Pick out the pattern envelope that has the most correct measurements. If you fall all over the place, go with your largest measurement since it’s easier to take in a pattern, than enlarge it.








 *It will tell you on the front cover what size you are buying.



Let’s take the top section – It gives you the description of each of the items that can be sewn from the pattern you’ve chosen.  While it doesn’t mean you *have* to sew it exactly as it’s stated, it’s what the patterns included will give you.  They are in letter order on the cover, instructions and pattern pieces to help you identify what you are working with.  Pieces can be used for more than one item and include several sizes. 


Fabric suggestions section – Most pattern companies will give you suggestions as to which fabrics will work best with the pattern you’ve picked.  While you can pick any fabric you want, sticking with their suggestions, especially in the beginning, will make your life much easier.  If you don’t use the right fabric for the item you’re making, it may not sit, drape, fold, turn or tuck correctly.  There are often ways around this however. 

If you don’t know what these fabrics are and want to stick with the suggestions exactly, you can either look up the suggested fabric on-line or one of the employee’s at the fabric store will help steer you in the right direction.


Size section – just let’s you know what size categories you can get in the envelope.


Yardage section – tells you how much fabric you’ll need for each item you want to sew and for the size you plan on sewing. 

Fabrics come in varying widths, usually 45″ – 60″ (90″ – 150″ also).  If you were to actually measure the widths, they don’t actually fall exactly on these measurements, but this is a universal measurement everyone goes by.




The top of the bolts of fabric will tell you all the info you need. How many yards it originally had. What it’s made of. How to wash it. How many inches it is. Where it was made and how much it costs. Sometimes it will have how many yards are left.




If you’re making dress “D” in size 14 with 45″ fabric, you’ll need 2 and 7/8 of a yard (that’s 2 yards and 7/8 of a yard).  If you are making dress “A” in size 20 with 60″ fabric, you’ll need 2 1/2 yards.

The stars next two the bolt yardages are with or without nap.  Nap is like when you vacuum a carpet.  You go one way and you can see where you’ve vacuumed and you go another way and it looks different.  Fabric can do that too, not all, but a lot of fabrics.  If you place the pattern pieces going in different directions, it will be noticeable. 



You’ll notice that the fabric looks two different colors. This is the same fabric, going in two different directions. While it can be an interesting effect – this wasn’t my plan and can be very embarrassing on a pair of pants!



The interfacing they talk about is a fabric like fiber that comes in varying weights and colors.  You place it behind your fashion fabric to stiffen and stabilize it to make sure it doesn’t shift, stretch or misbehave.  It comes in sew in and iron on.  Your pattern will tell you which one you will need.



These will come on bolts or in packaging – bolts are more economical. If you can’t find them in the store, ask where they’re at – they’re usually near the cutting counter anyway.  The tops of the bolts will tell you weight, and whether or not they are iron on (fusible) or sew in style.



The notions section – tells you if you need to buy elastic, zippers, buttons, hook & eye’s,  how much and what size.  It will give you this information for each piece that needs it, by lettering again.  In this case – only “A” needed these notions.  It will also remind you to buy matching thread.


Finished garment section – tells you how the garment will fit (unless it’s not to be worn, such as a pillow or curtains, then it will either describe how it hangs or won’t have this description).  When you are wearing an item, there is a certain amount of “ease” – how much room is left over between you and the clothing.  You want this so not everything is skin-tight (or huge) – unless you like that?  Stretch pants you want 0″ ease and a nice, comfy blouse you’ll want several inches of ease.  It also tells you how long it will end up.

For top “B” size 6, your keester (hip) measurement is 32 1/2″ or so and the finished measurement around that area will be 55 1/2″.  That leaves an extra 23″ to move freely in.  (That’s just a few inches from hip to shirt, after you distribute it all the way around your body) This is good to know if you plan on making pants and the bottom finished measurements are more boot cut than you’d like or if a dress bottom is a bit smaller than you’d be able to walk in. 

This is also good to know length wise if you’re going to walk up the front of your dress if it’s too long – that could be embarrassing!


Front/back drawing section – a drawn description of what you’ve chosen, front and back.  You never know when there will be a detail hidden in the back that you weren’t prepared for!  (Nothing like a big, hideous bow on your butt to throw a beautiful dress off!)



Well few!  That comes off much quicker in person – but I think I covered it all?  If I’ve left you wondering about something, please let me know and I’ll be glad to fill you in on it. 



Now go forth and shop!


2 Responses to “Sew many projects”

  1. Karen Says:

    Why doesn’t it actually fall into those widths when you really measure it? I did that with fabric I just bought, and was confused…..

    • blankenmom Says:

      You know what – I’m not sure. But give me a bit and I’ll get back to you on that. I’ll be doing a post of fabric and I’ll put it in that one. All bolts are like that though, so there must be some historical reason?

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