|From the pages of Threads Magazine
Stop! Are You Sure That Pattern Will Work?
Not all patterns produce equally good results. Here's how to tell the wheat from the chaff.
Some sewing patterns are a dream to sew. The pieces fit together smoothly, the instructions are intelligent, the process is satisfying, and you look great in the finished garment. Other patterns...well, other patterns seem to be a battle, from the minute they come out of the envelope to the moment the unfinished garment -- a monument to necklines that gape, sleeve caps that refuse to be eased, and wasted hours -- lands in a bag at the back of the closet.
I wish the solution were as simple as avoiding certain brands of patterns, but every brand that I've tried has rewarded me with a few stinkers among the jewels (or vice versa). So it seems necessary to evaluate each pattern on its own merits, and I won't be singling out any of the major providers for either censure or praise. (See Have you considered...? for a few less-well-known but potentially very useful pattern resources.)
But wouldn't it be great to have a checklist of design principles that you could use to help identify those patterns that are worth further attention before you buy them? As a sewing teacher, I need to make sure that my students choose patterns that will give them a satisfactory sewing experience, and as a result I've developed just such a checklist (see Pattern report card). I encourage you to photocopy it and keep a copy handy whenever you're shopping for patterns. Let's go over the principles behind the checklist and look at a few examples of good and not-so-good patternmaking so that you'll know what you're looking for, and why.
If possible, open the pattern in the store
Barring mail-order patterns and the occasional brand sold in sealed envelopes, in most cases it's possible to pull out and examine the guide sheet before you buy the pattern. Some stores will even allow you to unfold the pattern itself, but usually the guide sheet layout and pattern-summary drawings are accurate enough to tell the story. A quick reading of the directions can also be quite revealing, as I'll describe later.
If it's not possible to open up the patterns that you're interested in, it may be necessary to buy and examine two or three contenders before you make your final decision. Remember that the relatively small price of a pattern is far outweighed by the impact it has on the success of the garment. (I hate to think of all the times I've seen $100 worth of fabric ruined by the wrong $5 pattern!) You're likely to reuse a really terrific pattern many times, which will more than compensate for a few others abandoned during the process of elimination.
Of course, all my checkpoints apply equally to patterns that you already own, and may help explain why you've been less than delighted with some of them. Perhaps this will inspire you to edit your collection down to winners only.
Bodies are round -- is the pattern?
Notice, for example, how frequently designers opt for molded, faced, and raised waistlines on their skirts rather than conventional straight-grain waistbands. The shaped band has a few more pattern pieces and seams, to be sure, but it provides a much more sensitive response to the curves of the female waist and it's so much easier to wear.
In the end, a good pattern is a thoughtful pattern. In scouting for perfection, be on the lookout for evidence of thoughtfulness. In my experience, even small indications that the pattern designer has considered the points I've just outlined suggest a pattern that will show the same intelligence throughout. Detecting the ideas that created a smart pattern is an enjoyable process, and your reward will be a finished garment that satisfies. Your time and effort deserve nothing less.