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How to Find Unusual Sewing Patterns

Kimberly has a lifetime of sewing experience, including costumes, bridal, and alterations.

a sleeve pattern

a sleeve pattern

Beyond Simplicity, Butterick, and Vogue

Before Ebenezer and Ellen Butterick invented the modern tissue dressmaking pattern in 1863, women had to draw the patterns on their yard goods after consulting dressmaking charts and diagrams in women's magazines. Once they had a pattern that worked, they traced it on muslin or newspaper and used it again and again. These hard-working women quickly embraced the convenience of a ready-made pattern as most of them still sewed almost every dress worn by their families.

I have in my own collection patterns that span fifty years. I have learned to alter patterns and to draft my own patterns when I can't find a commercial pattern. Still, I will use a printed pattern whenever I can to save time. I'd like to share some of my favorite non-traditional pattern collections. These patterns fall into several categories:

  • Modest clothing, ranging from Amish modesty to just-not-trashy modesty,
  • Costume patterns for church and school plays,
  • Outdoor clothing and accessories designed for modern performance fabrics, and
  • Historically accurate clothing for reenactors or costumers.

Check out the following and perhaps you will decide to add some unusual and fun patterns to your own collection.

Learn to Design Your Own Patterns

Melly Sews offers a great tutorial on creating your own PDF patterns. For a more comprehensive academic approach, look into the textbook Pattern Drafting for Fit and Fashion by Vivian Katherine Cizeski.

When I am working out a pattern, I use a gridded cutting board as a work surface, a yardstick, and my trusty T-square from engineering school. I also have a dressmakers rule that helps shape armholes. Rather than fragile tissue paper, I draw my patterns on waxed paper or freezer paper for smaller patterns and packing paper (available at a U-Haul establishment or a UPS Store) for larger pattern pieces. For pieces that are just simple rectangles (like some skirts) I will not make a pattern piece, but simply record the measurements to be marked on the fabric for cutting.

Be sure to keep good records when you make a pattern and store them in an envelope or clear bag that includes information such as yardage required and size of pattern. Once you make an item with your new pattern, take a picture to keep with the pattern, too.


Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on July 22, 2014:

I used to sew many of my clothes back in the day, but just don't have the time or space now. But I do still have a collection of old sewing pattern guides and books. Maybe for one day when I retire. :)

Voted up and interesting!

Tonya Overton from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on July 22, 2014:

I would love to learn how to make a pattern and then sew the item!!

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on July 22, 2014:

I have not sewn a garment in years but would like to take a stab at it. Something simple, perhaps historic or ethnic. Thanks for the info and the helpful links!

Kimberly Schimmel (author) from North Carolina, USA on February 05, 2014:

I've also made patterns from finished clothes--the best way to reproduce something I already love that fits perfectly!

Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on February 04, 2014:

I have done many commercial patterns over the years and it must be just me, but I cannot get them to fit or quite be perfect like the originals. So I began tracing unpicked old clothes onto newspaper and using that as patterns and it works really well to get exactly the right fit. Voted useful!

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