Pattern Management

How to utilize your pattern finds in alternative ways and make use of every size printed on the tissue.

Let’s talk about patterns for a minute. I may or may not have a problem with patterns, especially vintage and rare finds that I manage to scavenge in the oddest places. Sometimes I am gifted boxes of fabrics, notions, and patterns from people who know I sew. Other times, I find them at the thrift store (my favorite place).

The thrift store is a great place to find patterns (typically 25 cents) and fabric. I especially look for good fabrics in the housewares area. Even a throw pillow can be disassembled for good fabric.

I realized, during quarantine, of course, that I had accumulated too many items (with productive intentions) and it was time to actually tackle those projects. Some of them had been started, and others were still just a thought. For these projects, I will need to utilize the many patterns I have filed away in an old refrigerator basket that I found in an alley more than 20 years ago.

I found this refrigerator basket in an alley in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, about 20 years ago. It has housed my sewing supplies ever since.

At some point in time, I arranged my patterns according to type of project and used cardboard to separate them. It isn’t pretty, but it works. And I like anything upcycled, reused, or free. I can usually find what I’m looking for, if for the tightness with which they are packed in.

I cut pattern-width pieces of cardboard to create sections of patterns: men, outerwear, underwear, kids, accessories… etc.

But wait, there’s more… I have a filing cabinet where I store my costume specific patterns. Once upon a time, I was a high school American history teacher who loved making my students perform plays about historical events. It was how I could incorporate my love of sewing with my love of history, but I am holding on to them for a while. I have plans…

I also keep the patterns that I have made myself in a filing crate. Most of these are related to rag dolls and rag doll clothing that I have made over the years. I keep a labeled envelope in the files with patterns to keep them separated.

One of the many ways I learned to sew was watching Nancy Zieman on PBS from an early age. The one trick she taught me was the use of freezer paper to create a pattern that sticks to the fabric when it is pressed. I took that idea to a whole new level, though.

Freezer paper has a plastic film coating on one side, that will adhere the pattern (repeatedly) to fabric when ironed. My favorite patterns have all been transferred to freezer paper and I have used them over and over.

One thing that can be frustrating about patterns is that, expensive as they are, if pattern tissue is cut it results only one size. As a child, I remember women in the family buying the same pattern twice to get more than one size. For children’s clothing it is worth it to trace the pattern on freezer paper to get the most use from the pattern. I especially like finding a vintage pattern that is completely intact, that way I can trace it and get all the sizes.

I have made this pattern many times over the years. It is my go-to gift for growing families. I have even made this pattern from chenille bedspreads and wool blankets.
Patterns offer a variety of sizes in each pattern, but only one can be cut from the tissue. You can get all the sizes, by tracing the pattern to freezer paper- one of each size! It is the most economical way to utilize a pattern.
This pattern has been made many times over the years. The pattern is dated 1999 and although I lost pieces once, I was able to find another one online. The second pattern was immediately traced and filed.

Here is the pattern above used in an unconventional way. The baby suit serves as the base pattern and the additional touches were left up to my imagination and an expecting mother’s owl nursery.

Here, again, is the same pattern but put together in a different way: Maggie Simpson, Nacho Libre, and a Smurf. Using the original pattern as a base, I was able to make dozens of different styles.

So what do I do with all these patterns? Well, I do sew a lot, but I tend to use the patterns in unconventional ways. It is a great way to learn more about shape, fit and trends by just examining the pieces individually. I may use one pattern for the neckline, another for the sleeve and another for the skirt. While it takes a little work to make it all fit together, in this way I can create my own fashions. Check out some of my work here.

One of my favorite skirts. I used a pocket pattern from a vintage skirt pattern for this project. It was my first attempt at piping.

I’ve also realized that patterns make wonderful guides for doll clothes. In each envelope there is an instructions sheet with the pattern pieces printed on it. These pictures can be enlarged on a computer and printed on plain paper for use as a pattern. It’s also one way to test a pattern. If you aren’t sure you have the skills to make a full sized version, and are apprehensive about spending the money, make a mini version! Test the pattern first without a huge investment.

Once the pattern is printed, it can be used the same way as a tissue pattern. I don’t like the way paper pins to fabric, so I usually trace the enlarged pattern onto freezer paper and use leftover fabric scraps to cut it out.

They key to this, however, is to enlarge the pattern enough so that it isn’t difficult to sew. I find sewing Barbie-sized clothing is more difficult than, say, something for an 18″ doll. The smaller the pattern, the more difficult it is to test collars and facings.

Sometimes I test the pattern by enlarging the instruction sheet and making a mini-version.

This is also how I developed some of the doll clothing patterns that I use. Doll clothes patterns, in general, are pretty simple and not very fashionable. By using full-sized patterns for little garments, it becomes much easier to make our dolls more fashionable. If I had known this trick when I was young, I might have become a fashion designer instead of a teacher. lol.

As a kid interested in sewing, I was told it was “too expensive” to do projects on a regular basis; and you know what? It is expensive to buy new patterns and new fabric for a sewist that is only getting started. That’s why I recommend starting out with a new machine (old machines make learning not fun) and some old patterns, sheets and tablecloths from the thrift store. If it turns out the hobby is not liked, the investment was minimal in materials and the machine will easily sell. Happy Sewing!

See more of my creations here.

Published by lessismorelifestyle

Do you like saving money and learning new skills? Less is More Lifestyle focuses on crafting projects and recipes that save money!

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