Easy co-ordinates – reduce the number of shapes

It’s Sewing With A Plan (SWAP 2011) contest time again. Which means making a group of garments that ‘go together’, that are interchangeable.

At the simplest, it’s a trivial problem. Suppose the rules are to make 6 tops and 4 bottoms. Choose a favourite top pattern and make it 6 times, and a co-ordinating bottom pattern and make it 4 times. If you use co-ordinating fabrics, all the tops will go with all the bottoms.
Well, SWAP’s a bit more complicated this year, as each garment has to include a new technique. So they would all need embellishment, or special style elements, or to be in unfamiliar fabrics.

But most of us want a wardrobe a bit more interesting than that !
So what makes it easier to co-ordinate ?

Co-ordination means having a group of clothes so you can choose any top plus any bottom, plus (if you wear them) any layering piece, and they all go together without you having to think about it. (Spend the thinking time when you’re planning your wardrobe, not when you get up in the morning.)

Garments go together more easily if they’re related in colour, fabric, and shape. Which is another way of saying : reduce the number of colours, fabrics and shapes. Many people eventually find this becomes boring. But as a way of getting a basic set of co-ordinates it’s a good idea.

Reduce the number of colours. A simple formula is to use a dark neutral, light neutral, main accent, and subsidiary accent.
All in your most flattering shades of course.
If that thought doesn’t inspire, get to know your ‘colour personality’ (see posts on individual colour types in her April 2010 archive).

Limiting the colours also means you only need one good warm coat. And you can use the same accessories for all the outfits. Unless of course you’re a bags, scarves or shoes person, when you’ll want lots of them to make life more interesting 😀

Reduce the number of different fabric types, textures, and prints. There are many wardrobe possibilities based mainly on fabric choice, as in my post on Kate Mathews’ wardrobe plans.

But I’m concentrating here on reducing the number of different shapes. Of course most people who take part in SWAP make inspirational combinations of their own choice of individual garments. But here are some ways of getting someone else to do the shape co-ordinating for you.

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Wardrobe patterns

Choose a Big 4 wardrobe pattern and make several of each item in different fabrics.

There’s an excellent example from Mary Beth of the Sewing Divas. She used Butterick 5333.


SuperSewer Ruthie has just won the Pattern Review One Pattern Wardrobe contest, with her entry of 7 items made in 2 weeks from New Look 6735.

There are many other Big 4 wardrobe patterns with the same basics. Here are a few wardrobe patterns that can be sewn quickly.

A major problem for me with almost all Big 4 wardrobe patterns is that the top-dress is sleeveless or only cap sleeved. That just wouldn’t work for me, as I feel the cold in a moderate climate with minimal public space heating. I started to rant about it, but that isn’t what this post is about. But remember you can’t just add sleeves to the top without checking the jacket. The jacket armhole may need to be bigger and the sleeve wider, to be comfortable worn over another sleeve.

Simple variations of the pieces in these patterns are to add embellishment, or change the length of body or sleeves, remove a collar or change the neckline shape (see necklines post).

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Wardrobes from independent pattern companies

Independent pattern companies rarely offer wardrobe patterns, though there’s one I keep mentioning, Central Park by Park Bench. That’s intended as a ‘complete’ pattern, a basis for ‘creative’ people to vary fabrics and embellishments to make everything they wear. One problem is it’s a one size pattern which you need to adjust to yourself.


And see my post on changing a rectangle shape pattern to other body shapes

If you don’t mind instructions which aren’t in English, Multisnit is the king (queen ?) of wardrobe patterns. In any of their wardrobe patterns there are at least 10 different styles, and I’ve counted as many as 17. Here’s one example, Multisnit 3.37. Yes, you get all these styles in one pattern.


Again in some of these patterns the jackets would not layer comfortably over the tops. Often it looks as if the jackets are meant as more formal alternatives to the tops, rather than as layering pieces. Some of the ‘current’ styles are layered short over long, which doesn’t work for me. That is a personal style and body shape thing.

With one of these patterns, your wardrobe plan becomes : make one of each. . .

Buy online in English from Fjoelner, who have a Danish-English sewing dictionary under the Information tab.

Hmm – good if you like a puzzle and a challenge and know a bit about pattern making. The brief instructions are in Danish with no pictures. Traceable pattern sheet like Burda magazine (remember to add s/as). In the Multisnit pattern I have, one pattern piece is marked for 11 sizes plus all the added lines for making 7 styles. There is an instruction page saying which pattern pieces you need for each style, but it helps if you know what you’re looking for 😀

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Wardrobe pattern books

There are several books which supply a basic group of tissue paper patterns, and suggest ways of making different versions. Change fabric, change length of body or sleeves, add or remove collars and sleeves, add embellishments. Most of these books are by people who have a range of patterns, so you could supplement the books by adding other patterns in similar style.

Perfect Plus book by Kathleen Cheetham of Petite Plus patterns.


Much of the book is about making a wardrobe from these 4 patterns.

Sew Serendipity book by Kay Whitt of Serendipity Studio patterns, who also designs for McCall’s.


Half a dozen variations described in detail for each pattern, plus other suggestions.

Sew U book by Wendy Mullin who has her own clothing line and used to design patterns for Simplicity.


Many suggestions for changing the style elements on these patterns.
She also has later books on knits, dresses, and jackets (beware tiny patterns).

(P.S. ‘Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way’ by Kerstin Martensson is a wardrobe pattern book with simple pattern making instructions for making many styles from tee, camp shirt, elastic waist skirt and pants patterns.)

And there’s an old book in this style : ‘Making a complete wardrobe from 4 basic patterns’ by Rusty Bensussen. The diagram patterns are huge and hugely out of date, but the ideas on adapting patterns are useful and still valid. I posted a modern version in what you can make from one pattern.

Pattern magazines are often good sources for several variations all based on the same pattern pieces. There’s an example from Burda magazine in that post.

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Use only patterns from one designer

There are some designers whose patterns are specifically intended for making variants.

Such as Nancy Erickson of Fashion Sewing Group. A small group of classic patterns, plus booklets and newsletters which suggest many variations.

Shirley Adams of Alternatives has basic casual patterns for two jackets (one with fitted shoulders, one with dropped) and a top. Then a whole series of other patterns and videos showing how to adapt these patterns into different styles.

Bernina My Label pattern software has about 25 modern classic patterns. Once you get them to fit, you can use manual patternmaking methods to develop them into other styles. There’s much guidance on doing this in the support sites.

Another simplification would be to use only patterns from a designer with patterns all closely similar in style. Such as Loes Hinse and her other designs now published by Textile Studio. In fact, most independent pattern designers have a very consistent style, so just choose one of them to make all your patterns from. Here’s my post on recent ones.

The same idea might apply to using Big 4 patterns by the same designer. For example all the Vogue designer patterns by Anne Klein, or by Tom and Linda Platt, or Chado Ralph Rucci, Donna Karan / DKNY, Issey Miyake, or Lynn Mizono. Though admittedly most of these would not be good for SWAP as they’re not usually quick to make !

Or all Palmer-Pletsch or all Nancy Zieman patterns from McCall’s. And Simplicity Threads and Sew Stylish patterns have a common style.

For the more generously sized, Connie Crawford at Butterick and Khaliah Ali at Simplicity have a wide range of patterns with a consistent style.

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Choose one pattern only for each garment type

Choose a small group of patterns, one of each garment type, and make your own variants. There are two interesting strands at Stitchers Guild which show what different ideas people can come up with in answer to this question.
Your tried n true patterns, and why
What constitutes a classic wardrobe

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Of course, most people wont want so many garments that are basically the same. But it’s interesting to see the easiest solutions to the problem of getting shapes that co-ordinate.

I gave some more opinions on co-ordination in my posts on Dressing in 5 minutes :

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I don’t want to imply that using a wardrobe plan is right for everyone. I happen to be the sort of person who, if I make a detailed plan, I surface a week later to find myself off doing something completely different. . . What works best for me is an Endless Combinations approach : each item I make or buy must go with at least 2 items I already have.

I think the most important thing is to feel pleased and ‘yes I want to wear that’ when we look at our clothes 😀

What wardrobe plans do best is focus us on thinking whether we’ve got what we need (hmm – don’t buy another white shirt when I’ve already got 12. I’m much more in need of interesting layers). Wardrobe plans are often aimed at helping people to look good at work. And plans are good for people who’re trying a new style. Or who need a small group of clothes for travel or formal occasions. Or to ‘edit’ their existing clothes to get a group that can be worn together without much thought. And wardrobe contests stimulate us to sew these plans quite quickly !

Give THANKS for all the beautiful patterns, fabrics and equipment that are available, and all the helpful ideas and support on the web. I do so enjoy doing all this exploring 😀

P.S. Imogen Lamport has some short videos on co-ordination :
Levels of refinement

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Patterns and links available November 2010

Explore posts in the same categories: co-ordinates, wardrobe planning

6 Comments on “Easy co-ordinates – reduce the number of shapes”

  1. RuthieK Says:

    Not everything needs to be simple, if you have plainer trousers and tops you can have more interest happening in the jacket for example. Basics may seem boring but they are very useful when getting dressed.

  2. Mary K Says:

    For the sleeveless dresses in the wardrobes, you could always purchase or make little cardigans or shrugs which can be perfect elements for embellishing and accessorizing.

  3. Marie Says:

    I love that you do all the research and I can just come and read it. Thanks!

  4. Robin Says:

    yes indeed, this is a meaty article here. I totally agree that sewing with a plan is easier if you reduce the number of shapes. I try to sew with a plan all year long and I only sew certain styles now. It has taken a while to get to this realization and things are working much better for me.
    Keep up the good work here!

  5. sewingplums Says:

    Thanks everyone for the helpful suggestions and kind comments !
    I happen to be a ‘researcher’ by nature – and these days my attention gets atttracted mainly by sewing patterns 😀

  6. RuthieK Says:

    Thanks, didn’t know I was a SuperSewer 🙂
    The good thing to co-ordinates is always having something to wear things with.

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