Wardrobe pattern books – mainly dresses

My first post on wardrobe pattern books talked about books with casual styles. The books in this post mainly have patterns for dresses in fitted shapes. Some are in frilly-girly or modern vintage style. None include pants. A couple have jackets or coats.

Most of these pattern books emphasise pattern altering rather than wardrobe building. All have a pack of full sized patterns, usually conventional tissue.

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Colette Sewing Handbook
by Sarai Mitnick of Colette Patterns.
(link to Amazon)

(not all to same scale)

Patterns for several fitted-waist dresses, top and skirt. No jacket or pants. Look like warm weather styles to me 😀 Nothing with long sleeves among her main top and dress patterns either, and only a couple with high necks. She’s in Portland, Oregon – hmm. Obviously she doesn’t feel the cold, she wears these styles even in winter. No jacket and only one coat in her main patterns (here’s a detailed coat sew-along by Gertie). There is a pants pattern, if you’d like to add them. Don’t know about sizing in the book, but her conventional patterns go up to 46 inch bust, 48 inch hip (BMV size 24).

I haven’t seen this book but it gets excellent reviews, including for the wardrobe advice and the sewing instructions. Some fit advice. Website also has sewing techniques, fitting and pattern altering advice.

Built by Wendy Dresses
by Wendy Mullin.


Patterns for :
– raglan ‘sheath’ with front darts. Despite the name and the darts, there’s only a little waist definition, this isn’t closely fitted. Some styles with zip.
– loose shift dress with set-in sleeves.
– dress with fitted bodice (french darts), waistline seam and gathered skirt. All styles with zip.

Instructions for at least 8 versions of each pattern, plus many more suggestions. You’re expected to draft pattern pieces like collar, cuffs, pockets, facings, from instructions. Sized up to 41 inch/ 104 cm bust, 44 inch/ 112 cm hip (BMV size 20).

These are casual/ boho/ edgy dresses, not fitted and frilly girly or vintage glamour.
If you like Colette patterns this may not be for you. Or you may prefer this if you avoid closely fitted styles.

A little about body shape and fit. Instructions not for beginner sewers. Some reviewers say they had problems with fit or shape. So do make a trial version.

Combine with her other books to get a wardrobe, see my previous post.

Sew Serendipity
(link to Amazon)

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


Patterns for skirt, short-sleeved peasant style top-dress, jacket-coat. Raglan sleeves and empire waists. Up to 44 inch bust, 46 inch hip (BMV size 22).

Half a dozen variations described in detail for each pattern, plus other suggestions. Some guidance for sewing beginners. She tells you how to make a muslin to check fit, but not how to adjust it. Many hand drawn diagrams in the instructions. No discussion of wardrobe co-ordinates. Kay Whitt loves combining many prints, which is very ‘current’.

Burda Style Sewing Handbook
by Nora Abousteit and Alison Kelly.
(link to Amazon)


Patterns for fitted styles of blouse, skirt, dress, lined coat, bag. Shorten coat for a jacket. Sized up to 41 inch bust, 43-1/2 inch hip (BMV size 20).

Printed book with full-size traceable patterns overlapped like the patterns in Burda magazine (no seam allowances). Or e-book with download patterns. Tell you how to make a muslin, but only a couple of sentences on adjusting it to fit.

Said to be aimed at beginners (several reviewers say it’s not for intermediate or advanced sewers). Personally I wouldn’t recommend this to a beginner, even the most adventurous. Silk charmeuse and lace for a first ever project – what a recipe for misery and disaster. Only 3 of the 15 projects have the lowest skill level rating. And all those require pattern alterations and are not easy easy. The old Burda Level 1-2-3 patterns are all easier than these. Many construction steps briefly explained with no illustrations. I’m disappointed in this as a book for beginners – I was expecting something more like an update of the old Burda beginners books (not in English), which are more realistic about what a beginner can do and have many photos of technique.

If you are a complete beginner and like to be creative, build your confidence with something like Sewing Machine Basics or DIY Couture or one of the “Sew What ?” books, before trying this.

The big emphasis is on making your own versions. Three guided projects for each pattern. Even more possibilities if you swap tops and bottoms around those waist seams. As a source of inspiration for variations the book is good. My guess is the book was only tested on an ‘inner circle’ of Burda Style site users, who are already happy pattern alterers and devise-your-own-method sewers.

These are attractive styles – but only if you already know what you’re doing, or don’t mind many puzzles and disappointments on your way to success.

P.S. A couple of new books since this post was written – I haven’t seen them :

Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing by Gretchen Hirsch has patterns for 2 blouses, 2 skirts, 4 dresses, jacket and coat-dress.
Photos of styles included, in this helpful review from Couture Academic.

BurdaStyle Vintage Modern by Nora Abousteit and Jamie Lau.
Review from Frabjous Couture has pictures of 3 dresses, shirt and pants included, and an example of pattern altering.

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If you love dresses, here are some more pattern books. I haven’t seen these myself, and know no more than is available at Amazon. Some of these books focus on fitted styles, some have loose dartless ones. They get mixed reviews, and some patterns are only in small sizes.
Little Green Dresses
Dress Cutting [draft your own 30s styles]
Famous Frocks [simplified versions, photos of styles here]
I am Cute Dresses [photos of some styles, scroll down here.]
Chic Simple Sewing

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Each wardrobe pattern book has its own distinct character and added features. Perhaps the casuals in my previous post on pattern books aren’t to your taste. Are any of these dresses and fitted styles good as a basis for your own special type of wardrobe 😀

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Books and links available January 2012

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Explore posts in the same categories: co-ordinates

15 Comments on “Wardrobe pattern books – mainly dresses”

  1. sara Says:

    I wish Eileen Fisher would do a wardobe pattern book!
    1 slim pant, 1 slouchy pant, 1 slim skirt, 1 tank top/dress, 1 long sleeved top, 1 jacket. That would be 6 patterns. I’m sure it would be a hit because it would give women the key to sewing a comprehensive basic wardrobe that they could then build on according to their taste. Don’t you think?

    • sewingplums Says:

      Yes Sara, an Eileen Fisher book would make life easy for some of us – though it wouldn’t suit everyone’s personal style ! Most people who write wardrobe pattern books already publish pattern lines, it’s a specialist branch of publishing.

      “it would give women the key to sewing a comprehensive basic wardrobe that they could then build on according to their taste.” I think this is what everyone who writes a wardrobe pattern book thinks they are doing !

      Each book has a different style. I agree there isn’t yet a wardrobe book which has the Eileen Fisher style of loose fitting modern relaxed casuals.

      It is quite easy to make to do-it-yourself version – to pick out a small group of patterns to mimic Eileen Fisher’s basic styles. I wrote some posts on it about 18 months ago. Look in the right hand menu under Main Topics – there’s an Eileen Fisher section. Make simple styles in Luxe fabrics, with varying textures and neutral colours.

  2. Helen Says:

    I always begin Saturday morning with your blog. Thanks for another informative, interesting post.

    It surprises me how very much the raglan sleeves in dresses upset me. It is not often that happens!

  3. Mary Says:

    This is an interesting recap of what is out there-thank you! I have the Colette book and it is just plain pretty. I am looking forward to sewing through all the patterns for spring/summer. These are not wearable in my winter!

  4. bela saudade Says:

    I always hear great things about Collete, but the styles are too dainty for me (dainty and vintage inspired are two words that will probably never pop up next to my name!). Not a book, but I just checked out the simplicity site for some of the new Burda pattern coordinates and there are some good basic wardrobe shapes there. http://www.simplicity.com/c-865-coordinates.aspx. I can see 7192, 7193, 7208, and 7226, 7367 being a nice place to start.

    I would love an Eileen Fisher sewing book. Everything she coordinates looks so neat and polished. I was initially not a fan because I thought the clothes were exceedingly boring, but visiting her site and seeing how many different women in different age ranges mix and match the pieces with great accessories has been a real eye opener.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Agreed Bela – I love heirloom touches on clothes, but fit and frills don’t make me feel comfortable ! I was a teenager wearing those 50s vintage dresses with tiny tops and huge skirts. Fun to dance in but not at all my style or lifestyle now. We are so lucky now to be able to choose what style we wear, and just enjoy looking at the other possibilities.

      And I’m glad there is now an easy way in English of having a look at Burda’s paper patterns. I think Simplicity and New Look are also good for wardrobe patterns in a wide variety of styles. To my eye the Burda ones are a little more ‘edgy’, and modern without being very ‘young’.

      See my reply to Sara about Eileen Fisher – I agree EF is very good for the Easy Luxe style, simple casual quality.

  5. Maura Says:

    I recently saw the Lisa Perry Style swing dresses (w/sleeve) sported by Ann Curry on the Today Show. I was wondering if anyone could suggest a pattern/ instructions for reproducing such a dress.


    • sewingplums Says:

      I haven’t seen the specific style you mention. You can see the simple shape on the Lisa Perry site, where the dresses are shown flat rather than on a body. Just a flat triangle. Gives a good idea of the proportions needed. What used to be called a ‘trapeze’ dress in the 60s.

      There are many basic a-line dresses which are not quite wide enough, but easy to widen if you know a little about pattern making. See New Look.

      At the Burda Style site the closest is Malissa 6010 (with sleeves). No doubt someone will be offering a simple free pattern there soon.

      McCall’s 6111 is a bare shoulder version.

      Good Luck with finding what you want.

  6. gelasticjew Says:

    I got the “Built by Wendy” dress book from the library and really like the style changes. She shows very specific changes to the basic patterns (cut and slash, shorten, make a 1-piece bodice into 2 pieces, etc.) to make the interesting assortment of dresses. Sadly, the sizes are 10 inches smaller than my measurements, and that’s more than I’m willing to try to size up. But I’ve learned lots about pattern making from the book, and I’m searching for plus-size basic patterns that are similar to the 3 in the book so I can ring the changes on them.

    I also thought the discussion of facings and linings was quite thorough, and helped me understand the subject better.

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