A good wardrobe pattern for a core wardrobe ?

Wardrobe pattern books are inspirational, but once you know how to make very simple changes, you don’t need a book to get an easy group of co-ordinates. Just start with a wardrobe pattern.

Most wardrobe patterns are for a ‘Core 4’: top/dress, jacket, skirt, pants. All items with a closely similar look.

Wardrobe patterns which include patterns for more tops or layers are much more powerful as the starting point for a core wardrobe. Because they can give more variety of looks.

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An example pattern

I often like McCall’s wardrobe patterns. They’re rare but stylish. I find the recent one particularly inspiring, McCall’s 6519.

This pattern doesn’t use the same style for both top and dress. It has two different underlayers.

My focus here is general issues about expanding to a wardrobe from a single pattern, with this pattern for the examples. I don’t mean to imply that everyone should use this pattern as their starting point ! These styles wouldn’t work well for all body shapes or personal styles. Do you think these styles would look good on a Rectangle ? an Inverted Triangle ? an Hourglass ? With my small bust and large hips, these aren’t the best style elements for me. I don’t look good in flat notched collars, or boxy jackets, or full pleated pants. Close fitting knits don’t flatter me. And I need tunics and vests in my basic wardrobe.

But this pattern makes a good foundation for thinking about wardrobe building.

Modern styling and some interesting style elements.

And hurrah, they’ve been generous : there’s a size 14 in the pattern envelopes for both larger and smaller sizes.
And hurrah again, they’ve put the finished garment measurements with the website pattern information. McCall’s used not to do this.

They made it in red, white and blue.
Fashionable colours this season. (Election in the US, Olympics in the UK.)
But not flattering for all of us.
So think of that as : accent colour, light neutral, and dark neutral.

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The base items

For their examples McCall’s made :

Jacket : accent colour, solid, woven
(Unlined, edge-to-edge front. Shoulder dart under the collar, so it’s more shaped than the line diagram looks. Slight side-seam waist indent, not as much as suggested by the photo. 3/4 sleeve.)


Dress : 3 colours, large scale print, knit


Skirt : dark neutral, solid, knit


Top : 2 versions : one in dark and light neutrals, small scale print, woven; second in light neutral, solid, woven.


Pants : 2 versions in the same 2 fabrics as the top.


That makes 7 garments in all.
Which combined without the jacket make 7 different outfits.
Add the jacket to each, makes 14 outfits.

Could be a good basis for ejvc’s Spring Capsule at Stitchers’ Guild. Or her ‘Lucky Seven’ idea (see here page 20, Feb 25).

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Other patterns

I think the key to the success of this McCall’s wardrobe pattern as a base for wardrobe building is that it includes 3 different tops. So different items in combination have different effects. Helped by accessories, you can go from business-like to casual with only a few garments.

Not many patterns like this, but I have found a few.
These ‘5 item’ patterns work well for Judith Rasband’s minimum ‘cluster’ of 5 garments (in ‘Wardrobe Strategies for Women’).

If you prefer more classic styles, new Butterick 5760 has two overlayers. A notched collar princess blazer, jewel neckband knit cardigan, and band collar shirt/ dress, as well as skirt and pants.


Wonder of wonders, rare in a wardrobe pattern – an underlayer with sleeves.
In their look book BMV add a shell in an accent colour, and jeans. 8 different items in all, a good basis for a short trip wardrobe. (Shirt, dress, shell, formal and casual jackets, skirt, pants, jeans.) Add a ‘dressy’ top if the trip includes a special occasion. More ideas on styling for a business trip at this wardrobe site.

Simplicity 1945 is a softer group for knits, this time with two underlayers. A raglan sleeve top with cowl neck, and a set in sleeve top with side drape front. Plus a simple jacket with cut on sleeve and cascade front. Pattern also has simple skirt and pants.


Add another jacket with a higher cascade collar, or a v-neck cardigan with banded neckline, for another group of looks. Or a light high-necked top to layer under those tops. . .

For a more ‘dramatic’ look there’s Vogue 8718 – with 2 very different underlayers (and a peplum jacket :D). The top with sleeves is a knit.


A version of the jacket with flat not ruched sleeves would add an ‘everyday’ look.

If you like ‘vintage’, Simplicity 2154 is another pattern with a choice of overlayers giving a good variety of looks, a 60s ‘Jackie O’ style.


Lengthen the top for a dress. Make another top without a bow.
Add pants with a slightly tapered leg, perhaps Colette patterns Clover pants. This style is from the days when people rarely wore jeans (and pants were’t allowed in good restaurants), but capris would be acceptable casual.

For the simplest of relaxed casuals, there’s Park Bench Central Park, which has three overlayers !


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Finding a good pattern to start from isn’t the only question about building a wardrobe from a single pattern.

I have other posts planned, on how the shapes and ease of the styles in the McCall’s pattern work together as co-ordinates.

Then there are the very simplest strategies for adding items to make a minimum wardrobe.

Change fabrics : see my post on Kate Mathew’s wardrobe plans.

Change lengths : for inspiration look at patterns which include multiple sleeve and body lengths. See this post (also includes another 5-item wardrobe pattern). Or Butterick’s ‘The Cut Line’ patterns which work as tops, tunics, and dresses.

Change pockets or trims : see that post again.

Change necklines or remove collars : see my post.

Add basic patterns with minimum style elements : see my power of the boring post. (Also in that post, an example of building onto a 5-item cluster of separate patterns.)

These hugely expand the range of options you can get from one pattern starting point. As well as the sewing interest. And without needing to know anything fancy about pattern making 😀

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Patterns and links available March 2012

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

9 Comments on “A good wardrobe pattern for a core wardrobe ?”

  1. sara Says:

    I agree that Mccalls 6519 is a lovely wardrobe and when I saw it I thought how perfect it would be if it would suit me. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to buy one pattern for your Spring wardrobe, collect your fabrics and get sewing? You say it should suit 50% of women. I’m not so sure. As you have demonstrated, everyone is so different! I love the skirt, top and dress, and I think those items would look good on me, but the jacket is too boxy for me with my wide shoulders and I don’t think the pants would suit me.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Sara for picking me up on the rash statement about how many people could wear the McCall’s pattern – I’ve deleted it 😀

      And yes, the idea of one pattern which includes everything is a tempting simplification. I keep dreaming of it, but my wardrobe needs don’t fit very well with any of the wardrobe patterns. I mainly wear tunics and vests, not jackets. And different weights and sizes at different times of year. I’ve got my minimum number of different garment types down to 12. . .

  2. Mary Says:

    M6519 is on my table right now, and I am gathering supplies to start with the dress. The collar in a jersey will be a challenge, but I shall try. I have some reservations about the width of the pants, as I am short and would have to wear high heels. In general though, I think this wardrobe pattern could take me through a number of weeks.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Good Luck with the collar Mary ! I don’t sew knits so can’t give tips, but I do sew a lot of samples when I’m uncertain of the results. . .

      There’s about 9-1/2 inches of ease in those pants. So you might fold out one of the pleats on both front and back – perhaps 1 to 1-1/2 inches removed down the length of each pattern piece. And still have a loose look to the style.

  3. ejvc Says:

    Lisanne, thanks for links to my sew-along. I too have been looking at wardrobe patterns in a new light. I’m unlikely, I think, to make a wardrobe pattern now, having settled on so many of my own basics, but I am interested in how the basics are put together. I think the small-scale print trousers in your example are very far from what I would wear though! I sometimes wonder why they do that?

    I’d put together jacket+trousers+skirt in dark blue; jacket+trousers in white, top and dress in linking prints. Maximum variety with seven pieces. A white top if you wanted even more variety.

    The first blue set makes two outer columns; the second white set makes one outer column, with a top also one inner column. The prints add variety. Add a necklace in blue and a necklace in red and maybe a white or white/blue scarf.

    Fun post.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Good suggestion Elizabeth – though I think you need the extra top (McCall’s made 1 jacket, 2 tops and dress, 3 bottoms). And suggesting the accessories – I do wear scarves but not necklaces.

      The more I think about what I regularly wear, the further it gets from any known wardrobe plan 😀
      I agree with you it’s best to develop my own basics. But I do enjoy looking at and thinking about wardrobe patterns.

    • lorrwill Says:

      You know, I also stopped for a moment at the small scale print trousers. I always avoid prints (other than pinstripes) for pants for fear of looking like I am wearing pajamas – or for the office, looking far too casual. But looking at this picture has me also questioning that stance.

      Thanks, sewingplums for making me see this in a whole new light!

      And ejvc, that is a brilliant, multi-season little capsule you mapped out there.

  4. lorrwill Says:

    Good timing. I was recently inspired by an article on Sew Inspirational and a wardrobe pattern (I can’t remember the number off the top of my head) I saw on one of the OOP sites. It was only for plus sizes and I am a certified runt.

    But further hunting returned Butterick 5272, a tightly coordinating bunch of very, very basic pieces. Almost a blank slate for all manner of accessorizing. (Picture of pattern and link to article on my blog.)

    Now I am obsessed with wardrobe patterns in a whole new way; I save images of ones I would never buy or wear just for hints about coordinating colors and textures and do frequent blog searching for ideas from others (especially sewists) who are wardrobing/coordinating/capsuling.

    Also you have to take a look at this clever outfit:


    Another source of wardrobe inspiration. All the Won Ton blouse needs is a matching pair of pants or skirt and you have 2 interchangeable columns ala Nancy Nix-Rice. Not a true Core 4, but very versatile none-the-less.

  5. […] wardrobe building and I’ve found some great resources. In Sewing Plum’s post “A Good Wardrobe Pattern for a Core Wardrobe” she lists several patterns that are nice, but the best moment for me was in the answer for […]

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