Patterns for wardrobe building

Posted October 14, 2017 by sewingplums
Categories: Nancy Nix-Rice

Nancy Nix Rice is publishing a series of posts on wardrobe planning. She has given much good advice on colour and proportion, and has just started talking about her idea of a 12-item core wardrobe.
Her typical core wardrobe consists of :
– a ‘Core 4’ of top, jacket, pants, skirt in a dark or light neutral colour.
– another Core 4 in 1 or 2 other neutrals.
– a knit top and cardigan in an accent colour.
– a top and skirt in a print fabric that combines all the other colours.
If the shapes co-ordinate well, she claims you can make nearly 100 different outfits.

I wrote on Nancy’s 12-item core wardrobe 6 years ago in a series of posts suggesting patterns (goodness, was it that long. . .). The links to her Lessons in these posts no longer work.
Nancy Nix-Rice : core neutrals, personalising colour and style
Adding colour and print
Extras (Nancy now includes many of these styles in her current pattern suggestions.)
Two-piece dresses
More thoughts

Note – My posts in these links were written years ago. Many of the patterns mentioned are now out of print, and the Big 4 have changed their sites so most of the urls have changed. So just take the images for styling ideas.

The patterns in my posts are not ‘high current’, but happily Nancy has recently published an interesting group of posts on patterns for tops, bottoms and layers. She doesn’t include some types of garment that I wear all the time, so I’ve added my own comments.

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Nancy’s suggested patterns for tops
Disappointing for me as these are all knit tops, which I don’t wear.

I need a post on pretty blouses. For a start, Sew Over It is a pattern company that has several current ones.

My new favourite is the Liesl & Co Recital shirt – with frilly high collar, optional front tucks, princess front seams (good for fitting and for easy re-styling), back yoke – for me that’s ‘what not to like’.


I would add cuff frills, and back princess seams for easier fitting over my rear.
Yes, a blouse with frilly high neck and cuffs is my ‘signature’ garment, not something for occasional wear. But I do know it’s not to everyone’s taste.

Of course Nancy is choosing patterns which will work as core styles for the majority of people, not trying to cater to fringe interests !


I don’t wear dresses myself, so it took me a while to notice that Nancy doesn’t mention patterns for them. Her core wardrobes include a top and skirt made from the same fabric so they can be worn together with the effect of a dress, or with other clothes as separates.

Many other stylists do include one dress in their suggested basic wardrobes. True dress lovers want the convenience of ‘one piece’ dresses, and have favourite styles such as wrap dresses, sheaths, shifts, vintage, or tank dresses for hot weather. Shirt dresses are very current. There are quick and easy versions among Butterick’s Sew and Sew patterns. Two of the many indie pattern companies which specialise in dresses are Sew Over It (UK) and Colette Patterns (US).


Nancy’s suggested patterns for bottoms : pants, jeans and skirts.

Two very popular indie patterns for jeans are :
Closet Case Ginger Jeans – there are several variants of this pattern, and an e-book on sewing them.
Jalie Eleanore jeans for 20% stretch fabric.

As I’m pear shaped I always wear the most inconspicuous of bottoms, so I’m not complaining that there aren’t any more ‘interesting’ styles here (and I never wear a knit skirt – they cling lovingly to all the lumps and bumps which are in the ‘wrong’ places).

Anyway Nancy in her 12-item core wardrobe is concerned with having basics which you can wear over and over, and which co-ordinate with everything.
Your favourite exciting and interesting garments are add-ons with much more personal style and variety. Like my blouse, you may be the only one who loves them. And they may only co-ordinate with a few other items in your closet.
Unless of course you love athletic / pretty / arty / lagenlook /. . . in which case your whole wardrobe will be like that and you won’t be looking to Nancy for pattern advice 😀


Nancy’s suggested patterns for jackets

I’m a great fan / needer of layers. Nancy again suggests the most popular jackets. For a somewhat different selection of ‘current’ jacket styles, see about half way through this post.

Nancy doesn’t mention a point which I think is important for sewers – if you wear under-layers with sleeves, especially long sleeves, always check the armhole and sleeve width of patterns for layering over them, and go up a size in that area if necessary. For some reason, many jacket patterns assume you only want to wear a tank/cami underneath.

Nancy only shows one vest / gilet, and vests are my first choice when temperatures lower a little. Many jacket patterns can be made without the sleeves. Often if you look at the line diagrams of a jacket pattern you’ll find a vest version is included.

And Nancy never mentions pullover layers, which I wear all the time, especially slouchy ones, which she also keeps well away from 😀
Here are some of my past posts on these favourites (pattern urls probably don’t work now) :
Oversized tops
Fleeces and hoodies
Stylish fleeces and hoodies
Basic comfort styles – pyjamas for loungewear

I also now have some pinterest boards which are relevant here. This is just a selection :
Stylish big tops (style ideas).
Yokes and smocks (patterns and style ideas).
Over-sized jackets (patterns).
There are many many indie pattern companies which have patterns for casuals, both basic and chic/edgy. Some of my favourites are on my other pinterest boards.

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Well, I’ve probably done the opposite of what Nancy intended, by vastly expanding your pattern options, instead of simplifying things to a small range of styles so it’s easy to know where to start. So Good Luck with settling on your own basic pattern choices.
Here in summary are Nancy’s posts :
Perhaps start from Nancy’s suggestions, and only expand outwards if you find she doesn’t cover some of your wardrobe needs.

Does the arrival of a change in temperatures set you off on a flurry of wardrobe planning ? Enjoy 😀

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Patterns and links available October 2017

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Simple pattern altering

Posted July 4, 2017 by sewingplums
Categories: pattern making for clothes

Do-It-Yourself ‘pattern hacks’.
Last year I wrote a post describing the easiest types of pattern changes.

Beginner (no need to re-draw pattern pieces) :
– change length of hems and sleeves,
– omit patch / inseam / welt pockets, collar piece of 2-piece collar,
– use a larger size for a layering garment (not the best technique for making a pattern for a layer, but it is easy).
Advanced Beginner :
– change edge shape of collars, patch pockets,
– add seamlines, e.g. for yoke, colour blocking,
– change neckline, cuff, hem edge shape (also change facing if used),
– omit collars or sleeves – may need to make facing patterns,
– omit slant pockets – need to combine pattern pieces.
Intermediate :
– open or close the front of a pattern,
– make a skirt from a pant pattern.

There are of course many other possible pattern alterations, those are just some easy ones.

That post was based on one specific pattern, but it had a final section on other patterns and sources of advice you might use. That section has kept spreading, so I’ve made it this separate post.

This is a developing area of sewing support, so this is just a selection of the possibilities.

Written instruction

Pattern pieces provided for all the variations

Of course many people don’t want to do their own pattern making. Would much rather just find a pattern they like where someone else has dealt with the variations. We all have different skills we enjoy using when we’re making clothes.

Lotta Jansdotter’s wardrobe pattern book Everyday Style just uses fabric or length changes to make her style variations. Traceable paper patterns. BurdaStyle-like brief instructions, not for beginner sewers.
Sew Serendipity by Kay Whitt is a wardrobe pattern book which includes the pattern pieces needed for the style variations. Tissue patterns.
The Magic Patterns Book by Amy Barickman also has pattern pieces for all the variations. Pdf patterns.
BurdaStyle patterns magazine often has the same block as the base of several different garments.

If you are interested in learning about pattern making, you can learn much by looking at how these pattern variations are achieved (it’s often very simple).

Pattern pieces provided for components, and you choose your combination

Fit For Art patterns provide a half-way house. There are basic tissue patterns for knit top, pants, and jacket. Then many further patterns with the pattern pieces for other styles.

There are also several books which provide you with patterns for components. These are a couple of them :
Pattern making templates for skirts and dresses by Alice Prier
Sew many dresses by Tanya Whelan
I don’t sew dresses myself, so can’t comment if these do the job well.

Given how interesting tunics can be these days, The Tunic Bible is remarkably dull, just one basic style.

The basis of doing this is to use patterns which match at the seams, so you can change the shape of the pattern each side of the seam, such as pattern pieces with the same length of :
– neckline seam : add different collars,
– princess seam : change neckline or draping in centre panel, without having to re-draft anything else,
– armhole seam : combine different bodies and sleeves,
– waist seam : combine different tops and bottoms for dresses, jumpsuits, peplum tops, jackets, coats. . .
If you want to combine pattern elements which haven’t got the same length seams, it’s often simple to trace the matching pattern edge from the other pattern.

Do your own simple pattern altering

Easy re-drawing of pattern pieces.
There’s no need to be daunted by the huge pattern making college texts. There are many simple introductions.
See my post linked above, on easy pattern changes.

Many ideas for what to do with the shirt, pants and a-line skirt patterns provided in Wendy Mullin’s pattern book, Sew U.
The styling booklets and leaflets from Sure Fit Designs have clear instructions for many options, and can be used with most basic pattern blocks, not just hers.
The FitNice System has 2 very simple base paper patterns and many pdfs about style changes. The basics are knit tee, elastic-waist pants – the free pdfs show what the blocks are like. Again the base blocks don’t work well for me, but you can use the pattern altering instructions on any personal block.
Cal Patch’s book DIY Clothes has you start with simple basic block drafting, then there are instructions for patterns for many current styles. Sadly it doesn’t work well for me as there are few diagrams. Minimal sewing instructions. She now also has a video class at Creative Bug.

Several of the independent pattern companies have a blog with easy ‘pattern hacks’. I’m not going to try to list those, as any list of independent pattern companies changes daily !

Combine simple pattern changes with good sewing instruction ?
The oop book Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way has many easy variants from tee and shirt patterns.
Alison Smith’s book Dressmaking step by step (12 patterns, 19 variations) is a selection from her big Dressmaking book (the same 12 patterns, 31 variations) (these Sewingplums pdfs show the patterns included : US letter, A4).

Video instruction

These all show how to draw your own changed patterns.

Many of Peggy Sager’s webcasts are about simple but effective pattern variations. She talks about Silhouette patterns, but most of the ideas apply to many similar patterns.

Angela Wolf has 2 Threads magazine DVDs/downloads on alterations to specific patterns :
1. wardrobe pattern with dress, skirt, pants, jacket
2. classic sheath dress and jacket pattern

Here’s an on-line course from Cashmerette on changing a sleeveless top pattern to make multiple styles. Emphasis on pattern changes. A curvy pattern, but the same ideas apply for all shapes and sizes !

There are Craftsy classes on varying the style details of shirts and pants.

If you want to learn ‘professional’ detail about pattern making, Suzy Furrer has Craftsy classes with some suggestions for designing tops and pants.
She also has specific classes on patterns for : darts and seam lines, necklines, collars and closures, and sleeves.

Those are all about making the patterns for specific styles.
Peggy Sagers of Silhouette patterns has 2 useful more general DVDs :
– her basic pattern making DVDs are very clear, tho expensive.
– she also has a DVD on combining details from different patterns.

I find that, while I love videos for sewing technique, when I’m learning about pattern making I prefer written instructions with lots of diagrams to ponder at my own pace.

Some places to visit which have no pattern altering instructions, but many ideas about what to do

This pinterest board shows some patterns that are particularly easy to make changes to.

Not sure what you want ? This post links to pinterest boards with many style elements for different types of garments.

A few years ago I wrote a post on some patterns which show a range of other options for simple pattern and style altering. And it’s partner post on more casual styles.
Those posts are not solely about pattern changes, but there are several good examples of small changes which can make a big difference.

There are also of course many ways you can alter a garment without doing any pattern work.
This post has many starting points for combining fabrics or adding sewn embellishments.
This pinterest board has many inspiring examples of fabric combining.
Diane Ericson has published a new version of her ‘Just Pockets’ pattern, with 60 pocket ideas !

What a wealth of possibilities. It can be bit overwhelming. Definitely a good incentive to get clear about your personal style.

It used to look so easy just to leaf through a print pattern catalogue and spot patterns you liked ! But I usually didn’t see anything that was ‘quite right’. Now I’m happier taking elements from different patterns and knowing how to combine them.

Can you see why commercial companies of cheaper clothes make one basic block, and then make many small changes to give different looks ?
It’s developing the basic block which needs the main work. Then the potential for tweaking it to make different styles is almost endless.

For us home sewers with far from average shapes – get the basic pattern blocks to fit, and that’s most of our fitting challenges sorted.

Then, if that’s what we enjoy, we can have fun with playing the changes 😀

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Style elements

Posted January 29, 2017 by sewingplums
Categories: pattern making for clothes, personal style

This is such a visual topic, but yet there are no images in this post as there’s no easy way of summarising 100s of style elements. So here are quick links to my pinterest boards :

Jackets / coats
Yokes / smocks
Pants / trousers
Skirts / dresses

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I have a huge pattern collection – I’m a pattern nerd – and I enjoy them in their own right, as a treasure trove of style ideas, pattern making solutions and sewing instructions, rather than actually using them to make things ! I’m one of those people who reads the instructions and looks at the pattern pieces for fun 😀 (and gets upset with mistakes). I do know this is the opposite of many people.

The starting point I sew from is influenced by several factors.

I have a good collection of body shape features which are not ‘average’, so my personal fitting blocks are nothing like the base blocks used as starting points for commercial patterns. This makes it hard work to adapt commercial patterns to fit.
I find it much easier to start from my own personal blocks, and add style elements to them, often taking information about silhouettes / proportions / details from commercial patterns.

Admittedly it helps with this problem that I’m interested in pattern making, and have a good collection of books and on-line classes on it. As well as patterns to copy the style elements from. People who don’t enjoy pattern making would need to find a different solution for this situation.

So what style elements are there to choose from to make your own design ?
And what did I learn from collecting them together ?

Style elements and proportions

I’ve recently been using pinterest as a way of collecting information about style elements, very easy to do as several sites have done a good job of pulling them together.

I’ve made several pinterest boards of my own.
Of course these images only cover representative versions of each style, there are infinite possibilities for varying proportions and combining details.

Those boards show clearly different styles, such as high or scooped neckline, flat Peter Pan collar or high banded collar, dolman or fitted sleeves. Within these styles, quite small changes in the proportions of silhouette and style elements, and in the fabrics and support structures used, can make a big difference to the look of the final result.
For an example, see my post on my ideal shirt.

Which is why many of us prefer to use other people’s designs rather than make our own. We can see from their illustrations if the proportions they’ve chosen are the ones we’re looking for.
Usually photos give the most reliable information about proportions. Fashion drawings and line illustrations may be good for seeing style elements, but they’re sometimes quite mis-leading about the proportions used in a pattern.

Specific style elements

Jackets and coats

After I’d collected these together I realised several things.

These lists must be compiled by fashionistas, as there’s a distinct lack of basic formal classics like the French/‘Chanel’ jacket, or basic casual classics like the jeans jacket or the waterfall collar. So I added some images of my own.

These lists are about styles for woven fabric, I didn’t find any ready-made lists of casual knit cardigan styles, so I compiled my own. And some hoodies, as they’re also rarely included in the lists.
Another oddity, the only section of BMV that has many patterns for cardigans is McCall’s !

Cardigan styles

Tops, including blouses and shirts. Also knit tees and tops – it’s not so obvious that their features are included, but they are there :

Use these necklines and sleeves also for the bodice part of dresses and jumpsuits.

Again the fashionistas don’t pay much attention to a personal favourite, which is yokes. So I’ve added a board of patterns which show the variety of options.
Yoke styles

For bottoms I prefer wearing :

Pants / trousers

For completeness I’ve added :

Skirts / dresses
although I rarely wear them myself.

And I haven’t seen guides for fashion students about jumpsuits. So here’s a selection of patterns for them, though only ones with sleeves and waist seams.

What I’ve noticed about my own style

Once I had made these pinterest boards, I had several interesting realisations.

There are many styles missing from the stylists’ reference lists. Many of us feel most ourselves when we’re wearing styles which are ignored by the fashionistas and the sites which support fashion design students. It’s not surprising that some people feel un-recognised, even alienated, by ‘fashion’.

And I have realised there are very few of these silhouettes and proportions or details which I want to wear myself.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a classic dresser or a conservative dresser, as those words imply a particular type of style elements, which I don’t wear.
But I am a very ‘unvaried’ dresser, repeating the same proportions, silhouettes and details rather than exploring all the possibilities.
I’m the same about accessories, nearly always wearing the same shoe style, bag shape, necklace length. I get uncomfortable with too big a change. Though I do admit to a variety of scarves and brooches/pins !

Well, I could wear most of the yokes and many of the cardigan styles – some of the styles the fashionistas ignore. . . So perhaps I do like variety, it’s just within a smaller range than the fashionistas consider, and styles they don’t think of !
Have you got your own ‘signature’ style element ?
Have you made a pinterest board to celebrate it 😀

So there aren’t so many variations that I want to make. That’s another reason why it’s easier for me to start from my own blocks, rather than needing ever more patterns.
I’m a quiet person, and I like subtle variety. I get my interest from small changes in proportions, and subtle changes in fabric colour and texture.

Again I know that many people are the opposite of this – and want to explore all the possibilities and wear / make something different every time.

Where do you come on this ?
Do you find looking at these images and picking out the ones you like and enjoy wearing is a good guide to your personal style ?
Or is what you like to wear missing altogether from these images ?
Or is your style eclectic, and you like all of them 😀

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Links available January 2017

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Dungaree dress / Overall jumper

Posted December 10, 2016 by sewingplums
Categories: current fashion


I was intrigued to see the pinterest board for a new Tilly and the Buttons pattern has over half a million followers. What is going on here ? Apart from the power of social media advertising.

As well as the relaxed comfort for nearly everyone, for the 50% of us with no defined waist it’s an easy way to wear a skirt. There are many patterns for small children. But surprisingly few for adults.

I thought I’d have a look around. I only found 3 patterns, and chris at makeandwear has pointed out another. But this style is ‘hot in the shops’, so no wonder a specific pattern is popular.


No obvious technical term to label this style.
The UK patterns are called ‘dungaree dress’.
The US patterns are called ‘overall jumper’.
There’s recently been a free pattern with UK ‘Simply Sewing’ magazine, and they call it a ‘Scandi style pinafore dress’.

A ‘jumper dress’ generally means a sleeveless dress which could be worn alone but is loose enough to wear as a layer over blouse or knits. The designer of this one calls it a “pinafore overall dungaree dress” !
Jennifer Lauren Handmade, Ivy


(mid 2017 – I’ve recently seen some US people using the word ‘jumper’ to refer to a jumpsuit.)

While in this post overalls / dungarees just have support from a bib and straps, not fabric coverage under the arms above the waist. Basically you’re unlikely to see these bibbed skirts worn without something underneath !

Though of course overalls / dungarees can also mean the wrist-to-ankle coverage of full protective workwear coveralls, often just called jumpsuits for women. I have fond memories of the very tough one I inherited from my father, worn for painting the bottom of boats. Many jumpsuit patterns. On a quick look I’ve only found a couple of true coveralls patterns, Kwik Sew 3389 and Lekala 6037.

A jumpsuit with shorts rather than pants is called a ‘romper’. Have just discovered, from the newest range of McCall’s patterns, that shorts with a bib and straps are called ‘shortalls’ !

I don’t think I’ve missed anything just because I didn’t use the right words !

Pattern hacks

Some simple ways of making your own pattern, if that’s what you enjoy.

Add a top to a skirt

Add a bib and straps to a skirt pattern.
Here’s a detailed tutorial for adults from Eggs and Daisies.

Change the bottom from pants to skirt

There are some bibbed patterns with pants, so simply convert one of those to a skirt, as in this image.


(On this image I took it easy and used straight lines. But hem and side seam need to meet at a right angle. So if your pattern piece has sloping sides, you need to curve the hem shape.)

Here are some patterns to try that on : Burda 06/2014 #106, Burda 07/2016 #109, McCall’s 7547, Named Clothing Ronja dungarees.


But what about the many of us who love sewing and loathe pattern work.

Here are 4 bibbed-skirt patterns in print. All have usable pockets.

Kwik Sew 4138 with back zip, includes pants (tissue, bust 31 to 45 in.).


Marilla Walker, Roberts with side buttons, includes pants, and a top to wear with them see photo (download pdf, bust 31 to 49 in.).


Tilly and the Buttons, Cleo with buckles or buttons on straps (tissue, bust 30 to 44 in.),
with some extra sewing tips here.


This pattern from BurdaStyle has a back zip – those buttons are decorative. This is between bib and jumper – does have some fabric under the arms, but probably not enough to be decent for most people. Burda 10/2016 #117 (download pdf, bust 31 to 38 in.).


Four very different styles – pretty, casual, classic, edgy ? I could wear a midi/maxi version of Marilla Walker’s design – which would you pick ?

I haven’t seen the instructions for any of these patterns, but from other experience with these brands I expect they go from most helpful to minimal in the order : Tilly and the Buttons, Kwik Sew, Marilla Walker, BurdaStyle.

January 2017. Here’s a new one from Mimi G, Simplicity 8301, with wide-leg pants and knit top included (tissue or download, video tutorial, bust 30 to 46 in.).


Here’s another one, with exposed zip pockets, from Kommatia patterns (pdf, bust 31-41”). They have another pattern with bib patch pocket.

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You haven’t got to do double rows of topstitching if the thought makes you shudder (as it does me, not either my style or a technique I can do well). Or make it in denim.
This style works perfectly well without those ‘heavy workwear’ associations. A fabric with some body or crispness is better, but you could use a decorative stitch or a pretty (or special occasion) fabric, and add a maxi skirt and some lace or embroidery to make a soft styled version 😀

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Patterns and links available December 2016

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