Purchased Patterns vs. Drafting Your Own

Posted by on Feb 9, 2015 in Sewing, Theory | Comments Off on Purchased Patterns vs. Drafting Your Own

patternsvsOver the next couple weeks before we start making clothing, I’ll be talking about retail patterns – the ones you buy at stores. I wanted to start by talking about the differences between buying a pattern from a store or online and drafting your own. For reasons that should become clear as this post goes on, I draft pretty much all of the patterns that I use. However, I also own a fairly large pattern library which I will talk about toward the end of the pattern posts.

I can’t make the decision whether you want to purchase patterns or draft them, I’m going to go through a few different topics that you should think about when deciding. You should also know that all of the lessons I’ve already planned out for this blog include drafting patterns for yourself, but someday, you might want to make something that isn’t on this blog, and sometimes, patterns will come in handy.

When considering whether or not to buy retail patterns, here are some things to consider:


The vast majority of patterns from the big companies, Simplicity, Burda, McCall’s, Vogue, and Butterick, (Those last three are actually all the same company), cost a pretty penny, if you buy them at retail prices. Many patterns cost between $15 and $20 (American), and once you get into Canada. In fact, my local fabric store had to stop carrying Simplicity patterns because the company raised the import price 300%.

Now, just because those are the retail prices doesn’t mean that’s what you have to pay for them. In the U.S., Joann’s often has 99¢ to $2 pattern sales, but they limit you to 10 patterns per person. When I lived in Phoenix, I made a list of every pattern I wanted from each of the pattern companies and put them in numerical order. Then, when there was a pattern sale, I’d grab a few friends and give them each a $20 bill. I’d fill their hand baskets with the patterns on my list and we’d each check out separately. In that way, I’d often get 25-30 patterns in a day and save $500 at the same time. Here in Victoria, I’ve found a few $5 pattern sales which still saved me $15 each.

If you don’t live near one of the big fabric stores, can’t make a special trip for their pattern sales, or you can’t find a pattern that you really want, most of the pattern companies I’ve linked above have sales on their patterns most of the time. McCall’s even has a club that you can pay $10 a year and get 20% off of all of their sale prices.

On the other hand, drafting your own patterns is free except for your time and the paper you buy for it.


Most patterns are released only in the current styles of today. That means that you don’t have a lot of creative license when it comes to making an item out of that pattern. Now, if you use some of the techniques I’ll set out as I progress in this blog, you’ll be able to alter patterns to make them what you want, but that’s not a lot easier than drafting your own. There are also a lot of pattern companies that are release in old styles in their costume sections, so you could use sections of those patterns for the designs you really want (more on that next week).


Retail patterns are generally made in a range of sizes, usually 4 or 5 dressmakers sizes in an envelope. Their Misses sizes range from 4 to 26 (0-22 in fashion sizes) and their Plus Sizes range from 18W to 32W (14W-28W). Of course, those sizes only work if you fit the measurements that are on the pattern sizing chart (more later). When you draft your own patterns, they’re made to your exact measurements, so you never have to worry about that.


Retail patterns are made with tissue paper which is very similar to them being printed on the crappy paper you stuff into bag presents. It’s awful. I hate it. Just trying to pin the pattern on the fabric, move it around, or store it has caused patterns to rip in the past. That’s why I own about 100 patterns that have never been opened. When I draft my own patterns, I use butcher paper which is strong and durable. I also have a really good way to preserve retail patterns that I’ll share with you later in the week.

Ease of use

Now, hands down, store-bought patterns are the bee’s knees when it comes to ease of use. They come pre-printed in a range of sizes and even come with illustrated instructions (which are, I’ll admit, sometimes a bit confusing). You absolutely cannot beat them when it comes down to picking and getting what you want.

So, though all the lessons I’ll write on here will involve drafting your own, you can also choose to buy patterns and alter them using the techniques I talk about over the next few weeks. Having them on hand is actually pretty great.
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