Sewing Circle: Sale fabric, good beginner dress patterns
The other day I got a comment from a reader about how to buy fabric for super cheap and good dress patterns to start with for a beginner who wears a small size. Here's a crack at an answer, Alyssa!
Q: Where do you find cheap fabric and patterns? I went out looking today, thinking I would find some $2 a yard fabric, any type, and found nothing under $4 a yard! We went to Joann's. Do you have any cute dress patterns you would recommend for a pretty new sewist who wears a REALLY small size? I love everything you sew!
A: Whew, lots of good questions, Alyssa! I have a short answer for you on shopping at JoAnn's--you'll never get great quality fabric, but when you're just learning, $1.50/yard fabric is not too shabby.
- I often buy fabric from the red tag clearance at JoAnn's, usually $3-5 a yard on clearance, ONLY WHEN it's a weekend sale or big sale "50% off the clearance price"--so you pay $1.50-$2.50/yard.
- I buy the basics in the front of the store at JoAnn when they're 40-50% off the regular price, or use a coupon on a full price item. If you only need a yard or so, $7.99/yard on sale 40% off is pretty okay.
- And sometimes they have a "10% off your total purchase" coupon.
- Watch for when Simplicity, Butterick, or McCall's are $0.99 each and stock up! Vogue gets to $3.99 each on sale sometimes.
- And if you get lucky you can get good fabric at Goodwill every once in a while! Often like $1.99 for a 2-yard piece or something. Sometimes people give away nice pieces of wool, or even just cute cotton prints, often in weights or textures you don't find at JoAnnn.
- Online fabric shopping--for specific things, SHOP ONLINE. Readers, what are your favorite online fabric shops??
- Once you get your sewing skills up, buy the nice stuff from local fabric stores if you have any, and all those great designer prints from online quilting fabric shops. They have so much amazing stuff! None of which is even at JoAnn's.
As for good patterns for beginners to start with... I can tell you about how I learned to sew things for myself--I really credit one pattern for helping me love sewing clothing.
I made New Look 6557, View A, shown in hot pink, when I was about 17. Home for the summer, I was inspired to sew and made this dress all by myself. I read the directions and followed the for the most part... and my mom put in the zipper for me.
Then I made View B, shown red and white floral, in an ivory and brown big patterned voile--I lined this one. I put in boob pads from the notions wall at JoAnn's so I didn't have to wear a bra with it! My mom helped me on that zipper, too.
Next I made View E out of a super cool vintage navy and white block print lightweight cotton. I lined it, too. On that one I learned to put in invisible zippers and did it myself (and it changed my life!).
Since then I have used the pattern several more times, most recently for my summery plaid dress of vintage textured voile and lace. I have also used parts of it to combine with other midriff panels, altered the halter pieces to be one piece instead of including a string, etc...
Anyway, once I had made those, I basically knew how a dress is constructed. The New Look pattern is a little simpler than some since the back is one piece, but it's not a whole lot easier than similar patterns. I don't love how the center front scoops down at the waist; I prefer straight across. So now one of my favorite and most versatile dress patterns is this one, Butterick B4915.
It looks like formal wear but I make it in cotton and it turns out cute and summery. It is super easy, and once you make it while reading the instructions once you'll understand how most dresses are constructed. I have modified it before I had a pattern with the right shape strap and bust pieces to make this ModCloth copy.
Simplicity has a similar pattern, too, again I don't love the curved waist. Simplicity 2579.
This would also be a good beginner pattern, McCall's M5806. Don't let the options fool you; it is very simple in construction once you figure out which pieces go with the dress you want to make. Same construction as the ones mentioned above.
For a very different look, there are simple options for more shealth-ey dresses, too. I also made Simplicity 2896 for one of my beginning dresses, this cute navy retro look one. I used the straight sleeves from the jacket and put them on the dress, and so didn't use the armhole facings on the dress.
Or, this Cynthia Rowley pattern, Simplicity 2497. I made a fun and easy dress out of this that I wore on my birthday once... It is super simple too, basically just the four pieces (front, back bodice, front, back skirt) and waistband. Anyway.
As for size... this is a tricky issue. I like fitted things (like the first several dresses I showed) to fit very snugly, and most modern patterns are often designed with more wearing ease than I would like.
Like most people, I am in between sizes on patterns. I circled my measurements in pencil for bust, waist, and hip, and in pen showed the average size that the pattern companies would recommend I go by. The star shows, on this pattern I would cut a 10 or 12. 12 if I used the 5/8" seam allowances as recommended, but I always use smaller ones! I hate wasting the fabric. At the bottom, you can see where I circled the finished garment measurements that I would want. Even with their large seam allowances, the 14 that they suggest I cut out would have more wearing ease than I would want.
As you can see, if you're very small for modern sizes, there is plenty of room on a modern pattern to accommodate you because pattern sizes haven't changed in decades. I wear a 2 in modern dresses and suits, sometimes a 4, and would be told by Simplicity to cut out a 14 in their patterns. If you like your clothes loose or use excessively large seam allowances or something, go with their recommendations.
You can always make something smaller, but it's messier to make it bigger. The exception to this is on something cut on the fold--if you cut out a center front piece that's just too big, you can take it in on the sides, but may end up with a super wide neck and tight armholes. If you want the center front smaller, you'd have to make a seam down it! Not what you want; you'd probably just have to re-cut the center front piece.
**Disclaimer!** Many of you may disagree with me on this sizing advice, and I totally respect that--we have all had different experiences with cutting and sewing and we ALL do it differently. That's why Sewing Circle is so fun--please chime in with your experience to help a beginning sewist!