The Starting Point… Pattern or Fabric?

The Starting Point… Pattern or Fabric?

Some of the most common problems discussed among sewers, new or experienced,  is the challenge of matching pattern to fabric.  We hear this a lot from our customers and I thought I would take a few posts over the next few weeks to offer some suggestions.  I hope others will join in with comments and tips so that we can all learn form one another’s experiences.

For those who do not create their own patterns from scratch–a majority of sewers–the  question is “which step comes first?”  We suggest this process.

First, channel the designer in you.

What is the basic concept you have in mind?  Pants with a jacket? Skirt with top?,  Dress for daywear?

What is your best look?  Tailored?, Unstructured?  Fitted?  Oversized?

Do you have a color limitation?  Must be black…cannot be black…

You’ll notice that all of these questions are very, very general.  If you lock yourself in at this point in the process, you will not be able to step outside this box when you shop or check your stash for fabric.

Now move on to the fabric choice…Shopping for Fabric

Keep your mind open, let go and enjoy the process of letting the fabric speak to you.  All of us here at SBDF understand the importance of this step.  Here are some typical interactions between staff and customers in the warehouse showroom.

SB staff: Welcome to SBDF.  First time visitors get a one minute “tour” of the showroom and then are asked if they are looking for anything specific.

Customer 1:  I want to find a fabric for this pattern.

SB Staff:  Let’s look at some general characteristics that this pattern requires.  Already, the customer has limited her choices to a narrow range of fabrics.

Customer 2:  I’m trying to find something for a fall jacket to go with my gray pants.

SB Staff:  Let me make a few suggestions and then we encourage you to browse the bins, because something may speak to your vision.  The customer has a full range of ideas of what “goes” with her pants along with full knowledge of the rest of her wardrobe. She needs to put this to use in her planning process.  We’ll stay in the background unless needed.

Customer 3:  I want to make a fall daywear outfit.

SB Staff:  We’ll leave you alone and let you wander as you plan your outfit.  We’re here for questions, but we won’t disturb you.   We try hard not to interrupt the process.  We’re make a point of being available, but not being intrusive.

None of these conversations are “scripted”.  We are just experienced sewers who understand the process and also know the zen moments that take place for fabric lovers when they are “lost” in a fabric store.

If you have gone the route of Customer 2 or 3 (or,  if like many, you came in as Customer 1 and then changed your mind because you found the fabric you want and it won’t work with the pattern you’ve chosen), the next step is matching the fabric to a pattern that will bring your vision to reality.

You can always blend patterns or tweak them to your ideas—Straight legged pants from one pattern, grab the pocket detail from another and use your tried and true fly front from another. If you go the opposite route and start with a pattern, you can get in all kinds of snarls.  Most commonly, you can’t find a fabric to work with the pattern you’ve chosen, or worse you choose a fabric that’s not right for the pattern silhouette and try to force it to work.  If you start from the other direction, you have more options.  Then your outfit comes together.  Think of the pattern as a guideline with turn posts throughout the process, not as a hard and fast recipe.

A case can certainly be made for starting with the pattern, but in our experience the process suggested here most often leads to a successful and satisfying outcome. What do you think? Please join the conversaton below in Comments.

Coming Next: Choosing the right fabric for your vision–pants.

2 Responses to “The Starting Point… Pattern or Fabric?”

  1. Lornabrown


    Your staff sound delightful. I recently attended a sewing show in Toronto. I stopped at one vendor that had a beautiful selection of natural fiber fabrics. I was in fabric heaven and wanted to touch and pick a couple of nice fabrics that would fit my wardrobe and lifestyle. The owners were so pushy and more intent on making a sale than having a happy customer. They kept sticking fabrics in my face and suggesting things that I would never wear. They showed me this gorgeous green suiting. The green was the wrong shade for my colouring. I would look half dead in the colour. When I told them that they said no problem, buy this fabric for a blouse and it will go… I don’t think so. I would never ever spend a few days making a suit in a colour that was not perfect. I asked them to leave me to look several times. The experience was ruined and in the end I just walked away. Darn shame that the pure red cashmere fabric that I had my eye on was left behind….. I really would have bought it!!!

  2. decorating fabric


    This blog is very useful. People cares a lot about how they look and how they present themselves to everyone. Fabric and pattern are few factors in fashion, if both are presentable, the person wearing would possibly turn heads wherever, whenever.

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