Pairing Fabrics with Patterns - Easy Tools For Successful Sewing!

You've measured your PDF pattern's 1 inch square. And you've prewashed your fabrics. You used a new needle, and even bothered to change your serger thread (go you!) to match your fabric choice. You iron every seam down and back. You meticulously clip every stray thread, and pluck every basting stitch... 

But in the end, none of it mattered. Because THAT fabric with THAT pattern is a hot mess. And had you known you'd be doomed from the start, that crinkled up garment on the floor would still be uncut yardage full of potential. If only there was a way to make sure your pairings would always work out! Some magical tool that would guarantee your success!

Well Happy Birthday, my friend, because I've got THREE such tools to share with you today! One for each common reason fabric and pattern pairings fail...


Problem #1: You Used the Wrong Fabric Type

Once upon a time, there were only two types of fabric in my sewing world. Knit, and Woven. And any knit fabric would work with any knit pattern - and any woven fabric would work with any woven pattern. Except for all the times they didn't. Which was a LOT.

That's because there are stable fabrics, and drapey ones. Who knew "Percentage stretch" was a thing?? Fabrics have different weights, and different opacity. There are even fabrics that wrinkle and ones that resist. 

These are all features that promise garment greatness! Just...so long as you pick the right garment first. So how can you guarantee success?? 

Try: the "Google Window Shop" Method.

The fashion industry has already done the trial and error for us. (That's sorta a theme of the post, expect to hear it often!) After all - they have the funds and the staff to do it all. If their concept flops in practice, their materials and productivity time lost is but a drop in the bucket. You and I, with our respective sewing machines, and our limited weekly sewing time on the other hand? Our whole week could produce nothing but a "WAD" that we lost a small fabric fortune on. If the fashion industry's research results are free (and they are - we call it "Retail") - why shouldn't we borrow from their knowledge??

Let's take my 2 yard cut of modal chambray, for example. Were it my first time sewing with this fabric type, I might be intimidated by it's fancy name, and miffed by it's garment-potential. 

Enter: Google. Click the "shopping" tab and search your fabric type. In the left tool bar, filter your results by "Department" by selecting the age/gender you're sewing for. In my case, "women's".

The results alone should immediately narrow the scope of your project. All of mine were tops or tunics.

But if you're anything like me - you already have a ton of woven shirt patterns. How will you narrow it down further? The details, my friend! What potential do you see? What DON'T you see?

"Becca, I surely hope you're not telling me the only things I can sew are the things someone else has already made! That takes all the fun out of designing my own wardrobe!

Absolutely not! All google and I are telling you is whether your fabric has the POTENTIAL to fit the pattern of your choice. For instance, My modal chambray apparently gathers well, and has great drape. With the help of the usual interfacing, it's a primo candidate for a placket. Who is to say it couldn't become a Colette Zinnia - a gathered skirt with front placket, simply because google didn't show me any skirt options? No one, that's who. 


Problem #2: The Print is all Wrong. 

Girl, you can ROCK a cowl neck sweater. And you KNOW that color is amazing on you! Don't even get me started on that floral print, it's so perfect for springtime! Sew it up! Now!! Just... not all together. You see, in the form of an over-sized cowl neck... that floral print will have your head mourning your neck and torso - which appear to have been swallowed whole by a roaming pack of carnivorous flowers. (Ok so that's not a thing - but if it were, it wouldn't be pretty!)

We in the sewing community suffer from "I can sew it, so I will sew it" syndrome. And it's an absolute epidemic. (Those who have followed my blog for a while already know my feelings on the matter) We have GREAT POWER to design anything we want, but we also have a GREAT RESPONSIBILITY to our wardrobe to make something wearable - and to our wallet and our environment to avoid. wasting. fabric. needlessly. 

Try: the "Retail Copy Cat" Method

Nail your print-sews every time with some quick research first. The style you want to sew - can you find examples of it in retail? If so, do they use a print the same scale as yours? Do you still like the pairing? Why or why not?

Let's say I have a cold shoulder shirt planned. I have a print, and I have a solid. Both fabrics passed the "Google Window Shop" test and are good candidates for the pattern I've chosen. How do I pick? Let's consult the fastest (and FREE) resource  there is - my favorite store's website. (I chose Anthropologie, but your store pick should reflect your personal style!) 

Here I've found a lot of cold shoulder tops! There are many solids, and one print. I could simply say that this is a numbers game, and that solid wins. But It really depends how daring I want my cold shoulder detail to be:

The cold shoulder in the printed top almost disappears, surrounded by competing design elements (trim, large-scale print). The nude top (and the blush ones) feature the cold shoulder in a low-key sort of way. The bold red though? The cold shoulder detail POPS. If I'm going for daring, I pick a contrast solid fabric like that one. If I'm going for a casual, "dip my toe in this trend" top I'd keep it simple with a neutral solid fabric. If I want a statement shirt with an "afterthought" cold shoulder detail, I go for the print.  Anthro has done the research and found that there's a market for each. The key is knowing which one you are. (That's when a style analysis comes in handy!)

Note: This isn't just a "print or no print" exercise - print size matters too! if you're only seeing large scale prints, there's a reason for that. Smaller ones may look too busy on the garment you want to make - and visa versa.


Problem #3: It looks Great on the Hanger, But....

It sewed together beautifully! And it's completely your style! But you're still not going to wear it, because that style garment is just not very flattering. You made all the necessary adjustments for your extraordinary body, you carefully chose your print-placement to balance your proportions, but you just kind of... wished you'd seen this style on your body BEFORE you invested all that time and fabric into sewing it. You'd have known right away to save your pattern dollars for something else.

Try: The "Champagne-Taste Dressing Room" Method

If you can, go out to a store. And I don't mean a bargain-hunt store, I mean an "I'm just window shopping anyway, may as well disregard the price tag!" kind of store. Find a similar style garment, regardless the color, print, or price. Try it on. How do you like the shape on you? Do you love it? Hate it? Boom. Now you know. You can march out of the store confident that you can (or can not) pull of that style and spend your sewing time and materials productively!

OR, if the idea of taking yourself to the mall generates a hide-and-seeking, tantrum-throwing, "can I please have this toy I'll completely forget about before we're even home!?" anxiety attack...

Try: The "Instagram Hashtag" Method

Admittedly, this is most useful for patterns that have been out for a while. You can browse pinterest, or designer's facebook groups, or even just google for blogger examples; Instagram just happens to be my app of choice for this. Many designers now include a specific hashtag in each pattern, making it SUPER easy to find samples sewn up and modeled on a variety of body types. Hurrah! If there isn't designated hashtag, the default is often #[designer][patternname].

Sorry... I can't figure out how to embed an IG feed, so clicking the image above takes you directly to this page and you can interact with each image from there! Please tell the sewists how much you love their makes :) 

Sorry... I can't figure out how to embed an IG feed, so clicking the image above takes you directly to this page and you can interact with each image from there! Please tell the sewists how much you love their makes :) 

Taking, for example, the Seamwork Mesa (which I love!). Above is a listing of the "top" instagram posts about the pattern. You can see certain trends - like many of the bodies here are rectangles. This must be a great style for those of us with minimal waistline definition! Not a rectangle? Lucky for you there are 49 Mesa projects to scroll through, and you can browse them all (by clicking the image above!) until you find your body type represented. If you can't get to the store to try on your own knit shift, you may as well see it on a body-twin! 


What do you think friends?? Did I miss any fantastic tips for guaranteeing a pattern/fabric match?? Share them in the comments below!