Are You a Pattern Person or a Fabric Person?

I’ve noticed that garment sewists tend to fall into two camps – your “pattern people” and your “fabric people.” That is, sewists tend to be attracted to either a pattern or to a fabric, and then they seek either a complementary fabric or a pattern that would work to make the garment.

How about you? Do you gravitate FIRST either to a pattern or to a fabric?

Whichever hits you first – fabric or pattern – it can provide a good jumping-off point for organizing projects that satisfy you, without wasting time or money. I thought I’d share my fall 2020 sewing plans by way of example.

Personally, I am a pattern-first type, because I tend to sew what I need rather than be inspired by a certain look or textile. Here’s my system, which can be reversed to a fabric-first approach easily enough:

I start each spring and fall season with a list of what I need – pants, shirts, coat, whatever. I go through my patterns to see what fits the bill. I am a paying member of, so I catalog all my patterns using the site’s “pattern stash” feature, which allows you to sort and organize all the different pattern formats in one place. (Screenshot of part of my pants stash below.)

Example of pants stash

Yes, I only have 10 pants patterns. I also have some pants under Big 4 wardrobe coordinates patterns – those are filed separately (I don’t love this feature, but them’s the breaks). I am not a big stash person in any event – I prefer to buy what I need. Of these eight pants patterns listed above, I have sewn up five of them. The Claryville Jeans and Style Arc Jasmine pants are TNTs. I’ve sewn the Jalie stretch Eleonores, McCall’s 7726 and Vogue 9181 once each and have not yet tried the Ginger Jeans, Vogue 9155 or the MariaDenmark Sysiden pants.

If I’m not really feeling anything in my stash, I check out websites and reviews. PatternReview has a “wishlist” feature where you can tag a pattern you might want to buy later. If I see a great review or just want to remember a promising pattern, I throw it in the wishlist. Here’s what I have for pants at the moment:

Wishlist for pants

Any pattern I would need to buy goes into a “maybe” pile for the moment, with a note about the cost.

Next, I go through my fabrics and other stash items (zippers, buttons, etc) to see what I have and what I need to buy to fulfill the plan for patterns I have on hand already. I keep a photo album with fabric swatches stapled to index cards that note the yardage length and width, composition, where and when I bought it, prices, etc. I intentionally keep a small stash and prefer to buy what I need when I need it.

Album of fabric swatches arranged by fabric type, then by yardge

Any project that’s fully in hand goes into the “My Queue” feature on Pattern Review because I am ready to go.

Fall planning queue – tops and layering pieces/jackets.

If I need to buy fabric, that project also goes into the “maybe” pile (with notes about the cost).

Now comes the reckoning. <<Cue dramatic music>>>

What do I really need vs. want?

How much do I have to spend, and how should I spend it?

If I have $100 to spend, would I rather buy that new pattern and less fabric, or buy more fabric and sew up patterns I already own?

How much time to I really have to sew for the upcoming season?

How much effort do these projects require – complex things like jeans? New patterns that require fitting and fussing? TNTs that go together easily?

I settled on these items for the plan:

I am fond of plotting out my projects on a grid based on cost vs. effort. Here;s what that looks like:

Magic quadrant of sewing projects

These are mostly “needs” and mostly stash fabric and patterns. Because I was being thrifty for most items, I realized I could spring for a few new patterns and one indulgence project. The upper-right corner is the indulgence – the “Faye” Dress from last fall’s Fibre Mood magazine.

Faye Dress from Fall 2019 Fibre Mood magazine

Do I need this dress? No. Is it going to be a lot of work? Yes. Will it cost a lot of money? Yes (it takes 4+ yards of fabric). But I wanted it the moment I saw it, and I still want it. It has been on my mind for a year. I think it’s worth the time and trouble.

Armed with a solid plan, I was ready to shop! I made a trip to my local fabric store and scored this gorgeous rayon challis for the dress, which scores high for hitting several requirements for an “edgy” work wardrobe with its high-contrast, high-drama, animal-inspired print.

I bought 5 yards because I may need some pattern-matching. It’s a nice weight though, so I won’t need a lining. I also picked up zippers, buttons and other items I needed. For other items, I waited until there was a good sale and placed my order. The planning phase saved me money and time – one in-person shopping trip, one online shopping session, and I was done..

I also bought two patterns from venerable pattern companies. The Salsa Blouse is from The Sewing Workshop, while the Discover Something Novel Pants are from The Cutting Line. Both pattern companies have been around for many years and aim at the older sewist. I am eager to try them out. Since I am gray-haired and decrepit now.

This process may sound really complex, but it saves me a lot of time and money, and I seldom have unfinished projects this way.

What’s your approach? I’d be interested to hear any ideas!

Author: shoes15

I live in Connecticut, USA with my husband and my dog, in an old house outfitted with a sewing room, a garden, an orchard, and a big liquor cabinet.

12 thoughts on “Are You a Pattern Person or a Fabric Person?”

  1. Wow I am so impressed with your organised method. I am newly retired so can wear what I want any day and this has allowed me to wear a wider variety of my wardrobe. I have a method for wearing rather than sewing which is am item gets 10 wears then I put it away for at least a month. It normally takes 6 to 8 weeks to wear a garments 10 times. Regarding sewing most of my patterns are free with a magazine subscription (mostly McCall’s and threadcount) but if I know I’m not going to sew a pattern up I sell it on Ebay and the sales normally cover the subscription. Fabric buys are a mixture of random ones I see in charity shops or occasional purchases but I haven’t got a huge stash of either. Regarding wants and needs I suspect most of us in the first world could manage without buying anything for years but I like making things and wearing them so regard it as my main my hobby as well.


  2. What an interesting idea for managing your wardrobe! I have never thought of that! Seasons here tend to limit what I wear and keep me from going to the same few items time and again. Thanks for the idea.


  3. First of all just wanted to say I love that fabric you bought for the dress!

    I’m a pattern person for sure. I’ve been actively reducing my fabric stash and trying never to buy fabric and notions more than one project ahead because I change my plans so frequently. The thing about fabric is that there will always be more…I’ve only very rarely regretted not buying a particular piece of fabric. Patterns are a different matter. They take up less space and a single pattern is much more versatile than a single cut of fabric. I haven’t the time or skills to draft my own. And the really unusual designs don’t come around again quickly. I’m sorry I didn’t buy more of the Vogue Issey Miyake and Ralph Rucci ones when they were in print.


  4. I’m more a pattern person then fabric, I think, because most of my sewing is from Burdastyle – I get inspired by the designs I see in the magazine. Then I consider what fits my want, “need” and style preferences and then look for the fabric. I have few compelling ” needs” as my wardrobe is extensive and I keep most of my clothes, on average, about 5 years. When I buy fabric first, I have the general garment in mind – it’s for a dress, pants, tops, PJs, etc. I have a spreadsheet for all my fabrics with description, fiber content, width, length and likely ideas – update it once the fabric has been made up with any remaining useful amount and what pattern I used for it. I don’t have a huge stash. Have another spreadsheet for my envelope patterns – separate sheets for each brand.
    Most years I plot out my sewing ideas twice a year for spring/summer and fall/winter -less than half of my ideas are actually sewn up as I’m a slow sewer or don’t find fabric in the right colour/weight/fiber of my vision.
    Interesting question!


  5. It seems “Pattern Person” is the more popular mode! I know what you mean about the desginer patterns. I keep an eye on eBay – sometimes one comes up for sale or auction at a reasonable price. You might like Oki Style – check out her designs. She’s closing her website soon and the patterns are reasonably prices – 5 or 6 euros.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think I’m more of a pattern person, but sometimes I am a fabric person. I think it depends on the goal of sewing. For making every-day type clothes I am definitely more of a pattern person, but when I did skating costumes, I would sometimes design around a really spectacular fabric and that was always sort of fun. And sometimes I see a fabric and think “I must make this!” So I guess I’m a bit of both? Right now I’m working on a few things that are definitely pattern first, but after that I might work on a “fabric first” project. In a weird way I think I work pattern first when I am being practical and fabric first when I’m being more fantastical.


  7. Same as above, I’m a pattern person – I have a hard time resisting pants patterns and button-up shirt patterns in particular. I also gravitate towards patterns/projects that take fewer than 3 yards of fabric. I mostly avoid fabric hogs and dresses – and yet I’ve made the Faye dress, as I see you’ve started! :O Good luck with yours!


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