Should I Buy That New Pattern?

Tips for building a solid pattern library and saving yourself money in the process.

There it is–the newest pattern in the sewing world. You’re seeing lots of tester photos, darling models, and dreaming of making one for yourself–when you get to it. But before you rush over and buy it, can I propose you think about whether you really need it?

When I started sewing, I was enthralled by the idea that you could test patterns or write blog reviews and get them for FREE. Free is a motivating word in my world. (Of course there’s always a cost–the fabric you’ll use that may or may not work out depending on how final the pattern really is, your time in sewing and looking over the instructions and pattern pieces themselves, and the deadlines. But I did it for the patterns.)

And then I’d see a big “sale” and buy several patterns at a time only to realize I’d acquired more patterns than I had time to sew because I had other obligations.

Why Make a Pattern Library?

Over time, I began to realize that I was essentially making up the same thing over and over with different details. And some fit me/my kids better than others. I was also running out of space to put all the printed patterns I’d made once and never looked at again. I’m frugal by nature. I don’t like spending money on things that take up space and clutter up my life, especially when I might already have something I can make work.

So, I did some clearing/organizing. That’s another thing I really like to do. And I started by going through all the things I’d probably never make again and the things I would probably never make at all. That one hurt.

Then I started looking for patterns–like clues to what I really liked and didn’t. What designers was I getting rid of? What types of patterns was I not making? What designers really fit me/my kids best? Do I really need 4 t-shirt patterns?

It was eye opening. I realized I would rather have one fabulous-fitting t-shirt pattern that I altered in many ways than many patterns that all fit differently. One dress bodice that I had perfected was easy to change up with different skirts, sleeves, and necklines.

I went through my patterns and was ruthless. If it’s not the pattern I reach for, out it goes. And honestly, I haven’t missed any of the ones that are gone. I have exactly what I need for me and my kids.

Putting a Pattern Through the Test

Do I occasionally buy a new pattern? Yes. I’m not totally immune, but I do try to put it through a test with some of the following questions:

  • Do I already own something similar that I can make work fairly easily?
  • Does this designer’s patterns typically work for my body type?
  • Do I have a specific purpose for this pattern (i.e. am I going to sew it up for sure, or is it just fun for “later.”)
  • Does it fill a hole in my wardrobe?

If I can’t honestly answer “yes” to most of these questions (or “no” to the first one), I leave it. I don’t really need it.

What’s In Your Library?

So what is in my pattern library? A lot of great basics and some specific pieces that fill in the gaps. They mostly fit my daily routine, and they’re pretty heavy on a specific designer group. Below I’ll list the basic category the patterns fit into. But remember to find what works for you.

Knit Pattern Recommendations

  • Basic tee
  • Dolman
  • Raglan
  • Knit dress (preferably with gathered and circle skirt options)
  • Hoodie/Jacket (preferably with full zip and no-zip options)
  • Fitted Dress with shaping seams
  • Sweater/Cardigan
  • Joggers
  • Leggings
  • Fit and Flare/Swing/Skater dress
  • Swimsuit

Woven Pattern Recommendations

  • Basic Dress with sleeveless/sleeves
  • Woven tee/blouse
  • Wrap Dress/Top
  • Tunic
  • Button-Down
  • Jeans
  • A-line Skirt
  • Pencil skirt
  • Blazer or Jacket

Benefits to a Pattern Library

Once you’ve sewn for awhile you start to see how you can achieve almost any look by modifying the basic pieces you already have. Sure, there are some instances where I will buy a new pattern for the ease of the project, but there are rarely times when I CAN’T do it with the basic patterns I already own.

And there are other benefits to using the same tried and true patterns for your projects beyond saving money. They include:

  • You already know what alterations to make to the basic shape and you already know how it fits YOU.
  • You’ve made it before so there’s less to print, tape, and prep.
  • You’ve made it before so it’s FASTER. That’s a big one for me.
  • Lengthen a sleeve, add a ruffle, raise a neckline–you’ve got a new look without spending any more money.

What do you think? Do you prefer to have all the new patterns or does this idea interest you? How would you make a pattern library work for you?


Lisa Mabey blogs at Mabey She Made It about DIY, Crafts, Home Decor, and Sewing.

View Comments

  • I've downloaded (but not yet printed) a bunch of patterns that I was attracted to and/or were free. But, I also lately have been purchasing paper patterns and they seem to be taking over. I'm not sure what body type design fits me any more as I've recently undergone a radical body shape change and am still figuring out what I can still wear and what I can't. I do think it's time to cull as you've done but to keep in mind the basics.

    • It's so tempting to get them all and figure it out later. It's been so nice to have some staples though. I don't regret for a moment getting rid of the ones that needed too many adjustments to fit me or that i just didn't end up wearing much. Now it's easier to plan, faster to sew, and I know what I'm getting.

  • I used to sew with my Grandmother in the 80's. She was an expert seamstress, so she fixed my mistakes. When I married and had children she lived too far away to help and I gave up sewing. With Covid I find myself looking at fashion online a lot. Dreaming of my next European trip. The linen dresses I like are over $400, so I'm borrowing my mom's Viking and buying fabric. I found the Perry Ellis patterns from 1980's are very close to the shirt dresses on my wish list, so I've tracked down some on Etsy. I will have to adjust for my current size, but am excited to start sewing. I will be keeping those patterns! I also find I only wear my pencil skirts, so am tossing the full skirt patterns. I STRONGLY Agree that when you find a pattern/designer that fits you and your style well you should slightly alter and keep that pattern. (Since my originals were dinner for mice, I also recommend storing in air tight bags or boxes). Just curious, my pattern calls for interfacing but doesn't specify what kind. When I made the dress in 1980 I used fusible not woven. Which kind of interfacing would you recommend with lightweight and heavier weights of 100% Linen?

  • I used to sew for my kids when they were young, but now they are in their 40's. I don't even know what size pattern to buy after all these years. I don't want to make a mistake as patterns are so expensive.

  • I’ve been doing the same things with my scrub top patterns. I’ve learned how to make a petal sleeve pattern. And I’m trying to learn how to do a Henley type placket for a different look to my scrub tops. I have a vest pattern that I am going to play with to get a fitted look. I however had not thought about thinning what I don’t use, that is going to be hard for me as well

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