So, you'd like to sew your own clothes?

I’ve been asked occasionally for tips on how to get started sewing your own clothes, so I thought I’d do a quick post offering some suggestions on patterns worth getting. I consider patterns to be essential for the beginner, as the combination of good instructions and properly laid out patterns are a hard deal to better, unless you really know what you are doing. For the almost guaranteed end result, they’re not expensive either.

I may do a tutorial on sewing waistcoats later on this year, possibly also shirts and trousers if there is interest in it. I’ll also be trying my hand at converting a thrift shop tweed jacket into a handsome waistcoat, a task that makes a lot of sense given the price and availability of secondhand tweed jackets.


The 4th version of my waistcoat efforts

Pattern-wise though, here are a few tips to get you started. I have bought all of these via eBay and I believe they are all generally available if you search by brand name and pattern number. Some are available in different sizes, so be a little careful when ordering.

The way most patterns work is that you get a range of sizes all printed on the same flimsy paper, so you pick the size you want, carefully cut it out with scissors and then pin the pieces to you fabric. This means the pattern will only really be useful for a single size of garment once you’ve cut it out (unless you want to go smaller, which may be possible).



The first pattern I used was the McCalls 2447 pattern. This was the basis for my run of waistcoat projects earlier this year (i.e. number 1, number 2, number 3 and number 4 shown above). As is the case for many of the patterns available, they come as a pack, in this case you also get the info needed to sew a tie or a bow-tie to go with your fancy new waistcoat.


This was a pretty decent starting point, though it did only provide a quite basic style of waistcoat. Being basic though, it did inspire me to get a bit creative with my own detailing. The contents of the pack, as seen above, consisted of paper patterns and fairly clear instructions. It does help to have someone familiar with sewing clothes at hand, as the terminology an be a little tricky at times. Once you’ve grasped it though, it’s mostly a case of being careful and exact.

After the initial waistcoats made form the McCalls patter, I wanted to make something more advanced, with a collar and lapels. I tried modifying the pattern by trying to merge the design with a couple of the waistcoats in my collection. This turned out to be really rather difficult though and I was only partially happy with the resulting waistcoat.


The search for a pattern with the features I wanted brought up the Burda 7799. As you will discover quite early on when looking at patterns, you need to learn to filter the visuals a bit. The photos showing the potential results of using the patterns are invariably pretty awful, so you need to extract the actual garment, visualise it using fabric you like, and mentally glue your grinning head onto the models torso.

The Burda pattern has a lot of potential though and comes highly recommended. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but look forward to creating more armless goodness based on it.


Shirts are also something I’ve been wanting to have a go at. Shouldn’t be too difficult, right? The first pattern I came over was recommended as a good pattern for a more vintage styled shirt.


The Simplicity 6283 is an authentic old pattern, form a time when guys were happy to be drawn wearing shirts. A good pattern, and available from specialist pattern places on eBay. This is one where there are different variants based on the sizing you need, so be a bit careful. Also note that older patterns are available in original vintage issue, and in reproductions. Given a choice I’d get the original and unused version.


For a more modern style of shirt, we again have a pattern from Burda. The 7045 pattern gives you three basic styles, in a range of sizes. This pattern came highly recommended to me, so the results should be good.

Now, at this point you’re probably thinking something along these lines: Nick already has a backlog of at least one waistcoat and two shirts, surely that’s enough patterns to have lying around?

Well, yes, I would agree. And then I became aware of …

…a total pattern bonanza from Japan!


Three books in all, covering shirts, jackets and trousers. All with quite corny covers, proclaiming them to be suitable for all-ages, all-sexes and all-occasions. Again though, recall my advice from further up and see beyond the corny models and try to grasp the actual garments. Notice anything?


Not quite getting it yet? You’d like another go?


Ok, you’ve realised where I’m going now, right? What I’m getting at is that when we look at the actual styles of shirts, jackets and trousers here, we see that there are some excellent styles here. Plus, each book contains a large number of patterns, so these books are basically “The Only Patterns You Will Ever Need”.


21 styles of shirts should come in pretty handy.


15 styles of jackets would keep anyone busy for a while.


And 17 variants of trousers.


Granted, they’re not all totally different. Naturally enough really, there are only so many major variations of each garment, unless you’re doing really strange stuff. There are enough basic styles though to keep you busy and inspired for ages though. And with Japanese precision and care, the patterns are really very decent.


Which is just as well, as unless you can read Japanese, the instructions are a little hard to read. The photo instructions are really good though and I found myself learning a lot just by following the photos.

Interestingly, I found I could relate a lot of the styles to commercially available garments. Several of the jackets are in a workwear style, reminding me of offerings by brands such as Engineered Garments. Just goes to show really that the difference may only be in the details.

So, feeling inspired at all?

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  • WDG 08/06/2014 at 15:23

    Once you know how to make a garment and get a feel of different fabrics and how they behave, you find yourself in a position where you can judge store-bought items with much more confidence. I never buy anything expensive before I´ve carefully examined the seams, buttons, add-ons and fabric.

    Price is not equivalent with quality.

  • Scratch 09/06/2014 at 11:16

    I’m sure anyone who has bought something from the brand YMC can certainly agree with that^^

  • jyrostix 09/06/2014 at 18:03

    Great piece. I’d like some links to developing my own patterns …if possible. Thanks

    • Well Dressed Dad 11/06/2014 at 07:28

      Developing patterns is currently beyond what I’m capable of! Finding a pattern similar to what you are wanting to make and then modifying it is a smart way to work though!

  • Arie van den Berg 29/06/2014 at 07:58

    I am not skilled in sewing my clothes, but I am quite skilled in repairing my jeans and workpants after 35 years experience of patching, mending, repairing on my jeans and the ones of other guys. All learned by myself with trial and error.

  • Steve 19/06/2016 at 19:58

    Another great post! Something I have also done is take a garment (trousers, jacket, cap, whatever) that has seen better days, and take it apart at the seams to make a pattern out of it either directly onto cloth or onto butcher paper.

    • Well Dressed Dad 20/06/2016 at 20:03

      Taking apart a garment like that is indeed a fine idea. It helps to have a good seller of vintage gear locally!


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