Wanting to know the difference between commercial and independent sewing patterns, or just looking for your next project? Then this post has you covered!
There are a lot of sewing pattern brands out there, and as a beginner it can be overwhelming.
While there is nothing wrong with the big 4 - Vogue, Butterick, McCalls and Simplicity - there are some great smaller and local independent brands popping up across the globe that are worthy of our support.
To help you get started, I thought I would share some of my favourite “indie" pattern brands that I have used and love, and that will be sure to get you inspired!
But first, let’s talk about some of the differences between commercial and independent sewing patterns.
Commercial sewing patterns
You may have come across commercial patterns like the big 4 mentioned above, or brands like Burda, New Look, Kwik Sew, or Sew Easy in your time.
These guys got me through my early sewing days. Growing up, these were the only patterns (I knew of anyway) that were available to me. I remember spending a lot of time trawling though the encyclopaedic like pattern books with my mum, as we jotted down style numbers on little cards ready to take to the counter, where they were searched for in giant filing drawers. I also worked in a quite a large sewing and haberdashery chain for 8 years while at school and studying and I certainly worked my way through many a free (discontinued) commercial pattern.
Now there is nothing wrong with commercial patterns. But there are a few key things that set these guys apart from their independent counterparts:
Design: They are essentially designed by a large pattern company, and are intended to appeal to the masses.
Testing: They are very well tested and well drafted. Given they are created by such big companies who then go on to sell them across the globe, they have to meet some pretty high standards. Therefore, you are going to receive a very professional and good quality product, but where it may fall down is things like sizing.
Range: They offer a huge range of styles, covering everything from women's, mens and children’s wear to bags and accessories. These styles can be easily searched online by category (e.g. women’s trousers).
Accessibility: They are easily accessible both online and in-store across the globe. You shouldn’t have trouble getting your hands on one where ever you are located.
Sales: They often come on sale. My local sewing shop was forever having sales on commercial patterns, so I rarely paid full price. Do keep your eye out!
Price: This does vary across brands with Vogue being at the higher end, offering more "designer" quality and details, being priced at around €20 followed by the remaining three hovering around €8 to €14.
The patterns and instructions:
The pattern symbols are pretty standard across brands. Therefore, once you have used one you will be familiar with another
Most will include that signature thin brown tissue like paper that is great for pinning but not so good when it comes to being reused as it tears really easily.
The instructions usually come as large loose sheets that are folded together, which can be cumbersome and difficult to keep track of (I find booklets to be much easier to work with).
The layout of the instruction sheets have remained almost unchanged for years. I can compare my grandma’s with current ones, without noticing a lot of difference.
From my experience, I have found the instructions (both wording and diagrams) a little hard to follow at times. I do feel like they assume sewing knowledge, so if you’re just starting out, this can make things that little more difficult.
The photos on the pockets and in the books don’t do themselves any favours. They can seem really dated and uninspiring. Some of the more detailed designs are often represented in darker fabrics or some busy print, so you can’t actually pick up on them. I tend to always look at the tech drawing on the back first.
Independent sewing patterns
Normally I try to draft my own patterns, but for reasons I won’t go into here I have been without a lot of my sewing and pattern making equipment for some time now (years), including my pattern blocks. However, the silver lining of being without my things was stumbling across the world of independent sewing patterns about 5 years ago.
What I love about independent sewing patterns are;
They have been designed and created by individual people, or in some cases smaller companies, and most of the time you can actually put a face to a name, read about their story, and even contact them personally.
While they can be a little more expensive, it is well worth it, as the designs are usually more original, often filling the gaps left by the commercial pattern market.
The quality of the product (in my experience) is fantastic.
I love that they often don’t use styles numbers, instead using actual names. This makes the pieces that little more personal.
The instructions can be more detailed in both their description and imagery (often being in colour), and sometimes feature additional links.
They are almost always available in paper and PDF. The downloadable PDF versions may work out a little cheaper, and the brand or company you are buying from will often offer the option of printing them for you. Printing from home will probably require you sticking 30+ pages together, and ensuring you have the correct scale, so this is something to think about.
On the flip-side however;
Independent patterns may not necessarily undergo as strict a testing as commercial patterns. So you may identify some little things that could be adjusted. I haven’t come across this yet with the brands I have used, but something to keep in mind.
They are often printed on a thicker paper, which while being a breeze to cut out, and more long-lasting, it is not so great to lay flat and pin.
So, if you are looking for a change from the commercial pattern, or maybe can't find what you are looking for, here are just 5 of my favourite independent pattern brands that are well worth a look!
Product offering: Paper and PDF sewing patterns (including women's and mens, and bag making, fabrics, and notions.
Sizing: Available in two size ranges, 6-18 and 20-28.
Where to buy: Despite being based in the United Kingdom (store in East Sussex), their products can be bought online through the Merchant & Mills website (offering worldwide shipping), and via a number of stockists located across the globe.
My pick: The Florence Dress (click to see my pattern review for more on this pattern).
Merchant & Mills was started in 2010 by founders Carolyn Denham, who has a background in fashion design, and Roderick Field, a photographer.
Their focus from the start has been on slow, not trend driven, sustainable fabrics and patterns that you will wear for a long time. As a result, their designs are considered and the quality is a cut above the rest. I can personally vouch for this, having bought a number of different fabrics, patterns and notions from them. They also arrive beautifully packaged (plastic free of course)!
Merchant & Mills will appeal to those new to sewing, or keen sewers, while also bringing back those wanting to get back into the art.
Be sure to check out their beautiful website (linked below) and socials. Both sites are really helpful and inspiring sources that feature a large range of quality photos of their made-up patterns in a range of sizes, utilising a range of their fabrics.
Product offering: Paper and PDF sewing patterns (including women's and children's), notions and labels.
Sizing: Available in two size ranges, 0-20, drafted for a B cup, and Curve14-30, drafted for a D cup. The children's wear patterns are available in ages 2-12.
My picks: The Jarrah Sweater, which I have made three times now, and quilted Hovea Jacket (pictured left).
I have used three Megan Nielson patterns now, and what has kept me coming back is;
The amount of versions each pattern includes, providing you the creative license to mix and match, and really create the garment you want or need.
The patterns are professionally printed on high quality white tissue paper which is really easy to cut, pin and manage. The markings on the pattern pieces are also really clear and easy to follow.
The instruction booklet is the best I have come across so far. Not only is it beautifully presented like the pattern pocket, but the booklet form is super easy to manage, and the instructions are detailed and easy to follow, using easy to understand language, and clear diagrams.
Check out the Megan Nielson website (linked below), for tutorials, advice and styling (e.g. fabrications), sew-a-longs, and blogs from her workroom.
Product offering: Paper and PDF sewing patterns, fabrics, and supplies (haberdashery and tools).
Sizing: Available in sizes 6-22 or XXS-XXL.
Where to buy: Tessuti have bricks and mortar stores in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and their products can also be bought through the Tessuti online store, and various other stockists internationally.
My picks: The Naia Pants Pattern (pictured left). These quickly became my favourite pants, so I will include a pattern review soon.
Tessuti always brings back a lot of memories for me, having spent many a day trawling their racks while studying fashion design in Sydney.
What I love most about their patterns is that they are done by hand. While I can understand that some may not like this, preferring the computerised version, I love the way it takes me back to my own pattern making days, down to the notches and labelling, and provides that human touch which we so often lack in this world.
Check out their website (linked below), and their full range of patterns and beautiful fabrics.
Product offering: Paper and PDF sewing patterns (including some freebies).
Sizing: Available in sizes A- J, or equivalent of Australian sizes 6-24, and drafted for a B cup bust.
My picks: The Collins Top (pictured left).
The founder, Emily Hundt, has a background and story that really resonates with me. It was interesting to read that she too studied fashion design, but found "fashion no longer felt like the right fit for me", with their being a disconnect from the hands on (not like it is at uni). Her zig zag career path was also a familiar story, but one that has found her returning to where it all started - pattern making - an area I am certainly finding myself gravitating back too.
In the Folds approach is slow and simple (nothing fancy, but in a good way). I love the way the designs utilise simple techniques but in interesting and unique ways (e.g. placement of a seam).
The designs are timeless, and will have you making them over and over!
The In the Folds website (linked below) is a great resource, featuring a number of easy to follow sewing, pattern making and garment fitting tutorials, as well as a great blog.
Product offering: PDF sewing patterns and completed garments.
Sizing: Available in sizes XS-6XL.
My picks: I will get back to you on this one. However, I do love the Tetris Gather top (pictured right) so I am eagerly awaiting it's release.
While studying pattern making at university I always loved the almost jigsaw puzzle like challenge that pattern making and cutting bought with it. But zero waste pattern cutting takes that to a whole other level. It essentially involves laying out your pattern pieces in such a way as to ensure that no fabric goes to waste. A bit like a game of Tetris. You can even draw your pieces straight onto the fabric using a cutting plan and template, and eliminate paper waste while you are at it.
Birgitta Helmersson who was previously based in Melbourne, Australia, now resides in Sweden where she designs and develops her zero waste patterns and clothing. Her zero waste cutting plan approach not only reduces fabric and paper waste, but is flexible in that it allows you to add or remove length as you like, tweak the design, and patch different fabrics together, build your skills, or refresh old ones, and can actually be cheaper, considering it's €14 per PDF pattern (compared to €20 plus for a paper pattern, plus postage).
Tips and tricks
Charity shops are great for patterns. They are usually really cheap, in good condition, and the vintage designs are super trendy (think jumpsuits and wide leg trousers).
If buying vintage, I strongly recommend checking the sizing. Things have changed over the years, and these patterns do tend to run quite small. I also recommend checking the actual pattern, as sometimes pieces or parts may be missing, for example the seam allowance may have been cut off.
Look out for those patterns that provide multiple options, such as a top plus dress with a variety of different hem and sleeve lengths. This way you have a little more creative licence, and get more bang for your buck!
If you don’t want to spend any money, but you have access to a printer, there are a ton of free patterns out there. All you need to do is a simple Google search. These are particularly great for small projects like mittens, hats, and now face masks. Just remember to check the scale that your printer is set to.
Instead of cutting out the pattern to your particular size, try folding it back on itself so it can be reused or sold on.
When starting out, testing a pattern beforehand (creating a toile) could save you a lot of heartache, especially when you plan on investing a bit in your final fabric. Test the pattern in a similar weight fabric but cheaper, or use good ol’ calico (great for drawing on too).
Please get in touch or leave me a comment. I would love to know if you found this article useful. Also, let me know your favourite sewing pattern brands and makes.
Thanks for reading.
This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions contained on this site are my own. I am not affiliated with any brands, products, or organisations mentioned, and do not receive any sponsorship, payment, or other compensation for any of the content on this site.