Selecting Fabrics for Sewing Patterns aka: The Guessing Game


summer dresses

 Ah, yes... the thrill of a new   sewing pattern and matching it  with your fabulous new fabric  find.  You envision yourself  lunching in your new make, sipping a coffee with your girlfriends and waving your hand around like it's not a big deal that you just made the most fabulous little thing.  The sun is always shining.  It's so perfect!

So you lay out the fabric and pattern, cut it (oh the thrill of wanting to try it on once the first stitches are done) sew it and try it on.   You look in the mirror and it.. looks... dreadful.  The fabric is all wrong, the proportions are wrong... everything is VERY wrong.  You now hate sewing, everything sucks and it's time to just give up, sell the machine and stop the pain.  The sun never shines!

Who's been there? 

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked, if not the most, is "But HOW do you KNOW which fabric is most suitable for what style/pattern?"  The frustrations are real.  I've seen the bins of half sewn projects and I've thought long and hard about giving you the answers. 

So, my tips in choosing the right fabrics for the right sewing patterns have actually little to do with choosing the right fabrics, or patterns.

First, we have to take a step back.  The real answer here, I believe, is actually about discovering your style and understanding your body type.  If you understand your style/body, your frustrations in merging fabrics with patterns will be much reduced.


Here is my 5 step crash course in discovering your style:


manequin display


Step 1

Arm yourself with a small notepad, a tape measure, camera, a large coffee and courage.

Step 2

Head to the mall, visit your favourite stores/designers and get ready to step out of your comfort zone.

Step 3

Try on everything that catches your eye and everything you are not interested in.  That cute leopard coat?  Try it on.  Short shorts?  Try them on (I recently did that for my husband and I think I need therapy).  Those pegged pants that look so cool?  Yup, put those on too.

Step 4:

Don't judge!  This is training your eye to be critical.  To look for proportions that flatter you, and weed out silhouettes that don't.  Personally, I love the boho chic look.  The loose romantic dresses, the cute gathers, the dainty prints, tassels and peasant blouses.  But, at a mere height of 5'4" I look like a small child trying to wear my mother's clothes.  The volume swallows me up, the loose blouses and dresses give zero definition and make me look even shorter. As romantic and free as the look is, it just does nothing for me.  And so I admire the look but stay away from it. By the same token, pieces that I'd find "boring" on the store racks are actually the ones that end up most flattering.  Structured, smart pieces with few prints.  That's my look. I really wanted to be boho chic, but I'm actually a minimalist.  What I'm trying to say here is be open minded and leave the critic at home.

Remember that notepad, camera and tape measure I told you to pack?  When you stumble upon that pair of cropped pants that make you look like a dream... take note!  Literally.  Measure that outer seam.  Measure the pant opening.  Measure the rise.  Take a picture.  Take note of the fabric they are in.  Loose?  Structured?  Stretch?  Next time you're looking to make a pant you'll have notes on your proportions.  Do this with dresses, sleeves, jackets, etc.  Notice where that pocket sits and where the cropped jacket hits on your body.  Let the stores take the guess work out for you. 

It's through sessions like this where you will learn your proportions, the fabrics pieces are made in and what really suits you.  Armed with this information I believe you'll be steps ahead in having clarity as to what patterns will suit you, what fabrics to purchase and what looks will end up hanging in your closet (and get instagramed) rather than in your "will eventually finish" bin.

I hope this helps and I hope you have many days of happy sewing!








  • I agree, this is a major discourager and the cause of most most of my sewing disasters. After all that work and money invested, I try it on and…“I’m not leaving the house in THAT…”

    For me, the frustration begins after I find ready-to-wear I like and decide to sew it myself. Then the hunt for a similar pattern and fabric – that’s where it breaks down. Often I can finesse a pattern to look like the store-bought item, but where to find decent garment fabric at an affordable price? Usually I need to feel the fabric for weight and drape, making on-line shopping too risky. My dream is for every pattern to be linked online to quality fabrics in stores, picked out by people who have an eye for this. I know I sure don’t.

    Beth Calvo
  • such great advice, can I add, take your fashion forward girlfriend along and ask her to select some pieces she thinks you will suit. I did this last year and came home with four garments, three of which I would never have even tried on if shopping alone. Of course all four were cheap nasty quality and only one is still being worn; which is why we all sew our own garments. But she showed me I can wear the latest trendy shape. And a note to Heidi, I love buying Burda Fashion Magazine for the on trend patterns; but also I follow a lot of blogs and you soon pick up on the patterns that the blog world is busy buying and sewing, many are independent patterns like this one.

  • Great post! For the next step, how do you find a sewing pattern for the look you want? The mainstream patterns all seem so “handmade” looking.

  • I have a dress dummy in the basement — I drape the fabric on in for days, even weeks to get a sense: will this really look good as a dress, or top or whatever? Also can’t say enough about muslins. Do I even like this pattern on me? BEFORE I cut the expensive fabric.

    Jenny Green
  • Thanks for your tip, it makes sense, I will try it and goodbye to frustration!


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