how to use sewing pattern magazines: finding the pattern sheet

How to use sewing pattern magazines like an ace

I’ve been a user of sewing pattern magazines almost as long as I’ve been sewing. The styles are always so fashion forward and they’re jam-packed with patterns in a small space.

But sewing magazines bring up STRONG feelings in people.

I have to trace what now?

How do you see all those lines?

Allow me to play devil’s advocate. Every pattern format whether it comes in an envelope, PDF, or sewing pattern magazine has its pluses and minuses. Not only that ALL of them take some amount of manhandling before you get to the fun sewing part.

So allow me to share why sewing pattern magazines are a great resource in your sewing life, tips for using them, and where you can find them. I hope by the end you might consider coming over to #teamtrace.

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10 quick benefits of using sewing pattern magazines

  1. Fashion forward designs: most sewing pattern magazines are way ahead of the curve with style. If you want to sew with patterns that will look current for years, pattern magazines have your back.
  2. Great details: If you spend any time snoop shopping either online or in high end stores, you’ll notice that what makes a pricey garment really stand out (besides fabric choice) are the details. A lot of times, you’ll see just those very kinds of focal points built into pattern magazines. Ottobre is one of my favorite for this. Their patterns tend to be basic, classic styles, but they always always have something extra that makes the pattern sing.
  3. So many patterns in a small footprint: If you’ve ever taken advantage of a 99 cent pattern sale at Hobby Lobby or JoAnn, you know how bulky pattern envelopes can be. One of my favorite things about sewing magazines is that you get 10-30+ patterns in one slim little magazine. Yes they’re patterns in potential, but it’s SO fast to flip through those pages when you’re looking for ideas vs. lumbering through a drawer of bulky pattern envelopes. And if you think in price/pattern, sewing mags can be pretty economical.
  4. Excellent drafting: I don’t think there’s a lot of pattern companies who are actually bad at drafting. That being said, I’ve yet to see a pattern magazine that wasn’t an extra level of precise. If my pieces end up not fitting together, I trust and know that it’s absolutely user error.
  5. Inspirational photography: pattern envelopes do an okay job showing patterns as real garments on actual people, but sometimes they’re hard to see. On the other hand, pattern magazines often show the patterns fully styled. You get styling ideas, fabric choice ideas, plus it lets you see proportions extremely clearly.
  6. Line drawings: Even though the photographs in sewing magazines are great, there’s always limitations. Burdastyle, can we just talk about how annoying it is when you show pants on a person sitting down? That’s where the line drawings come in. They will give you such a clear idea of all the details in a pattern, all sides of the garment, and even an idea of how fitted it will be. They’re a gold mine, these!
  7. Hackability: back to that great drafting. Drafting is really consistent in pattern magazines. So say you want to combine x skirt with y top, you can totally do that without a lot of pattern hacking gymnastics. They just plum fit together. Pattern magazines are made for Frankenpatterning!
  8. Shop the fabric: not all sewing pattern magazines do this, but some will sell the fabric that’s used in the photographs. So if you really fall in love with a particular fabric, you can totally get it. I’ve seen Burda do this, though Ottobre’s Etsy shop is probably the easiest to navigate.
  9. Easy to alter: With some exceptions, the patterns in sewing magazines come without seam allowances. Have hips that need a little extra room? Make a wider seam allowance on the outseam. Because the traced line IS the seam line, you control exactly how wide or narrow the seam allowance is. With pattern envelopes or PDF patterns, you have to first mark the seam line, then add the extra seam allowance or take it away. And if you need to grade a pattern in any area, you can do that right as you trace without hardly any extra work.
  10. Sewing tips + instruction: One of the downsides of sewing pattern magazines is that the instructions are brief. A good sewing reference book will get you out of the weeds in most cases. The pattern companies do try and balance this by offering at least 1 pattern with more detailed instructions. Sometimes there’s really good techniques in there. And in our digital age, companies are getting better sharing picture and video tutorials. Ottobre has an insane number of welt pocket tutorials with about every variant you can think of.

Read on for how to make your tracing experience easier + good sewing pattern mags to try.

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11 thoughts on “How to use sewing pattern magazines like an ace”

  1. I much prefer pattern magazines for all the reasons you mention. I have 20+ years of Burda style in my stash, and know exactly what I need to do to fit. It’s a great resource when I want to make something, and can almost always hack or Frankenstein what I want. I suspended my subscription in April because it was getting repetitive, and not enough patterns in each issue I wanted to make, when their individual pattern downloads are so cheap. I also just discovered Indies last year and am trying out staples in one’s with cup sizes. Only a couple even come close to covering my size (regular 10/40 with G/H bust), so still lots of adjustments. Mostly Burda is easier, and having to double handle seam allowances really bugs me.

    1. I find myself always looking through my magazines before I go and buy another pattern. Very often I can find something similar or within hacking distance of what it is that I want to make. I’m with you too on the consistency in Burda. It’s so nice to know exactly what you need to do to alter a pattern. In some ways it’s wonderful that there’s so many indies to serve every body type out there, but there will always be that little learning curve with every company since everyone’s draft is slightly different.

  2. I do love my sewing magazines but hardly turn to them. The tracing is often much faster than printing and taping, especially since I usually end up tracing my printouts anyway!

    I love that olfa tool. My mom has one – I don’t understand why they discontinued it!

    1. This was one of the best articles I have read about different kinds of patterns. It really got me inspired to go through my old Burda magazines, because when I think about it, the things I’ve made from those have really impressed me with the designs and simplicity of instruction. Really interesting blog. Thank you, I look forward to reading more.

      1. Glad it helped you Kim! Those old Burdas are GOLD. Every time I go through them I’m always struck like you said with at least one design that’s truly unique and interesting, and I probably find 5 more jackets I’d like to make, LOL!

  3. Hi, I just wanted you to know that you absolutely made my day. I love making my own designs, tracing from magazines etc and I had been using dr examining paper, for want of a better term. I read your suggestion regarding the soil seperation fabric, I ordered it and received it today. Only 14 a roll and twice as wide as the paper I had been using. BUT best of all I can see through it easily and its strong enough to pin. Thank you so much.

    1. Glad it was helpful Kim! I love love the soil separator. The width alone is a gamechanger. There’s very few pattern pieces big enough to require taping with that width! I hope you love using it!

  4. My magazine is telling me to fuse interfacing to the inner front bib and the outer front. What is that? Does that mean both sides of the bib?

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