Pattern First, or Fabric First?

Hey, everyone! I have an interesting question today. Pattern or Fabric, what comes first? When you sew, do you see a pattern you like and then go searching for the perfect fabric to match? Or, do you see beautiful fabrics and then pick a pattern that would best suit the fabric?

I started thinking about this after the Minoru Jacket fabric recommendations. I thought ‘Look at you guys, so disciplined, you only buy fabric when you have the pattern and a garment in mind!’ And then I realized there’s a good chance you already have a large fabric stash at home, just nothing that works for the jacket pattern. And then I started wondering how you go about planning your sewing projects – do you choose the fabric and then decide what to do with it? Or do you wait until you’ve bought a new pattern, and then go in search of the perfect fabric to make it come to life?

I do a bit of both. I am most definitely drawn to fabrics in stores, and think ‘this would be a gorgeous blouse!’ (What blouse, I don’t know yet. I just know this fabric would be great!) This is probably why I end up with plenty of crazy, fun prints in my fabric collection. It’s hard to get equally excited about plain and solid fabrics! Though I’ve toned down the ‘buying just because it’s pretty!’ and try to buy with a specific purpose in mind. (Even if it will be a long time before I get around to sewing it up!)

I also work the other way – pattern first, then fabric – especially when designing patterns. The pattern comes first, and then I search for a fabric that will show off the design. Or I think, ‘I’d love to make the Chantilly dress’ and then look for a fabric that would suit it. Sometimes I’m lucky, and I already have a fabric that would work for the pattern – especially if the pattern is suited to bright, bold prints!

With knitting, I can’t imagine working yarn-first. Maybe it’s because I’m less experienced, but I select a pattern first, and then buy the yarn in the exact amount needed to make up that pattern. It’s always pattern first for knitting! (I feel like I’d end up with ton of yarn otherwise – it would look lovely on a shelf but have no real purpose! Hm, kind of like some of my fabric stash..)

So how about you? Which comes first for you – the pattern or the fabric? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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69 Responses to Pattern First, or Fabric First?

  1. Claire (aka Seemane) December 7, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    I think this topic is a bit “Which came first – the chicken or the egg?” well for me anyway LOL! Most times I’ll see a pattern someone has already made up and fall in love with it, so 80% for me pattern 1st! 20% of the time is buy fabric just because I love it and keep it until I find some pattern to go with it. Then again, I’m a terrible fabric hoarder (much to my shame!)

  2. Tabatha Tweedie December 7, 2011 at 6:08 am #

    More often than not I buy the pattern first. I’m probably over-organised in this sense, but I actually don’t like to keep a big stash of fabric, so I try to only buy fabric with a particular pattern in mind. Seeing tons and tons of unused fabric stresses me out – I need to know what I’m doing with it! Also, by buying the fabric for a specific pattern, I can buy the right amount of fabric which means I don’t waste money. The only time I’d buy fabric without specific purpose is if it was on offer or in a charity shop or something – I can’t resist a bargain!

  3. Ashley0107 December 7, 2011 at 6:15 am #

    A little of both. I usually start with the pattern, and then buy enough fabric for that pattern with maybe a little extra in case I change my mind. And if I change my mind, then I start with the fabric.
    I think the yarn will come with experience. Just like you learnt how much fabric you roughly need for a dress or a blouse, you’ll eventually learn how much yarn to buy for a hat or some gloves. Like I’ve learnt I need about 200-220 yards of DK weight yarn for a slouchy hat, but only about 100-150 yards for a pair of mittens or a beanie hat. So I think you’ll soon be buying yarn on a whim :)
    Ashley x

  4. Maria M December 7, 2011 at 6:17 am #

    Usually I have the fabric in stash. But the actual project will most often begin with the pattern. I want to make this pattern – what do I already own that’ll be perfect for it.

    I have tried shopping for fabric with a pattern in mind, and have never been succesful in finding the right fabric in those situations.

    But I usually go to the fabric store looking for “something for a dress” (for example) and then I’ll get 4 or 5 different pieces of fabric…

  5. AnaJan December 7, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    I usually start with the fabric, since it’s easier for me to visualize the garment once I can see and feel the fabric. However, in some cases, I browse for the right fabric having a specific pattern on mind. This usually happens when I experiment with patterns, re-draft them and alter them, and need a specific fabric (usually draping-vise) to materialize my idea.
    I also have a huge stash of fabrics, but I just can’t force myself to use just the ones I already have – sometimes the fabrics from the stash are just not suitable for the peculiar design feature of the pattern.

  6. Stacy December 7, 2011 at 6:23 am #

    I can go both ways with fabric, and if you saw my stash you would know why. As for yarn and thread for crochet I find yarn and seek out a pattern for using it. I just love crafting materials and I often buy things without a specif project in mind…hence the reason I am trying to do some stash busting in all areas of my crafting.

  7. Sassy T December 7, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    Am a beginner so am not whipping up garments every ten minutes. If I see a pattern I like I buy it and put with the pattern stash. If I see fabric I visualise what it would be for and buy enough for that potential project. Sometime in the future the pattern is matched up with fabric.

    I suppose if I was in a hurry to make something I would buy the pattern then look for the fabric.

  8. Ginger December 7, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    I’m probably 50/50 with patterns and fabric– my tendency would just be to buy any pattern or fabric that strikes my fancy, but I’m trying to limit my stash by pairing a new purchase with fabric or a pattern that I already have (I have a very small stash, but I also have a small apartment, so no room to accumulate lots of stuff!). But, like Ashley said, you’ll soon figure out the ballpark figures of what you need for knitting projects, so you can guess what you’ll need before you’ve decided for sure on a pattern. I often will pick up a skein or two of yarn that I love knowing that I can make a hat, mitts, or even a baby sweater with a small amount (sometimes all three!). Then when I need to make a gift and I don’t have time to shop, I often have a few good options already in my stash!

  9. Becky December 7, 2011 at 6:37 am #

    I do both. If I fall in love with a pattern, I’ll use that as a jumping-off point for finding the perfect fabric. Or, on the flip side, if I see a fabric I love (usually in one of those crazy prints like you were talking about), I’ll buy a couple of yards of it and figure I’ll come up with something to use it on later. I’ve been more focused this year on whittling down my rather extensive fabric stash, so I’ve been doing a lot more “shopping the stash” when picking out patterns that I want to sew. A few months ago, I also toyed with a new feature of sorts on my blog– I chose a fabric from my stash that I still really liked the print of, but hadn’t been able to figure out what to do with it for a couple of years, and posted a picture/description/yardage on my blog and asked for suggestions. The lovely people who commented came up with some great ideas! And though I got sidetracked by a Fall Essentials Sew-Along and haven’t actually gone through with that yet, I’m hoping to actually do something with that in the next several months, and then play with the “bust my stash” idea some more!

  10. Elizabeth December 7, 2011 at 6:37 am #

    I would say 90% of the time, it’s the fabric first. I have a harder time determining the fabric when I have the pattern first. It really is hit or miss for me. But I have learned to never buy the fabric if I don’t have a pattern for it. I bought 3 yards of a fabric once and carried it around with me for 20 years. Never ever used it and I think I resented it eventually.

  11. Irene December 7, 2011 at 6:46 am #

    Once upon a time we had no such thing as sales on fabric or patterns. Every project was carefully planned – first a pattern was chosen, then the fabric. Now things are quite different. Something is always on sale, and at this point I have (for me) a sizeable stash. There are still times when I want/need something specific and I purchase the fabric I want for the project. Most of the time I work through my stash of both patterns and fabric, matching my needs and wants to what I have on hand.

  12. CGCouture December 7, 2011 at 7:10 am #

    I can and do go both ways with fabric/patterns. My problem is that I have a lot of fabrics that won’t work with the patterns I own! I’m always attracted to knits because I love their wearability, but hands down I have way more woven patterns than knit ones. And I can’t seem to keep a stash of wovens, they’re pretty much sewn up as soon as I get them–especially cotton shirtings. I guess I need more interesting knit patterns! ;-)

  13. Elena Cresci December 7, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    It pretty much works both ways for me! Sometimes I fall head over heels in love with some fabric and think I MUST HAVE YOU NOW PLEASE I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH YOU COST.

    Since heading back to Uni jobless (I literally have no time for a part time job) money is a big issue and I actually haven’t been able to afford to buy any fabric. I bought Ceylon from Colette patterns without knowing what fabric I wanted to use, and have hit on a fantastic but expensive idea fabric wise for it. Roll on getting a job and actually being able to buy some!

    Long story short – a little from column a, a little from column b ;)

  14. Vicki Kate December 7, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    I think it depends! As best as I can recall I’ve always bought fabric with a plan in mind (this will be a top, or this is destined for a skirt) but only do a final pairing of fabric and pattern once I’m home (or the postie has been!). Bottoms tend to be solid and tops printed, so it’s a lot easier (or do I mean fun?) to shop for fabric for tops!

    The only ‘pattern = fabric shopping’ I’ve done is for my Minoru as the fabric required wasn’t something I had to hand and I also had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do and the colours I wanted to use!

    I suspect that when I make my first dress, that this will also be a pattern first, then fabric shop as the yardage is more of an investment (well, in my mind it is – reality is that it’s probably not that much more than a blouse!) and that you can’t mix it up quite so easily as with separates.

    I really do need to start using some of the ‘perfect for a top’ fabric that I’ve bought and actually make some! Apart from anything else, I’m running out of tops to wear…

    Knitting wise, I’m a slow knitter and so choose a pattern and then shop for the yarn!

  15. Kat December 7, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    I think for me too it is a mixture. If I see a fabric I love I will buy it and then decide what to do with it later, but I usually only buy a small amount so not usually enough for a dress, for example. Therefore this usually only works with smaller makes. For more planned makes, e.g if I want to make a dress for a wedding, I will usually go out specifically looking for fabric that suits the pattern. However, I have been building up a stash over the last year so I am considering setting myself a stash-busting challenge in the new year where i work with what i have to use up a significant amount before I buy more! If anyone else wants to join in with this challenge let me know…we could make a project of it (frankly, I need the motivation as I have no self control when it comes to buying fabric!).

  16. Leezee December 7, 2011 at 7:33 am #

    Everyone, here’s a fun question. How many pieces of fabric ARE in your stash, exactly? One person’s starter stash could be another’s definition of “huge.” Anyone care to reveal their exact numbers?

    • Kat December 7, 2011 at 7:40 am #

      Awesome question! How exactly would you define a ‘piece’…i.e How small do we go??

      • Leezee December 7, 2011 at 7:47 am #

        What do you think? I’d guess anything that’s usable would count as a piece, even scraps from previous projects. If you plan to sew something with it some day, then I say it’s legal!

    • Ashley0107 December 7, 2011 at 7:45 am #

      I currently have 3 pieces that are 2.5-3 metres. Then a small collection of leftovers, and 4 fat quarters that I won in a giveaway :)
      That’s a lot for me, as it takes me a long time to make a dress. I usually have to make at least two muslins first.
      Ashley x

    • Becky December 7, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

      I don’t know exactly how many pieces….but I think I’m currently around 210 yards. And that’s not including my remnant/scrap bin. (This is actually quite an improvement–I’ve been doing some concentrated stashbusting this year, and I started off with around 275 yards! Though, in my defense, much of it was fabrics that had been given to me for free for one reason or another, and I ended up recently freecycling a lot of that.)

  17. Monica Smith December 7, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    If I shop with a pattern I will make the garment. If i buy fabric it seems to stay in the stash forever. Hence the coat for GD was lined with dupioni silk.bought 9 years ago with the intention of making a shirt.

  18. arlene December 7, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    I do both like many others. I will buy a pattern (on sale of course) that I’m sure I have fabric at home for and if I see fabric i just have to have I will buy enough for a pattern I have – – – now all I need to do is actually use them!

  19. Mary December 7, 2011 at 7:47 am #

    I usually start with a pattern, then *shop my stash* first. I do buy fabric with no particular pattern in mind because I approach a stash like an artist might look at a palette of paint colors. For example, for the Minoru jacket, I had some jacket fabric already, but needed to buy more yardage (hope the dye lots are the same!). I did buy lining for the jacket because I hated the thought of using black or white lining in this project…I chose a jaguar print.

    Oh, I need to check this-is the hood lined? Does anyone else know?

    • Rose December 7, 2011 at 9:27 am #

      The hood is not lined. The hood seam directions state to sew seam, press to one side, finish seam edges together, and top stitch 1/4″ from seam. Lining the hood is possible, but it does add bulk when storing the hood. It is feasible to flat-fell the seam for a clean finish, or you can serge the edges together, or cover with a bias binding (bulky). If you are using a non-woven fabric like fleece, you don’t need to finish. Sew the seam, press to one side, top stitch, and trim close to the top stitching. How you finish the hood seam depends on the weight/bulk of the fabric. The instructions in the Minoru jacket pattern are applicable to all fabrics and are the easiest to do. Hope this helps. PS. remember to top stitch in the same direction as the seam was stitched to minimize the ripples.

  20. Zena December 7, 2011 at 8:00 am #

    I generally buy fabric with an idea of what I’d use it for. Up until about a year ago, the majority of my sewing was for medieval or dance costumes. Rather than using commercial patterns, I develop a pattern in a notebook by sketching the finished garment and then sketching the specific yardage and working out the possible shapes and dimensions of the pieces (“rectangular construction”). I can’t really finalise the “pattern” until I have the actual piece of fabric in front of me.

    However, having decided that if I’m going to put that much effort into a piece, I’d prefer to wear it more than once or twice a year, I’ve been doing a lot less of that kind of sewing recently. As a result, I’m reconsidering the destiny of much of the fabric in my stash.

    I’ve ordered the Minoru pattern and have been agonizing over the choice of fabric. Exhibit A is a piece of lightweight wool in forest green that was originally purchased with the intention of making a short tunic for my husband and a long tunic or dress for me. Exhibit B is a corduroy in a smoky green, currently on sale at the fabric store. I’m planning to make the jacket for a trip to England in Feb: I envision something warm enough for the weather (if worn with a sweater), stylish, and possibly a touch dressy, rather than sporty and/or touristy.

  21. Seraphinalina December 7, 2011 at 8:12 am #

    Fabric first. It’s rare that I’m walking around Fabricland with a specific pattern in mind. That said, when it comes to actually being in my sewing room to sew, I’ll start with wanting to do a Sencha blouse and then look for what will work. Sometimes that will influence my next shopping experience if I didn’t find something suitable. Like starting to realize just how few natural fibres were in my stash has had me looking for linens on sale.

  22. Marloes December 7, 2011 at 8:20 am #

    I do both as well. I often go to either the market or the fabric shop and see something that I absolutely love but don’t know what I am exactly going to make with it. It usually is, that would look great for a pair of pants. However I also go with a pattern in mind shopping for fabric, mostly when my stash doesn’t have what I want. With yarn for knitting I also do the same, but usually I have something in mind for which I am in need of yarn. However I do have a bit of stashed yarn, not a lot, usually from projects that were just not working for me and for which I go looking for a pattern…

  23. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) December 7, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    A bit of both, as well. I see a lot of patterns I want to make (particularly dresses) so then I go in search of a fabric. But like you – I am attracted to so many brightly colored prints so buy them and then see what pattern I can use. Right now I have 2 wools just waiting for time and energy to create something.

  24. lunachick 265 December 7, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    Wow, that’s a good question. When I shop for fabrics, it’s usually for a type of pattern if not a particular one. I do tend to purchase fabric in dress lengths. I just bought 3 yards each of a lovely rayon and silk for future dresses, and some rayon knits for… well, I’m not sure what. I have a lofty goal of sewing a few maternity tops, so we’ll see.
    Even more importantly though, the quick blurb on yarn buying enticed me to go and shop for yarn. I’m going to need some yarn to keep my hands busy during Christmas break when I’m visiting my in-laws for two weeks. I’ve been admiring those not quite lace, floaty super soft infinity scarves… now to find the perfect yarn for it!
    So, in sum, I do shop for materials with a pattern in mind, but it may be an idea of a pattern instead of a specific one.

  25. Dana December 7, 2011 at 9:05 am #

    I do both. I have a growing pattern stash so I do find myself looking for potential fabric for patterns I already own. There are a few thrift stores around town that sell what I assume is discarded fabric from someone else’s stash. I tend to buy up pieces I like without any pattern in mind, and end up sewing up whatever fits onto the piece of fabric for cutting.

  26. quinn December 7, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Usually I have started with a pattern, but gradually I’m beginning to buy fabric when I find something that I love, whether I have a pattern in mind or not.

    This is what happened with my knitting, too, come to think of it.

    And now I have a massive yarn stash. Uh-oh.

  27. Lizz December 7, 2011 at 9:17 am #

    With knitting, it’s always yarn first but with sewing I go back and forth. Most of time I have an idea and need to fit the fabric and the pattern to it.

  28. Jane December 7, 2011 at 9:33 am #

    I’ve decided to stop buying fabric “just because” lol. I need to know how much fabric to buy for my pattern. I’ve been buying fabric just b/c it was on sale and then didn’t have enough fabric for what I wanted to use it for.

  29. Alessa December 7, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    Most of the time it’s fabric for me. If I find a pretty fabric, almost always it’ll scream at me the type and rough shape of garment it wants to be. Then, I put it into my stash and wait for the right pattern to come along… ;)

  30. Rose December 7, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    I use the form follows function rule. If the function is a jacket, I look for suitable fabrics, look for a pattern, then buy the pattern and fabric together along with all the other sundries. I never buy patterned fashion fabric before I have a pattern in mind. Patterns/plaids have to match up for me and I just don’t have the space to store fabic I don’t have enough of. With knitting though I do tend to buy the yarn first before I figure out a pattern. Hence, my yarn stash is horrendous.

  31. Leah December 7, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Like most people, I’m really a mix. Often if I see a fabric that just delights me I will get it, but I have also gone shopping for a project when I had the pattern in hand. It really comes down to cost for me. Like, I will buy cheap stuff or deals or sale items on the fly, no pattern in mind, but for patterns I treasure and know I will want to spend a lot on the fabric, those I bring with me to the fabric store so I know the exact yardage and don’t overbuy. Of course, I’m paranoid about not having enough fabric, so….I usually overbuy. Oh, well.

    I will say that I’ve put myself on a no-fabric-buying embargo until at least March, given what I already have in my stash. I just have a lot of yardage. Someone asked about what we consider to be a big piece. I keep a lot of scraps for little projects but I wouldn’t consider anything less then a yard to be a big piece of fabric. However, there is a lot you can do with a yard…

  32. ruth December 7, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    I’m a pattern first girl, if I go the other way round there is always a little bit short. Maybe I should just buy more fabric!

  33. Lilian December 7, 2011 at 10:48 am #

    That’s an interesting question! In my early sewing-years I bought 1 or 2 pieces of fabric, and literally always had a pattern in mind which I used for it. I sticked to that quite ferociously.
    Blogging has introduced me to the term ‘fabric stash’. Some days I wish it never had. Now I buy (too much) fabric and don’t always have any specific plans for them. And almost every time I find a nice pattern I don’t have the right fabric (or not enough), or if I want to find a pattern for a piece of fabric in my stash, I can’t find anything. There are times I wish I could go back to my ‘buy 2 – sew 2’ habit of years ago.
    But on the other hand, I looove to look at my stash and dream of projects to be.

    p.s. Love your blog!

  34. alice December 7, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    so tough! i was accumulating fabric for a while, as every time i’d find a decent knit (so hard to find!), i’d impulse buy it. but now, i have 18 metres of knit in my stash, and metres and metres of other things too. those 18 metres of knits (about 12 metres of nice knits; 6 of not so nice for muslins knits) really weigh on my fabric buying conscience.

    i’m still in fabric stores all the time (i live just a few blocks from dressew), but now when i see something i well and truly love, i walk away, and see if i’m still thinking about it. or i take a photo and see if it still looks good out of context. i gotta download one of those applications for my phone where i can input the yardage requirements for the patterns I own, and the ones that i covet. Which I guess is my way of moving towards pattern first.

  35. Jo @ a life in lists December 7, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    A mix of both for me. I USUALLY buy pattern first, then fabric, but occasionally I have to buy a fabric if it’s just perfect.

    Also, if I’m on a one-off trip to a decent fabric store, then I’ll stock up on a few nice bits of yardage with skirts/dresses/kids clothes in mind, but no particular pattern.

  36. Cindy December 7, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I always buy fabric first. First, because seeing and touching the fabric gives me ideas of what to make with it. Second, because I don’t buy or use patterns – I drape or flat pattern my own!

  37. colleen December 7, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Hmmmm. I’ve recently come over to the apparel fabric side and have been in the habit of stashing quilting fabric. I’ve carried that over — I’ll buy fabric I really like and then see patterns and figure out which goes with which. For instance, I have a couple of Colette patterns I’ve yet to make up and just ordered 8 — EIGHT — yards of pure wool suiting today for 37.00 and free shipping at Yes, I had those patterns in mind but I wanted to gather some wool together while it was on sale.

    I’m sorry. I’m a fabric pig. So sorry.

  38. Lucy December 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

    Normally I do shop for fabric with a specific pattern in mind – I don’t have the budget to just go out and buy fabric ‘just because’ – but I admit to having a bit of a stash. That’s normally because I’ve bought fabric and then never got round to making the pattern, or decided it wasn’t for me after all.

    Knitting, I’d never buy yarn without a pattern to go with it. I just know I’d buy four balls, stash them, then find the ideal pattern for them that needed five! Same deal with fabric, too, probably.

  39. Stephanie December 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Funny you should ask… at this moment I’m surrounded by a huge jumble of assorted fabrics (fleece, quilting cotton, sequined…?!) in predominantly blue, black, white, and red… these are fabrics I’d bought and set aside, and forgot about, when I moved abroad. Now I’m back home, at least for now, and these old fabrics contrast sharply with the ones in my, uh, current stash (wool, linen, silk in browns, greens, and yellows). So yeah… I guess that would place me firmly in the “fabric first” camp. Eeek!

  40. Kat December 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    I am definitely a pattern first person! I try to avoid buying material without a pattern because I never know how much to get. Usually fabric ends up in my stash because I buy it with a pattern in mind then find something better and buy that too. But mostly the fabric in my stash is leftover from other projects. I always seem to have so much leftover. I hate how patterns tell you to buy so much extra fabric.

  41. Abby December 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    Mostly pattern first for me, although not exclusively. I do, however, always buy a cut of fabric with at least ONE project option in mind. So, even if I end up changing my mind down the line I start with a cut knowing that *something* could be made of it. To help with that cause, I actually made myself my own personal pattern book: I scanned the front and back of each of the patterns in my stash, pasted the images into a word doc (one pattern front & back per page), printed them and put them in a 3 ring binder. I take the binder with me whenever I’m shopping for fabric. (It also helps me avoid buying nearly identical patterns.) I kind of love it.

  42. Laura December 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    I choose fabric first. When I see the fabric I start thinking about possible garments that could be made of it. Yesterday I bought a beautiful vintage style flower print stretch cotton and I still can’t decide whether it’ll become a blazer or a dress. Oh well.. :)

  43. Gail December 7, 2011 at 5:13 pm #

    Post hoc ergo procter hoc – Latin for chicken before the egg. But I’m a little ad hoc. I see a great have to have fabric and think what will it be. I see a great pattern and think what fabric would I use. The biggest disadvantage of the former approach is that I have the perfect fabric but not enough to make to make it up. A case in point – I have two metres of the most devine camel cashmere bought off a remnant table. It screams cape. I have the perfect Vogue pattern, but am .8 mts short.

  44. petitejosette December 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    I do a bit of both although I find it harder and sometimes frustrating to find the right fabric for a specific pattern. I currently have 3 projects on the go. A jacket for which I saw the pattern first and then found the perfect fabric but totally at random. A skirt fo which I don’t quite remember but I think the fabric might have been first, then the idea of a certain skirt started forming and that’s when I remembered having this fabric. And then a vest for which when I saw the pattern, I knew immediately which piece of fabric from my stash would work for it…
    I used to have a little “pattern log” with me when I went to the fabric store – a catalogue I put together of my favorite patterns, with a photo, fabric requirement and notions. That way if I stumbled upon fabric that I really liked, I could go through my list and check what it would be suited for (and make sure I get enough). And it means I’m not looking for someting specific but have a variety of options.
    So I guess I do I find it much easier to start with the fabric,

  45. Kris December 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Generally pattern first. I tend to buy patterns when they go on sale, picking up whatever interests me. Then they sit until the perfect fabric comes along. However, sometimes I’ll buy fabric in mind for one pattern in my stash and end up using it for another one.

    There are always exceptions though~! For example, when a type of fabric is going to be suited for whatever pattern I might be using it for. I’m making up pajamas for my mom and I and buy the pj fabric when it goes on sale for dirt cheap. Then I’ll start looking at pajama patterns and ended up buying a couple to kinda test how it might work for our (different) body types. I also have a mini stash my grandma has been slowly giving to me so those fabrics are waiting for “the perfect pattern” as well.

  46. Carrie December 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    Patterns are so cheap and I rarely can find garment fabric locally that I’d actually want to wear. So I usually end up putting together a group of patterns I want to make, and then ordering a bunch of fabric online. But then by the time the fabric arrives, I’ve forgotten what I’d intended them for. :p Gotta set up some system to deal with that!

  47. Beverly McCall December 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm #

    I do both. I love fabric so when I see a great piece, I pick it up. I have a bumper stick on a filing cabinet that I store my fabrics in that says “fabricaholic”. I usually pick up 2 1/2 yards. This gives me enough to work in any pattern. If I don’t use the fabric right away, when I do, no one else has it. Makes my creations unique.

  48. Rachel December 7, 2011 at 9:54 pm #

    I have thought for a while that the way you shop for patterns/fabric is largely influenced by what your fabric shopping options are. I first thought it after visiting New York last year ( I think if you have a huge fabric range available you’re more likely to go to a store with exactly what you want in your brain, whereas if your fabric options are limited you’re more likely to go to the store and try and get inspiration from the fabric.
    In terms of fabric vs pattern – I generally need to know what pattern, if not specifics what kind, i want to make something out of, mostly for knowing how much fabric to buy!

  49. wundermary December 7, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    I run both ways on this one. I have and maintain a stash and I will buy for a specific pattern. For years, I carried a business card for a now-defunct fabric store that had general yardage requirements for basic garments on the back. I’m not sure why that isn’t more common, it definitely fueled more impulsive purchasing.

  50. Ida December 8, 2011 at 1:21 am #

    I do both ways. I have a little sketchbook which I have always next to me: On each page is a little piece of fabric I have in stash and its size. When I find a fitting pattern I add this information. On the other hand there are pages where are little sketches of patterns which I have in stash, additional the requirements for the suitable fabric (size, elasticity, suitable designs …). So whenever I find or see a fabric or a pattern I have a look in the sketchbook if there is a fitting “partner” (or if I have to open up a new page).

  51. Erika December 8, 2011 at 1:23 am #

    Most often I do neither – I start with an idea, a silhouette I want or a function I want. Then fabric and pattern go hand in hand, changing as the plan develops. If I’m lucky some fabric in my store works for the model I have in mind, and then it’s “just” to draft the pattern. Otherwise I make the pattern, with a type of fabric in mind, and then I go hunting.

    A few, very rare occasions have I seen a fabric I adored and gone from there to “what would I do with this?” In the past couple of years I haven’t bought any of those fabrics on spot, but gone home, and really gone over what type of clothing and what model I would use it for, and then I bought it.
    By no means does this lead to me only buying for one project at the time, I have a huge fabric stash. After all, there’s so much I want to sew, and all my fabric purchases can be justified with that I know exactly what I’ll use the fabric for =) I’m now on a complete fabric-shopping hold…

  52. LauraM December 8, 2011 at 5:05 am #

    I am a 80% fabric girl, that is I buy fabric because I like it or it is on sale and also says ‘dress’ or ‘top’ to me. I buy the fabric then put it away most of the time. I buy patterns because I like them or they got a rave review. When I get ready to sew I pull fabric then usually look for a pattern in my collection to coordinate with the fabric. There always times I make adjustments to the plan though!

  53. Casey December 8, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    I’m a mix of both! I have a modest fabric stash (it only takes up about two narrow shelves), so I don’t have fabric for every project. But I do have a healthy grouping of fabrics I can pick for various projects. Lately though, I have been trying to curb my impulse fabric buying (e.g. fabrics that are pretty, but don’t have a set project) and at least consider what silhouettes and colors I have in my wardrobe, as well as the patterns in my collection. It’s helped me stop from buying so many novelty prints and colors that appeal to me visually, but don’t work in my closet!

  54. cassandra December 8, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    Oh wow! Great question, and a conundrum I often find myself in! I used to just buy adorable quilt fabrics and think i could make them into dresses. I know now, that was a mistake. Still, I had to opportunity to shop at Mood, in NYC, and had nothing in mind, but ended up with some great fabrics (one of which Oliver from Project Runway used!!) I made some dresses with them. They turned out pretty well.
    However, ALL of my prettiest and best fitting clothing thus far, has been from selecting the pattern and the shape first, altering the muslin so it is flattering, and then picking out the fabric that will hang the best. I no longer am using quilting cottons, save for maybe a casual shirt-dress or two (with a LOT of tailoring). I definitely produce the most lovely clothing by selecting the pattern, working with it to fit my body, and then selecting the fabric. I have to stick by that process to not end up with some really “home-ec” type disasters and having a melt down because I look like a stuffed animal.

  55. sara December 8, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    I agree with you about yarn, always pattern first. But I can undersand how some people make exceptions for sock yarn (1 skein will almost always make 2 socks) and lace weight yarn (1 skein will often make 1 small shawl, 2 skeins for a larger shawl, etc.) But for sweaters, unless you know what pattern you are making, how do you know if you will need 8 balls, 12 balls, etc.?

    I am also pattern first for sewing, unless I am thrifting. I don’t want to pass up that $8 length of cloth!

    The cloth that I am attracted to is 1 or two colors with texture to it. I also like cloth where you can see the grainline. And cloth where the color design comes from the threads, not a design stamped onto plain fabric. If the design comes from different colored threads, it will NEVER be off-grain.

  56. Amber Elayne December 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    I have a stash of both…. But I buy fabric with a style in mind most often and then look for a pattern in either my stash or magazines….. or online :) I’m an addict!

  57. dixie December 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm #

    Pattern first. If I’m not searching for a fabric to match a pattern and just find some random fabric I like I always envision what pattern or design I would use it for before buying the fabric.

  58. Carin December 9, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Definitively the fabric first – and then I find a pattern that I like and starts thinking – which fabric could I use for this?

  59. Catherine Daze December 10, 2011 at 2:10 am #

    I find it’s changed since I started sewing. I used to start with the fabric because I had trouble visualising what a pattern would look like made up in anything other than the fabric used in the envelope photo. Starting with a fabric I loved usually produced a better result than guessing what might work with a given pattern. But now I always start with a pattern and choose fabric for it. My pattern stash is embarrassingly large! In fact it occupies the same space as what remains of my fabric stash.

  60. Lenora Jane December 11, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    I do a lot of “occasion first” sewing–the way I justify sewing time to myself is “I need a skirt,” or “it’d be great to wear a new dress to our Christmas party” (in a week–eaagh!)–and then it’s maybe fifty-fifty at that point. If I have fabric that is calling out for one reason or another, I’ll start there and move to pattern, and if I have a silhouette in mind, I’ll go shopping in my fabric box to meet its needs.

    Usually both things sort of lead each other. For the Christmas dress I mentioned above it’s been a very back-and-forth process: i decided I needed a dress, then decided it needed to be red, green or both, then figured something sheathy would be great as I already have a full-skirted Christmas dress from last year, then realised I had a red solid and green faux-brocade that would both go well with that sort of shape, then settled on a pattern, then decided the red fabric would do better with the particular pattern specs.

    My New Years’ dress, on the other hand, was utterly fabric-first and still needs the second step taken! I found great fabric with confetti and champagne bottles printed on it and have yet to decide what shape it will take…

  61. bibliotecaria December 28, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

    I’d say a mix, although I have to add, that when I choose a pattern, it’s not because I looked at a pattern and said “I have to make that” but rather that I dreamed up something in my head and tried to find a pattern and fabric to match it. I do this with both knitting and sewing. Something like, I want a classic A-line skirt that is a little flowy, so I look for an A-line skirt pattern and figure out that I probably want a jersey knit fabric.

    And for me, prints are actually what don’t attract me when it comes to fabric. I like classic colors and materials, so a brown and gray tweed wool, especially one with a subtle texture, is more appealing to me than a brightly patterned print.

  62. nothy lane January 24, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    I have a trunk full of fabrics that I bought because i love them. I also have a bunch of patterns that I’ve been meaning to get too. What I love about having a stash of fabric is that I can make something on a whim. I like to mix and match patterns (take the collar from this and the sleeves from that), so having a run of 5 m of fabric gives me lots of room to figure it all out. Having said that, when I moved 5 years ago and had to move all that fabric I swore I would cut down on my addiction!

    • Lenora Jane January 24, 2012 at 10:27 am #

      OH GOD YES! The last couple dresses I’ve made, it’s been hard to find two pieces from the same pattern in them, or more than one piece from the same pattern unaltered, at least.


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