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Which comes first? Fabric or Pattern?

Elaray | Posted in General Discussion on

I’m sitting here, wasting time at work, trying to decide what to sew next. I can’t decide because I don’t have any patterns or fabric in front of me to inspire me. So, this question came to me. What inspires you more – the fabric or the pattern? Do you get fabric after you’ve decided on a pattern or do you get a pattern to use with the fabric you already have? Usually, I take the more practical approach and select a pattern, then purchase fabric for that pattern. I don’t keep a big stash, so I really have no other choice. I’m curious about what other sewers do.

(PS: Now that I’ve posted this question, I’m going to a website and look at patterns and waste more of my employer’s time!)


I sew, therefore I am


  1. fabricarts | | #1

    I've analyzed your same questions for years and decided that usually it was the fabric that guided my pattern selection. I have a large collection of fabric and patterns. For a while now I've been designing my garments using PatternMaster Boutique - or some of the other WildGinger programs. Now I like to design a specific pattern for a specific fabric and decisions are very closely integrated. When I name my pattern it is specific to a certain fabric because I may not use that exact pattern again. In the past I consistently used (commercial) patterns several times - making changes for whatever I needed.

    I've been sewing for several decades and periodically try to be honest with myself about exactly why I'm sewing. As your needs change, your motivation changes. So, if you're looking for any advice - just keep sewing and trying things. The more you learn, the more you'll want to try new things. There are exciting fabrics and exciting patterns and exciting learning opportunities in sewing today! (Sometimes mistakes are actually learning opportunities - but I was thinking more about online classes or small, couture classes or big sewing show classes - or magazines and books to guide you to new things.)

  2. physicsgirl | | #2

    For me too -- it's usually the fabric that inspires most.  The pattern can look great on the envelope... but sometimes finding a fabric like that on the envelope can be difficult.  With a fabric that enchants you, it's easier to start imagining a finished result that you'll be enchanted by even more!  What's even more fun, is imagining all the different patterns that you are looking at in that chosen fabric... thinking about how it will drape and feel as well as look. 

    WATCH OUT! -- this technique might lead to fabric addiction -- and you soon might end up with a larger stash than space!  Of course, I seem to have pattern addicition too... so some nights I go through both stashes and match projects up... so I always have too many projects!  Now I can't wait to leave work!

  3. Marionc032 | | #3

    Hmmmm...that's a good question. In my case, I would have to say that its the fabric inspires me most of the time. Its been discussed in other threads here that its getting harder and harder to find good fabrics these days and I never buy blends or synthetic fabrics which makes it even harder. There are lots of times that I go into my favourite fabric shops without a specific garment in mind but I want to check and see what they currently have on hand. If I see something I like, I grab it and worry about the specific pattern later, although I know at a glance if I want it for a dress, blouse, shirt, skirt, or whatever. Of course there are other times when I browse pattern catalogues to see what's available even though I'm not looking for anything specific, and there too, if I see something I like I grab it, but most of the time the fabric comes first. I guess this works for me because I don't chase trends and my tastes run to the classic.


  4. Wunmismom | | #4

    Don't divert the creative flow. Take time to smell the roses along the way. We only have so many minutes, hours to live and love.

    If you find a pattern you love, buy it and then look for the fabric.

    If you find a fabric you love, buy it and then look for a pattern.

    (For uncharted fabrics, it's best to buy no less than five to six yards so you can sew a jacket, skirt, pants and, maybe, a vest OR a beautiful, silky, breeze-lifting, dance-twirling, Sunday-go-to-meeting dress.)

    Otherwise, you will die singing the words to the song: Someday, he'll come along, the man I love. . . and all your days will be over.

    Wunmi's Mom

    1. solosmocker | | #5

      Wonderfully said, Wunmismom! I agree totally. Some fabric I have to have, some patterns I have to have. The fun comes when I start to put the two together from my substantial stash of both.

  5. Teaf5 | | #6

    Sometimes pattern, sometimes fabric, but most often I'm inspired by a garment I see and want but cannot afford to buy or cannot find to fit.

    I buy patterns only when on sale for $2 or less, and I often end up having ones I've never used, but I never buy fabric without a very specific pattern in mind because I'll be much less likely to complete the project, and fabric takes up more storage space. If I find a gorgeous fabric by chance, I'll go look for a pattern at that same moment to find out how much yardage to buy. Although I may wait till a sale to buy the pattern, I need to have both from the start to have much success even getting started on a project.

    Once I have a success with a certain pattern, I take that envelope with me to shop for fabric so that I can take advantage of great finds and get all the notions I need for the whole project at the same time.

    For me, looking at patterns is like looking at a wish book; it's entertaining, interesting, and optimistic, even if I never get around to using it!

    1. Catherine2 | | #7

      It's the old chicken or the egg question .....

      My answer, buy both patterns and fabric as you see them. Better to have bought and stored than never to have bought at all! You can always add another room to the house or better still take over the garage?

      An remember; whoever dies with the biggest stash WINS!


      Edited 3/9/2006 7:27 pm ET by Catherine2

      1. FitnessNut | | #8

        I want to know what the prize is, because I'm definitely going to win!;-)

        1. Teaf5 | | #9

          Don't be so sure of winning the "biggest stash" contest. My sister-in-law beats me, and I have many yards of forty-year-old corduroy in my stash!

          1. FitnessNut | | #10


          2. Catherine2 | | #11

            I should have pointed out that, in this household, everyone is a horder ..... however I think that I am still in front, having stashes from four generations.

            After writing last night I went and checked and, sure enough, there was the card of buttons from my great grandmother, still on their original card, circa (around) 1900. They are truly revolting buttons, no redeeming features at all BUT one day  they will look just right on somthing????

            I guess the moral is: if it gets passed on long enough, somone will eventually need it?


  6. kellypat | | #12

    Hi         I also have sewen for years and I have also given sewing classes. I know the the fabric is most  always what catches our eye 

               "Oh I want to make something from that" so what I do is this I decide what I would like to make from it. If it's a blouse I generaly will buy the amount fabric the blouse will need,  this to will be loged into my "stach"  as for patterens I have quite a few ....a few to many that is!                But one thing about a patteren is that on the back side of the patteren ther is a good amount of info you realy need to read mainly "sugested fabric" this is recomend many times because of the style the desired drape, the fit ,and desired finished look of the garment.               I'm sure you know this, but for new-be's to sewing. They should look at "sugested fabrics" info.  

    Just a thought  enjoy  Pat


  7. user-121340 | | #13

    Good thing I'm not working anymore because I would be doing the same thing.   My stash used to fit in an eight foot by three foot bookcase.  Then my grandmother passed away and I inherited her stash. Unable to orphan any of the cloth I bought those big rubbermaid storage containers and sorted and labeled all the material. 

    Long story short I'm a fabric first type.  Just like Grandma.

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