Easy Patterns for Beginning Sewers: Tops. Plus, New Discussion Topic

Easy top patterns for beginners from the McCall Pattern Company

What’s a great thing to sew when you want to add to your wardrobe, and fast? A simple little top. Keep the design lines to a minimum, make it on the loose-fitting, boxy side, and you can have a chic top in just a few hours. Right now I’m sewing three different versions of Butterick B6175, which fits this bill. One version uses up some Oscar de la Renta brocade I had in my stash, another version will be out of lightweight denim, and the third is planned for a designer silk in a bold orange print.

Fact: Even the newest of beginning sewers can sew really cute tops as a first garment project. Seriously! Here are three top patterns we think an unassisted newbie could successfully tackle on her own:

McCall's M6566 is an easy top pattern for beginning sewers.
McCall’s M6566. No set-in or attached sleeves makes this top super-fast and easy to sew. The neck edge is finished with bias binding. Set your machine speed on slow and take your time stitching the binding on; it’s not hard to do.
Butterick B6176 kimono pattern is easy enough for beginning sewers.
Butterick B6716: Kimonos can be considered tops, right? Skip adding the fringe if you’re a new sewer, but everything else about this pattern is fast and easy. And kimonos are HOT right now.

 

Kwik Sew K3610 top pattern is simple enough for beginning sewers to tackle in an evening.
Kwik Sew K3610: Even beginners can make this top pattern in an evening. Use a lightweight, soft, woven fabric that will give you gentle gathers around the neckline.

For fabrics I’d recommend lightweight wovens: cotton shirting, cotton voile, chambray, silk or poly crepe, or medium-weight georgette. Always choose a fabric you love, not just because the price per yard is right. No matter how perfect a sewing job you do on your garment, you won’t want to wear it unless you love, or at least really like, the fabric you made it from.

sewing topic posed on the McCall Pattern BlogTopic for discussion: Should brand-new sewers sew their first garment(s) using or NOT using a pattern? The reason I pose this to you is that if you search “beginning sewing” or “beginning sewing patterns” on Pinterest you see a lot of pins that tell you how to make a garment without using a pattern. Sure, you can definitely sew something like an elastic-waist skirt without using a pattern, but do you really want to make a dress, say, by using one of your RTW dresses as a pattern? If you’re a BEGINNER?! There are pins that encourage you to do this. I haven’t been a beginner since forever, and I can make my own patterns if I have to, but…WHY would you do this? It’s so much easier and faster to sew with a pattern. And cheaper too if you’re factoring in your time.

Your thoughts on this topic? Please leave a comment and let us know what you think about beginning sewers starting off sewing garments by making their own patterns. (This is assuming they’re hobbyists and not fashion designer hopefuls.) Thanks!

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Very easy top patterns from the McCall Pattern Company

We’ve been sewing since 1863.

22 comments
  1. Yes I would definitely agree on that point. In a way I think that these are a marketing ploy for a lot of bloggers (not to bash on bloggers). There are times that it is nice to copy a ready to wear outfit and make your own pattern from it when an outfit is becoming threadbare and you can’t bear to part with the design. However, like you said this would NOT be a good project for beginners! Creating your own pattern, while an excellent skill to have, is a secondary skill in itself without compounding it by the fact that you are still learning about seeing machine basics, fabric choices, threads, etc.

  2. I was taught how to sew by learning how to make my own patterns; granted these were simple patterns, i.e. elastic waist skirt, sleeveless top w/ just a front & back piece, etc., but I feel that helped me to understand the corrolation between my body measurements & how they relate to shaping the flat pattern.

  3. To facilitate optimal results, beginners should start garment sewing by using fashion sewing patterns. A good outcome for a first effort will provide confidence and inspiration, and sewing patterns provide a roadmap for success. The pattern envelope takes the guesswork out of estimating fabric yardages, recommends suitable fabric types, lists needed notions and provides sizing information. The instructions provides a layout to follow grainlines, explains sewing basics and then provides the recipe: the order of construction and step by step instructions. The pattern becomes the teacher, in the absence of an actual teacher or sewing buddy.

    Teaching hand-sewing stitches is a useful precursor to sewing machine made garment sewing. When I took apparel design classes, this was an actual first class in the program! I was amazed to see numerous designer hopefuls in the class who had never picked up a needle and thread!

  4. I learned to sew with patterns. I cannot imagine learning how to sew without them. It’s hard enough to master the sewing machine, pick the right needles, thread and fabric….let alone cutting a skirt, top or some other garment to size. Learn to sew without a pattern when you know a little more. Confidence comes in baby steps, right?

  5. I think that learning to sew from a pattern is the best way to develop a garment sewing hobby.

    My first sewing projects were simple things like shirts for my teddy bears, simple stuffed animals, and the like. Things where the front and back were the same shapes, and then sewn together. This helped me learn the machine and the motions that sewing took, but it didn’t teach me to fit or read a pattern, or anything about garment construction and 3D clothing.

    Saying that, a lot of sewing related posts on Pinterest make me cringe. Some garments can be made well without proper patterns (elastic waist circle skirts, sack dresses, etc.) but most need some knowledge of garment fitting and construction to look right on grown women. The front and back are so seldom the same shape. I think that trying to make clothes by just tracing off RTW is a quick ride to disappointment and discouragement. (Excepting young children’s clothes. Their lack of curves makes it much easier to trace off RTW and get a good fit.)

  6. If I had to learn to sew by creating my own pattern, I probably would have given up in frustration and disappointment. It would be too intimidating! I think starting to sew with a purchased pattern teaches you how to read a pattern, follow instructions, understand the foundation of creating a garment and once you have mastered that, THEN one can look to making their own pattern. There are college classes that teach this for a reason (in fact I am looking to enroll in one once the schedule is up).

  7. I think it depends on how they individually learn best. I know I like rules and instructions – I’m a pattern lady all the way. My father on the other hand, when he learnt to play the guitar he never learnt to read music etc because he has trouble reading instructions (mum and I help him with recipes etc – he’s the main cook of the family) and is a professional song writer / producer etc but still can’t read a score.

    There was that controversy a little while back about someone making a pattern from someone else’s tutorial. I commented that I was unable to follow the tutorial because it was to do with draping, so the pattern is actually much more useful to me. I just don’t get draping – not enough rules!

  8. I’d guess it depends on the person.

    I’m a technical person, a more linear thinker, so sewing with patterns clicked for me. I can execute a pattern REALLY well. I’m not *that* creative. My mom is though and patterns confuse her. She can drape skirts and dresses like *that*.

    I have zero interest in drafting or “hacking”. Just give me the pattern and I’ll sew it! Lol!

  9. Interesting question! From the beginning (I’m still a beginner!) half of my enjoyment has come from the challenge of figuring out sewing without patterns. As I’ve moved along, though, I’ve really started enjoying using patterns too. I feel like you can learn so much either way! So I’m undecided… I say try both! 🙂

  10. There are so many things a pattern teaches you ie. order of construction (for the most part), fabric suggestions, pattern layout etc that I think is really valuable to a beginner – providing we talking about a real novice sewer. However, the frustrating side of pattern sewing is probably getting that darn thing to fit correctly – something that a pattern cannot teach you. I think if beginners go into sewing knowing that patterns can only take you so far, a happier outcome is more likely. When I started sewing I assumed things would just fit me – boy did I have lots to learn 🙂

  11. Why would you learn how to fix your car just by looking under the hood? That’s too much to learn all at once. You’d get instructions. Patterns come with instructions. And diagrams. And tailor’s marks. Precurved armsceyes.

    My teen son took ‘Apparel’ 1 and 2 (more manly than ‘Sewing’?) this year, and they did the same ‘no pattern’ thing and their results were awful until they got to the patterned items.

    Using a pattern can teach you where to start fitting a lot faster than learning how to draft a pattern; there will be failures, but a few successes at the beginning go a long way to keeping your interest in the continuing process of learning to sew. And we are all still learning. And I love pattern drafting.

  12. Personally, I’d suggest a pattern – the instructions are consistent, it has ‘added’ information (for example ‘what is a basting stitch’) that is handy, it has illustrations at each step, and has tips for successful sewing. I’d generally wait to use a ‘draft your own pattern’ style tutorial to someone who at least has a project or two under their belt (especially if it’s one of those, “Trace your favorite shirt” style tutorials) because so many tutorials have sparse directions and not all have been pattern tested (for clarity, size, etc.) unless they were getting some help from someone who has either made that project already or has some sewing experience.
    With that said, I have seen a lot of beginner projects that the person just ‘winged’ it (or used an online tutorial) and it turned out fine… in fact some of them prefer not using a pattern, ever!

  13. How you decide to learn to sew totally depends on the person and how their brain works in my opinion. I learned to sew by getting fabric and copying my own clothes. I know a lot of people who are into this very direct method. Lots of highstreet clothing is quite simple and it’s easy to see how it is constructed and imagine the making process. Patterns are a great way of learning to make something too and with an ever increasing range of abail able pat teens mostentatious prole can find at least one they like. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of learning to sew!

  14. Wow my autocorrect really intervened with that comment!

  15. Thanks for sharing some sewing patterns for beginners! I would love to sew my own kimono, as those are really in style this spring.

  16. I would say with a pattern, however patterns aren’t as detailed.as they once were. My Godmother for example became an expert seamstress (without instruction) by strickly using Vogue patterns back in the 60’s and 70’s. She said their instructions were unsurpassed. Yet when she views a pattern today she says so much detail is left out compared to before and says that is the reason I asked her so many questions in the beginning.

    I do have to admit when she pulls out her old patterns both simple and advance there is a difference. There are say 30 steps compared to say 20 now more less for the same style dress.

    The only thing that comes close now would be the McCall’s.Palmer Pletsch patterns that included expert tips. Then again maybe that’s why there are so many learn how to sew books…..

  17. Okay, here we go. I am a *medium* beginner, neither novice nor advanced, am perfectly normal *hourglass* looking. Love perfectly fitted clothes. No pattern fits anyone perfectly. My challenges are a short torso: short from shoulder to bust point, from bust point to waist, and from waist to full hip I have narrow hips, a small waist and a fine set of girls, all of which need fitting. While I’ve been learning from patterns, I’ve also discovered that, for me, the assembly steps and assembly techniques in the instructions are not always the most efficient, Even as a still-beginner, I gleefully use books on drafting and pattern adjustment because instruction sheets are woefully lacking. What a wonderful blog taught me to do was to take a simple pattern, fit it perfectly, then use my perfect new pattern to draft variations. For example, a pattern for a tank top with sleeve options can be modified with darts at the bust or shoulders or underbust.. Sleeves can be lengthened, shortened, widened, etc. The front can be split with buttons and buttonholes added. The hem can be flared out, a flounce attached or godets added. All from one simple pattern whose instructions won’t teach you how to do this. I certainly can’t draft my own patterns yet, but my minimal drafting skills coupled with a good simple pattern have worked much better for me than trying to rely on just patterns for my first sewing attempts. The double approach to learning has given me beginner garments that I am proud to wear, and I don’t spend nearly as much money on patterns as I would otherwise. I can also achieve styles that are more appropriate for a grown woman, i.e., more fitted, than the boxy, shapeless styles that, imho, look best on the very young.

  18. Interesting question! I think many of the more experienced sewists learned to sew with squares of fabric and Barbie dolls. It was our way of learning how to put fabric together into a garment. Today it’s American Girl dolls but children have not had the example of sewing in the home so while they play with their dolls, they don’t think of cutting and sewing clothing for them like we did our Barbies. We now have a generation who did not creatively play like this when very young. What I see on blogs and in FB groups that “make” patterns, market them and play a round robin of passing them around is really the same thing experienced sewists did but with dolls and at a younger age. It’s what could be called “introductory” sewing. It’s simple, raw, and both pleased their makers. I think creatively playing is a great introduction. What I have a problem with is people calling themselves pattern designers when they are not, selling clearly inferior patterns (check out the results), and convincing their blogging “friends” that these patterns are well designed, fit together beautifully and are the end all and be all of making clothing, all while never pressing a seam. I guess my answer to your question is I do think fabric play is a great introduction if it means experimenting with basic designs and simple shapes. But patterns being sold, for outrageous cost I might add, that are shoddy, poorly designed and presented otherwise is not right. Does it bother me? Not like before. I am seeing a lot of these “business” efforts falling by the wayside lately and I do think the peak is past. I do hope that those who have enjoyed their early sewing efforts learn to sew with patterns and offering simple, achievable designs is a great move, Meg. They are nothing to fear, have much better directions than I have seen on some of these PDFs and are a much better value pricewise. Now the trick is to reach our newer sewists and get them excited about the product. There are some amazing very young sewists out there that could well market to this newer group. Perhaps a forum of blogging sewists could shed some light on this challenge. Great question.

  19. My experience was both ways. As Bunny mentioned, my generation probably started sewing younger, and so we did start without a pattern, draping on a doll, or making simple pillow cases. I think with the correct instruction, the no-pattern method would work well. However, patterns are easier if you don’t have a good teacher to guide and explain. Fitting instructions should be more plentiful (as with Palmer-Pletsch), so newbies don’t get so frustrated. A well marked pattern can be a good start for fitting, but it’s not always obvious how to make the necessary changes.

  20. I’m very late in getting into this discussion but this, for me, brings up the foremost complaint I have with patterns today. My grandmother started me out sewing for my dolls when I was 5. No patterns were used; we just sort of fit the fabric around the doll, somewhat like primal draping. I feel in love with the designing process and by 7 I started sewing my own clothes with patterns and sewing machine. If I couldn’t figure out the written instructions I could at least follow the pictures.

    But eventually, I could read the instructions and I wanted to learn more; making sure I was doing it correctly. This is when I noticed that Vogue patterns gave me so much more instruction on each step than any other pattern company. Vogue Patterns became my teacher. I started to use Vogue Patterns that were marked “advanced” even when I certainly was not an advanced sewer. I knew that if the instructions were Vogue instructions, they were the correct way to accomplish the design and technique. But today even Vogue Patterns does not give the detailed information that they did back then. Check and compare a Vogue and McCalls pattern from the 50s and 60s to see what I am describing. Then check those with what is available now. To me, it is shocking and disappointing.

    We do have the internet today. But, if we don’t know what we don’t know, then how do we know what to search for at each step; for a particular pattern, detail, tip or technique? How do we know if the instructions we see on the internet are correct and from an accomplished seamstress? If we only follow the often scant pattern instructions we end up with a homemade-looking article. I would like to see patterns have either more explicit instructions, or directed in the instructions at the various steps, to a website noting those details.

    It just seems to me that if very detailed instructions were given when a fabric store was just around the corner (manned with accomplished seamstresses to help when needed) and now there isn’t…..well, perhaps those detailed instructions are needed even more now.

    1. Doreen, you make some excellent points here. I’ll be forwarding it to members of the McCall Pattern Company team. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

      1. Thank you so very much. It is nice to be heard.

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