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my twelve pattern challenge

I had a big enlightening moment at the end of 2013 that sparked an idea that would overhaul my entire approach to sewing. Last year I was constantly choosing patterns to sew that never got worn, I wasn’t making an effort to alter patterns that didn’t fit, I wasn’t choosing quality fabrics, and I wasn’t properly finishing the insides of my garments (all according to my own standards, of course). After evaluating my ideal wardrobe, and understanding why I wasn’t wearing what I was making, I came up with the Twelve Pattern Challenge. The purpose of this challenge is to create a handmade vintage wardrobe that I will want to wear everyday, that I can wash with ease and I’m proud of inside and out. Quality, not quantity, is the goal.

Here are the basic rules:

  1. I will pick a total of 12 patterns to sew from in 2014. This is my bank of wardrobe staples.
  2. I will select patterns from my stash first, but also give myself an allowance of new patterns to purchase.
  3. I can sew any combination of patterns, in any order, but…
  4. I will sew at least one pattern every month, and all 12 by the end of the year.
  5. I will make a muslin for each pattern and perfect the fit to the best of my ability.
  6. I will concentrate on proper, durable seam finishing techniques in order to really finish each garment.
  7. Once the fit is perfected, and the initial pattern has been made according to the original instructions, I can re-make and alter the pattern as many times as I’d like.
  8. I will attempt to use up my stash fabric, but only if the fabric is appropriate for the garment and of good quality.

*If I’m working through a pattern and I discover it’s just not working out (because of construction or fit problems) to the point where it’s no longer fun to work on, I will move on to a new pattern or replace the pattern that’s not working with a new one.

My Pattern Bank will consist of: 2 pant styles, 2 shirt styles, 2 wrap dresses, 2 skirt styles, 1 lounge wear set, 1 handbag, 1 jacket, and 1 blazer.

My Pattern Bank so far:
Pattern Number One: DuBarry 2434B Jacket – circa 1939

Pattern Number Two: Simplicity 4498 Wrap Dress – circa 1943

Pattern Number Three: Advance 3297 Wrap Dress – circa 1943

Pattern Number Four: Simplicity 4139 Shirt – circa 1942

Pattern Number Five: Mail Order Pattern 4821 Dirndl Skirt – circa 1954(?)

Pattern Number Six and Seven: Simplicity Reproduction 3688 Blazer and Pants – originally circa 1944-45(?)

My Pattern Allowance:

I just purchased a six-gore suit skirt pattern (circa 1944) from Vintage4me2, so there’s one more to add to my bank! Now I only have four patterns left in my allowance to find. I’m still looking for a 1930s or 40s loungewear/pajama set that I can wear inside, but will also be acceptable to wear outside (if made in the right material) when walking Lucille in the summer time, or running errands. I need a second pants pattern and shirt pattern in slightly different styles than the ones already in my bank. The one handmade item I DO use every single day is my little tote bag, so I’d like to make another one that’s more durable and more purse like.


I bought an entire bolt of muslin fabric (50% off at Jo-Ann’s!), and I have pattern tracing paper, so there’s no excuse for me not to test fit each one of my garments. I’m also considering the Craftsy class Sew The Perfect Fit in order to help me with any alterations I might need.


I’m going to try to sew from my stash first and foremost, but my stash only has shirt/dress weight cottons in it at this point. I’ll be ordering a lot of fabric online this year since there are NO fabric stores near me (besides Jo-Ann’s and I’m not happy with their bottom weight fabrics recently). I’ll be making an effort to plan new garments with an entire outfit in mind, and I will order swatches before buying unfamiliar fabrics.

Phew! Okay this post is getting slightly long winded but I really needed to spell this all out for myself so I have a solid reference to move forward with. Having a set plan is a big factor in sewing success so I’m just trying to follow my own advice for once ;).

This is the official kickoff to my Twelve Pattern Challenge!
What should I sew first?!


  • I am so glad I found this post! I have had a mystery vintage pattern in my stash for years, and finally figured it out when I was Google image searching–it’s the 4821 playsuit! I am unfortunately missing some pieces, but it’s exciting to know what it is!

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  • Christianne Bower

    I have been inspired by the challange you’ve given yourself ! I think I’ve been going at sewing in the wrong way..kind of choosing random patterns that don’t necessarily reflect my lifestyle or the needs in my wardrobe. Choosing several patterns that will complement each other sounds like a great plan. I’m in , but I’ll go for 6 pieces in a year. Wish me luck !

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  • This idea is fantastic. I am looking forward to sewing along with my own 12 patterns. Best of luck to you!

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  • Lynne Johnson

    Wow! Your plan is well thought out. I’m interested in following and seeing each piece as you finish it. This has got me to thinking about what I would like to make for my wardrobe to be more useful too.

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  • I’m loving those 1940’s pants. So Katherine Hepburn! I’ve been wanting that style lately.

    You should start a hashtag for this challenge. I would be very surprised this doesn’t turn into one of those sew alongs that goes viral.

    (I’m definitely thinking of joining!) Happy sewing,

    • Yes I love that Katharine Hepburn look too! I’ve been using the hashtag #12patternchallenge on twitter and instagram for anyone who’d like to follow along and share their own similar challenges!

      I’d love to see what you make if you join in, Ramona 🙂

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  • Wow, what an exciting challenge. I can’t wait to see how all the 12 items turn out 🙂

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  • This is inspired, I love this idea. Good luck with your sewing plans for 2014. You’ve got some lovely vintage patterns, can’t wait to see the finished articles.

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  • Sarah Johnson

    I am so inspired by your 12 pattern challenge! I find it so easy to purchase gorgeous patterns with the best of intentions, only to let them sit unused in my sewing room. I’m giving myself this challenge too, of making 12 patterns to create clothing I love and actually wear! Thank you for your drive. It has helped me (as well as many others) to actually make the beautiful clothes we purchase patterns for.
    Best wishes, Sarah

  • Since restarting sewing a couple of years ago, I’ve been trying to stick to a modest number of patterns, and while I still *buy* far far too many, I’m only working with a few. I fool myself into thinking that someday I’ll play with the others, and if that delusion keeps me focused on the few, that’s OK with me.

    But I’m much slower than you. 🙂 After two years, I have three, count ’em, three, patterns that I consider to be fairly thoroughly fitted and TnTish–one skirt and two shirts. And both shirts could really use a little bit more fitting work–one on the hips and one on the shoulders. Oh, and there’s a jacket that may be TnTd; I need to make it again to be sure.

    Several more patterns failed, either utterly (never made a remotely wearable garment) or partially (made a wearable garment but for whatever reason I never want to go through that again.) My figure is not ideal, and I’m still learning what’s likely to work for it.

    My personal solution to the cheap-fabric temptation: Black linen, for the first wearable implementation of every single pattern. It’s a nice decent-quality fabric that makes up well and that I’m always willing to wear, but is still eminently replaceable. Minor errors in construction, topstitching, blah, tend to vanish into the matte blackness. If a garment completely fails I’ll be annoyed at the lost money, but I won’t be grieving all those visions of how gorgeous a specific fabric is going to be–and if I keep three or four pieces in various weights “in stock” then I’m likely to forget exactly how much each piece cost me when the time comes to put it at risk.

    As for which pattern to start with, I’d go with the six-gore skirt. As long as a gored skirt is cut big enough, there’s so much fitting that you can do *after* it’s cut, and I always somehow find that much more fun. (Though then I get lazy and don’t redraw the smaller lines on the pattern, and then I waste some fabric next time…OK, that means that the skirt isn’t really completely TnTd either.)

  • This sounds like a great challenge! Do you have a flickr group or anything for people wanting to join in and easily share?

    • I thought about making a Flickr group, but I really wanted to make the challenge more stress-free and less “official”. I also didn’t want people to feel like there were too many rules to follow. I’m using the hashtag #12patternchallenge (for facebook, instagram, and twitter) if you’d like to use that so we can check in with each other! I’d love for people to follow along, or make their own similar challenge. I think that’s wonderful! But I also really need this particular challenge to be more personal and focused for me, at least right now as I get started 🙂

      I might consider making a Flickr group in the future. We’ll see.

  • Oh or this one 1945 Ladies’ Two-Piece Ensemble which might be more conducive to being worn out of the house those the other one is more glamours.

    • This one is really cute too! In fact, I think I like this one better. I love the shape of the pants and the double breasted shirt. Great find!! I’m book marking this one 😉 Thank you!

  • Hi Rochelle, I was wondering if you had looked at It’s a pattern for 1946 Ladies’ Two-Piece Lounging Ensemble which I think made in the right fabric (maybe linen?) could work for walking Lucille over the summer. Hope this helps =]

    • Oh that’s a beautiful pattern! And darn near close to my size too. Thank you so much for sharing that with me! That’s definitely the type of pattern I’m looking for 🙂

  • Melanie

    I absolutely love this idea. And your year end post. Because I do sit at home and wish that I have sewn more, or were better like you and all the other lovely bloggers out there, so I get down on myself. I like the idea of just a few patterns that can be versatile and used many times over all year round.
    As for where to start, go for the 8 gore skirt, since I was bummed that I didn’t get to nab it during the vintage4me2 sale! Though a lot of the basics I’ve set aside to start for myself are what you are doing, the Simplicity 4139, and the reproduction. It’ll be neat to see how we progress on them!

  • I love this idea! I will try and commit to the same thing, particularly sewing basics!

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  • Ronja

    Pants! I would love to see pants! I have set myself a challenge to sew a pair of underwear every week for the next six weeks so that I can improve on working with knits and learn how to change them so they best fit me. ^_^ You inspired me. (I know it’s such a tiny thing, but I’m still not super good at this.)

  • Great idea!

  • What a commendable, exciting, ambitious plan, sweet gal. I love that you’ve mapped out your plans so thoroughly. I know that for me, the more I typically do so (plan thoroughly) in advance, the more apt I am to be able to complete a long term goal. Each of these patterns is fantastic, but (because I the frocks on it so much), I’d start with the wrap dress pattern from 1943.

    ♥ Jessica

  • Your jacket and the Simplicity wrap dress patterns are great picks, especially since they have very distinct variations! I’m really excited to be following along as you complete this project.

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  • I think this is a great idea!!! I love the wrap dresses! After reading your post the other day it really inspired me to look at what I wear on a regular basis and find those TNT patterns for wardrobe staples. Thank you for helping put some direction in my sewing for this year!

  • CarrieChuck

    Your entire article was basically my New Years resolution! I’m an excellent seamstress but over the years I’ve gotten sloppy and maybe a little lazy:) I have always struggled with proper fit on myself too. I bought a nice dressform and some fitting pads last year which helped a lot but I really need to get my rulers and curves out and do the math on paper. A 12 pattern wardrobe is a brilliant idea. Everything fits, can be made to be infinitely interchangeable if you like, and can be remade again and again after the initial work. I might have to copy your idea! Good luck!

  • My Sewing Suite

    Greta patterns! I really love the wrap dresses they look comfy but classy.I learned loads form the sew the perfect fit class. Its fun to get a fit buddy if you can and take it together.

  • Joan

    Heather, try looking in your thrift stores for old cotton sheets in good condition-they can often yield much more fabric for a better price than muslin by the yard. ($2 for 3 yards of 60 inch wide fabric for instance)
    For online fabrics I like:
    they have very good “tropical weight wool” (good for trousers and blazers, skirts) and usually have a sale when the season changes. Just beware, you cannot swatch, get the swatch, and then still have time to order the fabric before it’s already sold out, so it is a bit of a gamble, but the pricing is good. They also will have excellent high quality silks very affordable. Shocked by what they had just two weeks ago-could not pass it up and very pleased when it arrived. is great for linens and cottons, they usually have some good clearance fabrics for good price.

    In my opinion, avoid Though they are run by the same company as denver, they don’t notify you if you have ordered an item that is sold out (but not reflected online) and I’ve recently had some trouble with the weight of the fabric not being a good representation of the actual weight of the fabric. That said, if you call them, the operator usually has a better knowledge of what is available and what it is like. They do have a return policy, but it does not include reimbursement for any shipping charges.

    The key to shopping for fabric online is know what labels you are looking for. Look for fiber content, weight, and description of the fabric. Look for type of fabric (gabardine, twill, etc) those will help alot to know what you are getting. But it’s always going to be a surprise when the package comes!

    Great plan and I love that your “rules” allow for flexibility if something is not working.
    I vote for the blouse patterns-you have a great selection of prints already to choose from, it’s a good project to cut your teeth on good fit, and you already turn an excellent collar!

    • Rochelle

      Great tips, Joan!
      I just ordered a bunch of swatches from so I know what I’m getting before ordering. I’ve bought from them before and always had a great experience. My friend Tasha also recommends Denver Fabrics for wools.

      I have used sheets instead of muslin for test fitting. Definitely a good alternative!

      I think I might start with the shirt pattern since it will go with many things I already have and need to match.


  • I’m rather obsessed with fit, which slows down my sewing but then I’m happy with what I make. A tip – sew your “muslin” in a fabric that is similar in weight and drape to your fashion fabric. Muslin fabric can be an okay standin for heavy/thicker/stiffer fabrics, but anything lighter or drapier will have different fit issues with muslin vs. your fashion fabric. Looking forward to seeing your progress!

  • This year I desperately want to start making muslins. Even muslin is expensive here – all fabric is, so I’m seriously considering importing a whole lot of it just so I can check fit and such before I cut into my nicer fabric! I also want to save up and get a dress-form, because I think it’d help me make things look better as I could see them hanging and pin with them hanging. Here’s hoping!
    Your patterns all look fantastic – I love pattern five, I’ve been thinking of making something similar for a while, just need to find a pattern!

  • Can’t wait to see your first completed project!

  • This seams like a very sensible idea. I am only just coming to some of these realizations myself. Good luck and i hope you preserve, because it will pay off.

  • Katherine

    I’m in LOVE with this idea. Can’t wait to see it all come together!

  • Renee Prugh

    I am obsessed with the simplicity blouse pattern! (4139). Have spent the past 30 minutes scouring the internet attempting to find it in my size.

    Could you suggest some reasonable online fabric stores? I only have Hancock and Joanns within a 50 mile radius. My problem with buying online is I’m terrified of spending money on fabric that isn’t what I want or I don’t like. It’s so hard to tell texture and full detail from a generic photo online.

  • This is a very good idea. If you’re going to spend the time to make something, you might as well make it in a way that you will wear repeatedly.

  • I love the idea of this whole project! I actually have a request:

    Since you will be putting so much effort into finishing your seems properly, I wonder if you could make a tutorial from one of your products while you are at it? I know I always worry that I could do a better job with finishing my seems, and i would love to have a reference!

    And I agree..joanns bottom weights (and wool suitings) have been lacking of late… have fun! I cant wait to see what you come up with!

    • Rochelle

      I will definitely share my new seam finishing techniques, don’t you worry your pretty face 😉


  • All of your patterns are practical and adorable! You are really inspiring me to put more planning into what I make. Can’t wait to see your progress!

  • Amy

    I just spent all week making up two versions of the Simplicity repro, so I vote that! It’s an easy pattern and a good place to start. LOVE all your fabrics and especially that wrap dress pattern!

  • What a great idea! One of the very first things that can seem overwhelming to a beginner like myself is making sure that the fit is right and that the garment is durable. There are so many options when it comes to finishing! I think you should start with pattern one or pattern five. They already seem like garments that would fit in seamlessly (pun intended) with the rest of your wardrobe. I’m leaning towards pattern one just because I bet it would look so gosh darn pretty, but at the same time, it might be nice to start the new year off with something that you know you can put together easily enough (pattern five). Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing the finished project! 🙂

  • Oh I like your challenge!
    I started my own this year. After I sewed 12 dresses last year I would like to make something I need. Just like you said, the dresses are nice but not for every day.
    Your shirt pattern remembers me of my DuBarry pattern ;0)

    I want to sew a culotte dress, some pants, a pyjama and a housecoat.

  • hofficoffi

    Like other commentators I have also taken the Sew The Perfect Fit Craftsy class and also found it very good. After watching the class I have just spent about a week redrafting the Colette Peony – something which I know you know a lot about!!

    • Rochelle

      Oh please don’t remind me of the Colette Peony haha! 😉 😉 That is such a cute dress but good grief I never got it to fit me and still look like the same dress. I hope you have better luck!

  • Gwyn

    Great idea. I love how you quantified your sewing goals. I look forward to following you this year through your sewing adventures.

  • What a great plan and enough flexibility to make it fun. I love the lines of the sweetheart wrap dress…#3

  • great list and good idea. I’m shure you will make the challenge

  • This is going to be so fun! I with Miss Crayola Creepy – number one.

  • Wow, you’re going to look like a proper 1940s lady! I love the jacket (number one) with the hood that looks fun but also like it would be easy to get a good enough fit with. This may just be me but I imagine it in a really good quality wool blend with faux fur trim around the hood or a complete faux fur lining. Keep you nice and warm! 😀

  • It actually really love all your pattern choices 🙂 I suppose it would be sensible to make a jacket or warm skirt at this time of year, but I would probably want to start on a wrap dress. They’re gorgeous! I’m adding a vintage wrap dress to my must-sew list for spring/summer!

  • I adore adore your pattern choices, they’re all very you! I particularly love the shirt pattern and depending on the drape would use the blue and red gingham so you could wear it with your new jeans!
    But, feel free to ignore me, sew what you need but also what calls to you the most from this fabulous selection!

  • Hi Rochelle, I just joined Bloglovin’ and picked your site to follow. I’m so happy I did. I really love fashion of the 40’s and the homes, cars, music….all of it. Your header and profile pic are really pretty too. Aqua is my favourite colour.

    I fancied the Advance Pattern 3297. The neckline, plucked sleeve and tie in the back is really feminine and nostalgic. I also like the fabric on the top of your pile, it’s barely visible but caught my eye because it’s aqua and fuchsia 😀 Can’t wait to see what you make.

  • Great challenge, Rochelle! By concentrating on all of those elements, you’ll create clothing that lasts and that you like for eternity. I’m not sure what I would try first, they’re all great patterns, but maybe the wrap dress?

  • I love a good plan, and your plan is a good plan! It is winter, so I vote you start with the coat pattern. I can’t wait to follow your progress this year. Best of luck and I hope you love (and wear) every finished garment you make. 🙂

  • I have also been trying to do something similar…..only different. lol I have five children, and myself that I sew for. I also sew for friends etc. I love quilting, home dec, and clothes making as well as doll making and crafts etc. Its wonderful to be able to sew any variety of items. The problem is, my sewing is all over the place, and I get on a kick and make ridiculous amounts of something…. Like who needs 12 quilts really!??! I love quilts and quilting and I love everything I have made, but I don’t make quilts that go along with the décor in my house…. I need to either change my décor or start making quilts that go along with my current décor. Also, as far as making clothes goes, I am currently losing weight…lost 23 so far and have about 63 to go…give or take….Losing the baby weight….as much as I love making myself clothes, Is it really ideal to make clothes that won’t fit me in a month or two?! Then comes the kids clothes…. I LOVE making little dresses, but again, how many cute little dresses does one child need. I am still thinking about how I can narrow down my sewing without making myself lose the joy and spontaneity of sewing. But focus on things that will be more practical and useful.

  • What a great idea. I’m tempted to somewhat follow suit. I altered a skirt pattern to truely fit me well this year and it ended up being worth all the efforty.

  • gilliancrafts

    Pants would be a great start… but they can be really hard to fit perfectly (Ask me how I know! 😉 so I’d be tempted to start with something like that drindl skirt with cute big pockets that you *know* will be successful in lots of fabrics! (assuming you’ve got tights or something to wear underneath, that is! 🙂

  • Wow, Rochelle! This is spectacular!! The DuBarry jacket and the Advance wrap dress are competing for first place for me. All of your patterns are lovely.

    For a lounge set, how about the Decades of Style Kitchenette Pajamas? They are easy to wear and with the right fabric could really work for your needs:

    The Wearing History Beach Trousers may also work:

    I”m really excited to see what you make!

  • i love your plan! i’d have a hard time putting such constraints on myself, but i suspect it will end up being very freeing with the hard decisions made in advance! good luck 🙂

  • I love your plan! I’d say go for trousers, since that seems to be the greatest need in your closet based on your earlier comments. Personally, I’m needing trousers and long sleeve button down blouses right now, but am having a hard time finding time to sew!

    Between this and your last two posts (plus Tasha’s on wardrobe organization), I’m definitely putting together my own plan for the year. I did make a kind of sewing and knitting bucket list for the year a week or two ago, but I’m thinking I need to get more specific with patterns.

  • I enjoyed the Sew the Perfect Fit class on Craftsy. I like the way the class is taught, and I’ve used the lessons to fit woven garments since. I plan to make up the pattern that comes with the class next summer, once I’ve hopefully lost the baby weight!

  • I vote for making whatever you need the most, like Rachel said. I know you always mention loungewear, but what you want to make is more summery, so maybe table that for a bit? You also really need pants you said, so I vote for that! Also, a random thing but I know you want casual pants so you may want to add a pocket. It makes me crazy when I’m home and wearing something without pockets!

    Also: I fully expect shortly at least one person will have voted for every pattern you have set so far. lol!

  • DuBarry Jacket! Get some wear out of it with the last of winter and it will be done for fall!

  • I bought that perfect fit class on craftsy, and it’s good- by no means a comprehensive resource, but some really good ideas.i hope to utilise it and create some posts about my fitting journey with it. I have a similar goal to you in that I want to create and use tried and true patterns this year! I love your goals, I bet you’ll do great. You have some really cute patterns picked out too 🙂

  • spinneretta

    Start by sewing the thing you need most of course 🙂 My own need is for trousers and nightwear… what do you need most?

    Also, bottomweight at Joann’s… I find their suiting is good, and then there is the red tag area 😉 Otherwise, has been good to me!

  • I loved your rules too! I have to get better about making a muslin first and liked that you included that as a rule. And, I’ve taken that Craftsy class and learned so much! Your post has me so excited that I am also going to do this challenge on my own. I have a pattern shop on Etsy but also have a mountain of my own personal patterns that I can’t wait to sew. After going to the mall with them to use their gift cards I was reminded of all the low quality fabrics out there. Yes, that blouse was $7.99 on super sale but the construction made me doubt it would make it through even one washing. Thank you for your inspiration as always!

  • Wow! I am so impressed by your self restraint! If I picked all my patterns this early in the year, I’d have changed my mind by March! I am so looking forward to how this pans out for you!
    What do you need most? Maybe you should start there. A dress? And then you have a full outfit by the end of January!

  • I’m really interested in how your challenge will go. You’ve inspired me to kind of start a similar sewing challenge for myself. Anyways, I think you should start with pattern #4. You mentioned that you wear a lot of these types of blouses so it’s something you can use in your wardrobe right away. Also, since you already have fabric on hand that would work for this type of shirt I think it a good first choice. Whatever one you choose I know you’ll do a great job!

  • This is such a good idea for focusing on fit and building your wearable wardrobe. I really love the two wrap dresses, especially the short version of Pattern Number Two!

  • pattern 3 is my favorite. I took that craftsy class you mentioned and it was really good.

  • Loving the patterns you’ve picked. Especially those wrap dresses 😀 I too love a wrap dress. Theyre so comfortable and versatile.

    For your second blouse pattern, I think you should go for a casual blouse. I have this pattern which youve prob seen on instagram of FB and its a pull over the head, no closures kind of top. Its really easy to make up and you could vary it lots. My only tip re: fitting of it…its quite boxy in shape. My second one I made a bit more slim cut but still enough to be able to pull over my head like a tshirt.
    It would also be good for stashbusting all those printed cottons that you might not have enough of to make a dress. And because the shape is quite simple, no design lines will get lost in a busy print.

  • I like your rules, they are organized and keep it fun at the same time.

    I vote for pattern #1. Please tell me you are making the version with the hood. It’s soooo cute!