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The Great (Costume) Pattern Review

Filed Under: seasonal, Crafts, sewing

A pile of costume patterns, by M.E. Williams

Looking for something to sew for a Halloween costume? Wondering how well the costume pattern you've chosen is going to work out for you? Look no further!

San Francisco's Greater Bay Area Costumers Guild was started in 1990 by a couple of people who... well, they just really love to create costumes. The group provides members with costuming resources, places to wear costumes in the form of themed special events, and a group of like-minded enthusiasts. The focus seems to be mostly on historically accurate costuming, with some other stuff that's just for fun. Some members sew professionally; for others, it's a serious hobby.

(They're not quite the same thing as cosplay, which usually involves dressing as a specific character or person in a detailed recreation of an existing film, TV, anime, or stage costume; however, you'll see a bit of cosplay here and there on their site.)

One of the GBACG's most interesting projects is The Great Pattern Review. Read more about it, and how it can help you with your Halloween plans, after the break.



The Great Pattern Review covers around 60 different pattern companies, some pretty obscure. When GBACG members have made up a costume from a pattern, they submit a review of the pattern itself. They discuss:

  • How well a pattern goes together in terms of how it's designed: whether or not the instructions are clear, and if following them will get the desired result. Conversely, if there's a problem, is it with the instructions or the pattern pieces themselves?
  • How difficult the pattern is: is it for professionals only, or could a beginner do it? If the difficulty is middling, is it on the easy side or the hard side?
  • How much material the pattern uses: is it cut in a strange way that makes it an expensive project? Is it possible to use another pattern to make something very similar with half the fabric? This is a big issue when you're using finer materials, which can go for $20/yard and up (usually way up).
  • Often, how historically accurate the pattern is, if it's meant to be a historical pattern. Is it appropriate for historical recreation, or does it just have a period flavor with modern construction? (If you're looking for a costume, you probably want the latter!) Some patterns will be listed as "not recommended" simply because they're very historically inaccurate, but reviewers will usually say something along the lines of, "But this would be fine for a fantasy-type costume; it's a nice pattern that isn't difficult to make."

Not every pattern under discussion is a historical model; for example, look at the McCall's page to see a toddler animal costume. You'll find good pattern recommendations for all your costuming needs, from experienced sewers who have really taken the trouble to make these garments. (You'll also see where pattern companies' claims of "museum-quality costuming" are sharply punctured -- sometimes the patterns are good, and accurate, but just as often, they aren't.)

And one last note: if you happen to be involved in local or high school theater, this site could be a godsend for costuming certain productions. When I was involved in community theater in the 1990s, it was very difficult to find costumes for many shows: older patterns didn't look so great, the pattern companies didn't keep them in print, and we often resorted to altering existing prom dresses because we had no other options.

Now the larger pattern companies do seem to be trying to make sure that there are patterns around for "big costume shows" like The Importance of Being Earnest, Oklahoma!, My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, and Camelot. Even so, The Great Pattern Review can tell you when these patterns are good ones. If they aren't, it can help you discover other options from smaller companies.



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