What to look out for in Big 4 patterns?

I have mentioned before that I will have a chance at some US fabric and pattern shopping, because my husband will be travelling to the States shortly and will be able to bring me stuff (normally, shipping and customs costs make it uneconomical to order from the US).

Many of you gave me tips re: fabric shopping – thanks so much! I have well-filled “Maybe later” lists with a couple of online shops now 🙂 .

So now I have been going through Big 4 pattern selections online and have a few things lined up I am thinking of buying. However, I have never used a Big 4 pattern, so I wonder if you have any advice or considerations for me.

I have heard that

  1. Big 4 patterns run large/very large. Is that true? I am shaky with the whole inch thing anyway, wrecking my brain to work out what 5/8 actually means etc, so if in addition to that the patterns run larger than expected I’m in trouble.
  2. Big 4 patterns are cut with a straight, relatively broad body shape in mind.
  3. they all include seam allowances, don’t they? Is there a standard seam allowance or is it likely change between patters or companies?

My comparison point is Burda patterns, just because that’s what I have experience with – do you think I need to look at Big 4 patterns with different eyes?

And finally: Any ideas and recommendations for good patterns? Some of those fashion photos on the Big 4 websites are so off-puttingly old-fashioned that I find it hard to look beyond them at the pattern as such. So are there any gems hidden underneath the pictures?

As always: I am grateful for any advice. Sound off in the comments!


13 thoughts on “What to look out for in Big 4 patterns?

  1. Mrs.Smith February 14, 2014 at 7:17 pm Reply

    Big 4 does tend to run big. I think though that many people feel that they are each drafted with a certain figure in mind. I do know that they are drafted for a size B cup, important to know in case you need to make a small or large bust adjustment.

    1 inch = 2.54 cm. Most seams have a 5/8″ seam allowance (about 1.6 cm). But always look at the pattern pieces because some areas might have a 3/8″ seam allowance…

    McCalls, Butterick, Vogue, Simplicity, New Look…they tend to have a 5/8″ sa as the standard. I think Kwik Sew has a smaller seam allowance.

    Yes. the photos are often horrific. But, the pattern review website is awesome for seeing them made up on real bodies. I would browse the websites and look at patterns that you might be interested in (be sure to look at the line drawings!) and then google that pattern, to find the versions that people have made.

    Good luck!!

  2. cathynd95 February 14, 2014 at 8:17 pm Reply

    Same as what Mrs Smith said. ..

  3. Andrea February 14, 2014 at 8:43 pm Reply

    It is funny because I hadn’t thought if the patterns as big. I wear an Aus/NZ rtw size so this is what I make despite the measurement guidelines on the pattern. The guidelines especially with Vogue would have me a 12 plus so measure your pattern pieces before cutting your fabric is my best suggestion. The big four are pretty much all we get here in New Zealand and man are they expensive. My personal favourites are Vogue Mccalls and Simplicity because they seem to have the most current styles.

  4. MrsSmith February 14, 2014 at 10:10 pm Reply

    Andrea, by big, I think most of us mean if you follow the pattern envelope to decide which size to sew…it’ll be too big. The patterns would have me sewing a 18 top but really I need a 14 with a full bust adjustment.

  5. joselinahuber8 February 15, 2014 at 3:51 am Reply

    Andrea, Mrs. Smith had your answers. Here is my two cents. Yes, the patterns run big. I use simplicity with adjustments. I am small frame at 5 4′, B cup. Most of the time I use a size 12/bust, 14/waist, hips. I am athletic. A “typical” Brazilian most of my adjustments are on my short waist, and wider hips (Hey I can dance Samba really… requires great hip shaking). I use a metric/ inches measurements.
    I am not so sure what the Big 4 means.
    Good luck

  6. I made it!! February 15, 2014 at 5:48 am Reply

    I like McCalls first, then Vogue and Simplicity next. I am 5′ 5″ and a little bigger than a 12 so I usually make a 14 with some adjustments up or down. There seems to be a lot of ease in the patterns for me so I check the pattern out for size and then continue to check the fit out as I go along. They all use a standard seam allowance and tell you if you are to use anything else. The seam allowance is stated on the pattern pieces, along with the ease/finished measurements which help. I find a pattern that I like and google it and get all sorts of reviews, photos, comments on it before I even buy it!

  7. Fabric, Thread, Clothes? February 15, 2014 at 5:54 am Reply

    I agree that patternreview.com is your friend! Usually, I research the patterns first, but sometimes, I buy on impulse. If I do buy on impulse, I usually look it up as soon as I get home and have a chance so I can know if it’s a dog from the get go. In my opinion – there are very few bad ones in the bunch. Rarely does any pattern fit anyone straight from the envelope, so of course most people are going to need to make adjustments. I also can’t say that any of them are better or worse than the other. It’s a good idea to make a muslin in all of them, just to check things out. Unless it’s an easy knit top, I almost always make a quick muslin. If you have “regular adjustments” that you make in Burda, I’d start by making those same adjustments in the Big 4. I saw a study, I think in Fit For Real People, that showed that the bodice slopers were almost identical.

    Also, I’m not sure what store hubby will be at, but if it’s a Joanns, the patterns are in self serve filing cabinets in the store. If he was looking for Vogue 1843, he’d find the “Vogue” cabinet and then the drawer that contains 1834. At both Joanns and Hancocks, if the pattern isn’t where it’s supposed to be, I usually look at the neighboring patterns just to see if someone misplaced one. And if new patterns have just recently came out, sometimes the numbering on the drawers can get off. People are usually very friendly and helpful if asked.

    Oh, also, check PR for sales, and if he can make it there for on sale days, it’s AWESOME. Here’s the PR link you want. http://new.patternreview.com/SewingDiscussions/topic/22333/204 Always start at the end of the thread and work back to find the dates you want. Here are Joann’s upcoming sales:

    Butterick 5 for $7 Feb. 20-22
    Simplicity 5 for $5 Feb 16-22

  8. Pella February 15, 2014 at 10:05 am Reply

    My sizing beef with Vogue patterns, which I buy sometimes, is that I find the sizing variable. I have some which make up with acres of ease, some (usually older ones) which only need downsizing one size, and one which is snug. There are also one or two with some quirky sized bits, as in one I posted about recently with a very tight upper arm. I agree totally that checking the reviews and blogs before you buy to get a good idea of how the sizing runs is helpful, as is measuring the pattern before cutting. Once or twice I’ve found the finished measurements printed on the pattern wrong – measuring the pattern gives a different figure.

  9. Marianne February 16, 2014 at 7:29 pm Reply

    As for wrapping your head around those seam allowances: my tip is to buy a tape measure with inches on one side and centimetres on the other. You can also find lots of imperial to metric conversion charts for sewists online. I printed one of those, very useful!

  10. Neeno - Sew Me Love February 17, 2014 at 12:22 am Reply

    I have used a lot of BIG 4 patterns in the past, only slowly moving over to experiment with By Hand London (which I am LOVING) and also have a Megan Nielson pattern waiting for me to open. All the other patterns I own are Big 4 – it was all I knew when I started out sewing.

    Big 4 patterns, from my experience, have too much ease!! One strapless dress I made had 5cm of ease built into the bust/neckline – ridiculous!!

    I always look at the “finished measurements” printed on the pattern tissue itself to determine which size I should cut.

    They include a 1.5cm/15mm/5/8″ seam allowance.

    Their instructions are average, I hardly ever follow them. When I was taking sewing classes, my sewing teacher told me not to refer to the instructions because they were sometimes useless and not the most practical way to construct the garment.

    The pattern photos are always so awful!!!!
    My fav big 4 patterns are: Vogue 8511 (princess seamed bodice), McCalls 5845 (darted bodice).
    They are the only two that I have made a lot of dresses with, very good basic patterns for you to “hack” and modify. Sadly those two patterns are out of print 😦

    • Chris February 17, 2014 at 10:51 am Reply

      That Vogue Pattern looks great, the whole dress is right up my street. I will have a look on Ebay to check whether I might still be able to lay my hands on it. Thanks for the advice! It’s very, very useful!

  11. […] of all, can I thank all of you for your excellent advice regarding my Big 4 pattern question. I have taken it all on board and have researched my favourite patterns on Pattern review, so now I […]

  12. […] of you were kind enough to give me some advice regarding Big 4 patterns as this is my first time of using one and the biggest point was that Big 4 patterns tend to come up […]

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