This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun. most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

My photo
HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, member & Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, a representative of the San Diego History Center, & an honorary member of SITU (Someplace in Time, Unlimited) in Seattle. This year I am the Dean of Costume College 2018. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A DIY Pattern Organizer

May 24, 2011
Do you need a portable pattern reference guide? Step this way!
I came up with this idea of having a portable pattern reference book about 5 years ago after numerous trips to the Garment District in LA, and coming across the perfect fabric for a costume but not having the fabric amounts with me. How many times has that happened to you? I don’t always go looking for fabric for a specific pattern, which I would have the amounts with me, or sometimes the muse just hits me. So I’ve either under-bought or over-bought the amount I needed.
I started writing down all my pattern numbers with a slight description next to it, & hoping to remember what it looked like. But when you have over 250 patterns, your memory doesn’t always serve. And it got messy after awhile.
I tried the 3x5 card method but that’s not great for carrying that many around. It’s still a good idea for putting your fabric swatches on unless you’re like me and also have an Obsessive Amount of Fabric. I ended up putting swatches of them just in a Ziploc bag.
I found a 6 ½ x 3 ½ inch vinyl bound book with an elastic strap around it, and decided to put pictures of all my patterns in it, along with fabric & trim amounts needed for it. The first time I showed it to a group of Costume College newbies who were going to the Garment District and didn’t know how much fabric they would need, I almost didn’t get it back.
I’ve shared my idea with a few people, with favorable comments, and today while working on mine, I decided to share it with more people. Because that’s what costumers do.
Start by finding your book to make it with. I bought mine at Staples office supply, and yesterday saw some in a variety of colors on sale for $3. I think they’re normally $5. Then start collecting photos of all your patterns. The easiest way is to find them on the internet, either on the pattern company’s website, or if out of print, on eBay, or just type in a search. Copy and save the photo to your computer. Make sure you save the pattern company name and number with it; example, TV 410.
You will need to print them out to a size that will fit in your book. I like them about 3” or less so I can see the details. But you can do them half that size to put two to a page if you like. The speediest way to print them is to put them on a Word document where you can put multiples on the page. Once that’s done, cut them and tape them to the page in the book. Trim the photo as much as possible to eliminate bulk in the book. You can include the name & # on the print out but I just write it in the book next to the photo.

I put them in a numerical order in my book. I’ve tried different ways, like the era but I seem to try and hunt them by number more often. Although I do have one section that is a compilation of all my 1930s & 40s ones. Leave a couple pages blank between each pattern company to add other purchases later. The books come with a lot of pages so it will take quite a few to fill it up. It’s small enough to carry in your purse, or back pocket, and will save you from disastrous purchases in the future.
And while we’re on Obsessive-Compulsive Costuming, have I told you about my Costume Projects & Fabrics book? This one is 7x9”, a mini three ring binder, also purchases at Staples. I cut pages of card stock in half and punch holes in it for my pages. Much cheaper than buying them.

I print out pictures of my inspiration gown & the pattern if I have one yet. Then I tape the fabric swatch next to it. Sometimes there’s more than one fabric for multiple gowns. I write on the piece of fabric how many yards there are too.

It’s just a way I try to keep control of what I plan to make with a fabric I purchased, or at least remember WHY I bought it. This is a similar idea to using 3x5 cards. Since they’re taped on the pages, it’s easy to move them if I change my mind what I’m using it for.
I also have a second book that I move these pages to once the gown is completed, along with a photo of me wearing it. There are some days that I either don’t have a costume to work on, am stumped by how to do something, or just don’t feel like sewing. This becomes a very satisfactory replacement, and I see instant results.


  1. Great idea. I always keep my stuff in my sketchbook but it is bulky and I normally do so much sewing related math in it that I forget which numbers are the ones I need. This is a great idea and the size is convenient.

  2. Thank you! I do modern sewing as well as costuming and I have two problems. One is the one you mentioned. I was at Colonial Williamsburg last weekend and wanted fabric from the Mary Dickenson shop, but I had forgotten to check how many yards I would need for my project. My other problem is that I buy lots of modern patterns on sale and end up buying duplicates over time, because I don't remember what I have.
    I also like the project inspiration book.
    I also have a huge fabric stash in my closet, for colonial period accurate sewing, for other historical costuming for my homeschooling, for modern clothes, quilting and home decorating! I've been thinking of doing something along the lines you have done. I am thrilled to see that someone has actually done this successfully! I think I will make this a summer project! Again, thank you! I liked the photos too because they helped me to visualize what you were writing about! Any other tips, please post them!

  3. Great idea! I've recently decided to do something similar for my embroidery projects so I can tuck it away in my work basket and not worry about notes going everywhere at an event or wonder which thread color I used where and how many strands. I'm also still learning embroidery, so I'm hoping to make some good how-to notes in the book to help remind me when I draw a blank and I'm away from my computer. I might have to add fabric/pattern information as well. I love your projects book as well!

  4. YES! This is a brilliant idea!

  5. OMG!!! You've found a way to feed my obsessive need to organize AND my sewing addiction. I love it! I'm going to go get a pretty pretty princess book at Barnes & Noble.


I would love to hear if this was any help to you. Pretty please!