Sewing a Big 4 Pattern: Burda!

I admit it, I’m an indie pattern fan. I tried a few “Big 4” patterns (McCalls, Butterick, Vogue and Simplicity) when I was starting out, and they almost all turned out oversized and ill-fitting. I got into the habit of buying Indie patterns instead, and never looked back… until now!

This year one of my Top 5 Sewing Goals is to sew a Big 4 pattern each season. I want to give mainstream paper patterns a shot in case I’ve been missing great things all along! I decided to start with Burda 6439, View A, because I love the fluttery sleeves. I don’t have anything like this in my pattern collection already, so it seemed worth a shot.

burda-dresses-pattern-b6439-envelope-front

You’ve already seen one version of this dress, so you know it’s a winner! This time I wanted to talk a little more about my experience sewing a Big 4 pattern.

1. I’m two sizes too big for this pattern. That’s not a very good start, is it? I switched it from woven to knit, so the largest size fit fine… but I”m annoyed at the lack of inclusivity.

Burda Crepe Dresses

2. The instructions were… ok? I mostly ignored them because I was sewing a knit and that changed construction, but I still had to read a few sections a couple of time. Not bad though!

3. It told me to hand-stitch the sleeve hems. WHAT? WHY? I can’t think of any reason for this.

Burda Crepe Dresses

4. Everything was nicely drafted, and fit together well. I’m happy that I only had to make very minor adjustments like a swayback.

Burda Crepe Dresses

5. Big 4 patterns cost a fortune! I really was expecting how expensive it would be in Canada to source patterns! This one cost $9 (thanks to half price Burda patterns at Club Tissus) but then I still had to pay shipping. An indie pattern would almost definitely have been cheaper.

3 burda dresses.jpg

6. I love this pattern! I’ve made two full versions, and used the skirt on my Angles dress and I will definitely sew it again. I sewed these dresses when there was still snow on the ground, and wore them with leggings, boots and sweaters… but they also work well now that it is spring with bare legs and sandals. I think the Liverpool poly knit will be too hot in full summer, but that still makes for quite a versatile pattern!

Overall, I think this experiment was a success! I would sew a Burda pattern again if the style and sizing were right. 


31 thoughts on “Sewing a Big 4 Pattern: Burda!

  1. Great job Gillian, and a great way to welcome Spring/Summer. I teach and mentor a number of sewing enthusiasts, and have found the instructions included with the Burda line very disappointing. I agree; hand sew? The price must have recently gone up though, as so far I’ve found the most expensive Burda I’ve seen was $12.99. And personally, I found the Indies that I’ve researched way more expensive than that. Maybe I’m just looking at the most expensive ones. Anyway, great dress, great review, Happy Spring/Summer!

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    1. My main problem is that I can’t but big 4 patterns locally, so it’s either an hour drive (with high gas prices and an investment of time) or $12 shipping! 😛

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  2. But when it’s a really great pattern, you make loads of them, so the price gets smashed apart! Anyway, they’re all in sales all the time, just pounce when the iron’s hot. I think many indie patterns [meh] try too hard to emulate RTW- I see no reason why anyone would think a machined hem is preferable to a hand stitched one, especially if you’re after the flutter/soft finish. Hand sewn much better. I’m not saying I don’t machine some hems, but not all, definitely not all. ‘Big Four’ or ‘proper’ patterns as I think of them lol develop your skills more in the long run. Go on, try some Vogue [and check the FINISHED measurements not the packet sizing]

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  3. This is the reason I gave up sewing clothes for myself. The patterns never fitted and I wasted time, money and fabric on things I couldn’t wear. I do enjoy reading how you go about making so many beautiful garments though.

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  4. This is really cute, Gillian! You might already know this, but the Burda magazines and websites actually have a plus size section with separate patterns. Reason being is that their larger draft is quite different from their other one to accomodate for the unique sizing differences that occur in a variety of bodies, rather than just grading proportionally upwards. I also find them cheaper to download as a PDF than buy in paper format.

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  5. It’s a shame the Big 4 are so expensive in Canada! I’m used to thinking of the Indies as the expensive ones, since our friendly local chain store puts the SimMcCallericks on sale all the time, so I usually get mine for $1-2. The Vogues and Burdas are more rare and pricier on sale, but still $5 or less. So indie pricing took some getting used to for me. Any chance a friend across the border could hook you up?
    Also, I’m not surprised the directions were vague at points, since most of my Burda exposure has been through the magazines and those are notorious for directions that make you do double takes. (I should revisit those magazines, I haven’t sewed a thing from them in several years.)

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  6. It amazes me how different pattern pricing is in different countries! I’m in the UK so they all cost an arm and a leg, but McCalls/Butterick/Vogue have regular half price sales on the UK website so I just wait for the sale. Burda magazine is excellent value here but obviously it’s a bit of a lottery what you get in any single issue. Not sure about their envelope patterns here.

    Your dress looks great! Sorry to hear the instructions weren’t good. I fondly remember my first Burda envelope pattern which taught me how to put a waistband on a skirt. I kept those instructions in the top of my sewing box for years because the other companies weren’t as clear.

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  7. I have big issues with Burda instructions, but at least compared to the Burda magazine patterns, they have diagrams. I agreed, hand sewing in Big 4 patterns is ridiculous. I always think how would they do it in industry, surely there is a faster, machine-aided way. The dress looks really nice on you!

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  8. The one Burda pattern I’ve made had directions that were, at best, inscrutable. For your reading pleasure, the part where they try to explain, sans diagrams, how to install a front fly zipper:

    Zip slit and upper edge: Press self-facings on slit edges to inside. Stitch along center front on the right and 5 mm before center front on the left. Stitch zip under left stitch edge (underlap), stitching close to zip teeth. Pin zip closed, matching center fronts. Stitch loose zip tape to right facing, not catching shorts piece. Fold underlap piece lengthwise, right side facing in. Stitch across upper and lower ends.

    Which, WHAT?!?! I love those damn pants though.

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  9. This looks cute! I didn’t realize the Burda upper end was that restricted (they have a rep for good plus size patterns, but I guess others start smaller and don’t go as big)

    I’m also surprised you found the cost high—paper indies seem pretty similar to me to the Big 4 regular prices ($15-20, except for Vogue) but the Big 4 sales are better. PDFs of course are usually cheaper but then I’m not counting my printing costs. 🙂

    So glad you got a couple of cute dresses out of it!!!

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    1. I think the price issue for me is because I’m used to buying PDFs, where there are no surprises to the cost… but because I don’t have a Fabricland in town anymore, I’d either have to drive an hour to buy a pattern (which wasn’t on sale when i needed it for my Cali deadline) or pay for shipping. If I start sewing big 4 more regularly, I could definitely plan ahead and get better deals! (I also bought a Vogue pattern at the same time – ouch!) I’ll try the Burda plus pattern next time… or just keep making things in knits so that the normal size range works! 😛

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  10. I was straight over to scope the Burda patterns when I saw your other lovely version of this dress. I was gutted that the sizing stops at a 20. Do you know what the finished bust measurement is on the top? I love your version so much that I would love to make one, even if it means a bit of grading. Eek! All sewing patterns are expensive here and the Big 4 much less than Indies, so I always tend to buy them or vintage instead. We do get some half-price sales but they are still about £5. I love the drafting on Burda patterns. Even the ones from the magazines are great but the instructions really are a bit sparse. 🙂 Xx

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    1. I went to go check the finished measurements for you… and i can’t for the life of me find the pattern! It’s somewhere in the heaps and stacks of things on my sewing table, I’m sure. I’ll let you know when I find it! 😉

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    1. I’m not an expert, but a sway back adjustment is for when you get excess fabric at the small of your back… it seems to be a very common adjustment. Basically, you take out a diamond shaped piece of fabric from the back…thin at the side-seam and wider in the centre of your back. I am not sure, but I think if you have a deep curve at the small of your back you take out more fabric… not sure, because I only know what I need to remove!

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      1. Thank you for your explanation. It’s a new one to me. I shall be in the ‘know’ should I come across it when future dressmaking. Currently attempting my first garment using jersey fabric – watch this space!

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  11. I’m surprised you find independent designers cheaper. I’ve found them to be very expensive considering that the Big 4 companies put their patterns on sale for $2.99 ($5.99 for Vogue) very frequently whereas the independents are often $18 or more (Closet Case, for example). The Burda magazine has a lot of really great plus-size styles. I’m often sorry I don’t fit their plus-size range. Burda is well known for its excellent styles and European cut and its laughable instructions … you do need to know how to sew already to decipher them (but they do have coding on the pattern pieces indicating the order of construction, which I think Marfy does as well … of course, Marfy really is expensive!). I believe it’s not that well known how Burda numbers the seams to indicate order of construction to supplement their printed directions. I’m not so familiar with the Burda envelope patterns but I think the instructions are a bit more comprehensive. The Burda magazine is very economical; it works out to about $5/pattern even if there are only a couple of patterns you like in each issue, and I often find there are more than a few I’d like to sew.

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    1. I agree, I find indie patterns to be very expensive compared to big 4 envelope patterns (in the UK). Especially when Indies tend to only do one view, and consider lengthening/shortening a straight skirt to be multiple views (compared to many big 4 envelope patterns with a jacket, skirt, trousers and top, or 4 different skirt shapes in one envelope, for example). I tend to shop online for big 4 envelope patterns, bulk buying to get free shipping during the sales. Instructions can be dubious though, but YouTube/blogs/books etc always get me through in the end.

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      1. I think the problem for me is that I have to either drive an hour to buy big 4, and therefore I factor gas and time into the cost… or order online, where shipping in minimum $12! That bumps the price up pretty fast!

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  12. Your dresses are lovely but I don’t understand your comment about expense. The inde patterns at my sewing store are as expensive as the big 4 or even more. I get the Big 4 when they are onsale on line and that happens once a month or so…the most for a Vogue pattern is 6.99 plus shipping.

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  13. 1 – I’m never not going to be in love with your wardrobe!
    2 – OMG! Burda is the WORST when it comes to instructions I just made a very cute skort for my daughter from one of their patterns. I read through the instructions twice and then chunked them to one side. They were more suggestions than an actual process to follow! Good thing I’m an experienced sewist or the pattern would have been the end of me! The final result is Fabulous enough I’m planning a pair for myself, but the process left much to be desired!

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