If you’ve recently learned the basics of sewing you’ve probably already priced some patterns at your local sewing supply store. After you pick yourself up off the floor go put that store-bought pattern back in its slot. You might not know this but you already have many patterns at home! No, the pattern fairy didn’t sneak them into your sewing room; they’re hanging in your closet and tucked away in your dresser drawers! That’s right; the clothing you already own can easily become patterns for new outfits. Simplistic shirts, shorts, dresses and other garments can help you make new ones that 1) don’t have to look exactly like the pattern garment and 2) don’t necessarily have to spell the end of the pattern garment.
Although it’s much easier to get an accurate pattern by tearing a garment apart you can use some simplistic outfits without disassembling them. One such item is a t-shirt or scoop-neck shirt. To create the pattern simply prepare your fabric and lay it out on a table. Turn the shirt inside-out and fold it in half so that you can see the front of the shirt rather than the back. Lay the shirt so that the fold of it is against the fold of the fabric. Position it so that the neckline of the shirt faces the top edge of the material. As you cut around the body of the shirt, allow an extra half-inch. Don’t forget to cut the shirt longer to allow for the hem. Do not cut the sleeves out at this time. If you’ll be hemming the neckline allow an extra half-inch as you cut around it. If you’ll be using binding allow a quarter-inch. After cutting the front of the shirt, fold the shirt in the opposite direction, and cut the backside of the shirt. Cut the sleeves separately, after cutting the body of the shirt, and remember to cut the sleeves longer to allow for the hem. Position the fold of the sleeve on the fold of the fabric and cut around it. Mark the center top of the sleeve so that it will be easy to align with the shoulder seam later.
Some skirts are also very easy to use as patterns without tearing them apart first. Skirts gathered with elastic and skirts which are gathered with a band are good. Fold the skirt in half and position the fold of the skirt against the fold of the fabric. Begin cutting at the hemline and allow enough extra to do the hem. Cut straight up the side of the skirt without tapering towards the waist. As you cut across the top of the waist allow an extra half-inch if there is a band but a full inch if there is a piece of elastic. Cut a front and a back skirt piece then pin them together.
Tearing garments completely apart will give you a much better pattern. The pattern outfit can be sewn back together later, but can be difficult. Garments which have been sewn in a factory are stitched with an over-lock procedure. The over-lock stitches must be cut away, rather than torn out, so if you sew the garment back together it could fit a little tighter than before. When tearing outfits apart to use as patterns beginners should stick with simplistic outfits. Shorts without pleats, tank tops, t-shirts, skirts and scoop-neck shirts or dresses are ideal for beginners. Take care, when tearing the garment apart, not to cut or tear the material. Use a seam ripper for best results.
It’s important that you mark certain pieces before tearing them apart so that you’ll know where to position the pieces as you sew the new garment. One such area is the part where the front and back shoulder seams meet. Draw a small line that starts at the back and goes across the seam to the front. When you cut the new pattern draw the same line on the new fabric pieces. Match these lines up as you sew and you’ll make a perfect seam every time. Other areas that should be marked like this include where the top of the sleeve meets the shoulder seam, the side seams as well as the front top center and back top center of a shirt or dress. Also mark places where buttons, bows or other embellishments will be placed.
There are certain things that are easy to change from the original garment. For example, if the pattern garment has a scoop neck you can easily make that a “v” neck. Or, if the original garment has long sleeves you can cut short sleeves instead. Make long skirts much shorter or short skirts much longer by simply cutting them to the length you want. Make sure to allow extra for hemming. It’s best if you use similar material for the new garment as what the old garment was. For instance, if the original garment is made from stretchy material you should use stretchy fabric for the new garment as well.
Make your torn-apart garments into permanent patterns by drawing them onto paper. Be sure to mark the above-mentioned areas on the paper pattern. Rather than cut a pattern for each type you want (short skirt, knee-length, floor-length) just cut a floor-length and mark where to cut if you want the short or knee-length design. Do the same for sleeve lengths. However, for various necklines it’s usually necessary to cut each particular pattern design separately. Place pattern pieces together in a manilla envelope to keep them from getting mixed up with others and to keep all the pieces in one place. Mark on the outside “short sleeve t-shirt”, “banded skirt” or other details which will help you identify the pattern later. It’s a good idea to draw a rudimentary picture of the garment as well.
As you get in more and more practice you’ll soon learn about more complex patterns and how to cut them. Practice on simplistic designs first, though, until you get the hang of cutting and marking patterns. You’ll save a fortune over buying patterns and you’ll have garments done the way you want. Implement buttons, rick-rack, lace and other embellishments to make each design look much different. Soon, you’ll be making all your own clothing!