I am a sewing maniac, I know, but if you love to sew then you might really find this to be a fun post because I am going to talk about how to make your own sewing patterns from scratch as well as how to copy and or remake professionally printed sewing patterns. There are many advantages to both and once you have gained a bit of experience sewing you will find yourself creating your own designs, and with that your own patterns. Copying professionally printed patterns is also very helpful in that you can alter the copy to your body shape, which in turn will make future uses of the pattern easier as the alterations you need have already been made. Making a copy of a vintage pattern is also very useful as you preserve the original.
I have spent years working off of sewing patterns picked up at various shops and thrift sales and from there I naturally moved onto creating many of my own clothing patterns (some perfect and others never to see the light of day!). Today I find those opportunities, the form offered by the patterns and the unconventional experimentation of making my own creations, have most certainly prepared me for an exciting sewing future. I could not be more thrilled quite honestly because I feel like I haven’t even really gotten started. After having physically copied so many sewing patterns from the original collection, scanned over 735+ sewing patterns, moved over 42+ sewing pattern boxes when we moved twice and then officially returning them to their owner, I am now so very ready to get started!
An old traveling trunk in the sewing room contains the contents of my sewing patterns, many tried and others as of yet untested, but as I sew away I find the need to make my own patterns off of those originals for a variety of reasons. I don’t always make a copy, I usually try the pattern out first if it is something simple, but making a copy gets you off of wearing down the original pattern, and let’s be honest, preserving those tissue thin patterns is tough enough so making a copy will only make your life easier if you decide to use the pattern again.
Let’s start with how to copy a printed pattern first, and then work towards how to make your own patterns. I have found this short list of supplies to be very helpful in copying the patterns.
-White paper * I use white paper as I have large quantities of that available, it is easy to add notes to the paper and I find the white paper will easily roll and print well through the rolling printer beds at a print shop if I decide to have a professional copy of the new pattern printed up. I have however known people to use anything from white fabric, interfacing, brown shipping paper, wrapping paper, tracing paper and even newspaper to copy patterns so you can decide for yourself what type of material will work best for copying your patterns.
-Ruler or other flat tool in which to smooth out the original pattern. I usually have 2 long rulers on hand to keep the paper flat when tracing.
-Tape (optional though recommended if planning on having a professional copy printed at a copy shop when finished making your pattern)
-Copies (optional-recommended if planning on having a professional copy printed at a copy shop when finished making your pattern)
Getting Started: Once the original pattern is cut, lay the base paper out on a flat surface and then lay the pieces of the original pattern out and begin by tracing around the edge of the pattern where the cutting line would be. Do each piece separately, and take your time when tracing. If possible, iron out the pattern pieces on a very low heat-though if any of the pattern pieces have tape, you will of course want to avoid any heat to the tape. *When working with vintage patterns, I find pieces of tape added at times, so I like to mention it in case you run into this. The main point here is to make sure the pattern pieces are smooth before you trace the outline and begin to add the pattern details that are printed on the original pattern. This is where the ruler comes in handy. I actually use two for the bigger projects such as copying the McCalls 4425. I recommend using at least 1 ruler or other flat surface, and also tracing in pencil before using the sharpie. You can use a pen but I really like the clear lines a sharpie offers.
We are going to use the Advance Tea Party Dress pattern for the sake of photos here. This pattern came to me already cut and it is a pretty old pattern. I ironed it out ever so carefully and then smoothed it out while tracing around the edges in pencil. Using pencil allowed me the opportunity to erase any unwanted lines as I traced. This level of detail will ensure you have a near perfect copy of the original pattern. The very best test (and yes, I like to be obsessive about it because I don’t like a pattern copy to have a bad cut-if you cut the copy badly, the sewn garment is going to be bad and no one wants that!) is to make a very detailed, concise copy and then remove the pattern from the traced copy below it. Then, add the printed pattern again on top and smooth it out with your ruler and see how accurate you were. I always recommend doing this before you trace over the pencil with the sharpie.
Once you have done this initial tracing, simply copy all of the text you find on the original pattern onto the copy. In some cases this is as easy as writing “fold here” or something just as simple on your copy but for the more complex patterns, a bit more detail will of course be needed. It is at this point that I take the pattern to a photo copier and copy the text that is on the original pattern. I then cut and paste those copies to the main copy. You can also use tape or a glue stick in order to add the areas of photocopied text to the copy. I have used both and have not had any problems, however I would recommend steering away from a wetter glue such as an elmers as you don’t want the paper to get too wet and then ripple on the copy as the ripple marks will copy over when you have your copy professionally printed, and if you are photocopying the text instead of hand writing the text, it is most likely because you are planning on having a professional copy printed (or you just have really bad handwriting?).
For a pattern such as the McCalls 4425 that was by far one of the most detailed patterns I have copied before as there was a lot of printed text and a number of darts. So, by now you have traced the outline of the pattern pieces as well as the inside text and details such as darts. If you have a lot of darts or details of this nature, make sure you copy all of the info to the copy, and one of the best ways to make sure you get the darts lined up correctly on your copy is to make a heavy circle in pencil through the printed pattern onto the copy. When you remove the copy you should be able to see either an indentation where the dart should be, or a light pencil marking. Darken these areas on your copy so the marks are clear when you go to reuse your new pattern copy.
Sizing adjustments: This is also the time in which you will make any and all adjustments you need to make if you are planning on making multiples of this style in the same size. If you have a pattern and you are petite and the pattern offers a petite version, you will most likely want to cut the pattern petite as well at this point, as well as fit to your size, before you trace out your pattern. I personally make a copy of the original pattern and label it as such, and then I make myself a copy if I need to that has the alterations, if I am making this for someone and have the measurements on hand. In a lot of cases I end up simply making the size adjustments to the fabric while cutting out the pieces, but the choice is yours depending on what is the most useful to you.
For example, if I were going to make a top and it was a simple front and back style I would add a half inch to each seam when I cut the fabric to allow for the seams. If I were making the bodice of a dress and it was 3 pieces in front stitched together and 4 pieces in back, I am going to want to make sure I leave a half inch additional fabric again for each seam but I am also going to want to make sure I leave about 1.5-2” additional fabric on each side of the back zipper region to allow for the zipper. Always leave a smidge more fabric in the back skirt when sewing a dress so you can have the back smooth and sewn perfectly after you have added the zipper. If you are working with slippery fabric then you will also want to cut more fabric and sew the seams more, most likely with a stabilizer of some sort, and sew those seams a number of times to ensure the fabric doesn’t unravel at the seams on you. The other unwritten rule is to always cut a smidge more fabric than you think you will need, always, and definitely for a lining of a garment. You can always slim a garment down, you can’t always make it bigger. When enlarging or slimming down a garment, just make sure you have all of the pieces in equal relation to one another. When making a corset, to enlarge or slim down, I would make sure each of those pieces I was putting together was equally larger or smaller in order to get the correct fit. If you imagine something such as a corset top, you would want all of the pieces stitched together so that the front seams were where they should be to offer the maximum support, the side seams do indeed run up at the sides, and the back seams also stitch up the back as they should. You can easily alter a pattern if you keep the 'equal through' rule in mind. And then, when in doubt, practice on inexpensive fabric first to see how you did before you move on to the really good materials :)
You now should have your entire pattern copied out on the paper and either the text from the original handwritten or printed and cut and pasted on the copy in the same manner as seen in the original pattern, and now simply need to trace the pencil marks and notes with your sharpie. Use your ruler to help you keep those lines straight. Once you are finished making your pattern copy you can either take this pattern to a print shop and have a copy made up professionally for yourself, or simply as a ‘working copy’ to be kept in your pattern stash. I usually keep all patterns I have worked on in a large gallon zip lock bag and keep my extra pattern copy in the bag along with the original. The bags also help store all pattern pieces that don’t fit as easily as they once did in their original envelopes.
At this point you are finished and can go ahead and cut that copy and get to sewing or whatever else it is that makes you happy. I know it might seem like a bit of a no brainer for some of you, but I found these simple techniques to be the best ways in which I was able to make accurate copies of patterns.
Making your Own Patterns-We covered how to copy a pattern, and now that we have an idea of what to look for when it comes to pattern design I thought it would be fun to cover a few ways in which you can make something all your own. So many of my customers contact me with the initial “I love these ideas..but I need it in my colors and these details and changes. Is this possible?” and I always love hearing that because that’s what making all of these things is all about, making it yours and how you want it to be, and altering it to fit your lifestyle. I once tried my hand at making a bag simply by looking at the original. It was an Amy Butler bag and I wanted to see how close I could get to the original by looking at an image of the original. In the end the measurements were as perfect as I could get them-from handle to pockets-and in the end I was quite happy with the results.
Here are a few images of the set made with an Amy Butler upholstery print that was simply gorgeous in that the vibrancy of the print cheered just about anyone, and I really liked the quality of the cotton fabric. I have more of this fabric in stock and you will probably see more items from this fabric in my Craftzies shop in the near future (the fabric has moved ever so close to the sewing pile…Im getting closer!).
Here are some images of how I altered a pattern slightly as the original pattern was simply for a baby tunic top and a diaper cover. With a few alterations I have a rather different item and when I make these baby kimono sets I simply measure out the 2 front pieces, back piece, 2 sleeves, and then the front, back and tabs and flaps for the diaper cover from the pattern I made for myself..based again off of the one you see here, and then for the details such as the ties and trim around the edge I don’t bother using the pattern pieces as I don’t need to, they are simply long strips of fabric stitched together, but I do have in my pattern notes (which I like to keep on a white index card in my ziplock bag that has my original pattern in it) how wide and long I need those strips and ties to be so I can ensure the proper length when making those pieces.
Here is a robe I made for a customer. I really liked how this robe turned out and the customer seemed very pleased as well. Here is the pattern I used, and then I altered it by adding a flair around the bottom, and lining the collar with a Japanese inspired cotton print, as well as sleeves that you could roll up and button if desires and still have the sleeve design visible and looking good.
Here is an image of the original pattern I used for this item.
So now that I have shown you an item that I made completely from scratch, and then two other items that I made by altering the original, printed patterns, I am going to lead you through how to make your own items from scratch. Either bring the item you want to remake, or an image of the item you want to make to the cutting table. Bring over paper, pencil, sharpie, ruler, notebook or paper in which to write notes (index cards work too), and scissors.
White paper to make pattern from
Pencil, sharpie, pen (I know you’re excited about your project but get at least something to write with)
Fabric (we will cover how much fabric + notions needed below)
Notions (again, see below on the project you are making)
*Though both interfacing and stabilizer are optional, if you are planning on making a tote similar to the one I have pictured above, I did use both of those materials and recommend them for the project. I picked up both the interfacing and stabilizer at joann fabrics, along with the zippers and additional hardware/ notions you see used to make this item.
You can either make a pattern of the item you want to make, and then use that pattern to make the item you want or you can cut the fabric and the pattern at the same time and then proceed to make the original item, cutting down and altering both the fabric version and the pattern as you go until the results are that you have the finished product you wanted, as well as a pattern. I don’t do this often, though sometimes I feel I need to see, feel and try out a fabric version to see how much I like the finished product, and will in most cases take that altered pattern I made myself and cut a new and cleaner version of the pattern I just made. Just remember at that point to ditch the old one so you don’t utterly confuse yourself later on when you go to use the pattern at a later date.
Ok, so here is where we get into the details. It might seem really hard I know, but it isn’t. The point here is to take the original item you want to make and look closely at all of the details associated with that item. What are all of the components associated with this item. For the Amy Butler weekend tote, it consisted of a front and back, bottom, 2 sides, 2 pockets outside, 2 inside, and a little change purse to go with it. I made myself a list of each piece I needed down to the last detail. Once I had this list of the pieces I needed I then added the measurements of those pieces. For each piece I added half an inch to the seam before I cut the fabric, and assume I will need 1.5-2” for any seam that will include a zipper. I find a fabric marker or chalk great for these kinds of projects as you can outline where you are going to cut the fabric and then make changes and such before cutting the fabric. For the shoulder straps, measure how long you want yours to be and add a little bit of length to the end of each strap to allow for the seams.
Once you have all of your outside pieces, make the lining, cutting both a lining of fabric, interfacing and stabilizer, sew all of the smaller details to the front, back, and inside lining, including stitching the shoulder straps to the outside of the bag. Sew the side pieces to the front, and then sew those side pieces to the back panel. Add the bottom panel for the outside, and then do the very same to the lining, only leave about 6” opening at the bottom front of the lining.
Place your front and back pieces so they are facing each other, and stitch the entire bag closed, making sure to tuck the handles in as you sew the bag from the inside. Turn your bag right side out through the bottom 6” hole left, and then pull the inside lining out and pinch and sew the seam closed. Add the button holes, buttons, metal hardware as needed as you go along and you are all set. Just remember if you are planning on making a pattern from your fabric item..which in this case is more of a workable prototype than anything, making any changes to the pattern that you did to the fabric version comes in so handy when you want to make more of this fabulous new item you have just designed for yourself.
So, there you have some details on how I copy patterns, how I alter patterns, though I am the first to admit a separate and certainly more detailed post on how to alter patterns should be a post of its own, but then also how I make a pattern from scratch. Any questions feel free to let me know and happy pattern making!