Favourite books – pattern altering

So, you know what styles you like and where your wardrobe gaps are – how about making your own pattern? I wrote so much about books on this it’s become two posts, this one on pattern altering, the next on pattern drafting and fit. First some comments on what I mean by this distinction and why I list the books the way I do.

For general comments on my book lists, see my post on favourite books about Style and wardrobe planning.

I’m not calling these ‘recommended’ books, as I don’t have illusions that what I like is best for everyone. And there are hundreds of sewing books that I haven’t seen.
I also mention some pattern magazines and a couple of pattern lines.

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Pattern making intro

Pattern making textbooks describe two very different processes.
1. pattern drafting – draw out basic pattern blocks from scratch, based on personal or standard size measurements, using nothing more than paper, pencil, simple rulers.
2. pattern altering – change basic/ master patterns/ blocks to make new styles (also called ‘developing’ the pattern).

It’s important to realise you can do this pattern altering on any starting point pattern. You don’t have to start by drafting your own blocks from scratch, you can start from any pattern and alter it.

In fact there are several levels of difficulty of pattern making, depending on your starting point – what you use for your basic blocks :

– Draft your own basic blocks from measurements. Then alter them to your design. Good if you enjoy the maths and geometry involved, but not necessary.

Lots of books on doing this, including college text-books. I mention them in my post on Pattern making – the formal route, and plan to summarise my favourite books in the next post in this series.

– Use a commercial simplified method for getting well fitting basic blocks, such as a fitting shell from one of the pattern companies, a special ruler or multi-sized pattern, or pattern making software. Then alter them to your design.

As far as I know there are no books on these easier methods for getting personal blocks. I summarise the methods in my post on Easier fitting shells.

– Start from any pattern which is close to what you want, and alter it (what most professional designers do most of the time).

This post is about books on pattern altering which don’t expect you to start by drafting pattern blocks from scratch.

There are also two other approaches to pattern making which don’t start from basic blocks :

– For simple garments which don’t require good fit – start with an existing garment and use that as the basis for your pattern.

– And for something completely different there’s draping. Cut fabric shapes close to what you want but with big seam allowances. And play with manipulating the fabric on a dress form or model until it’s what you want. (See my post on Draping.) Work with fabric, pins, scissors. Rather than with paper, pencil, ruler. Some people find they’re much happier and more inspired this way.
There are books on draping but I haven’t tried it and don’t know them.

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Start from existing garments

Get the basic shapes and proportions for your own style from an existing garment. These books are fun, but they’re not for making high quality close fitting clothes 😀

DIY Couture by Rosie Martin has instructions for drawing garment shapes directly onto the fabric. Often drawing around existing garments. There’s a long review with sample pages by nouvellegamine.

Hippie style Hassle-free make your own clothes book by Bordow and Rosenberg – a bit like DIY Couture, but you draw the shapes onto paper rather than direct onto fabric.

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Pattern ALTERING – starting from an existing pattern – wardrobe pattern books

Wardrobe pattern books provide the base starting point patterns and have good pattern altering instructions for specific projects.

The easiest approach if you want styles which fit. Best to get the base patterns to fit well, before doing any pattern alterations. See next post in this group for books on fit.

Most of the pattern altering instructions in these books can be used on other patterns too. Wardrobe pattern books supply both base pattern and altering instructions. But you can apply the same ideas with many other patterns as your starting point. Such as your Tried ‘N True patterns.

Simplest style altering

Change fabrics and trims, all pattern changes supplied.

Kay Whitt Sew Serendipity
3 base patterns, 6 variations of each.


Pattern magazines like BurdaStyle, Knip Mode, La Mia Boutique, Ottobre have complete traceable patterns, often the same pattern made with slight changes to give very different looking styles.

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Very simple pattern alterations

Kerstin Martensson Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way
5 base patterns, for tee, dartless blouse, 2 skirts and pants with elastic waists – with instructions for many simple pattern variations. Good sewing instructions for advanced beginners.


Alison Smith Dressmaking (There’s a 2021 edition of this, Dressmaking).
12 base patterns for classics, 19 simple pattern variations. Excellent sewing instructions at intermediate level.





There used to be a couple of pattern lines oriented to pattern altering, which have discontinued since this post was first written.
Nancy Erickson of the Fashion Sewing Group published 6 base patterns (fitted and casual jackets, knit twinset, skirt, pants, coat). Plus innumerable suggestions for different versions in booklets and newsletter.
Shirley Adams of Alternatives had 3 base patterns (fitted and drop shoulder jackets, shell), plus other patterns which had the pattern pieces for variations.
See post on Pattern ‘hacking’ for 2021 pattern lines.


Rusty Bensussen Making a complete wardrobe from 4 basic patterns
Big shouldered 80s styles ! but still good inspiration for making small pattern changes with big effects. Though don’t follow the 80s idea of making dress, jacket, coat all from the same pattern simply by changing the length. Do make coat at least 2 inches/ 5 cm larger than jacket, and jacket at least 2 inches/ 5 cm larger than dress, if you want to be comfortable! Though if you’ll only be wearing a sleeveless top under the jacket, you can make jackets and dresses from the same block.
Minimal sewing instructions.
I have a post on following the inspiration of this book using a modern pattern.


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More complex pattern altering

Wendy Mullin Sew U and Built by Wendy series
Patterns for casuals. 3 base patterns in each book, with detailed pattern altering instructions for many variations, and even more suggestions. Inspirational pattern altering, but beware poor fit and minimal sewing instructions.

Sew U

Home Stretch knits

Built by Wendy Dresses

Coats & Jackets

Nora Abousteit Burda Style Sewing Handbook
5 base patterns, for blouse, skirt, dress, coat, bag. Pattern altering for several variations of each described in detail, with photos for more inspiration. Brief sewing instructions with few illustrations.


Sewing magazine Sew Stylish usually has suggestions for pattern altering, using a linked Simplicity pattern as a base (not supplied with magazine).

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Pattern altering – starting from basic personal blocks

When you do want to start making your own pattern from well fitting basic blocks, rather than from an existing pattern. The basic set of blocks is : fitted bodice, fitted sleeve, skirt, pants. Next step is to add casual/ dartless/ box torso block with associated looser armhole and sleeve.

Project based – Sure-Fit Designs booklets with DVDs.
Beyond bodice basics
Pants that Mix ‘N Multiply
Sew Sensational Shirts
Show you how to make various designs starting from basic pattern blocks. Related to the Sure-Fit Designs basic patterns, but can be used with any personal basic pattern blocks. Very clear with DVD demos.
The booklets that come with the basic dress, shirt and pants kits also include clear instructions for making many styles.
I like Glenda Sparling’s booklets. My body shape is so far from average that SFD basic blocks don’t give me a good starting point to make personal patterns from. But I can use her pattern altering instructions with my own personal blocks.

General principles without specific projects :
Adele Margolis Make your own dress patterns
Good clear guidance on how to alter your basic blocks. No basic patterns or specific projects, and nothing on how to draft personal fitting blocks. She assumes you start from a commercial fitting shell. (List of fitting shell patterns from Butterick-McCall’s-Vogue about half way down this post.)

Mrs Stylebook is a Japanese pattern magazine which gives detailed instructions for altering basic blocks to make specific styles. Visual presentation, metric, no sewing instructions. Use your own fitted and casual bodice blocks rather than theirs, which are for Japanese body shape.

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Goodness there are many options for devising your own patterns.
Which approach do you think would suit you best ?

These are my favourite books about pattern altering.
A post about pattern drafting and fit books is planned, then the final post in this group of book posts will be about sewing.

Do you make your own pattern alterations ? Start with a simple approach and see where it takes you 😀

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Post written June 2013, links checked May 2021

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Explore posts in the same categories: pattern making for clothes

10 Comments on “Favourite books – pattern altering”

  1. Have you looked at the Pattern Ruler in http://www.easypatternmaking.co.za? This system works really well, it is easy to learn, and in a short time every amateur sewer can be making patterns which fit!

  2. Faye Lewis Says:

    I value your posts and your suggestions and advise. It is invaluable!
    Question: What type or style top do you think pairs well with bell bottom pants?

    • sewingplums Says:

      Well Faye – my reply to this sort of question is – it depends !
      In my experience, what looks good on us depends very much on details of our body shape, as well as our personal style. Can you do some snoop shopping ?
      The traditional style with flares/ bell bottom pants is a slim fit but straight dartless top, in short or tunic lengths.
      Not many people could wear an oversized top with bell-bottoms without just looking large, but some wide shouldered people might look good.
      A more fitted wrap top could echo the leg shape.
      An hourglass person could wear a close fitted top. That could look exaggerated with extreme flares – but that combination might make good party wear.

      There’s an interesting new post from YouLookFab about styling boot cut pants. A reminder of how many details of a style can affect whether it looks good and we feel comfortable.

  3. ejvc Says:

    This is a very good post. I have made several fitting shells (as directed in pattern drafting manuals) and I have to say that the manuals completely fall down as to what to do with said shells afterwards. Because, simply, I rarely draft my own ideas from scratch.

    Instead as an intermediate seamstress, I have worked out basic “blocks” and sort of stick details onto them. Your post conveys the sense of this and it’s an area which is rarely discussed. Good job.

  4. Using your own sweatshirt or tee shirt pattern, you can make a button-up robe with side pockets. It is easy to alter patterns to make just about anything. I used a basic pull-over sweatshirt pattern as a start up guide to make a child’s comfy, button-up robe. By using a favorite tee shirt or sweatshirt pattern as a guide and making changes, you can create your own custom pattern!

  5. M-C Says:

    Mrs Stylebook gets my vote for the best patternmaking course ever. They’re the only thing I’ve found that clearly shows how to get from your basic block to the style wanted. As a plus, their styles are all impeccably contemporary, something which is emphatically not true for most of the patternmaking book offerings out there.
    One caveat though – I’m an average american in width, a bit taller. In short, I’m about 50% larger than a Japanese XL. So I often increase the recommended design features by that much, and get much better results. For instance, if the underarm ease is increased by 3cm, I’ll give it 4.5 to get the same look. That’s less true around the neck, but still something to keep in mind. And needless to say you need to be proficient in increasing bust size, and detecting styles suitable for that if you’re more than a B cup, even more than in US patterns.

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