Simple pattern altering

Do-It-Yourself ‘pattern hacks’.
Last year I wrote a post describing the easiest types of pattern changes.

Beginner (no need to re-draw pattern pieces) :
– change length of hems and sleeves,
– omit patch / inseam / welt pockets, collar piece of 2-piece collar,
– use a larger size for a layering garment (not the best technique for making a pattern for a layer, but it is easy).
Advanced Beginner :
– change edge shape of collars, patch pockets,
– add seamlines, e.g. for yoke, colour blocking,
– change neckline, cuff, hem edge shape (also change facing if used),
– omit collars or sleeves – may need to make facing patterns,
– omit slant pockets – need to combine pattern pieces.
Intermediate :
– open or close the front of a pattern,
– make a skirt from a pant pattern.

There are of course many other possible pattern alterations, those are just some easy ones.

That post was based on one specific pattern, but it had a final section on other patterns and sources of advice you might use. That section has kept spreading, so I’ve made it this separate post.

This is a developing area of sewing support, so this is just a selection of the possibilities.

Written instruction

Pattern pieces provided for all the variations

Of course many people don’t want to do their own pattern making. Would much rather just find a pattern they like where someone else has dealt with the variations. We all have different skills we enjoy using when we’re making clothes.

Lotta Jansdotter’s wardrobe pattern book Everyday Style just uses fabric or length changes to make her style variations. Traceable paper patterns. BurdaStyle-like brief instructions, not for beginner sewers.
Sew Serendipity by Kay Whitt is a wardrobe pattern book which includes the pattern pieces needed for the style variations. Tissue patterns.
The Magic Patterns Book by Amy Barickman also has pattern pieces for all the variations. Pdf patterns.
BurdaStyle patterns magazine often has the same block as the base of several different garments.

If you are interested in learning about pattern making, you can learn much by looking at how these pattern variations are achieved (it’s often very simple).

Pattern pieces provided for components, and you choose your combination

Fit For Art patterns provide a half-way house. There are basic tissue patterns for knit top, pants, and jacket. Then many further patterns with the pattern pieces for other styles.

There are also several books which provide you with patterns for components. These are a couple of them :
Pattern making templates for skirts and dresses by Alice Prier
Sew many dresses by Tanya Whelan
I don’t sew dresses myself, so can’t comment if these do the job well.

Given how interesting tunics can be these days, The Tunic Bible is remarkably dull, just one basic style.

The basis of doing this is to use patterns which match at the seams, so you can change the shape of the pattern each side of the seam, such as pattern pieces with the same length of :
– neckline seam : add different collars,
– princess seam : change neckline or draping in centre panel, without having to re-draft anything else,
– armhole seam : combine different bodies and sleeves,
– waist seam : combine different tops and bottoms for dresses, jumpsuits, peplum tops, jackets, coats. . .
If you want to combine pattern elements which haven’t got the same length seams, it’s often simple to trace the matching pattern edge from the other pattern.

Do your own simple pattern altering

Easy re-drawing of pattern pieces.
There’s no need to be daunted by the huge pattern making college texts. There are many simple introductions.
See my post linked above, on easy pattern changes.

Many ideas for what to do with the shirt, pants and a-line skirt patterns provided in Wendy Mullin’s pattern book, Sew U.
The styling booklets and leaflets from Sure Fit Designs have clear instructions for many options, and can be used with most basic pattern blocks, not just hers.
The FitNice System has 2 very simple base paper patterns and many pdfs about style changes. The basics are knit tee, elastic-waist pants – the free pdfs show what the blocks are like. Again the base blocks don’t work well for me, but you can use the pattern altering instructions on any personal block.
Cal Patch’s book DIY Clothes has you start with simple basic block drafting, then there are instructions for patterns for many current styles. Sadly it doesn’t work well for me as there are few diagrams. Minimal sewing instructions. She now also has a video class at Creative Bug.

Several of the independent pattern companies have a blog with easy ‘pattern hacks’. I’m not going to try to list those, as any list of independent pattern companies changes daily !

Combine simple pattern changes with good sewing instruction ?
The oop book Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way has many easy variants from tee and shirt patterns.
Alison Smith’s book Dressmaking step by step (12 patterns, 19 variations) is a selection from her big Dressmaking book (the same 12 patterns, 31 variations) (these Sewingplums pdfs show the patterns included : US letter, A4).

Video instruction

These all show how to draw your own changed patterns.

Many of Peggy Sager’s webcasts are about simple but effective pattern variations. She talks about Silhouette patterns, but most of the ideas apply to many similar patterns.

Angela Wolf has 2 Threads magazine DVDs/downloads on alterations to specific patterns :
1. wardrobe pattern with dress, skirt, pants, jacket
2. classic sheath dress and jacket pattern

Here’s an on-line course from Cashmerette on changing a sleeveless top pattern to make multiple styles. Emphasis on pattern changes. A curvy pattern, but the same ideas apply for all shapes and sizes !

There are Craftsy classes on varying the style details of shirts and pants.

If you want to learn ‘professional’ detail about pattern making, Suzy Furrer has Craftsy classes with some suggestions for designing tops and pants.
She also has specific classes on patterns for : darts and seam lines, necklines, collars and closures, and sleeves.

Those are all about making the patterns for specific styles.
Peggy Sagers of Silhouette patterns has 2 useful more general DVDs :
– her basic pattern making DVDs are very clear, tho expensive.
– she also has a DVD on combining details from different patterns.

I find that, while I love videos for sewing technique, when I’m learning about pattern making I prefer written instructions with lots of diagrams to ponder at my own pace.

No pattern altering instructions, but many ideas about what to do

This pinterest board shows some patterns that are particularly easy to make changes to.

Not sure what you want ? This post links to pinterest boards with many style elements for different types of garments.

A few years ago I wrote a post on some patterns which show a range of other options for simple pattern and style altering. And it’s partner post on more casual styles.
Those posts are not solely about pattern changes, but there are several good examples of small changes which can make a big difference.

There are also of course many ways you can alter a garment without doing any pattern work.
This post has many starting points for combining fabrics or adding sewn embellishments.
This pinterest board has many inspiring examples of fabric combining.
Diane Ericson has published a new version of her ‘Just Pockets’ pattern, with 60 pocket ideas !

What a wealth of possibilities. It can be bit overwhelming. Definitely a good incentive to get clear about your personal style.

It used to look so easy just to leaf through a print pattern catalogue and spot patterns you liked ! But I usually didn’t see anything that was ‘quite right’. Now I’m happier taking elements from different patterns and knowing how to combine them.

Can you see why commercial companies of cheaper clothes make one basic block, and then make many small changes to give different looks ?
It’s developing the basic block which needs the main work. Then the potential for tweaking it to make different styles is almost endless.

For us home sewers with far from average shapes – get the basic pattern blocks to fit, and that’s most of our fitting challenges sorted.

Then, if that’s what we enjoy, we can have fun with playing the changes 😀

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Explore posts in the same categories: pattern making for clothes

6 Comments on “Simple pattern altering”

  1. Karen Kayes Says:

    Great inspiration. I am learning to be more adventurous now I’ve mastered my sewing skills and want to use my fitted patterns more, thanks, loved your post.


  2. I’ve been noodling around with pattern adaptations for as long as I can remember and just take it for granted. But drafting from scratch is another thing entirely. Much as I adore Craftsy, I was reassured to hear you validate my experience that it is easier to learn drafting in print and at one’s own pace.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Yes, Nancy. I gave up on drafting from scratch some time ago. My body’s special features are not ones that are covered by most pattern drafting methods. When there’s a general garment shape I can think of many variations for, I get a commercial pattern to fit, then use that as my base block. There’s so much you can do with very little specialist knowledge.


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