Last week, I took a day off. Shocking, I know, but being self-employed means that sometimes I can just do that.
Anyway, I used my day off to make something fancy for myself. Or, at least, start something fancy for myself!
I have this one dress, right, and I love it. The fit is great, the cut is great, and overall, it’s just a really good shape on me.
I really wanted to make another dress that fits the same way, but in a different fabric, so I decided to use the dress I have as the model for the new one, which meant cutting the pattern from it!
I haven’t completely finished it yet, and it took rather a different turn once I’d cut the pattern pieces (I decided I wanted it to be one-shouldered, so I had to make adjustments to the shape) but I’ll show you the basic principle of cutting patterns from existing clothes, and outline the process that I followed, which works the same for everything!
Now, before I begin, please do as I say, but not as I do.
Press your fabric before you start, and clear your workspace properly, instead of just lazily sliding the things on the table to one side, because you’re too lazy to tidy up properly and make things easier for yourself in the long run!
Step 1 – Find a clothing item to copy
Pick something that fits you well, and make sure that the fabric you have chosen to use in the copied version has similar properties – i.e, if your dress is stretchy, but your fabric isn’t, chances are it might not fit you at the other end if you copy the pattern exactly….does that make sense?
Step 2 – Get your stuff together
This might seem really obvious, but holy hell you guys, the number of times I’ve gone to make something and then not been able to find scissors, or gone to reach for a pin while I’m holding things together in some awkward and delicate fashion, and the pins are on the other side of the room….well, it’s happened too many times now that I know to be organised before I start.
This is also when you should check that everything is ironed….but do as I say, not as I do, remember?
Step 3 – Lay your fabric flat on your work surface
Spread your ironed fabric out flat on your clean empty table. Ahem. Yeah.
Step 4 – Begin pinning!
Figure out a good placement for each pattern piece, paying close attention to the direction of the grain of your fabric, or if there are any prints you have to match up!
Once you’ve got it in a good spot, lay your dress right side down, and pin along the seams of each panel. Try and keep your pins as close to the seam, on the inside edge of each panel, so that you have a more accurate idea of the shape of each panel when you flip the rest of the dress out of the way.
Step 5 – Cut out your pieces!
Once you have pinned your section in place, fold the remainder of the dress over onto itself, so you can see the seam line, where you have pinned.
This gives you a line to follow, so you can just cut around the shape you’ve made for yourself. Remember to leave a seam allowance of at least 2cm around each edge, so that you have enough room to sew it together without making it too small to wear!
It’s really important to leave the same amount of seam allowance on all of your pattern pieces too, so if you aren’t so flash at eyeballing measurements, then maybe go around the edge of each section measuring 2cm from the edge at intervals, and then draw a line in tailor’s chalk. That way, you know you wont have any weird alignment issues when you go to sew everything together!
Step 6 – Duplicate!
There will obviously be some panels that you need more than one of, so instead of cutting them from the dress each time (which can be complex and time consuming), you’re better off to copy the pieces you already have! This way you can line up the print, if there is one, and make sure that they are exactly the same shape on each side!
For example, the piece at the front of this photo is the right-hand side of the bodice, at the front, so I need the left-hand side one to look the same!
In order to make sure you don’t end up with two right-hand pieces (which happens to me literally every time I sew when I’m preoccupied) make sure you place the piece you have already cut on top of the remaining fabric, right sides together! This is also a good opportunity to pattern-match, where you can – I used a fabric with a geometric pattern woven into it, so it was super easy to line up!
Step 7 – Lining!
The dress I cut my pattern from had a facing, rather than a full lined bodice, but I really wanted this to be lined (plus, if you’re not used to cutting your own patterns, sometimes it can be easier to line things completely!) so I cut all of the pieces again, in the same fabric, so now I have two of each piece!
Step 8 – Sew everything together!
Now, I’ve got no pictures of this step, because I made some major changes to the neckline (plus the finished product is staying under wraps until Miss Pinup!) but this is the easy bit!
You just need to sew everything together, following the structure of the original garment that you copied!
Now that you’re all finished, you’ve definitely earned a cold drink, because it sure is hot out at the moment!
You guys will never understand my mild obsession with Golden Circle Creaming Soda….
I made my husband a few shirts for his birthday following the same process, and they worked out really well, so it’s certainly not limited to women’s wear! You just have to pay a little more attention to the details on shirt collars, etc, when dealing with structured garments, but that comes with practice!
Copying patterns from existing garments is a super easy way to learn about the shape and structure of clothes, and it gives you so many more options than most of the pattern books at fabric stores, so it’s definitely well worth a try!
Start simple though, there’s no way you’ll be able to make a fully tailored suit if you’ve never sewn before, but basic skirts and tops are good practice!
Next week I’ll try and find some time to make a post about the key techniques that I use to make dressmaking easier, and the tricks I have for finishing my garments off to a professional standard!