Have you wondered if it might be worthwhile to draw up (or draft) your own sewing patterns? Whilst shop bought sewing patterns have a lot of flexibility built in to allow you to fit to your height and shape, there are some reasons why you might want to DIY your own. This post is less of a ‘how to’ and more of a ‘why?’ – not only in practical terms, but those less tangible too. Perhaps I’m also getting somewhat philosophical here.

Is it difficult, particularly for a sewer with their ‘L’ plates on? I think not, especially if you start simple. Isn’t that the case with everything? After all, Chinelo Bally, runner up in the  The Great British Sewing Bee 2014, had never used a commercial sewing pattern, and hadn’t been making her own clothes for long when she started the show. She used a ‘freehand sewing’ technique (meaning pattern drafting directly on to fabric), and she stole the show with her designs.

Could pattern drafting be for you? That depends on you and how you like to work, but here are 5 circumstances that might sway you:

  • If your not so standard height and figure have you making repeat adjustments to each new shop-bought sewing pattern. Some of us swiftly make the odd adjustment here and there, some of us need to make more….
  • When you can’t find what you’re looking for in the pattern books. Perhaps you have an eclectic taste, or a liking for a varied range of vintage style
  • If you want to cut the cost of each sewing project
  • If you want to be the creator from start to finish, to be self-sufficient and freed from ‘buying a style’ or ‘buying the fit’
  • When curiosity reigns (getting back to first principles appeals)

Pattern drafting doesn’t mean getting your paper, pens, ruler and measuring tape out and starting from scratch each time with a blank piece of paper (or fabric) for each new design, staring into space and waiting for inspiration. That would be frustrating, and if that were the case I wouldn’t blame you for turning away right now. However, by taking some detailed body measurements and creating basic patterns for a straight skirt, a close fitting, round-neck bodice and straight-leg, close fitting trousers to fit you exactly, you have your basic patterns, called ‘block’s or ‘slopers’. They incorporate all your idiosyncrasies which are wrapped up and revealed by your body measurements, and from there all manner of styles can materialise with a few changes to the original block pattern. An extra couple of darts here, a cut and splaying of the pattern there, an additional seam, an additional pocket. The world is your oyster.

It occurred to me, some time ago after I’d spent time cutting out pattern pieces, shortening at several points to fit the 4′ 11′ me and adjusting for a less than standard figure, that this might be worth a go. How many of us fit what is accepted as a normal figure?

I happen to be so short that even petite clothes in the shops can be too long, and hence, I shorten sewing patterns at several points (so for instance at armhole level, between bust and waist, between waist and hips) every time I start a new pattern. I’m in repeat mode. Most patterns have lengthening and shortening lines as a guide, which helps, but it involves a certain amount of fiddling around each time. I chanced upon Make your own patterns by Rene Burgh several years ago, and whilst flicking through, realised that if I made the basic body blocks to my height, all other designs resulting from these would have my just-shy-of-5′ figure built in.

I’ve always had less waist definition than most shop-bought clothes and sewing patterns allow for, and another fitting issue to deal with. You probably have your own versions of ‘wonkiness’ too, but in effect, you could account for these once in making your building blocks, then concentrate on changing the design: the fun part!

There is plenty of choice in sewing patterns, but you can still find yourself stuck looking for a particular shape and style, despite the choice, or find yourself bamboozled by all the choice. Two opposite extremes. There is something about going back to basic building blocks which can focus the mind. You might decide to take the basic bodice and widen the neckline. Then next time you add a round, flat collar, and next time you convert from darts to princess seams with little pocket flaps at the hips. You’re taking yourself on a journey – there’s progression.

make your own sewing patterns

I like the self-sufficiency involved. If I’m looking for something new to make and the shops are closed, I could get my thinking hat on, draft up a new pattern, and be started on a new project before the shops open again, or an online-bought pattern drops through the letter box. And, I haven’t touched the bank account.

That said, I am somewhat fixated these days on going back to first principles. So, if I’m assembling clothes from a pattern, then I wonder ‘how did someone design that?’, ‘how did we manage before commercial sewing patterns appeared?’ It’s like disappearing down a rabbit hole. How was that fabric made? There’s another rabbit hole to disappear down. You just have to decide which rabbit hole is the one for you.

My choice at the moment is between pattern drafting on to paper (brown paper or baking paper) to make paper patterns or directly on to fabric, following my recent purchase of Chinelo Bally’s  Freehand Fashion: Learnt to sew the perfect wardrobe – no patterns required!. I’m comparing the two approaches.