If you are an old hand at making your own clothes, there is a good chance that you use a sewing pattern for every article of clothing you make.

Aren’t they handy? Skirt patterns, patterns for sleepwear, loungewear, tunic tops… you know, like the scrubs you see medical personnel wear.

Like off-the-rack clothing, clothes patterns are sized – and, just like ready-made garments, those sizes tend toward the majority which means, if you are extraordinarily tall or engaged in a long-running battle of girth, you may have trouble finding a pattern to fit you.

Speaking from experience, you’re really in trouble if you have both extra height and extra padding!

Still, there is no good reason why everyone cannot have stylish clothes that fit well, that they are comfortable wearing – a fact that seems to escape the clothing industry. Thank goodness for patterns sewing!

Let’s say you just ran across a really cute Kwik Sew or Lookbook pattern; you know you would feel great wearing that outfit! If only it could be longer (or shorter) or more generously cut (or cut smaller).

Wait! Don’t put it back in the bin just yet! Let your Superprof show you how you can adjust any pattern to fit your particular body type.

Dissecting Dress Patterns

If you are only just learning how to sew, you may not have any experience working with any patterns for sewing. If that is the case, this section is for you.

If home sewing is totally your bailiwick – you would feel lost without a treadle under your foot, please bear with us as we highlight features of a standard dress pattern for those less experienced seamstresses.

You may actually provide extra guidance for our beginner sewing friends in the comments below, should you feel so inclined.

If you're not average sized, you may adapt your simplicity pattern
If you are not of average size, you may consider downloading free sewing patterns and adjusting them to fit your measurements Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

Imagine you are in a store where you can buy sewing patterns.

Take a moment to look at any sewing pattern envelope: Simplicity, Butterick, even Vogue patterns, if you tend toward the elegant. Do you notice anything distinctive about these patterns you can buy?

Each pattern-protecting sleeve shows more than one design on it and each design is slightly different.

That doesn’t mean that you will get four patterns in one envelope; those diverse sketches are meant to represent that you can make several articles of clothing from a single pattern.

Once you settle on the pattern of your choice, maybe a wrap skirt or a dress tunic – a great look if you’re taller than average, especially with an asymmetrical hemline, take those delicate papers out of their sleeve.

Lay them out on your sewing table and study them carefully: the bodice, sleeves, neckline and the length.

Offhand, pattern pieces look a mess: solid and dotted lines running everywhere, notches; arrows, stars… it can all get very confusing to the uninitiated. That means that your first task is to get familiar with the symbols you will find on every pattern.

Now, about those lines.

Some pattern makers actually print what those lines are for on the pattern itself: how the pattern should be laid out with the grain of the fabric, seam allowances, or to shorten the proposed garment or the sleeves.

Dotted lines that ‘shadow’ a solid line generally indicates the garment’s seam allowance and, should your pattern have several solid lines that all converge on a point, that indicates that the pattern is sized.

Simplicity patterns usually indicate which size each line represents; often by using standard ‘S, M, L, XL’ coding. They also usually relate such designations to an actual size: S would be a size 8, for example.

You might think that, because patterns are already sized, you have no hope of fitting that lovely wrap dress pattern you fell in love with to your unique measurements.

Dressmaker, unless you know how to make your own dress pattern, this is where the rubber meets the road. Gather your sewing supplies; it’s time to learn how to adjust clothing patterns.

Getting the Right Measurements

If you have ever visited a dressmaker (or tailor, if you are male), you know that the first step in creating a bespoke garment is taking measurements. The trick is, how are you going to measure yourself?

This sewing tutorial will save you time and frustration
Instead of measuring yourself for each of your sewing projects, measure your clothes instead Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Chances are you have an article of clothing that fits you particularly well.

Instead of contorting yourself to take your own measurements – a sure recipe for disaster, simply measure that garment that fits you so well, as a tailor would measure you.

Lay out the pieces of the shirt pattern, skirt pattern or dress pattern you just bought. Next, pencil-sketch each piece in a notebook so that you can enter your values into that sketch rather than marking up the original pattern.

No need to worry about your drawing skills; what matters are the measurements you will record on your sketches.

Find good sewing courses here.

Let’s suppose you want to make a pair of trousers, only because trousers are the most intricate articles of clothing to measure.

  • First, lay them flat on the table to measure the waistband.
    • You might consider pinning your tape measure to one side of the fly and around the waistband, as needed.
  • While they are still laying flat on the table, take your hip measurement at the trousers’ widest part
  • Now, measure from just below the waistband to the crotch point.
  • Next, measure the inseam – from the crotch point to the hem
    • and then, the outer seam: from the bottom of the waistband to the hem.
  • Flip the trousers over to measure the widest part of the seat.
    • You should also measure the hips again and you will measure again from the bottom of the waistband to the crotch point.
  • Now fold the trousers in half so that the crotch point is visible. Again measure just below the waistband and across the top of the thigh portion.
  • Invert your fold and measure again, from the side seam to the fold.

You will also measure the arc from the waistband to the crotch point. For this, you should have a French curve, always recording those values onto your sketch. This completes measuring your trousers.

Measuring a blouse or other top works on the same principle.

You will measure the neckline, the bust, the distance from shoulder to shoulder and shoulder to hem, from underarm to hem and the armhole, again using the French curve.

It is critical that you do not round any of your measurements.

If you add so much as an eighth of an inch to your hip measurement, for example, you are adding a full half-inch to the overall measurement!

As long as you’re going this far, why not learn how to make your own patterns?

Dress sewing patterns are easy to adapt if you know your measurements
Dress forms are also an effective way to adjust a pattern provided it is sized to your measurements Image by Lara Gonzalo from Pixabay

Adjusting the Pattern

From here, it is a matter of doing the math.

Pin the store-bought pattern to your fabric, mindful of following the fabric’s grain. With tailor’s chalk in hand, mark your revised measurements directly onto the cloth.

Compare your ideal measurements those on the pattern. If your waist measure exceeds that of the pattern, simply add the extra length you will need to make the trousers fit you.

And so you go, comparing each pattern piece to the measurements you’ve made, adding fractions of inches as needed.

You might wonder what to do about seam allowances.

The average seam allowance is five-eights of an inch or 1.58cm. So, as you go through your pattern, don’t forget to add that extra measure when you do your calculations.

Here is an example: the original pattern specifies a distance of 20 centimetres from the hip to the centre on the back panel of the garment and your measurement is 21.2 cm.

You cannot simply add 1.2 centimetres to the pattern’s measures; remember that you will have two such panels, meaning that your additional width will be doubled. You must divide that extra 1.2 cm to ensure the proper fit.

Now, add your seam allowance: 0.6cm+1.58cm+1.58cm = 3.22cm. (Note: both sides of the panels have seam allowances, that is why you add 1.58 twice).

You should also look into pattern-making basics, whether for fashion design or to add embellishment to your existing wardrobe.

Consider a Sloper

Before you tuck yourself behind your sewing machine, we present another sewing hack: create a sloper.

The garment industry makes ample use of slopers to make clothes that are all the same size. Slopers for industrial use are called blocks; there are slopers/blocks for tops, trousers skirts.

You might think of a sloper as a stencil of your measurements.

Unlike a pattern, a sloper will not incorporate any style or embellishments such as ruffles, darts or pleats. There will be no sewing directions or other markings, and no seam allowances.

Your sloper can be used to resize other patterns; you can also use it to create patterns of your own.

In fact, you could design and create an entire wardrobe for yourself with just three slopers: a top, a trouser and a skirt sloper; and you only need that last one if you are mad for wearing skirts and dresses.

As long as you already have a precise set of measurements, why not measure your best-fitting blouse for your shirt sloper and, if you have one, a pencil skirt for your skirt sloper.

That doesn’t mean you will forever wear only pencil skirts. Such a skirt is best to capture your waist and hip measurements and you can use your sloper to make an A-line dress, a circle skirt or even a gathered skirt if you so desire.

Would you like more sewing tutorials? Learn all about pattern-making

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Krishna