Most of us don’t exactly fit in the narrow spectrum of sizing espoused by the clothing industry.
We’ve gotten used to blouses that don’t fit quite right, to wearing our trousers around our hips so that they will be long enough and to wearing tunic dresses while wishing we could wear an A-line dress.
Still, those of us who exceed the industry’s average sizing by only a bit have it better than Caroline Welz who, at 206cm in height, is the tallest woman in Germany.
Or Zainab Bibi, who was granted asylum in Britain after fleeing her home country because her extreme height of 218cm made her a target for violence.
What about Jessica Pardoe? At 208cm, she is officially the tallest British woman. She shops online for her clothes and, according to her, they are much more expensive than any clothes in the shops.
Wait a minute, what are we saying?
If you want to wear an A-line dress but can’t find one in your size or a pattern for it, you can make one! And if you want an open-back summer dress with a flared skirt, you can make a pattern for it, too.
You can make any sewing pattern you want, from a wrap dress to a knit dress… all the way to a dress tunic that flatters rather than conceals your shape.
Already the objections flow: ‘I’m not a designer’, ‘I’m not a pattern maker’ and ‘I don’t know a thing about pattern drafting!’
There, do you have that out of your system?
Perhaps the only thing stopping you from sewing your own clothes is that you need to learn how to sew but nothing is stopping you from designing your own dress patterns and your Superprof is going to show you how to do it.
And, just in case you didn’t know, your Superprof has sewing tutors standing by to help you learn how to sew, too…
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Getting Starting: Gathering Supplies
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be an art major to design a clothes pattern; you don’t even have to know how to draw.
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Your first step in pattern drafting is gathering the tools and supplies you need.
We want to focus a moment on pattern paper and our first question to you is: have you ever studied a Newlook, Butterick or McCall’s sewing pattern? Not the lines and symbols – we’ll get to them soon enough, but the quality of the paper itself.
Pattern paper seems to be very thin, like onion skin tracing paper, right?
This type of paper, thin and translucent as it is, is ideal for making patterns because it has a high cotton fibre content, which makes it resistant to tears.
When you go to your sewing supplies shop, you will find many different types of paper for pattern-making, from the Spot&Cross type to paper that is already gridded. You may even find packs of Burda Style tissue paper for sale!
Naturally, you should buy the paper you feel would give you the best results; the one you could best work with. However, we would like to give you a few things to think about:
- A roll of paper works better than sheets for pattern-making; you won’t have any crease marks to mar your pattern and your paper will always be long enough.
- You might find that the ‘busier’ the paper is – the more markings it has, the more distracting it can be
- choosing paper that has light grid lines may be a good ‘starter’ pattern paper
- Avoid standard craft paper; it is too thick and heavy for pattern making (but it is great for drawing!)
- Likewise, reconsider your selection of tracing paper; it may not hold up well for pattern making
- Do consider buying template card stock; we will explain why shortly
The right paper is essential to pattern-making but you will need other tools and accessories to make patterns for sewing your own clothes.
You can find a complete list of tools you will need in our pattern-making basics article.
Getting the Measurements Right
Obviously, the most critical aspect of making a dress pattern – or a pattern for a wrap skirt, patterns for loungewear or even a pajama pattern is getting the measurements.
Equally obvious is that contorting yourself to measure every aspect of your body is likely to yield an inaccurate result.
Even the seemingly easy measures, say from your shoulder to your wrist might not be wholly correct – and how could you measure from the nape of your neck to the base of your spine?
To obtain your exact measurements, you have a couple of choices: you can ask a friend you feel comfortable with to measure you or you could endure a session in a dressmaking shop to be professionally measured.
However, the dressmaker might not be thrilled to spend so much time recording your every measure but not getting a commission for any sewing project.
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There is another way you can measure yourself without making anyone angry or feeling embarrassed…
Your Superprof has outlined the easiest way to obtain your measurements without offending a seamstress in an article titled How to Adapt Sewing Patterns.
Now, let’s get to that template card stock we recommended you buy, along with your other pattern-making supplies.
You will not want to measure yourself each time you wish to make yourself something new to wear; for that reason, you should create a sloper.
In the fashion industry, a sloper is a size template that pattern drafters use so that they don’t have to measure again and again.
You may be new to making your own patterns and, by extension sewing your own clothes but we intuit that you will move quickly beyond beginner sewing and make more stunning outfits tailored to your figure.
For that reason, you will probably need to make three slopers: a bodice, a skirt sloper and a trouser sloper.
You can learn all about slopers and how to turn them into patterns for clothes in our in-depth article on pattern-making…
At this point, you have your templates – slopers, but you are not yet ready to make patterns.
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Finding Inspiration for Your Patterns
“We have nothing for you” – shopkeeper in Kunming, China upon seeing an overly tall/large customer browsing the racks of clothes.
If you’ve ever been driven out of a dress shop, either by the seething/sneering stares levelled at you or more overtly, as that Chinese shopkeeper did, you know what it feels like to be publicly shamed.
This time, it's their shame! You have a cloak of assuredness guiding your discerning eye; you only want to see what can be had. The getting will be done later, once you’ve drawn your pattern.
There is nothing wrong with you taking inspiration from clothing hanging in the shops or anything you see online.
For instance, if you like how asymmetrical hemlines set off your height, feel free to incorporate one into your prospective design. Likewise, if you prefer a scoop neckline to a boat neck, there is nothing wrong with borrowing that idea.
By no means are we suggesting copying the designs of any famous labels and in no way are we encouraging you to counterfeit designer clothing!
The idea behind looking at an assortment of designs is to find what works best for you, what features and aspects you like and what you feel you would be most comfortable wearing.
You may also look at sewing patterns; Kwik Sew and Sew Easy are just two names that have patterns in modern styles. You could look at Vogue patterns if you are angling for more classic lines.
If you’re cruising around online, you might try Lookbook, and even Simplicity Patterns has a lot to offer in the way of style and design.
You could also visit your local sewing store to paw through their pattern bins. Don’t know where one is? Find out in our where to buy patterns article…
Putting it all Together
You now have some great ideas for the dress you want to make and you have a sloper – a template of your measurements. You also have the tools you need to make your first pattern.
It is now time to put everything together.
Earlier, we mentioned you do not need to be an artist to make clothing patterns. Now is the time to prove our point.
You will use an assortment of guides – the straightedge, square and French curve you bought, to draw your pattern.
Place your slope under your paper so you will know how long to draw the skirt and how to draw the bodice.
Now, add embellishment: if you want your dress to have a square neck, you may use your L-square to draw precise angles. If you want the skirt to be pleated, you only need to draw vertical lines from the waist to the hem.
And so it goes: if you want cuffed sleeves, draw them in. If you are making a wrap dress pattern, don’t forget to draw in the sash.
Once you have your dress completely drawn, it is only a matter of making each pattern piece. Don’t forget to incorporate a 5/8 inch seam allowance!
You should end up with at least 2 skirt pieces (front and back), a waistband (unless you are sewing a tunic dress), and 2-3 pieces for the bodice, depending on whether you want it to button.
You may also have a collar or neckline piece and you may need some interfacing for your collar. You may also opt for sleeves and cuffs.
Once you are done with dress sewing, you can wear your new fit-and-flare dress to your first class so you can learn how to make patterns for more cute clothes!