As well as sewing skills, another main group of garment making skills are those used in pattern ‘hacking’ or altering. Get comfortable with the idea that, with a few simple pattern-altering skills, you can vary patterns to make them closer to your own preferences.
This previous post about making variations includes a few comments about getting and keeping the courage to do it 😀 Patterns are just a starting point, not sacred and inviolable.
If you like the idea of making variations, it’s easiest to start from a simple pattern without added style elements. That previous post started from a pullover top.
This post mainly talks about changes to a 2-part dress (with waist seam) such as the Seamwork Georgia dress. The Sew Liberated Nocturne top already has some distinctive style elements – the yoke and neckline notch. So it’s not so easy to vary. Though you could vary the overall length of the yoke, the garment, or the sleeves. Or add textile-skills to feature on the yoke. (Courses about making those 2 patterns in the first post of this group : Starting to make.)
The suggestions below refer to two Seamwork patterns as they make simple examples and have good making instructions. These pattern altering skills apply to many patterns, not just the patterns used here as examples.
Lengthening/ shortening pattern pieces
The easiest pattern-hacking skill is lengthening / shortening pattern pieces, see this photo tutorial from Tilly and the Buttons.
Using lengthening/shortening techniques, you can change the length of pant legs to make boxer shorts, Bermudas, capris, or ankle length pants.
This pattern is already offered in two lengths. But what about mid-thigh, or an ankle-length duster ?
Here are some of the versions of Quince made by Seamwork members.
The Seamwork magazine has a hacking post for Quince, which gives instructions for a long duster, as well as two small style element variations.
Some slightly more advanced pattern changes :
I think if you were making a cold-weather version of Quince, you would want to add more width at the front edge so the fronts overlap. Which would make the front edge longer, so it would also need a longer neckband piece.
Some people may find the sleeve cuffs too wide, so may want to try tapering the sleeves and cuffs. Pin in some taper, to find what amount you might like.
Many more possibilities in the ‘other sources of variations’ section below.
Length and other simple changes to a basic 2-part dress pattern
You might want to change the length of the Georgia bodice, sleeve or skirt (or any other similar pattern) for several reasons :
– fit : Commercial patterns have to be for ‘average’ body measures. Your proportions may be different : you may be tall or petite, short or long waisted, short or long armed, short or long legged. How good will it be to be able to match that !
– preference : you may prefer to wear short or long sleeves, short or long skirts.
– style : you may want to make other styles – perhaps :
– – shorten the top so the horizontal seam is below bust for an ’empire’ style,
– – shorten the top so seam is above bust for a ‘smock’ style (below armhole is easiest, half-way up armhole a bit more difficult),
– – lengthen the top for a long-waisted dress (‘waist’ seam at hip level, check the bottom of the bodice is wide enough for your hips),
– – shorten the skirt to a tunic,
– – lengthen the skirt to a maxi-dress (check you can walk in it – add width, see below – or seam splits. Seamwork magazine has a tutorial for faced hem-splits).
Here are some of the versions of Georgia made by Seamwork members.
Several people have varied the Georgia dress style by cutting the lower section wider (similar to lengthening a pattern), and gathering or pleating it to the upper section.
Two quite simple sewing skills.
Patterns for pleating are quite complex to understand, so I think it’s easier to add pleats by eye. Make a sample test top and wide skirt, and try some style ‘draping’ – working direct with the fabric rather than through the intermediary of a paper pattern. Add folds to the top edge of the skirt pieces until the edge is the same length as the bottom of the bodice. Pin or baste top and skirt together – match the side seams – so you can try your test garment on. Try different numbers and positions of the folds, different depths and directions of the folds until you like the result.
Tops, tunics, skirts
Many dress patterns, except the very fitted, can be shortened to make tunics or tops.
Several easy tops could be made from the Georgia dress, or many other two-part dress patterns :
– Lengthen the upper section – check that the extension is wide enough for your hips.
– Shorten the lower section to make a peplum top or tunic, with curved or straight hem, or side hem slits.
– When you know how to gather, add a frill at the lower edge. Basic gathers are 1.5 times the length they are sewn to. So measure the bottom edge of your top. Cut a strip of frill fabric at :
length = 1.5 x that measure.
width = however deep you want the frill to be + one seam-allowance + amount needed to make the hem.
If you want longer sleeves for winter on either the dress or top, extend the length of the sleeve pattern given. It would be a good idea to make a test garment using the sleeve length you have added, to check that the angle of the sleeve seam gives a sleeve width that is comfortable for your arms, and the length is your preferred style.
If you’ve changed a pattern, it’s generally a good idea to make a test garment (a ‘muslin’) to check the pattern fits and looks as you imagined, before using good fabric. This may seem like extra work and expense, but it saves the work, expense and disappointment of making something from good fabric and then finding you can’t or don’t want to wear it.
Make a note of your favourite lengths, so you don’t need to puzzle over this again.
You might use the lower section of a two part dress pattern with a straight skirt, such as the Georgia, to make an elastic-waist skirt. Make the waist casing for the elastic by the cut-on-and-fold-over technique. Turn in first 1/2″-1cm then 1″-2.5cm at the top to make a casing, and use 3/4″-2cm elastic. Leave a gap in the stitching so you can thread the elastic.
When you feel brave and would like to add another major skill, you could add a button placket to the centre front of the upper dress. See from about 3/8 through that post, or Sonya Philip has a photo tutorial. And see this post on making buttonholes.
A button placket is also a major focus of a later course from Sew Liberated, on making their Hinterland dress.
Or perhaps altering patterns is not something you want to do at all 😀 These suggestions are entirely optional possibilities !
After learning basic sewing skills, would you be happier to use commercial patterns which include many views/options, so the pattern-hacking has been done for you 😀
– – –
Other sources of variations
Changing lengths is just one way of varying patterns, though one that leads to a rich range of possibilities.
There’s a huge range of other variations you can make to a simple pattern. The suggestions in this post are applied to a pullover top, but most of them can be used equally well to other patterns. Perhaps a dress. From about half-way through : apply them to the yoke of a top. Or a jacket. Even a skirt or pants 😀
The All Well jacket pattern comes with a generous ‘hacking guide’ for altering simple jackets (next image). The main instructions also include many suggestions for variations. The jacket they are altering has cut-on sleeves, but the variations can be applied equally well to a jacket with separate sleeves.
Another new skill would be to add bias binding around the neckline edge. Here are some links to help with learning to sew bias binding.
Sew Liberated have a much more advanced course on pattern hacking, making 12 variations of their Hinterland dress. Definitely not for beginners. There are many many much easier ways of exploring making pattern changes, mentioned here and in the sources linked to.
See above note on making a test garment with a new pattern.
Sadly there’s no guarantee that new versions of patterns will match your dreams. But you can usually learn something from your bloopers, perhaps about fit, pattern making, fabric choice, sewing technique, flattering or practical style element positions and sizes, and your style preferences 😀
– – – – –
Others sections of this group of posts :
1. some starter points about learning.
2. some shorter courses.
3. easier makes, including tops.
4. simple variations.
5. being aware of your many styles.
6. Beginner Wardrobe, make one while developing your skills.
= = = = =