There are so many simple ways of altering a pattern. Once you have a basic pattern that you like, you could spend a lifetime varying it 😀
This started as a post on varying a cut-on sleeve top pattern. The focus is still on pullover tops, but the ideas can be used on pretty well any other pattern as well.
The variations post became super-long so I’ve divided it into 3 sections :
A. change the style elements of the pattern (this post).
B. change a pullover top pattern to a jacket or shirt.
C. change the fabric, using textile skills.
This first post is itself very long, and is in two main sections :
– ideas for simple style element changes you can make.
– sources where there is much more help : either the pattern hacking is done for you and pattern pieces for the style changes are provided, or there are detailed instructions for doing it yourself.
The final section has some notes on changing the top proportions.
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Your starter pattern
There’s probably an infinite number of ways to alter a pattern. You can get a lot of use out of your base pattern, so it’s worth putting in the initial work of getting it right for you (here’s a post on doing that for a cut-on sleeve top). You could spend your whole life exploring one basic pattern – if you’re going to do that you need it to be a shape and fit you love 😀
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Change the bought fabric
Change the colour, texture, print, fabric type.
I once knew someone who always made exactly the same dress pattern in different fabrics – the biggest change was to warmer fabrics for winter. That was rather obvious (especially as it was a 60s style). Of course you are welcome to do that if you want to. In fact it’s a good approach if you’re a timid sewer – keep making exactly the same pattern until you feel confident with all the processes used.
But there are many simple ways of changing a basic pattern.
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Simplest changes to the style elements
Making changes to a pattern is often called ‘pattern hacking’. Perhaps this comes from ‘hacking it about’. Though the simplest changes often don’t need you to cut into your starter pattern.
Once you have a basic top pattern that you’re happy with, you can make an almost infinite number of related styles.
(If you find this thought daunting, scroll about half way down – to the second section of this post, with links to help : either the hacking is done for you, or there are detailed instructions on how to do it.)
If you start from a pattern that’s right for you, anything you make from it is also likely to be too. Though it’s still a good idea to make a test garment so you can check details of the re-styled pattern, such as the size and position of style elements. Or check the fit, if any area of the new pattern is smaller.
Here are some suggestions from Cal Patch about the variations you can make to a cut-on sleeve top :
Sketches by Cal Patch, all starting from a cut-on sleeve top.
From one of Cal Patch’s class descriptions :
“Once you have a sewing pattern you like, it can become the foundation for infinite variations by using pattern “hacks”. A simple pattern for a pullover top can become a hoodie, a jacket, a dress, a sweatshirt, a tunic, a jumper, a t-shirt, a smock… whatever you envision. Add seams, gathers, flare, pleats, collars, cowls, hoods, cuffs, plackets, yokes, facings or other design details, and you’ll see that there really are no limits!”
But that’s just for inspiration. You haven’t got to start with anything so complex.
Perhaps start with changing the length of body or sleeves, changing the neckline shape, or adding pockets.
It’s easy to change the body length of a top (see this tutorial from Tilly and the Buttons), to make a crop top, tunic, dress, maxi-dress. Also change your favourite cut-on or separate sleeve length in the same way.
Change the shape, depth and width of the scoop neckline by re-drawing it, you will need to change the neckline finish to match.
All those changes use exactly the same sewing instructions as the original.
Add any shape of patch pocket (sets of pocket patterns of different shapes linked at the end of that post).
You may like to leave changes which need a different technique until later. Again start simple, with a change that needs a technique that you’re already familiar with. Such as vary the hem finish – try bias strips or fraying. Or add an in-seam pocket.
If you don’t believe these simple variations can make a big difference : for examples of simple style element changes, all starting from the same cut-on-sleeve boxy-top pattern, click through these photos from a class taught by Cal Patch.
Once you have made a simple change a few times, you will see that making variations is not a difficult or intimidating process. All you need is the tiniest bit of courage to try altering a pattern 😀 (and a lot of pattern paper and muslin !) And to be willing to accept that your variations will not always be a success (perhaps see the coping with mistakes post). Which is why it’s a good idea to test a new pattern by making a muslin.
Start simple. Look at the first post in the group of posts on cut-on sleeve tops. Notice what the beginner top patterns suggest – they change lengths, add seams, gathers, pockets. All seen in Cal Patch’s photos.
For some other simple starting points for ‘pattern hacking’ see :
Make everything from one pattern – scroll down to the ‘with very little pattern work’ and ‘with a little more pattern work’ sections.
What can you make from one top pattern.
You could also change hem shapes : add curves, corners, anything you like 😀 See the hems post for how to finish curves and corners.
And vary the angle and shape of your cut-on sleeves (this is one of those pinterest images which has been used so often its origin has been lost). The Strata top is a cut-on sleeve top from Sew Liberated patterns.
What about a sleeveless version ? two methods of making the pattern :
– simply continue the side seam line straight up to the shoulder edge. Finish the armhole edge with a narrow hem.
– cut out a curved armhole shape. Try a test to make sure it doesn’t cut into you anywhere. Finish the edge with bias binding, bias facing, or a true facing. See facings post for links to pattern making instructions. It’s easy to make a pattern which combines neckline facing with armhole facing, though a bit trickier to sew, see the Patterns for Pirates photo tutorial.
Move on to making an opening down the front, then you can do anything 😀 For some links to instructions, see Part B on jackets.
For a hood pattern, to add to either a pullover top or a jacket, search “hood pattern drafting” at pinterest.
Or add every type of pocket. Here’s a pinterest board of ideas.
Diane Ericson uses pockets as a major design feature in art-to-wear, she has a pattern for 60 pockets.
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Support for making style/ pattern changes
Pattern making done for you
Perhaps you would prefer to start with using some multi-view patterns in which the pattern changes are done for you. Either always work this way, or get a good visual idea of what you are aiming for before you try doing your own hacking.
The Magic Pattern book has 6 patterns, and 6 versions of each. Complete pdf patterns provided, so you can see what the changes are.
Fit for Art patterns provide many patterns which include all the pattern pieces for variation to their basic patterns. If you don’t want to use their patterns, look at their patterns for inspiration about the changes you can make.
An old book could also be helpful. Easy Sewing the Kwik Sew Way by Kerstin Martensson is long out of print. There are 4 basic full size patterns, for blouse, two skirts, and pants. The proportions are rather out of date and the size range is small, but the book includes many variations of the basic patterns. The advantages of this book are the variations are marked on the base patterns, and Kwik Sew patterns were noted for their good sewing instructions. So you can see how the changes are done, to apply them to your own base patterns.
Detailed instructions for simple pattern hacking
If you would like detailed instructions when you make your first attempts at do-it-yourself pattern changing, the All Well Workshop top pattern comes with a ‘hacking guide’ with written instructions for simple variations.
Starter pattern at top left. Three basic types of change :
– change length,
– add sleeves,
– add a ruffle.
Pattern pieces included for those changes. When you know how to do those pattern changes, then you could add a ruffle to the dress. Add sleeves to the ruffle top and dress. Change the length to make a crop-top or thigh-length tunic. Add ruffles to the armholes or sleeves. Change the length of the ruffles. You can see how, when you know how to make one type of change, the options begin to multiply. More suggestions in the hacking guide.
The All Well Workshop jacket pattern also comes with a written ‘hacking guide’ full of ideas, which can also be used on other basic jacket patterns.
The All Well Workshop pant pattern only has simple variations.
Judy Kessinger of Fit Nice has many suggestions for pant styles you can make starting from an elastic-waist pant pattern. She doesn’t always give complete clear instructions, so you may need to do a little problem solving yourself.
Tropical Research also suggests simple hacks to a pullover top, and has lovely diagrams illustrating slightly more advanced techniques.
The momosAtelier version of an easily hackable top has separate sleeves and includes some sleeve variations. She has many collar and cuff patterns on her site, which could also be added to her (and other) patterns.
Sonya Philips’ book The Act of Sewing includes 2 full-size top patterns (one has cut-on, one separate, sleeves), and half the book is on pattern hacking and sewing for style variations. You have to draft the variations yourself, from the instructions given.
Her video class at Creative Bug on making her cut-on sleeve top includes several variations shown in videos. Follow along to find how easy it is.
For some other simple variations, see the old boho book : Illustrated Hassle-Free Make your own Clothes, with simple methods for drawing your own patterns. They add ruffles to sleeve and body hems. They also change the neckline shape. Most simple top patterns finish the neck edge with a bias strip facing, so it’s easiest to make a neckline that is round, V, or square. In this book they finish the neckline with a true facing. So you can have almost any neckline shape.
Look at the poster from ModularMe for more ideas of what you will be able to do once you can do all those hacks.
If you prefer video instructions (with summary written instruction support), you could buy the ModularMe course on how to make all those changes. If you get that course, I suggest :
This isn’t for total beginners as there’s nothing on how to use a machine.
There isn’t a list of supplies needed. You need tracing paper as well as fabric and thread.
For the ‘make your basic pattern’ course : have a quick look through the instructions before starting as there is no index and it’s useful to know :
– don’t follow the links on p.5 as the topics are covered in more detail later.
– the later instructions are in an odd sequence :
p.12-14 : print and assemble pattern.
p.6-7 : choose size and alter pattern.
p.11 : cutting layouts for placing pattern on fabric.
p.8 : make test garment (toile) and revise pattern.
p.15 : construction – straightforward from here.
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Change the top proportions
When you’re comfortable with drawing your own pattern, look at the different shape tops on the cut-on sleeve pinterest board.
See where the body and sleeve hems, and side seams, of a shape you want to copy come on the wearer’s body.
There are also variations in the sleeve width/armhole size. (No armhole seam, so take the armhole as the area between shoulder point to underarm.) Note where the bottom of the armhole comes, relative to the wearer’s body.
Measure those distances on your own body to use in drawing your pattern.
There are so many on-line diagrams with measures for drawing your own top pattern, I stopped pinning them (see above pinterest board).
Make a test garment, and revise your pattern if the measures you used have not given the result you are looking for. Professional designers do not expect to get their designs right first time, but may need to make many test garments. And you can too. Developing a basic pattern may use up a lot of cheap fabric !
More advanced pattern changes
Once you feel confident with making simple changes, you may like to move on to more complex pattern changing skills. Here’s the ‘Creative Hinterland’ pattern making video course from Sew Liberated patterns. Definitely not for beginners, but that course will give you the confidence to make the changes in the sketch from Cal Patch that this post started with, and more.
Though, as shown in this post, there are many very much simpler changes you can make to vary your base patterns, without needing to go on to the Creative Hinterland course or the daunting world of college textbook pattern-making tomes. The Creative Hinterland course doesn’t mention this wide and much easier range of pattern changing options, because these easy changes are already in the pattern the course starts from. Sew Liberated’s Hinterland dress pattern includes changes in skirt and sleeve length, with added pockets and button plackets. But you can learn to add those simple changes yourself to other patterns. Perhaps use that pattern to see how it’s done !
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Good Luck, have fun following up on your dreams. En-joy exploring the possibilities for making everything about your me-made clothes to your own choice 😀
What do you dream of wearing, that you can’t find in the stores ? How can you build up to making such styles for yourself ?
That no longer need be just a dream 😀 😀 😀
♥️ 👍 ♥️ 👍 ♥️
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These are now the sections in this group of posts on learning to sew garments :
The way this group of posts has become so large just shows how much there can be to know about sewing, even at the lowest levels.
These are a couple of posts on starting to understand your machine :
1. learn to control speed and direction, by stitching on paper.
2. thread the machine, stitch on fabric.
This is the post I keep referring to about learning the most basic skills before starting to make garments.
1. Start on the path to learning to sew garments :
1A. Pattern lines which teach.
1B. Some big ‘learn to sew’ courses.
2. Some shorter courses.
3. Make making easier – levels of difficulty, suggestions for practising.
Moving on from the basics
While writing these posts, I was thinking about varying a garment pattern in two contexts :
4. Variations on a cut-on sleeve top, now expanded to include more garment types :
Variations A : change style elements (this post).
Variations B : from pullover to open front.
Variations C : using your fibre-arts skills.
D : Variations on the 2 patterns used in the Seamwork learn to sew course, a dress with waist seam, and a robe-style jacket.
5. Become aware of your many styles.
6a. Beginner wardrobe A : add skills as you make clothes. This post provides a guided sequence of making which you might follow.
6b. Beginner wardrobe B : some possible outfits/ capsules from specific pattern lines.
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These are posts on specific easy-make garment styles :
Cut-on sleeve tops – group of five posts :
2A. Reasons to make a test garment.
2B. Making a test garment, and adjusting for fit and preferences.
2C. An example of a changed test garment, plus how to revise your pattern.
3. Sewing a cut-on sleeve top.
These posts were initially followed by a post on making variations, now enlarged and generalised, see above.
Peasant-style tops, with gathered neckline and raglan sleeves.
More easy tops.
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