How To Make Sewing Patterns (A Simple Guide for Beginners)

We all have that garment that we absolutely love, it’s comfortable and we always get complimented on it but you can’t find it again anywhere! So what do you do? You can learn pattern making to recreate your favorite garment again and again.

I know it can be daunting if you’ve never learnt how to make sewing patterns. But, with the Great British Sewing Bee getting much of the Western world in a buzz, I want to show you how easy it is to make sewing patterns that Esme and Patrick would be proud of!

​​What is a sewing pattern?

A sewing pattern is an instructional guide that shows you how to assemble fabric into clothing or other material items. It helps to cut out the right shape of material and therefore put a garment together. It also comes with written instructions and tips about the folded edge, to help you assemble the pieces together in the right order.

sewing pattern with markings
Sewing Pattern with Markings

Sewing patterns come in different sizes that are marked onto the paper, so you can cut the size that you need easily. If patterns will have repeated use, a sewing pattern may be printed on cardboard to make it more robust.

Often patternmakers digitize their patterns to save them as block patterns or for vendor purposes. Nowadays there is automatic pattern-making software available, where a camera will take a picture of patterns and digitize them on Adobe Illustrator.

FACT

Pattern making is relatively young – around 150 years old. American Ebenezer Butterick, created the first known sewing patterns in 1863.

Symbols

I’m going to be honest, it can seem tricky and technical. Making my own patterns was challenging in the beginning like learning anything new.

There are standard symbols and style lines that are included on a commercial sewing pattern to help guide the sewer when cutting and assembling the pieces of the pattern. 

Examples are notches which can represent seam allowances; zipper placement and fold points. 

Circular holes which could indicate darts or pocket placem.

A long arrow on a pattern indicates the grainline which is how the pattern should be aligned to be cut out. The arrow is aligned parallel to the straight grain of the fabric.

Why create your own patterns?

The best thing about making your own patterns to sew a garment is the fit. You’re making a guide to sew a garment at the desired and flattering size you want it to be. Once you get that perfect made to measure in a homemade sloper pattern, you can easily transfer it to another pattern. 

woman cutting pattern
Woman Cutting Pattern

It’s a great way to save time and money in the dressing room, by creating your own custom bodice piece from your own sizing that fits well. Plus, I think it’s pretty radical to make your own clothes rather than buying into the fast fashion industry! 

How difficult is pattern making?

I’m going to be honest, it can seem tricky and technical. Making my own patterns was challenging in the beginning like learning anything new. Some say you need to be good with math and as there is numerology included this can be tricky to grasp! Getting your head around numbers and symbols can be confusing in the beginning. 

Saying that, there are pattern drafting tips ready for anyone who wants to give pattern drafting a try, and reading this is an excellent start. 

Once you’ve got your head around taking measurements and putting them to paper you should find it pretty simple, especially if you start on smaller simple projects like a t-shirt, as you develop your skills in pattern making you can get more creative! 

What is pattern drafting?

Pattern drafting is a 2-dimensional way of preparing the blueprint of a paper pattern, by using a person’s specific body measurements. When you first create your own basic pattern with paper in your personal size – this is drafting. One can then make changes in a style by adapting the existing pattern.

Woman Taking Measurements
Taking Body Measurements Of A Woman

Nowadays it’s possible to use a computerized pattern maker, whereby software such as Adobe Illustrator uses a program algorithm. It will draft a digitial pattern for every individual size from scratch using generic measurements; variables and geometric objects.

What is pattern draping? 

Draping is a method that was originally called modeling. This was considered to be the original method of constructing different garments and was widely used while designing clothes.

This method would cover fabric onto the wearer or a model and directly pinning to get a reliable fit. Then the outline can either be transferred onto paper to create a pattern, or the pin markings and fabric becomes the pattern itself.

Designers who are creating a sculpted dress for example will most likely use the draping technique which uses lots of fabric to add fullness. It can be hard to imagine specific design elements such as ruffled sleeves with a flat paper pattern.

Materials like chiffon, satin and silk are rather usually considered in draped clothing. Inflexible fabrics such as canvas and denim are unsuitable for this draping effect.

TIP

For draping tips, a drape meter was used to determine a drape coefficient. It contains a number from 0 to 100 in written format, the higher the number the higher the drapability. For example, sateen and muslin cloths have better draping properties than twill hosieries.

What’s the difference between commercial patterns and custom patterns?

If you’ve ever sewn a garment at home before you will probably have used a commercial pattern. Commercial drafts are usually a trend item that has been designed to fit specific sizes – the problem is the average person doesn’t always fit commercial patterns perfectly!

Here’s a video explaining commercial patterns:

YouTube video
Commercial Sewing Patterns

They can be downloaded as a PDF, or if bought as an original they are usually made from tissue paper. 

A custom pattern is a pattern that represents a specific garment, which has been changed according to a designer’s desires adding fullness and creating a new element to the item. 

If you have downloaded a PDF pattern and are unsure what to do next, follow this quick and easy guide on how to print PDF sewing patterns.

Sloper or block pattern

A sloper or block pattern is used for home sewing and is a shape pattern based on general measurements. These print patterns don’t often provide much wriggle room or seam allowance. You could take a block pattern and adjust it to your specific measurements – the process of changing the size of a finished pattern is called grading.

It’s possible to buy block or sloper sets which consist of a seven piece template: bodice front, bodice back, sleeve, skirt front, skirt back, pants front and pants back.

NOTE

In my experience, adjusting commercial patterns is more labor intensive than drafting a pattern from scratch or playing around with digital pattern making. Although, using a commercial pattern as a block guide is a good starting point for those less confident!

Making your own sewing pattern

Person Making A Sewing Pattern
Person Making A Sewing Pattern

The design process of creating garments requires a few things..

Instruments you’ll need to create patterns

  1. A see through ruler – so you can see other design lines you’ve drawn for seam allowances. You also need a straight line for the center front.
  2. Tracing wheel – this is useful for tracing your pattern onto another piece of paper, and essential when making a sewing pattern from an existing item in your wardrobe.
  3. Pencil and eraser – easy to erase any mistakes (just in case!)
  4. Measuring tape
  5. Scissors or a rotary cutter – scissors are fine for a beginner to use as a rotary cutter requires a cutting mat!
  6. Paper – I like to use baking paper as it’s cheap and perfect for the job.
  7. A French curve – will help you to get perfectly curved arms and front neckline.
  8. Patternmaker – if you have this simple tool to build patterns from scratch, you won’t need the vast number of separate tools.

Measurements

Sewing patterns for various items require different measurements including:

Draft bodice block

You will need to measure: bust; waist; back width; chest width; center back length; shoulder; top arm.

For a draft sleeve block

You will need to measure: top arm; full arm; elbow length; elbow width; wrist circumference.

For a draft skirt block

You will need to measure: hip; waist; waist to hip; finished desired length point.

For a draft trouser block

You will need to measure: waist; hip; waist to hip; body rise; waist to floor.

RECOMMENDATION

A helping hand is useful for those hard to reach areas!

How to make sewing patterns

There are a few ways you can make a sewing pattern. Each takes a separate amount of time, and differs in technique. When making patterns, it’s all about choosing the option best for you. 

Drafting

The flat pattern method is when an entire pattern is drafted (drawn) onto a flat surface after taking exact measurements using rulers; a French curve and straight edges. An easier drafting pattern to begin with is to create a skirt, as understanding this will give you the skills to draft the edge of another garment such as a jacket, coat or dress.

Trace an existing item of clothing

This is an awesome way of pattern drafting your favorite item of clothes. Creating a template using this technique means you’ll have a basic understanding of how to replicate this again. It is as simple as taking out another favorite piece of clothing and drawing around it, then – viola! 

Deconstructing an existing piece of clothing

If your favorite garment is falling apart you can deconstruct the body using an unpicker, trace around each block on some pattern paper using a tracing wheel and recreate the glad rag.

Modify a well fitting item

This pattern technique definitely requires a mannequin or a helping hand. This is when the draping technique could be used to pin more fabric to a garment. 

Draping a 3D item to make 2D patterns

This would also require a model or mannequin to create a dress form. Using muslin or another fabric choice, you can then make your own pattern block with style pattern lines and print it out using Adobe illustrator. This is a cool way to start digital and 2D pattern making at the same time. 

Woman Measuring A Mannequin
Woman Measuring A Mannequin

Don’t forget to add seam allowances to your patterns before you cut fabric and sew them on your machine – it will save you fabric wastage and frustration, learn from my mistakes! Early on, I once accidentally created a very small dungaree dress from an expensive vintage corduroy I’d been saving!

NOTE


These are the edges that are added to pattern pieces around ½” wide, to make sure all the pieces are sewn together at the same distance to achieve the correct size. You can use the guide on the sewing machine plate to make sure you are sewing within the seam allowance.

Easy sewing patterns

In my experience some of the easiest sewing patterns to get started on are mens underwear and knickers. They’re pretty simple with a basic pattern; so whether you deconstruct an old pair or trace around them you’ll hopefully find it easy to make your own sewing patterns. 

They’re fun to play around with until you feel confident enough to move on to a larger garment.

Conclusion

Learning how to make sewing patterns is an incredibly rewarding and fun process! The more you practice, the more pattern manipulation techniques you’ll learn and develop your own fashion design. 

I hope you can see how easy it is to make your own sewing patterns and feel inspired to go and create your own pattern. You can also recreate your favorite wardrobe staple by making a pattern from clothes. There are plenty of resources out there, for example free courses online or a subscription box.

And for storing your favorite sewing patterns, consider getting a pattern organizer to keep them secure and organized.

Be helpful to other budding pattern makers and sewists, and share on your favorite social media channel while you are here! Check out my other articles as well, there’s sure to be something else here for you.

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Kris Daub
Kris Daub
[email protected] byCurated I'm a maker at heart! I love to create and tech others to create. I particularly sewing and hand crafts like ebroidery. I also love larger home decorating projects. ✂️ ?