Have you ever struggled to find the perfect pattern for the clothes you want to make, or run into a pattern with instructions so complicated they’re all but useless? It can be tough to feel like you’re limited by the pattern options available at your local sewing shop, so if you’re ready to branch out, why not ditch the pattern altogether? It’s less difficult that you might realise. If you already have the skills to assemble a garment using a store-bought a pattern, you’re ready to experiment with making your own! There are a few tricks to keep in mind as you get started. Check out these ten tips for sewing without a pattern.
1. Start with the basics
If you’ve never created something without a pattern before, start with something simple, like a flowing circle skirt or pyjama pants. The simple shapes and relaxed fit of these garments makes it easy to use your measurements and simple math to craft your own without a premade pattern.
2. Get good measurements
The more you rely on your measurements to create a garment, the better you want those measurements to be. If you’re used to just estimating, now is the perfect time to learn how to take your measurements properly. Check out this reference for a complete how-to.
3. Use your favourites as a model
Sewing without a pattern doesn’t mean sewing without any guides at all. One of the best places to start is with your own wardrobe. Take a close look at your favourite outfits to see how they’re made. If you can, disassemble them to see exactly how they’re put together, and use the pieces as guides for cutting your own. Try to recreate a few of these favourite pieces as practice, then start branching out by changing different elements, like the neckline, sleeve length, or hemline.
4. Use a dress form
It’s tough to get a good fit when you’re wearing the clothes you’re working on. As you begin to create more complex and fitted garments, it will be important to have a model on which to fit your clothes. An adjustable dress form works well if you sew for a range of different body sizes and shapes. If you frequently sew for yourself, you can make a form in exactly your size and shape using duct tape! Check out this tutorial on how to make your own custom dress form.
5. Don’t forget wearing ease
Wearing ease refers to the extra space in a garment that makes it comfortable to wear. This comes not only from adding a little extra to your measurements, but also the stretch of the fabric. If you’re using a garment made from a knit fabric as your guide, remember that you’ll need to add extra ease if you opt for a woven fabric, which won’t stretch as much. Similarly, cutting woven fabric on the bias will give you extra stretch, and may mean you’ll need to take in your measurements slightly.
6. Practice makes perfect
When you start creating more complex garments, it might come in handy to use what is called a muslin, or a practice version of your piece. This gives you the chance to get your fit just right before you even cut into your pricey fashion fabric. Though unbleached muslin is the traditional fabric of choice for these practice pieces (hence the name), it’s important to use a fabric with a similar weight and drape as the fabric you plan to use. That way you can get an accurate sense of how your garment will look once it’s complete and make adjustments first.
7. Take a pattern drafting course
When you’re ready to take your sewing to the next level, consider taking a course on drafting your own patterns. Many of the tools and techniques will be familiar if you’re already used to making adjustments to patterns. It’s easy to take the next step to making complete patterns of your own. This is particularly useful if you want make clothes to measure based on your own designs, or if you want to share patterns you’ve made with others.
8. Study patterns carefully
One of the best ways to learn about developing your own patterns is to carefully study commercial versions. It’s easy to tell at a glance the difference that the height of a sleeve cap can make, for example, when you’re comparing two patterns directly. You can also look at the patterns you’re most familiar with to see what makes them easy or challenging, or spot areas where you frequently have issues with fit. Once you know what you’re looking for (or looking to avoid), it’s easy to create patterns that give you the result you want!
9. Use shaping techniques
The easiest garments to make without a pattern tend to have minimal shaping, but as you get more experienced, you can practise using a wide range of shaping techniques to give the tailored look you want. Darts are one of the simplest techniques, though they can take a bit of practice to master. Need some pointers? Here are a few tips for getting perfect darts every time.
10. Mark carefully
When you’re sewing with a premade pattern, all the marks you need are printed right there on your page for you. When you’re sewing with your own pattern, or working just from measurements, it’s important to add those markers for yourself. Use tailor’s chalk, disappearing or washable ink, or marking pencils to keep track of exactly how your pieces should be cut and assembled. Delicate materials, such as lace, can be hard to mark; use thread tracing—marks made of contrasting coloured threads basted loosely through the fabric—for an easily visible alternative.