Cut Up Your Patterns and Clothes

One of the biggest discoveries that I made about commercial sewing patterns was that I didn't have to stick to the pattern. I could change it.

I was sewing for years before I learned this valuable lesson. I wanted to sew the fashions that I saw in the magazines, and I couldn't always find these styles in the pattern books.

For instance, I longed for a cropped jacket with a nipped waist, but all I could find were more traditionally boxy jackets that ended determinedly at the hipline.

It wasn't until I started studying fashion design that I realized all the possibilities for altering patterns. Consider converting the traditional blazer to a more feminine, cropped silhouette. Here's how:

  • Choose a pattern that is similar in style lines to the look that you want—the simpler the pattern, the better. You don't want something that is too complex or different from the style you want to achieve.
  • Lay your front and back pattern pieces out flat. It helps to iron them.
  • Using an 18-inch clear ruler, carefully mark your new desired hemline from the bottom of the jacket pattern, moving along the edge and side curves. (If your jacket pattern has a straight center front bottom edge and you want a curve, you can add this, too!) 
  • With your ruler and a French curve, mark the new hemline. Blend the new hemline into the center front edge.
  • Using your French curve or just your eye and freehand drawing, draft in the desired waistline. Don't make too the change too drastic and keep in mind the ease and fit of the pattern. Even a 1/4-inch nip on a waistline can make a big difference!
  • Add seam allowances.
  • To preserve your original pattern (recommended), transfer the pattern markings, including your new alterations, to pattern paper and make a new pattern. 
  • Create a muslin to test out the garment for fit and style. Don't be afraid to experiment and try several styles. That's what designing is all about!

You can take these same principles and apply them to sleeves, hemlines and pants. Add a flounce to a skirt, create a vintage-Dior-style, elbow-length sleeve, or convert a favorite pants pattern into a pair of walking shorts. Be sure to follow the adjustment suggestions on the pattern pieces—it's not about just lopping off the bottom edge. You can even cut up patterns and add design lines to a garment as long as you remember to add in seam allowances and avoid dart areas. Get creative!

Trompe L'Oeil jumper from Cut-Up Couture

Along these same lines (no pun intended!), you can also cut up items from your own cache of clothing, and upcycle them into something new and fabulously stylish. How easy it this: You don't even have to make the garment; you just refashion and restyle an existing piece. There is this great new book called Cut-Up Couture: Edgy Upcycled Garments to Sew. Using men's clothing, the book offers 34 right-off-the-runway garments and accessories that you can make, many of which are reversible or can be worn several ways. I love it!

Balloon skirt created from men's shirts in Cut-Up Couture.


Let me know on this blog what you have done to alter patterns or upcycle your clothes or load your creations to the Sew Daily galleries. I can't wait to see what you've done! 

Happy stitching!

Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


Pattern Drafting, Upcycling

About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

9 thoughts on “Cut Up Your Patterns and Clothes

  1. My mom took me with her to Designing with Dusan when I was 13. (~1974) They said, oh, she’s a kid, no need to pay. I totally got it! I can draft those darts around anywhere! That said, I still buy patterns! But I can make them anything I want.
    I loved learning about moving the lines, and I still have my French curve ruler from then.

  2. I just started upcycling my clothes (and stuff from Thrift stores). I just finished a tunic I made from an old Indian Sari this past weekend. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take a picture of the Sari before I started. 🙁

  3. i love the idea of upcycling unused but still good clothing–so economical and so green! actually that is where many of my children’s clothes came from–also i have bought larger garments at thrift stores and cut them down for the kiddos. sometimes it’s worth it just for a great button set–cut them off to use on your creation and toss the icky garment.–anne

  4. Many years ago I made my daughter’s wedding dress by using two different patterns. The original dress would have cost $3,000. I made the dress and my mother made the veil for under $300 including Valencian (sp?) lace medallions at he hem. that has been my most ambitious project ever.

    I’ve also cropped and/or lengthened patterns such as when making Native Regalia.

    No one ever told me I couldn’t change patterns, so I just did it.

    Goody Dockstader

  5. I took a skirt bought at good will and trimmed of 8 inches. It previously fell at the top of my foot. I hemmed it to a more flatter knee lenght then added a ruffled flounce and some fabric flowers for a more frilly look. I used the part that I cut off for the flounce and and flowers.

  6. I have been crazed at the Thrifts! lol I shrink wool sweaters and create things but now eveRYTHING IS CALLING TO ME ..SO..i AM TRYInG TO MAKE SOME CAPES OUT OF LINED WOOL SKIRTS, OPENING UP THE BACK SEAM, REMOVing the ZIPPER, AND..oops sorry got carried and then I got a really fun mens lg rayon shirt with a city street print. I think I’ll try to make the neck into the waistline, the short sleeves into the pockets on the side and just see how the hem looks as is..wish I was retired and could do this full tme! AND had a big studio in which to do it!