Turning Old Clothes Into a New Sewing Pattern

Do you have a well-worn, much-loved item of clothing that you just can't part ways with? I do, which has inspired me to take on a new project—one that's easy sewing for beginners. 

Favorite pajamas, by Amanda Madden.
(Stitch Gifts 2012)

Not long ago, I mentioned I come from a quilting background, but I'm excited to try my hand at sewing clothes. That still is my plan, though I have a new first project I'm going to try.

I have a favorite pair of pajama pants, given to me for Christmas by my sister years ago. Admittedly, they could even be more than a decade old. They are blue with colored polka dots, and I love them. The pants are loose-fitting with a drawstring waist. They are so soft, and are the perfect length.

But they've seen better days. Much better days. They have several small holes in the back and on the legs. Recently, I heard a huge ripping sound as one of the holes caught on a door handle as I walked by, leaving me with a big, gaping hole.

So I'm conceding defeat. These favorite pajama pants are no longer fit for wear, even in the privacy of my own home. It's time to find a new favorite pair.

But instead of sacrificing them to the rag bag, I'm going to use them as a pattern to make myself a new pair of pajama pants. It's the perfect project for beginner garment sewers like myself—I just need to pick out a pretty flannel fabric and get sewing.

Are you looking for family-friendly beginning sewing projects? There are many to choose from in Sew Fun: 20 Projects for the Whole Family. 

Do you have a worn piece of clothing you're having a hard time parting ways with? Have you ever used a favorite piece of clothing as a pattern? I can't wait to hear. 

Happy stitching!

Other sewing topics you may enjoy:


Abby Kaufman

About Abby Kaufman

Abby Kaufman is assistant editor of Stitch magazine. When she's not scoping out new fabrics for her collection, Abby enjoys outdoor activities, and spending time with her husband and two dogs. 

19 thoughts on “Turning Old Clothes Into a New Sewing Pattern

  1. Hello Abby, I have been recyling clothes for quite awhile now, t-shirts into skirts, for my granddaughter, or jeans into skirts for myself, just as I did as a teen, I have made memory quilts for grandmas and new moms using thier old clothes and a new one for babe or for a grieving mom who has lost their little one. I enjoy finding new ways to use old clothes, blankets, etc. to lower the cost of our budgets nowadays.

  2. Using old garments as a pattern is my favorite way to make new clothes. I have found that you use less fabric in its construction. Another bonus, is there is no fitting. You know how it will fit! Minor modifications can make the garment more stylish, but I have found that color and fabric alone will do that. Today, with the wide range of personal style choices, it works well!

  3. Hey, I love this topic, because I’m in the middle of experimenting with it right now. I’m mostly a quilter now, but have sewn garments since I was a kid. I’ve always been intimidated by knits, though. I decided to Just Do It, so I made a pattern out of my favorite boatneck t-shirt and made two new tops from it. They look great and cost next to nothing! I have several other knit items, like a cute dress, that I’m going to do next. Ultimately, I want to learn how to make muslin patterns of my own design, but I think that using existing clothing as a pattern is a step towards that.

  4. I have one nightgown for myself, and one for my daughter, that I use over and over because I like the simple style, and it’s quicker to make one than to hunt for the same style. I sometimes cut the different sections from different but coordinating prints.

  5. I grew up sewing. Remaking items was a past time. I hadn’t done much the last few years. Then I found a racer tank swing style top, at a thrift shop, that hung a little long. It is very sixties in it’s styling. I fell in love with it. Everyone loved it, but thought it was a mini dress. So I used it as a pattern, but elongated it a little for a dress that is outstanding with leggings and boots! Add a jacket and it is professional looking all year round. The first dress was an experiment with the hem a little shorter in front than back and it was a hit! I now plan on making several more for this year in a variety of colors! It dresses up and down beautifully and it always makes me feel young.

  6. Clothes need not be old nor the seamstress new to sewing. I often use favorite pieces to make more or duplicate some part of them. For example, I have a wonderful flared skirt made with panels. It is buttoned down the front and the waist band has elastic in the back. I have never found a pattern I like nearly as much. I just carefully measured everything, drew each piece, and created a pattern. Much cheaper than the original $70 price tag!

  7. I am only 5 1 1/2″ tall, but can’t wear petite pants because I have such a high waistline and my legs are so long that the pants are too short on me! .I have a pair of old pants that fit just right and have made a pattern from them. I can now whip up a pair of pants in no time. I am now 65 years old and have been sewing since I was seven years old. I am very lucky because my Mom was an excellent seamstress who was taught sewing and tailoring by her mother who was from the Ukraine and was taught to sew by a local tailor using a treadle sewing machine (which she brought over when she came to America and it is still in the family). By the time I took sewing in seventh grade I knew more about tailoring and was a better sewer than my teacher (who made me rip out my apron many times because I did it the easy way, not her way). I made all of my clothes in high school and only my closest friends knew they were home-made! I had quite a few girls ask me where I bought my clothes and I usually told them my Mom found them for me in a little shop she knew of. Back then wearing home-made clothes marked you as a loser, so I made sure to pretend the clothes I wore were store bought! Now I sew clothes, but my main focus is as an Art Quilter. I dye my own fabric and make my own patterns. I sew a jacket or something unusual to wear when I spot a fabric I can’t resist at a local quilting store that also sells fabric for clothing. However, now when I am asked where I bought something I am wearing, I am proud to say I made it!

  8. I’ve been hanging onto a lovely, drapey, calf-length, flirty, swingy skirt with a hole in it for over ten years because I love the style and the way it looks and the way it wears, wondering if I couldn’t use it as a pattern to make another. I think you lot may have just talked me into it. What’s there to lose? Cross your fingers….

  9. About 15 years ago, I was given a pretty pull over dress. My friend got it at the thrift shop. It is so cool. I live in the southern part of Florida. I wore it out. Since then I have made at least 15 or more. I have one on now. It is my house uniform. I even made a special one to wear over my bathing suit when I go to the pool for exercise class. I also am a quilter but sewing clothes is what I do . I have a small box for my favorite fabric patterns. Naomi Shoemaker

  10. Good luck with your pajama pants project! I know you can do it.
    I myslef have made patterns from finished clothes many times. It takes a little work, but if the original garment fit well it is absolutely worth it.

    The methods I have used are folding out each area of the garment (usually not cutting it apart, but in your case maybe so if the pants are unwearable,) on paper and marking with a pen or pencil around the shape and then adding the seam allowance. You then rearrange the garment to get each part putting the excess fabric underneath.
    If you cannot access a part easily then you can pin mark by sticking a straight pin thru the edge of the piece , right thru any folded up part of the garment underneath. This works easily if your paper and garment,etc. is set up on a soft surface such as a bed. Then you can poke down with the pin quite easily making pinholes an inch or so apart. Afterward you just connect the dots with a pencil and add your seam allowance.

    I have made clothing for myself, for others and to reconstruct some vintage clothing. Using the above methods means you do not take apart the original garment. This is good if it is in good shape or needs to be preserved. Otherwise cut apart a garment to make a new pattern.

    Another method I have used is to take a paper pattern that is similar and then check the garment you want to copy against the pattern – to check shape and size. Then you can use the altered paper pattern (just trim it, or pinch it in smaller, or slash and spread to make it bigger, etc.) You lay the pattern pieces on top of each part of your garment to check how it measures up. Then, after a few alterations to the paper, you have your new pattern.

  11. Hi Abby, I have done this a couple of times. I am a larger than normal gal and I have trouble finding clothes that fit and that I like the looks of and that don’t look like a modified tent! LOL. Soo when I find something I like, I have used eben the new clothes to make a pattern and copy it in different colors and prints. sometimes I modify the collar or sleeves a bit. I get a pretty nifty wardrobe and enhance my sewing skills at the same time!

  12. Maybe I’m missing something, but how do you turn an old garment into a pattern for a new one? Are there instructions in the book referenced? Or can I find instructions on how to do this elsewhere? Thanks!

  13. Maybe I’m missing something, but how do you turn an old garment into a pattern for a new one? Are there instructions in the book referenced? Or can I find instructions on how to do this elsewhere? Thanks!

  14. Hi Sasha – I’m going to use my old pair of pajamas as a pattern by folding them in half and laying them down on my new fabric and tracing around them, including extra room at the top, bottom, and front side. I can give you more specific instructions if you’d like – feel free to email me at akaufman@interweave.com. No, the instructions aren’t in the Sew Fun book.

  15. I have a nightgown that I have had for over 10 years and have saved for 1 as the top section had become so threadbear you can read through it. Now that I have read this article I plan to use the large skirt part as the material for pj pants. Thanks.

  16. Yes, I have done this many times. Sometimes the children had a favorite piece of clothing that they soon outgrew. It is best to wash and dry the garment, then take all the seams out. (If you are unable to take them out because of commercial serging, simply cut close to the seam). Press the pieces, taking care not to stretch them unduly, and lay them on paper to use for a pattern. Draw around the clothing pieces, adding up to 1/2 inch for the seams if needed. Cut out the paper pattern pieces. lay them on your fabric of choice and cut out your new garment. In the case of outgrown clothing, measure the child and add that amount when you are tracing around the old garment pieces. Remember to divide in half the measured amount for each garment piece as the amount you add to each piece will be doubled in the finished garment.
    Happy sewing!