How to Make Your Own Sewing Patterns from Existing Clothes
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Gather your materials
  2. Choose the right garment
  3. Prepare the garment
  4. Trace the garment on paper
  5. Add seam allowance and markings
  6. Cut out the pattern
  7. Test the pattern
  8. Make adjustments
  9. Create your final pattern
  10. Store the pattern safely

Whether you've got a favorite shirt that's seen better days or a vintage dress that fits like a dream, making patterns from existing clothes allows you to recreate these beloved pieces again and again. In this blog, you'll learn how to make your own sewing patterns from clothes that are already in your wardrobe. It's a fun, practical skill that can save you money and enable you to customize your clothing. Let's get started!

Gather your materials

Before you start making patterns from existing clothes, you'll need to gather a few basic materials. Don't worry, these are all simple items that you might already have at home or can easily find at your local craft store:

  • Tracing paper: This is what you'll use to trace your clothing item and create your pattern. Make sure you have enough to accommodate the whole garment.
  • Marking tools: Pencils or fabric markers are ideal for marking your patterns. These tools allow you to clearly see your lines and make any necessary adjustments.
  • Ruler: A long, straight ruler is important for drawing straight lines and measuring. An additional curved ruler can be handy for capturing the contours of your garment.
  • Scissors: A sharp pair of scissors is necessary for cutting out your pattern. Fabric scissors are best, but any scissors that cut cleanly will do the job.
  • Tape: You'll use this to secure your garment to the tracing paper.
  • Pins: These help hold your pattern in place when you're ready to cut your fabric.

With these materials at the ready, you're well on your way to making your own patterns from your favorite clothes. Remember, precision is key in this process—careful measurement and cutting can make the difference between a garment that fits perfectly and one that's just a bit off. So take your time, relax, and enjoy the process of creating something uniquely you!

Choose the right garment

Now that you've got your materials in order, let's move onto the next step: choosing the right garment. The best candidates for making patterns from existing clothes are items that fit you well and have a relatively simple construction. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Fit: Choose a garment that fits you well. The more accurately the original item fits, the better your new item will fit.
  • Simplicity: If you're new to this process, start with a garment that has a straightforward design. Avoid clothes with pleats, gathers, or complex details until you've got more experience.
  • Condition: The garment you choose should be in good condition. If it's stretched out or worn thin, it may not provide an accurate pattern.
  • Seams: The garment should have clear, visible seams. These will guide you when you're tracing your pattern.

So, take a look in your wardrobe and find that perfect piece. It might be a comfortable shirt you wish you had ten of, or a simple skirt that's just the right length. Once you've chosen the right garment, you're one step closer to making your own patterns and recreating your favorite clothes.

Prepare the garment

Great, you've selected your garment! Now, it's time to prep it for pattern making. Just like when you're cooking, good preparation can make the process of making patterns from existing clothes a whole lot easier. So let's dive in:

  1. Wash and Dry: Before you start, make sure your garment is clean and dry. This will ensure you're working with the garment in its regular state, not when it's stretched or shrunk from wear.
  2. Iron It Out: Iron your garment to remove any wrinkles. Wrinkles can distort your pattern, leading to an ill-fitting end product. Ensure the garment is as smooth as possible for the most accurate results.
  3. Lay It Flat: Lay your garment out on a flat surface. You want to get it as flat as possible to accurately capture its shape. If it's a shirt, button it up. If it's a pair of pants, zip it up.
  4. Smooth It Out: Smooth out your garment with your hands, paying close attention to any seams or darts. This will help you when you're tracing the pattern.

There you have it: your garment is ready for the next step. By taking the time to properly prepare your garment, you're setting yourself up for success in making patterns from existing clothes. And remember: a stitch in time saves nine!

Trace the garment on paper

With the garment all prepped, we're ready to get down to the fun part — making patterns from existing clothes. Here, we'll transfer the shape of our garment onto paper. Think of it as a dress rehearsal for your scissors!

  1. Choose Your Paper: Start with a large sheet of pattern paper, butcher paper, or even newsprint. You want to make sure it's bigger than your garment.
  2. Placement: Position your garment on the paper. If the garment has a front and back, start with one side first. Also, remember to fold on the center line for symmetry.
  3. Trace: Using a pencil or marker, trace around the garment. Be sure to follow the seams and curves closely. Don't worry if it's not perfect — we'll refine it later.
  4. Repeat: Once you've traced one side, flip the garment over and repeat the process for the other side.

And voila! You've just completed your first tracing. Take a moment to admire your work. But don't rest on your laurels for too long — we still have a few more steps to go in our journey of making patterns from existing clothes. On to the next one!

Add seam allowance and markings

Now that you've traced your garment, it's time to add some finishing touches. This is an important step in making patterns from existing clothes because it'll give you the wiggle room you need when you sew your new garment.

  1. Add Seam Allowance: Seam allowance is the extra space you add around the edges of your pattern. This is where you'll sew your garment together, so it's important to give yourself enough room. Using a ruler, draw a line around your pattern, typically 1/2 inch to 5/8 inch from your traced line.
  2. Mark Important Points: Be sure to mark any key points on your pattern, like where the armhole or neckline begins and ends, where the zipper will go, or where buttons will be. These markings will help guide you when you're sewing.
  3. Label: Don't forget to label your pattern pieces with the name of the garment, the size, and which piece it is (front, back, sleeve, etc.). This will save you time and confusion later on.

There you have it! You've added your seam allowance and markings, a crucial step in making patterns from existing clothes. Keep up the good work, and remember: practice makes perfect.

Cut out the pattern

Alright, you've done an amazing job so far! Now let's tackle the next step in making patterns from existing clothes — cutting out the pattern. It might seem a bit daunting, but I promise it's easier than it sounds.

First, make sure you have a good pair of scissors. They don't have to be fancy, but they should be sharp. Dull scissors can make this process a lot harder than it needs to be, and we want to keep it simple, right?

  1. Start Cutting: Carefully cut along the lines you drew for the seam allowance. Remember, slow and steady wins the race. If you rush, you might accidentally cut into your pattern, and we don't want that!
  2. Stay Focused: Pay attention to the areas where you marked important points. These areas can be a bit tricky, so take your time.
  3. Keep Your Pieces Together: Once you've cut out all your pattern pieces, it's a good idea to keep them together. You can do this by using a paperclip or a small binder clip. This will ensure that no pieces get lost in the shuffle.

And voila! You've cut out your pattern, moving one step closer to creating a fabulous garment from your existing clothes. Just remember, no one gets it perfect the first time. So, don't be too hard on yourself and keep trying!

Test the pattern

So, you've successfully cut out your pattern. Now, let's move on to the next exciting part of making patterns from existing clothes — testing the pattern. It's like a dress rehearsal for your garment, but with paper and pins instead of lights and music.

First, you'll need a sample fabric. This could be an old bedsheet or any other fabric you don't mind experimenting with. The idea is to use this fabric to make a mock-up of your garment.

  1. Pinning the Pattern: Lay your pattern pieces on the sample fabric and secure them with pins. Ensure the pins go through both the pattern and the fabric. This step is just like wrapping a present; you're securing the pattern to the fabric, so it doesn't move around.
  2. Cutting the Fabric: Now, using fabric scissors, cut around the pattern pieces. Be mindful of your seam allowances and don't forget to transfer any markings from your pattern to the fabric.
  3. Stitching it Together: Once your fabric pieces are cut out, stitch them together following the pattern. You can do this either by hand or with a sewing machine. Don't worry about making it look pretty; this is just a test run.
  4. Trying it On: Now for the fun part! Try on your mock-up. This will help you see how well the pattern fits and if any adjustments are needed.

Remember, this is a test, so it's okay if it's not perfect. The whole point is to learn and make adjustments. So, keep a positive mindset and enjoy the process!

Make adjustments

Now that you've tried on your mock-up, it's time to address any issues you've noticed. Making adjustments is a critical part of making patterns from existing clothes, as it ensures your final garment fits like a glove.

Did the mock-up fit too snugly in some areas, or was it too loose in others? Maybe the length wasn't quite right? No worries, this is why we test. Let's get those issues ironed out.

  1. Identify Problem Areas: Start by identifying where the pattern needs adjustments. It might help to wear your mock-up and look in a mirror, marking any areas where the fit isn't quite right.
  2. Adjust the Pattern: Once you've figured out what needs changing, it's time to adjust your pattern. If the garment was too tight, you might need to add space to your pattern. If it was too loose, you may need to take some away.
  3. Mark Your Changes: Make sure to mark your changes clearly on the pattern with a different color or a distinct symbol. This way, you'll remember what adjustments you made when you come back to this pattern in the future.

Keep in mind that it's normal to repeat this process a few times before getting the perfect fit. As they say, practice makes perfect! So, take your time, make your adjustments, and soon, you'll have a pattern that fits you like no store-bought pattern ever could.

Isn't making patterns from existing clothes a fun and rewarding adventure?

Create your final pattern

Exciting times ahead! You've made your adjustments, and now you're ready to create your final pattern. This is the moment when making patterns from existing clothes really starts to feel real, doesn't it?

First things first, you need to transfer all those changes you made during the adjustment phase onto a clean piece of pattern paper. This might seem like a tedious step, but trust me, it's worth it. It ensures that your final pattern is neat, clear, and easy to use.

  1. Trace Your Adjusted Pattern: Lay your adjusted pattern onto a clean piece of pattern paper. Trace around the edges, making sure to include all the adjustments you made.
  2. Label Everything: Don't forget to label your pattern pieces. Write down what the piece is for (like 'front bodice' or 'sleeve'), and mark the grainline. If you're making a pattern with multiple pieces, numbering them can be a great way to keep track.
  3. Include Seam Allowances and Notches: Add your seam allowances and any notches. This will make it easier when you're sewing the garment together.

Voila! You now have your final pattern. It's been a journey, hasn't it? But now you're ready to turn that pattern into a beautiful, custom-made garment. Making patterns from existing clothes might seem like a bit of work, but the payoff is a garment that fits you perfectly and reflects your personal style in every stitch.

Store the pattern safely

Well done, you have successfully navigated the process of making patterns from existing clothes, and you're now looking at your final pattern. But, the work doesn't stop here. It's time to think about how to keep your pattern safe for future use.

Storing your patterns correctly ensures that they last longer, remain in good condition, and are easy to find when you need them. Here's a simple guide to keeping your patterns safe:

  1. Flatten Your Pattern: Smooth out your pattern to remove any creases or wrinkles. This helps to keep it in the best possible condition.
  2. Choose the Right Container: A pattern envelope or plastic sleeve can protect your pattern from dust and accidental spills. A clear sleeve lets you see the pattern without opening it, which is a bonus.
  3. Label Clearly: Write or print a label with the pattern's name, size, and any other relevant information. If you're feeling fancy, you can even add a sketch or photo of the finished garment.
  4. File Away: Keep your pattern in a dedicated space, like a pattern box or filing cabinet. Organize patterns by type or size to make them easy to find.

Storing your patterns safely is an important part of making patterns from existing clothes. It means you can return to your favorite designs again and again, making each new piece a little bit faster and easier.

So, there you have it. You've walked through the process of making a pattern from an existing piece of clothing, and learned how to store it safely. Now, it's time to take that pattern and create something beautiful. Happy sewing!

If you're excited about making your own sewing patterns and want to explore more unique ways to personalize your wardrobe, check out the workshop 'Queering Fashion: From Dress Codes to Wardrobe Hacks' by Lou Croff Blake. This workshop will teach you how to break free from traditional fashion norms and create a wardrobe that truly reflects your identity and style.