How to draft a pattern from you favorite clothing

  Earlier this month I’d mentioned I wanted to do a post to teach you guys how to draft patterns for your favorite clothes.  Today is the day!

  Being built funny (super long torso, broad shoulders, no hips) I have a really hard time finding clothing that fits properly at the store, so it breaks my heart when a favorite piece that does fit has to be retired.  Luckily, one of the things I learned while getting my degree was how to recreate a piece you love.
  Here’s what you need:
The piece you’d like to recreate, pins, pencil, ruler, cork board and tracing paper.
  If this is something you think you’ll be doing often, I’d suggest you invest in some drafting curves, but for your first try, a ruler and every day rounded objects should be fine.
  Spread your piece flat on top of your tracing paper (over top of the cork board) and insert pins through your seams.  Most pieces have at least one section that is going to not be able to lay completely flat without seams being ripped out.  Don’t freak out!  Just start at one end, pin as far as you can, and once you’ve finished marking that side, pull the pins out, realign the piece and unfold the folded under portion before continuing.  I typically put a pin at each corner and one in the center of each seam before using a single pin to “trace” the seam line by jabbing it in and out.
  When you’re finished, you will have a perforated outline of your piece on your tracing paper with holes like these.  They aren’t particularly easy to see, so more is almost always better.  Don’t punch so many holes the pattern piece separates, but anything short of that is good!
  The easiest way I’ve found to outline the shape is to mark each hole with a pencil dash and then step back and look at the overall shape.  Ignore any wildly out of line holes and trace smooth curves and straight lines to create your shape.  If you’re not sure if a curve or a straight line is more appropriate, look at the original garment.
  Assuming the piece you are tracing is symmetrical in the original garment, I find it best to next fold the pattern piece in half.  Chances are it’s not going to line up perfectly.  It’s really hard to lay a garment out and have everything perfectly flat and not stretched or twisted.  Averaging the two sides yields a more accurate pattern piece.  This is the only step that tracing paper vs. opaque paper matters.  Obviously you need to be able to see both lines at once to average between them.  If you’re not worried about it, normal office paper works fine.
  I also label my pieces at this stage.  There have been an embarrassing number of times I’ve walked away from a project thinking I’d be getting back to it that afternoon…only to have five thousand things crop up. 2 months later I finally stumble back across it and I’ve completely forgotten what I’ve already done.  Come up with a name that describes the garment to you.  Label what part of the garment you’ve traced.  If you’ve already decided what seam allowance you’re going to use, write it down.
  Once your seams are averaged out, you need to add your seam allowance.  5/8″ and 3/8″ are both “normal” sizes for seam allowance.  I usually use 3/8″ because it leaves less excess fabric hanging out inside the finished garment.  Keep in mind that if you’ve folded your pattern piece in half and are planning on keeping it that way (and cutting the piece on the fold of the fabric) you do not need a seam allowance on the fold.
  Pay attention to your original.  After creating this pattern piece I took a closer look at my shirt and realized that the channel for the waistband had been formed by folding over a 5/8″ hem and stitching it to the garment.  3/8″ wasn’t going to be wide enough for the drawstring to fit through.  I taped extra tracing paper to the top of the piece, fixed it and labeled it as an exception to the 3/8″ seam allowance rule.
  Continue using this method until you’ve recreated each piece of your garment.  Notice in the picture above that my shirt has elastic gathering at the neckline (un-stretched at left).  If your garment has elastic in it as well, stretch the elastic til the piece lays flat (like on the right) to create your pattern piece.  Once you’re done, release the elastic and measure the length of the piece when it is contracted.  This will tell you how long a piece of elastic to use to gather the seam.
  When your pattern is done, I find it easiest to store the whole thing a yellow mailing envelope.
Tips and tricks:
  Make sure that the first time you recreate your garment you use a very similar fabric.  If you’re recreating denim jeans, using a slinky satin is going to give you an entirely different look.  A change in fabric can completely alter the drape and appearance of a piece and you might not be very happy with the different result!
  If your garment is made from knit fabric, you almost always have to recreate it in knit.  Woven fabrics typically don’t stretch and so you usually need some sort of fastener to help with getting into and out of the piece.  Also, be certain that if you’re working with knit, the fabric you buy has a similar amount of stretch to the original knit!
  Lastly, have fun!  It’s probably going to take you a few tries to get this just right, so don’t get too up-tight abo
ut it!  Once you’re comfortable you’ll be able to recreate pieces and even alter them to better suit your own taste.
  …and as always, if you have any questions, leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to help!
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