The Problem with Patterns

The Problem with Patterns II: The Recovery ReFashion
Flower Power Wraparound Pants

Today’s post addresses something that I find endlessly frustrating:

Sewing Patterns.

Bite me.
Bite me.

Ugh.

As you know, I love sewing! I wish I had more hours in the day/week/month/year to do more sewing.

And I wish I had enough fabric to sew more with patterns. :/

But patterns are the bane of my sewing existence, friends. I can sew. I can actually sew pretty well (always room for improvement). I can sew with a pattern. Heck, I even drafted my own when I made this dress from old Christmas Sweaters…just to prove my sewing chops to anyone who dared doubt them. ;)

See? I know how to use them!
See? I know how to use them!

However, most projects I begin with a pattern, end up more like this dress where the pattern gets abandoned at the end.

The problem for me is most clearly illustrated by this photo.

:/
:/

This is from the instructions for be above pattern. Do you see the problem yet?

The problem is, I don’t buy new fabric, but try to work with already-existing clothing like this dress.

I feel like one of the Golden Girls would have felt right at home in this.
I feel like one of the Golden Girls would have felt right at home in this.

Pre-existing clothing rarely, if ever, can be laid out in a nice panel and then snipped into the desired pieces like the instructions indicate. I could use curtains, bedsheets, or tablecloths, but I don’t usually find any of these that I want to turn into a garment.

Setting out to take apart an item of clothing with the intention of using a pattern to re-construct it takes a leap of faith. You have to believe that you have enough fabric that you can piece together in a way that won’t be ugly or weird to complete the task at hand. The reason the sweater dress worked so well is that I had six sweaters, all of similar fabric. This usually is not the case.

Plus, sewing with a pattern takes FOREVER, and unless I think the finished project is going to be amazeballs, I’d rather just do a non-pattern refashion.

But this time, I decided to go for it.

This dress appeared to have plenty of fabric for this simple pattern. I figured that once I cut open the sleeves and combined them with the rest of the fabric from the bodice, I’d have enough to make the bodice of the new dress. If not, it looked like I’d have enough leftover fabric from the original skirt to add to to it to make it work.

I opened my pattern and examined the pieces.

Oookay.
Oookay.
But wait...there's more!
But wait…there’s more!

Next, I carefully unpicked that neck tie thingy from the original dress. My plan was to create the B view of this pattern and use the repurposed neck tie as a belt.

Pick!
Pick!
Belt in waiting!
Belt in waiting!

Next, I took the dress apart, cutting open all the seams.

I was feeling pretty optimistic when I saw how much fabric there was!

Oh yeah!
Oh yeah!

I cut out my pattern pieces and got to work.

First, I cut out the two pieces for the skirt.

Cans make fine pattern weights.
Cans make fine pattern weights.

Unfortunately, when I was done, I realized I didn’t really have any leftover fabric to contribute to the top part of the dress, or the facings for the neck. :/

Cutting it close!
Cutting it close!

Next, I tried every possible combination of layout with the top pieces to fit to the pattern.

None worked. I was an inch off here, or 1/2 an inch off there, no matter how I tried to puzzle piece it together. :(

I wasn’t ready to give up! I visited my scrap pile, and pulled out the biggest one I had, even though, in retrospect, it would probably look fairly awful attached to the skirt of this dress.

Maybe?
Maybe?
No dice. :(
No dice. :(

I couldn’t believe this! I just could not make this work for the life of me! I didn’t have enough scraps that would work with the fabric/print of the original dress, and I was getting really really frustrated.

All I had to show for a good bit of work was two rectangles I cut from the original dress, and a bunch of useless scraps.

#AngryHand
#AngryHand

Do any of you pattern-using folks have any advice on how I could better guesstimate how much fabric I actually have in a garment vs. how much is needed for a particular pattern?

Come back tomorrow to find out what did to salvage what I could of this refashion flop!

Hint!
Hint!

Cheers!

4.8 (96%) 55 votes

88 thoughts on “The Problem with Patterns

  1. Try salvaging as much as you can of a refashion as large rectangular pieces. Sew them together until you have a yard or two. Then cut your pattern on that. You can even mix fabrics together for an interesting duel pattern look.

      1. Gabriella’s suggestion is a good one. I recently turned a long skirt into a tunic top and found that being flexible is key. Even as I was laying pattern pieces on top of the old skirt, I had to try things multiple ways. Eventually, I had to make 3/4 length sleeves instead of long ones. Sleeves take a lot of fabric! Also, the more familiar you become with patterns, the more you can finagle things because you understand how the pieces come together. I have no clue how to guesstimate whether or not your reused item will have enough fabric for the new one, but it seems to me that the more you try something, the easier it is to make things work. I am an ace at making patterns using much less fabric than called for because I know when I can rearrange the grain of a piece. The more you sew, you also learn how to use gussets and darts and options to facings to help facilitate alternative ways to construct clothing. Of course, if you get frustrated, set the project aside and try again later–don’t give up. And please try to refrain from using phrases like “bite me” in your otherwise wonderful blog.

        1. It’s precisely the very personal and human tone of voice you use in your writing – like ‘bite me’, ‘holy crap’, etc. – in which your own sense of humour sounds through, that makes me enjoy your blog much more than any of the cookie cutter other refashioning blogs out there. I hope you’ll never let anyone elses perception of ‘proper’ interfere with your writing style. It’s *your* blog after all :)

        2. Would you walk up to random stranger in a store or at church and tell them you didn’t like the way they speak or the words they choose? I think many people forget to be as polite on the internet as they are expected to be in person.

          Her blog is here to share as a courtesy to help and inform. If you disagree with how someone communicates, please just leave and move on… like you are expected to do out in real life.

  2. You can guesstimate but for you, wouldn’t that maybe be kind of like re-inventing the wheel? You are very skilled at working without a pattern. Go with what you know and then use the pattern for the new fabric….until someone is able to make more patterns for refashioned clothes and fabric
    Until then you ROCK at this refashion thing!

    1. I love your writing style. It’s your blog. You keep it real in clothing and life. You encourage me to do better in recycling clothing!

  3. I dig that you showed a flop, which was as enjoyable to read as a refash success. It was reassuring to know that you (the expert) still has occasional mishaps. Your pedestal may have wobbled a bit, but, my dear, you are without doubt, still on it.

  4. I used to do this all the time. You have to take apart the garment first…then decide what you’re going to make out of it. Facings take up a lot of fabric. I’ve made them from a coordinating solid or gone with a full lining. Sometimes you want to pull your hair out, but when you finally finish your refashion, it’s worth it.

  5. I also have issues with patterns! It’s way cheaper to buy a $1 dress and refashion it than spend $6/yard, plus notions, to make a brand new one. And, I think it’s also way more fun and rewarding to make an amazing outfit from of something that was discarded.

  6. Make the top part with a matching plain fabric and use some of the scrap pieces to add a yoke or tabs or something to tie the top to the skirt. Maybe a band around the neck or sleeve edges. Ultimately I think you shoul always lay out all the pieces before you start cutting if you want it all in the same material.

  7. I love your blog! I have started a non-profit sewing program, using recycled fabric. You are a great inspiration!! We are targeting disenfranchised women who need work, but because of illness, legal problems etc. can not find work in the market place. We will gift them older refurbished sewing machines if they complete the course. We hope to provide “kit projects” for them to make (primarily pillows) and hopefully devise a marketing plan to sell the finished products for them.

    1. To Doris and anyone else helping others through sewing: Check out

      thesewingmachineproject.org They may be able to help you provide machines and partner with some projects.

  8. Hi, The second I saw your pattern and your dress I knew you would not be able to make this pattern work. Your pattern has an all-in-one top and sleeve. Your dress has a set-in sleeve. Right away, you must realize you have a problem. Not near enough fabric. Shop for dresses with big wide raglan sleeves. Leave the sleeves and top in tack, but open up the side and under arm seams. Spread this whole mess out flat and you will have plenty of fabric for new sleeves and top. Buy the biggest size dresses you can find…..you get lots more fabric. And think about this, most patterns are bigger than the size quoted. Say you are a size 12. A size 12 will fit a size14 just fine but will probably be to big for a size 12. And they give you 5/8 seam allowance. Just cut down your paper pattern a bit and use a 3/8 seam allowance. I have been sewing for 60 years and let me tell you, I have sewn just about everything there is to sew. You are so funny and talented. Like you haven’t heard this before. Keep on sewing, I need a good laugh everyday.

  9. I pin all the pattern pieces to the old garment before taking it apart. If they don’t fit easily on half the garment (since most of them have to be doubled), I find a different use for the garment!

  10. You can do this, but you may not want to because you do so well with refashioning! The key is when your pattern is pretty close to the style of your existing garment. The pattern you had here takes a lot of big pieces of fabric because it is unstructured. Hence big pieces of fabric needed. If you have something large on you and want to make some interesting features you have seen on a pattern, you can deconstruct the parts or all you want to redo, and cut them down to the pattern pieces. The BEST part of this is you can use existing buttons and button holes, zippers, interfacing, cuffs, etc that is already in place! I do this often to turn a thrift store garment into a garment from a pattern I like. I used to sew from scratch for many years, but stopped because scratch takes so much longer and costs so much more than using a thrift store garment to refashion or to use as an inexpensive head start to a pattern garment!!
    Love your blog!! Yay Jillian!!!

  11. First thing’s first… Don’t cut anything until you have laid out ALL of the pattern pieces. The other thing I can tell you is that, as you get used to working with patterns like that, you’ll eventually know approx. how much yardage a given style/size dress will yield. You’ll also learn how to adjust and put two pattern pieces into one, overlapping on existing seams to account for the lack of whole runs of fabric. (Example, I would have picked out your sleeves first, then the side seams, leaving the full front and back pieces whole without pulling the seam at the waistline, then using the bodice and skirt pattern pieces as one and cutting that out of the full pieces. Since you don’t have to worry about that additional seam allowance, you gain a bit.) Also, if you’re short like I am (under 5’1″), many patterns like that will be too long anyway, so you can probably drop a few inches from the length of the torso or skirt areas. Once you use a pattern once, you’ll have a better idea how much you can lose and still have it look and fit like the actual garment.

    Regardless, you make awesome things anyway, so don’t let the pattern folks get you down!

  12. Looking at the pattern, it’s obvious that the sleeve is part of the top, and needs more fabric than you have with the thrift store dress. Since you’re petite, you can probably use a pattern on a dress that’s at least 4 sizes bigger than what you wear, and has similar pieces to cut the pattern from.. Also, you can iron those pattern pieces so that they lay flat on the fabric.

  13. I’m really surprised there wasn’t enough fabric. A few things: Plan ahead! Shuffle all the pieces around until they work. Make the facings from other fabric if necessary. And also remember how oversized most sewing pattern are – they usually have way more ease than you want. So you can almost certainly use a smaller size. And sometimes you can use existing seams – which saves the seam allowance (plan ahead before cutting all of the seams.)
    — not Reg Green, but it’s too much trouble to sign in as Maggie Green!

  14. Use the original bodice and cut it down. But then if you do that I guess it would have been better to just do the refashion. For me, that is what you just proved; just do the refashion!

  15. Something that my dad taught me applies always to wood projects as well as any craft projects: measure twice and cut once. I would have laid out the pattern pieces before I cut anything just to be sure. However sometimes my dad did not follow his own advice,,,and the drywall was too short for the wall. LOL.

  16. Augh! When in doubt, have a solid piece of fabric that can be substituted. Sometimes, even a contrasting piece looks okay with it. I am noticing more and more clothing items made like this. When I was a kid, we NEVER put a plaid with flowers…or stripes with polka dots. Nobody cares any more. You could have used a different piece of fabric for each pattern piece. Interesting…

  17. In the 1940’s when my mom took home economics they literally had to sew one item, get graded on it. Take it apart and use the fabric to make a completely different item. She told me the teacher stressed the importance of no wasting allowed. Could you cut the facing for the neckline out of a complimentary fabric?

  18. I’ve done this too! lol. Mostly when I make purses and bags and have used a pattern. I’m with the earlier commenter. Try to Frankenstein the pieces into one big piece. Gotta warn you…sometimes it aint so pretty. I love the idea of using a different fabric for facings too. Keep fighting the good fight!

  19. Thanks for starting a great discussion, Jillian – I’ve learned a lot. Refashioning is all about opportunity – if something doesn’t work, try something else. Looking forward to the revised dress reveal.

  20. Use solids instead of prints and also try to use fabric that isn’t too stretchy. That way, if you have to turn a pattern piece in a direction contrary to the pattern directions (i.e. off grain) you[‘ll be less likely to notice that each part of your garment isn’t properly on grain.

    Also, use an original garment that has pieces similar to what you want your finished garment to look like – a V-neced pattern piece can pretty much lay right on top of an original garment with a V-neck for, example.

    Make facings using scraps. You can also fake a hem using scraps if you’re a bit short on the bottom. Also, use a bigger garment to make a smaller one – like using a dress to make a top, for example. (I used men’s shirts to cut out the pattern for my baby’s christening outfit, for example).

  21. i usually take the garment apart, but then sew the top front and bottom front together at the waist BEFORE I put the pattern on it for the front. I do the same for the back. I never use the same fabric for the interfacing…always find something else that coordinates-ish. I have been known to have seams in weird places just to have the fabric match and cover the pattern piece.

  22. Your weights reminded me of my mother. She always sewed at the kitchen table and used flatware pieces to hold her pattern down. I was amazed when I took home economics and had to pin the pattern pieces to the fabric. My mother did not have time for all that!! She was, by the way, an excellent seamstress, and I, unfortunately, inherited none of her talent or desire.

  23. You said you needed facings. Suppose you used bias tape instead? Or what about all the linings you’ve cut out of dresses (you hate linings, you said). Are any of them black or any of the colors in the pattern? If not, I’ll bet in a week or so you’ll find something you can use. Be patient.

  24. Unless the re-use dress is humongous I would not even try it, although I think one could use bed sheets and curtain fabric that come in much bigger pieces to begin with. I like your idea of dyeing fabric so maybe dye a sheet or curtain first before using pattern it’s also easier to roughly calculate square yardage with these used items…

  25. I bet you salvaged the project by turning it into a skirt. Correct?
    Fabric shortage, I find, is a great creative opportunity. But I do love that your refashion aesthetic includes the “fast turnaround” concept :).
    I love what you make & love your writing style too!

  26. Is there a way to know you ask?….Well yes, yes there is a way but it will require a fair amount of measuring…..you up for that?…..I can’t tell from the picture of the original dress exactly how the bodice is put together (is it a button up from the waist up?) Anyway, you should have had enough fabric to do the remake….Measure the front and back bodice widths and lengths. Next, measure your skirt front and back widths and lengths….Now do the same thing to your pattern pieces and that should give you a very close approximation as to whether you have enough fabric. The sleeves are extra fabric because your new dress is sleeveless so they could be used as facings but in reality, you don’t have to face with the same fabric unless you have a collar turn out or something like that but I don’t see that being the case in the new dress….Let me know if that helps and keep in mind that I don’t live far from Columbia if you ever want a sew day…=o))

  27. No tips on evaluating fabric before you pull a dress apart, but definitely check your seam allowances! On patterns from the big companies they are usually a HUGE 5/8″ and also the pattern sizing tends to have a huge amount of ease, so I would check that too. Cutting a smaller size (the size you actually wanted in the first place) with a smaller seam allowance might help. Good luck!

  28. I like what others have said about managing seams and facings. Your super-talent is amazing, your vision, too. But if you ever gain a pound (or ten) you might find that you can’t run a seam up the side into a set in sleeve, or roll a neckline. The rounder you are, the more it puckers. Then you need a facing. Which is not hard, but you need more fabric.

    Also, pattern companies love to sell fabric, they aren’t about working with what you have.

    For patterns, have you tried making a muslin pattern for yourself? It’s time consuming, but then you have a template and you can manage changes easily by getting to know your own measurements. When you use a piece of your own clothing, I think you come up with a similar process; adding in your own seam allowance.

    Either way, KEEP WRITING! You are doing great!!

  29. During World War II there were booklets printed with ideas for making new clothes from old – they showed how to fit the pattern pieces on the material. Perhaps you could find one of those old booklets in one of those second-hand shops you visit? My mother used to make skirts (what they call pencil skirts nowadays) from the pants of mens’ suits -there’s plenty of fabric in an opened-up pant leg to fit skirt pattern pieces for a little thing like you (I’m jealous).

  30. I sew a lot and never put facings on anything. I either cut bias strips or buy some and use it to finish openings and turn the finishing to the inside. Ready to wear doesn’t use facings any more. You can always attach the skirt to a shortened t shirt or tank top. A yard of fabric is 36 inches by 45 usually so any dress pattern that is more than 2 yards would be questionable. Look for a large dress with as few seams as possible to cut up. Looking forward to tomorrow.

  31. I’m not sure that you need to make a pattern dress! You do such a great job remaking clothes. That said I’m sure you want to branch out in your skills and you may be getting bored in remaking clothes. I think that if it can be done you will figure it out. I enjoy your post keep up the good work.

  32. Without actually measuring, you’ll have a hard time estimating. Bigger garments give you a better chance of getting it to work, as does using a similar-ish pattern to the type of garment you’re refashioning. As someone else mentioned, you’re going from one sleeve type to another here, which meant that the bodice you cut apart wasn’t going to be big enough to do a bodice+sleeve thing.

    I’d lay out all the pattern pieces before cutting anything – then you know what you’re working with and whether you can make some alterations or if you need to scrap part of your plans.

    Like others mentioned, seam allowances can be changed. I find it easiest to actually draw in your seamline on the pattern piece (usually 5/8″ in from the pattern edge all around) so you know what part of the fabric you’re cutting is actually part of the body of the garment and what’s going to be in the seamline. Sometimes you can fudge that, as long as you make sure you don’t try to sew it all together by lining up a wonky cut edge. If you cut something out with a chunk of seam allowance missing, draw in your stitching line along that section to guide you and remind you.

    Facings can be made out of a different fabric or left off altogether if you bind the edges (not always a good choice but other times it’s a great choice). Hemlines can be fudged. Patterns can be altered – take off sleeves, change lengths, reduce fullness and/or gathering.

  33. all of the comments are good advice but I have one more that would involve some work. Buy some proper pattern fabric– it’s not expensive- looks like interfacing with blue lines. Then deconstruct a few of your current refashions to make a basic wardrobe of pattern pieces you can mix and match going forward.

  34. I think you are a creative problem solver. Using the pattern for the bace of your refashioned dress was a good fit. You just needed to readjust the paper pattern to fit by either taking the paper pattern down, either width or depth,(a lower neck? Shorter bodice or sleeves) or you need to add to your fabric. So many possibilities. It’s a challenge and that’s the fun. Loved your Christmas sweater gown. It has a sense of humor.

  35. Happens to me all the time. We have a market in our town and there is one who sells pieces of left over fabric for about 1$. It is a joy to dive into the pile and take some pieces home. So my problem is the same. Usually I have not enough fabric to make what I want without some fiddling. Have you ever seen books of Judy Murrah. She makes the most wonderful jackets using quilt techniques. So that is what I do. I decide what I definitely want in one piece and pin that down onto the fabric and then start to think what has to get extra seams what is possible and how it works out the best. So just sew some pieces together and pin the rest of the pattern on top of that. Sleeves can easily be made out of 3 pieces (without looking funny) A skirt with an diagonal (extra) seam or a top made out of lots of different little pieces. I have once made a jacket out of furniture upholstery fabric. (You know the pieces you can chose from when you buy a now couch. Sewing them together and used that as my fabric. ) Sometimes I mix the fabric with another fabric or … do a bit of both. Take a top that I like or that suits the pattern and just sewing that onto the skirt that I made or vice versa. Whatever works best. A sort of refasiosewing…..

  36. I love the pattern of the fabric If you can’t make the pattern work from the remaining pieces, I would make the top of the dress from a solid colour, picking out one of the colours of the flowers on the skirt ie purple, pink or that aqua/green. Whatever you do , I am sure it will be fabulous and I can’t wait to see the finished garment!

  37. The fact that there will be more to the story tomorrow…when right now you just have a pile of scraps…goes to show that you are still a Rock Star Refashionista! At this point, I would have moved on to the next project. This would have gone into the scrap pile…maybe never to been seen again!

  38. Consider ditching facings and sometimes hems and use bias tape instead. You could make your own from larger garments, sheets and scrap fabric you find.

    I can appreciate your frustration with patterns. I have a similar problem with refashioning! As a big person the options just aren’t there. Also, Australian thrift stores rarely have nice vintagey things. Just lots of recent clothes in sad shape.

  39. Guesstimating takes time and practice. I can usually do it quite well now! The thrift shops here are now as expensive as the high street sales, which can actually be cheaper, so sometimes I buy 2!
    I started sewing like this because i couldn’t, locally, find cheap or nice enough fabric to make with!
    A treat is when the garment has bits to refashion plus lots of fabric to cut out!!

  40. Hey, try looking for a skirt with a lot of material the same weight and a nice corresponding color. Also sometimes you can get yards of fabric that was donated to the Goodwill. I found about 6 yards 60 inches wide for $3.69. Now I just need to decide what to make..hummm…

  41. Ms. Refashionista,
    To answer your question on how to estimate how much fabric is in a dress here is how I was taught by my grandmother: hold the dress at the back of the neck and put that up to your nose. Stretch out your arm as far as it will go…towards the hem. From your nose to your finger tips is roughly a yard. If this works, give me credit; if not, please take the blame! p

  42. Once I refashioned a pair of mens pants to a pair of pants for my son (http://sewingbyshirley.blogspot.com/2014/10/men-to-boys-pants-refashion-zipper.html). It just barely fit since it was a small size (140 European which is about a 10 I think). Now that my son is wearing a larger size, it’s impossible to cut them out of a pair of preowned jeans. It’s amazing how much fabric is needed to cut out something from scratch! So from my experience, I think it is more doable when it is something for a small child, but once you get to adult sizes, a lot more fabric is required.

  43. Yes – “more” fabric is required when making something from scratch — if you are going to make it exactly like the pattern….
    I think refashioning and sewing from scratch are related but not at all the same.
    They are both cool, fun, creative ways to have your own, unique garments :)

  44. You’re waaaayy more daring than I at using a ready-made dress to cut out a pattern. I sew using patterns all the time, and usually mix the sleeves from one with the neck/bodice of another. Also, I find patterns so incredibly aggravating when it comes to sizing. How do they even come up with their measurements anyway?? I’m sad to say I’ve never been adventurous enough to adjust the sizing on a pattern.

    I can’t wait to see how you turn this around! If this happened in MY sewing room, that project would get folded up and “put away for later”.

  45. How about just using another shirt that matches the style of the dress pattern and sewing that to the top of your skirt. I’m a T-shirt girl so that’s what I’d use but you might have something that could work.

  46. Have you thought of trying patterns from Indie pattern designers? I find patterns by the big 4 pattern makers so frustrating. The seam allowances are huge (5/8″) and the fit is horrible. I love Indie pattern designers because real people are creating the patterns, and real people test the patterns. Some of my favorite Indie adult pattern designers: Hey June Patterns, Jocole, Baste + Gather, Liesl & Co. Sewing was always a frustrating and disappointing endeavor for me until I started using Indie patterns.
    All that said, I don’t think you need to use a pattern; your refashions are always fabulous!

  47. Have you tried piecing? It’s a technique I learned from historical sewing where you take small bits that are used and stitch them where you need them on the bigger bit to fit the pattern piece.

    Also, facings could be made of an entirely different fabric and remain unseen.

  48. I haven’t read all the comments, so I might be telling you something you already know by now. I read somewhere that during WWII, when there was fabric shortage, women spared fabric by cutting diamond shaped inserts for the armpit area of their tops and dresses. That way, they didn’t have to go so far out on the sides of the armholes and sleeves. You know, those pointy parts that always end up on the outside of the fabric. I’m now using this to make a girl’s sweatshirt to fit my (very modest, but still) bust.

  49. Hi,
    first – I love your blog and I believe you´re an extraordinary person. Thanks for my everyday smile doze from refashionista :-)
    second – I have the same issue with patterns. I´m from Europe and believe me, the patterns are OVERpriced here. Sometimes I sew from new fabric but I gave up using purchased patterns as they order me to buy much much more stuff than I actually need and they rarely fit. I believe once you try (and damage :-)) couple of things by yourself using your common sense, you find out that patterns are overrated

  50. Lay out your pattern pieces (all of them!!) as much as possible on the fabric before you start cutting, clever rearranging could work wonders and it might help to trace a few pieces which are on the fold, so you can see the whole piece, not just half of it. Just piece a pattern piece if you’re a bit short on fabric to use the most of it. Also, since you USA people have the habit to include HUGE seam allowances in the pattern, it might still work (depending on the fabric) if you’re a few mm (or quarter or eight inches) short, just mark the sewing lines, so you keep the smaller than 5/8″ SA in mind.

    Facings/linings, throw those out at first and find another fabric for that if you’re a bit short. Also, try patterns with fewer seams, it’ll save you fabric. Or again, a pattern without standard included SA so you could more easily use original hem lines and smaller SA where allowed. (nothing wrong with a 1/4″ serged SA imo.

    I wouldn’t start sewing everything together as a large piece of fabric at first though, ’cause it could give you weird seams in weird places where you wouldn’t want them. I’d rather controll that for the pattern I’m using.

    I tend to use yards more often, but I NEVER watch the pattern placement advice, I rather save fabric by clever cutting and putting pieces more together than what they advice and produce a lot of waist. (Hey, I like big scraps!)

  51. 1) The “bite me” was the best part
    2) Patterns take an absolute ton of fabric, I’m about the same size as you and it’s ridiculous the yardage needed and the huge scraps left over.
    3) Your refashes are so awesome, clever and unique…why bother with an un-unique pattern that you’re probably going to abandon midway through anyway?! You rock at refashioning.
    4) Love the angry hand.

  52. Hi. I love that you share your successful and not so successful attempts. I think you can learn a lot from mistakes and as someone else has commented, problems like this bring out our problem solving and creativity (although I don’t have much patience and would probably bundle it into the bin and move on). I do a lot of sewing, and have used dress patterns for years. I can see that the pattern was unlikely to fit the dress material by looking at the bodice. Because the sleeves are incorporated into the bodice, it has to be quite wide. So it is good to lay out all of your pattern pieces before cutting to see if they fit. This is probably obvious to you in hindsight. You may be able to adjust the pattern to remove the ‘sleeves’ altogether, and make it completely sleeveless, by reducing the length of the shoulders and maybe taking in the sides a little bit.
    I’m looking forward to seeing what you ended up doing with your bits of fabric.
    Also, I really enjoy your blog, and your sense of humour. Thank you!

  53. This is most interesting! All my dressmaking has been done with new material and patterns Simplicity, Butterick etc. Sometimes I have cut a pattern from another article rather simple and repeated it many times! The other day I kept a Kwik Sew ad and decided to go and look at the patterns! Haven’t sewn anything for years!
    My mum a survivor of Depression used to make me little tunics out of my father’s trousers! Also nickers out of his singlets! I was totally unimpressed! She also made me some beautiful clothes from new materials!
    When I was a teenager I used to buy material and a pattern Saturday morning and wear the dress out Saturday night! I couldn’t do that now to save my life! Having a young straight up and down figure helps considerably!
    I still intend to look up those Kwik Sew Patterns! Sewing is a tremendously satisfying activity!

    1. Re: “When I was a teenager I used to buy material and a pattern Saturday morning and wear the dress out Saturday night!”
      Wow! Did that comment bring back some memories! I had forgotten about doing that. And we sewed our own (very modest) prom gowns, too.
      This is a wonderful post, Jillian, and it has generated so many interesting comments. I am learning a great deal from all of you.
      The Depression comments are particularly poignant, because I remember hearing stories about my grandmother recycling my grandfather’s shirts into clothes for her children. Not much was wasted in those days. My mother had a pretty dress that was made from matching floral-printed flour sacks.

  54. I Love this dress I think it is one of my favorites also:) I think I may try it thanks for your post and your great insight of these garments :)

  55. Every time I leave a fabric store, I am gobsmacked by what I just spent. I am thinking about making a dress by using a different fabric for each pattern piece. It could be an idea better left in my head, but, on the other hand, it could turn out way cool. No one sees what I’m sewing when I am alone in my sewing room, after all.

  56. I thought the “bite me!” was what made your post!!!! and I always enjoy your comments.

    I love how you take things and cut them down to make something unique for you. With patterns even if you start with a mega big dress there might not be enough. I would start with a skirt or a top and a huge dress and use a pattern from that.

    With a garment remake I usually use the features that are already there to begin. If I can I will take things in, shorten, cut off sleeves and if the neckline works I will keep it in tact.

    I would suggest that you try a few patterns for simple tops and begin with dresses that are very oversized then branch out from there. You got some really great comments and if you glean out all the information you will go a long way to figuring this all out………….by the I like the idea of making bias for the facings and raw edges………you do not need to use the same fabric.

  57. As a fellow repurposer, I’m looking forward to your blog each day Jillian. I tried this a few years ago with t-shirts so I feel for ya! Even though I only did one a week it was too much when family members needed my time more. No regrets there but you are inspiring me to create again. Thanks for sharing your work and creativity.

    I’m amazed at the ideas you have for refashion clothing. I cannot pass up some beautiful fabric at the thrift store either but am more of a pattern user, I have found that :
    You never get a dress from a dress, not the same size anyway.
    The more seams there are in the thrift garment, the less you get, unless it’s the same style as your pattern.
    Grain line is the big issue. If you have to align the pattern off the intended grain, weird things can result.
    Extra coordinating fabrics are often the solution. One of my favorite things is patterned or contrasting facings. I think facings are a twisty, ravelly pain and often just make a full lining.

    Last year my niece asked me to make first communion dresses for her daughters. Last week the patterns they picked came in the mail along with her wedding dress that she hoped I could use! I appreciate the long heads up and her opinion that I could do that but am really stressing.

  58. And you’ve just pointed out the VAST difference between SEWING and ALTERING. What you do is ALTERATIONS. What patterns help achieve is SEWING. There’s a huge difference. I can sew all day long, but I can’t alter.

    1. Re-read this, and the “tone” seems snarky. I didn’t mean it to be – at all. Damned INTJ personality! What I *meant* was: sewing from scratch (with a pattern) is an entirely different thing than altering existing garments. I can’t alter, and I would LOVE to be able to! There. Must engage filter more often. Sorry about that!

  59. Agreed. I. Hate. Patterns. Too. And I love that you posted a failed attempt at a pattern. It makes me feel better about my pattern fails. I also love that you do things your own way using existing clothing! I find your blog so inspirational! I have actually finished a few refashes myself, thanks to your fine example! So, thank you, thank you, thank you! You are fabulous!

  60. I really like bag making for prints you might not want to wear or heavier material, it’s always going to be used even for storage. I started pattern sewing after refashioning as I rarely found anything that would be nice in UK charityshops or there would’t be enough fabric to make what I wanted like you said. I think the skills that patterns teach is helpful like facings, adding buttons, shirt collars and so on. Refashioning then comes in handy with handmade dresses to change to tops or skirts.
    I really hate it when people ‘recycle’ sewing patterns into some kind of etsy crafts like lampshades it’s a waste of a little piece of fashion history, just photocopy or trace it then donate!

  61. Hi Jillian! I’ve been following your blog for a few years trying to get up the nerve to refashion! I wouldn’t sweat not being about to use a pattern. You do you very well!

    I have been watching a PBS show here in Charlotte, NC (We probably get the same shows you do in SC.) that might help you out. It’s called Fit 2 Stitch. I think of you every time I watch it. This woman makes it so simple to create a pattern based off clothes that you already have that fit you well. You take an armhole for this shirt and a neckline from another.

    You get the idea. In fact you may already be doing this. As I said earlier, I’m just a sewing voyeur at this point. :-)

    Good luck from one Jillian to another!

  62. I do have an idea for how you could have gotten the pattern to mostly fit on the original garment, but you still would have needed to cannibalize something else for the facings and an inset to turn the V-neck in to a boat neck, but I’d have to draw a diagram–can’t think of how to word a description. (Maybe the pattern would work from a different dress.)

  63. Use dress patterns for refasioniong things like curtains, tablecloths or bed linen and only make smaller items like short skirts and summer tops with patterns from old dresses.

  64. One of the most frustrating things I find about using patterns (apart from the fact that my boobs are always too big and out of proportion to the ‘default’ sizes used for the pattern drafting), is that the cutting layouts are SO WASTEFUL! It’s even worse when you have a fabric with Nap! 9 times out of 10, I will simply forge my own path as I go. As long as the grainline arrows on the pattern match up with the grainline of the fabric, the rest is open to interpretation. If you don’t respect the grainline your garment will stretch oddly… Ask me how I know this… ;-)

    I expect this becomes MORE challenging when working with pre-constructed garments because unless there is a CLEAR nap (like a striped fabric or clear, directional pattern), it can be challenging to match up the grainlines on the pattern to the available fabric.

    I find that where recycling or upcycling old garments using patterns is concerned, I will only use patterns composed of small pieces. You COULD (in theory), ‘cut up’ your pattern piece, add a seam allowance, and Frankenstein it back together again, but you’d need to be choosy about where you cut – skirt panels might be doable – instead of cutting 4 large skirt panels, cut 8 smaller ones? Or use a contrasting fabrics for Godets?

    Otherwise I tend to stick to refashioning sheets, curtains and duvet covers. I have a lovely poppy dress I made from a duvet cover I picked up in the British Heart Foundation shop in my local town.

  65. Oh Jillian! This is what I love about your blog/site. I have had a lovely time sitting here with my cuppa tea, reading and enjoying the discussion, brain sharing and trouble shooting, and entertainment, no need to reinvent the wheel! What a terrific group of kindred spirits! Thank you for gathering us together and inspiring us to reuse/recycle, be creative and resourceful and do our bit to do something about the waste of textiles etc our society does so well. Clever woman that you are! Love it!
    :-) Jillian

  66. I love sewing with patterns, and I’ve found lots of great rolls of fabric in many a thrift store. Check for those. I’ve also made a few very cute dresses and things, with patterns, from thrifted sheets with nifty patterns.

  67. There are many great suggestions above. As for facings, you could always do what you do with your refashes, turn that edge under. Where I am most thrift stores have a fabric section, often the price is similar to buying the ready made item at the thrift store (no $1 deals here). I get all my fabric this way now, too expensive to get at the fabric store. I love that you are posting regularly again and seeing your thrift store finds. Good luck with all your projects.

  68. I feel your pain and have spent many an unproductive hour hunched over a great thrift store find moving pattern pieces about in frustration. I do look for BIG sizes as you get way more fabric. I do try and find like or matching fabric to piece together. But none of these things seem to work. My current solution is to make kids clothes with much smaller patterns – that should do it!

  69. This will not help this time however, when you remove the excess length from your refashions save them. I work with scraps and will sew them together to make larger pieces of fabric for my skirts, bags and hats. For this pattern may I suggest that you lay the reclaimed bodice pieces out making them as square as possible and use solid black fabric to fill in areas that are a bit short. For a bit of contrast use a solid color from the print as a stripe in the middle. I would sew the fabrics together so that it becomes one piece.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed following your adventures and look forward to many more.

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