Finish What You...Ugh!  Patterns! 1
Dress Refashions,  Dye Refashions,  Refashions

Finish What You…Ugh! Patterns!

Jen's Reader ReFash
Easy Side Slit Skirt to Dress Refashion

One of my resolutions for 2014 is to finish everything I

Wanna know what bugs me?  Sewing Patterns.  I hate them.  You’ve probably noticed that I rarely use them.  There are a few reasons for this.  First off, they start too big.  I’m somewhere between a size 0 and a 2.  Every sewing pattern I find starts about 2 sizes bigger.  Since I rarely sew using a pattern, I’m not good enough at it to be able to alter a pattern to a size that will actually fit me.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Also, I don’t like rules.  Patterns are nothing but rules.  Do this…then do this…cut this exactly like this…blahblahblahblahblah.  Where’s the creativity in that?  And having to iron out tissue paper that inevitably gets caught up in a breeze, falls to the floor, and then gets mangled by Douglas doesn’t thrill me either.

The last time I sewed something using a pattern was in August 2012.  Now.  Even though I hate the whole process, I feel like there’s something to be learned about garment construction from it.  That’s why I pulled out this guy:

This one.  Right here!
This one. Right here!

I was going to make that dress right there on the right.  I would use one dress for the body, then another dress to make the raglan sleeves.  What could possibly go wrong?

I started off with this simple linen number.

A perfect blank canvas!
A perfect blank canvas!

I decided that blue was just a bit too bright, so I tossed it into a dye bath.

This should muddy it up nicely!
This should muddy it up nicely!


Sloshy sloshy!
Sloshy sloshy!

After my starter dress was rinsed and dried, I got to cutting!

Don't do it this way.  Actually pin the thing.  I'm being extremely lazy here.
Don’t do it this way. Actually pin the thing. I’m being extremely lazy here.

The pattern called for a zipper, so I hand basted one on…

First I pinned...
First I pinned…


...then I stitched!
…then I stitched!

I replaced the foot on my machine with a zipper foot…

This little guy right here.
This little guy right here.

…and stitched it down!


By this time, I was curious to see how my dress was going to look, so I pinned those two sides together on my dress form.

It looks like a feed sack.  :(
It looks like a feed sack. 🙁

What the hell, Pattern?  Why do you list measurements on your package that are clearly a big freakin’ LIE????  What would I bother making a too-big dress that I’ll end up having to refashion?  Why would I want to waste my time like that?

This dress sat on my dress form for almost a month.

I hated it.  It wasn’t going to look nice.  The sleeves were going to look awful with it, and I’d end up having to redo the entire damn thing.  Every time I walked into my sewing area, I was reminded of this disappointment.

I was about to just scrap the whole thing.

But I had to finish what I

I just wanted a cute dress.  That’s all!  So, I tossed that pattern aside, and started getting creative.  I went ahead and sewed the pieces of the too-big dress together, except for the neck part.  Then, I closed up those raw armholes.

Pin & Stitch!
Pin & Stitch!

I had a problem.  Unless I could shrink my head to the size of my fist, it wasn’t going to fit through my new dress.  :/

Say hello to Mr. Hand!
Say hello to Mr. Hand!

Not to worry!  I had a plan!  I also had a spool of grosgrain ribbon!

Hey buddy!
Hey buddy!

I took two strips of said ribbon and pinned them to my new dress on my dress form.

See where we're going here?
See where we’re going here?

I stitched them down…

Don't worry!  I trimmed off that extra ribbon when I was done!
Don’t worry! I trimmed off that extra ribbon when I was done!

…and after a press, my new dress was ready for a lovely night of theatre!  🙂


I’m pretty pleased with this one.  I especially like the back!

The zipper isn't crooked.  I'm just standing weird!
The zipper isn’t crooked. I’m just standing weird!

I think my new dress has a sort of 1920’s vibe to it, and I’m totally fine with my decision to give up on the original pattern and just wing it on my own.  🙂

Closeup of the front!
Closeup of the front!

After a very long week, I must say I deeply enjoyed USC Theatre’s production of The 39 Steps!  I hate to give spoilers of my upcoming review for Jasper Magazine, but this show is just fantastic, and you need to go see it if you can!  🙂

You must see this!!!
You must see this!!!

I was so very very happy to run into my mentor from my overworked college (Seriously…I put myself through college working 2-3 jobs and Stage Managing All The Things) days, K Dale!  🙂

I shouldn't play favorites, but he's my favorite.  :)
I shouldn’t play favorites, but he’s my favorite. 🙂

After a quick burger stop, my evening was complete.  🙂

Hi Erin!
Hi Erin!




Jen's Reader ReFash
Easy Side Slit Skirt to Dress Refashion


  • Ami

    I see lots of others have also said many things about patterns and they are all right. I started sewing my own clothes (all from patterns in 1964 when I was about 8……….yep that was some time ago). My parents had 4 of us and my older sister got all the new clothes and I got the hand me downs. If I wanted something nice or new I had to make it myself and that is exactly what I did all from commercial patterns. Over the years I got better at it. I learned to test things and take measurements and then when I reached puberty and shot up to almost 5’11” I learned how to make things longer. It was not until my 40’s that I really began working with “muslin’s” this is where you cut the pattern out of “junk” fabric and sew it with basting stitches and then slash pin and work with it till it fits YOU (because women come in so many different shapes). Then you make a pattern from that and you can have a perfect fit. I have made myself some awesome pants that fit perfectly because I tweaked the pattern.

    Another note someone mentioned is that patterns changed over time. Yes they are not stagnant. I can have patterns from the 1920 thru today and the sizes for me will be quite a large range………not all vintage patterns are gonna be the same because they are vintage, it depends on when. There is a huge difference from the 1920 to say the 1980s. Also Vogue patterns run smaller than some of the other companies. I usually have to go up one size just because it is a Vogue.

    Some have mentioned the picture (those can be really deceiving from the actual pattern on a real person).

    In the end once you learn how to really use patterns as a guide and not make an exact replica you will have success and hopefully enjoy the process.

    I really enjoy your blog and the past few years have done as you do and remake clothes more than buy new things. I have an awesome thrift store here in Albuquerque with really cute clothes and buy most of my wardrobe there and have made some really fun makeovers………….your blog is actually one of my inspiration sources. I am very picky and OCD when I sew and try to make the items look like ready to wear inside and out.

  • Susan

    Those big pattern companies need to get a clue. The measurements always lie! I have the same problem you do and everything swims on me, only I’m not so good at winging it and pulling off the cool funky dresses -Midwestern mid thirties SAHM here, though with an extensive background in music and artsy fartsy stuff 🙂
    I’ve been learning lately that the smaller indie designers do a better job with fit and instructions, so I’m leaving the big name pattern companies alone now!

  • Jenn V

    I have to echo what Edith said about Burda patterns. The smallest size almost fit my 10 year old (who wears a size 10 kids). I think I took the skirt in about an inch.
    Her name is Jillian too. 🙂
    I love Burda, but Burda does not love me.

  • Edith

    Hi there!
    Maybe you want to try European patterns. The only time I used an American company (exactly as described, not retail size but with my exact meassurements) it turned out ridiculously huge…Not a fan.
    I have sewn quite a lot of Burda stuff, and they run small. Like really small. That’s why they have so much plus sized stuff, there normal stuff is tiny 🙂 I am fit and toned, although with a wide bone frame and I need the second largest size of the normal range, just to give you an impression 😉 Maybe you want to give it a try in the future, you might be doing just fine with their smallest size.
    Love your blog by the way. And absolutely hating the cold, too!
    Greetings from Germany 🙂

  • GeeEm

    A lot of you are getting confused between US industry standard sizing measurements and vanity sizing. I think is was back during WWII, the US finally got around to a wide scale sizing test for women to create a standardized measurement system for the garment industry (Europe had already established one long before and men had one dating back to the Civil War). I think a large number of the test women were part of the military if I remember correctly from my history. Those measurements became the basis for the industry as well as the numbers you see on the back of pattern envelopes. They tend to favor a more hourglass shape, but not as dramatically as earlier attempts at a standardized measurement system. You always want to choose a pattern based on the widest measurement of the bust, hips, or waist and then alter from there.

    As the decades passed, garments manufacturers noticed they could sell more dresses than the competitor by simply assigning a slightly lower “vanity size” number to the sizing tag in the piece of clothing. It started out simply enough by making a size 10 a size 8 on the garment tag. Other garment manufacturers followed suit and it became a race to the bottom with vanity sizing. Today a size 0-2 is about the same as the standardized 10-12 sizing. The standardized measurements have NOT changed. Vanity sizing is what has changed (Marilyn Monroe and her famous measurements was a size 12!).

    You must also take into consideration the intended fit of the garment when it was drafted. Garments contain wearing ease (just enough room between your actual measurements and what it takes to get it on the body) and design ease (how the garment is meant to hang on the body). If you get a pattern with a lot of design ease, but you intend it to hang closer to the body, then your alterations are removing the design ease (NOT the wearing ease). It is a weird concept, but you have to learn to ignore the number on the tag of your off the rack clothes. If I bought a simple dress off the rack and made the same dress from a pattern, I should be able to take a tape measure and see the exact same measurements at key points on the body despite very different sizing numbers. So, if you’re using that size 10 pattern and then making the size 6 in that pattern to make it “fit” better, then you are actually having your body take up design ease space in the finished garment.

    You have to look at not only the standardized sizing on a pattern envelope, but the paragraph that explains the silhouette and also the finished garment measurements. If you subtract the size measurements from the finished garment measurements, you will get a VERY good idea of what the design ease was meant to be as well. Patterns are a tool. The tool can be EXTREMELY frustrating if you don’t know the proper way to use it. I teach sewing and teaching the young girls how to read a pattern can be one of the trickiest and hardest things to do 🙁 It makes no sense to blame an inanimate tool that is not being used in it’s intended manner.

    All that being said, I rarely follow patterns as they are written and I often alter them before projects. The standards are meant to be an overall guide to proportion. I understand the changes I’m making and how they will alter the finished silhouette though. If I’m working with a figure that differs significantly from the standardized measurements in proportion, I will always just draft my own pattern from the individual measurements of the person or I will drape the body directly.

  • Jes

    Patterns are so stupid! I am normally a 0-2 also, i measure myself and the pattern tells me i should make the size 10?!?!?! i decide thats stupid and make the size 6, and then its too big and i have to alter as i go. happens everytime! where are the tiny girl patterns?! End pattern rant. I love your blog, you have inspired me to collect a bunch of old clothes, now i just have to get the courrage to refashion them!

  • Hannah

    Patterns are tricky! I prefer to just wing it, like you, but if I buy a pattern, I only buy it if there is an actual person pictured wearing the thing I want to make!

  • Mary

    I stumbled onto your blog last year and have really enjoyed seeing the garments you create … especially because you don’t rely on patterns. I have to say, I have been intimidated by sewing for YEARS because patterns scare me! You have inspired me to give sewing a try – thank you 🙂 And very cute dress refash, btw.

  • Flo

    Your “pins” totally cracked me up! Glad to see that you were still able to make something that you liked. I rarely find a clothing pattern that I like, they are either too big or too small, drives me nuts.

  • Susan

    You just made my day! I thought I was the onliest one who hates patterns! I hate them for all the reasons you mention, and I would like to add that the diagrams in the pattern envelopes are so PERFECT. Who can sew like that? Not I! Plus it takes as long to use a pattern as it does to make a whole outfit from my own design.
    Having said that, I have found that if I do need to use a pattern – most notably for making pants – I have found that making the pattern in fabric (old sheets are good for this) makes it a lot more tolerable.
    Thanks for making my day!

  • ferren

    When i sew with a pattern i always look for the “finished garment” measurements. Depending on how you want it to fit that can give you a better idea of which size to cut out. For example if you measure a size 12 because your bust is 36 inches but the finished garment for a size 12 has a bust measurement of 42 inches then you know it’s gonna be baggy, so if you want a closer fit choose the size with the finished measurement that is closer to your own measurements. How that made sense 🙂 Dont give up on patterns , you are right about the learning experiences they can provide. Beter luck next time 🙂

  • jvanderschee

    so cute!
    Know what I hate about patterns? Well, I’m a 16 in off the shelf clothes, which translates to a gawd awful size 22 in pattern sizes. It’s just a number, I guess…
    Anyway- super cute dress!! I need to find some inspiration at the thrift shop soon! 😉

  • Opal

    You do great work! I always look forward to seeing your creations. If you ever wanted to try patterns again here’s a thought, Lakala Sewing Patterns makes patterns based upon the measurements you provide then emails them to you. You print them on regular paper. They have some free ones and some for $2.50.

  • Nicole

    I’ve used patterns with the size it says I am, measure everything right, double check sizes and end up with a finished product that’s just too big. I usually do what you did, start off with parts of a pattern and give it a twist. This turned out so cute.

  • Kelly

    You should try Silhouette Patterns ( They’re based on the measurements of a garment you own that fits you well. Basing a pattern on body measurements makes no sense because it does not take into account wearing ease preference. Anyway, if you want to try a pattern again, that’s my suggestion. Good job on your refash!

  • Liz H.

    Patterns are the reason I stopped sewing for a long time. They were more likely to tear or be the wrong size than actually make something you want to wear.
    I even took a costuming class, thinking maybe it was operator error. Nope, I then learned how to make something wearable by resizing patterns and essentially throwing out the directions.
    Now I am more likely to make a pattern from an existing piece of clothing.
    Thank you for your great blog! It gives me lots of inspiration.

  • Gia

    Patten sizes are not “off the rack” sizes. You have to base your selection on the measurements on the back of the envelope. You also need to consider the intended silhouette for the design. This one looks like it was intended to be loose during and not close fitting. I’m a pattern rebel as well in that I rarely follow the directions. I prefer better interior seam finishes than most patterns would provide. I also like to draft my own patterns when I can. Patterns do have their place and can be very helpful though. It is merely a matter of learning the language and learning to read them properly. I remember when I first started in my fashion program WAY back, the teacher intentionally let us pick the wrong size pattern as a lesson to not take short cuts. You actually have to read the pattern and know what it was meant to look like. The pictures are usually a lie! Especially those that are drawn instead of actual photos 😉

  • Willow

    Oh my gosh!It’s like you’ve read my mind lol I’m a pattern rebel too (with other people’s patterns that is)….though I’m a little scared of zipper installation. I’ve never used one – eek!
    I’m pretty sure modern day patterns – those really pricey ones have size 2, but who wants to go through the drudgery of following those directions and dealing with that silly, too-thin paper? Not me!!
    I make my own for everything, from clothes to toys, out of packing paper – $9 at Walmart in the office supply section. I made one of those Thai fisherman skirts this way. I’d bought one Etsy and promptly stained it, so I looked at the way it was done, measured myself then made my own pattern, doggone it.
    I *hate* store bought patterns, but like my own. We have an understanding ; )

  • Jody Fine

    Ah yes the problems that truly creative people face- find it hard to follow directions and we suck at math! But we sure are great at making really cool things out of cast-offs! Love the dress it is adorable 🙂 Keep marching to the beat of your own drummer girl!

    • Miriam

      I disagree. I am very creative and math was one of my favorite topics at school. Truly creative people can find creativity in order as well as disorder. Creativity isn’t limited to one skill set or mindset.

      That said, congrats on making a new dress for yourself despite the pattern that was the wrong size.

  • Marie

    Cute dress. I have no waist so if a pattern fits me in waist it is too big in the thighs, but, etc… Also I have a little difficulty understanding some of the directions in patterns and wish you could access a you tube video for demonstration of all patterns. I really like the way your dress turned out….you are an inspiration!

  • dae

    super cute dress madam. I like the idea of basting the zipper first. I’ve had a few fights with zippers and I’d rather do button holes. I will definitely try that. I love your revisions. And I feel yah on the pattern sizing verses finished garment measurements! Very frustrating! Take care, doll!

    Dani e

  • Anna

    Love the dress, the dye bath was a good idea!! Now I don’t want to sound nit-picky, but your grosgrain ribbon isn’t lined up on the left side in the back. It’s sewn a good inch lower than the ribbon on the right. Maybe this was intentional? I’m a wee bit OCD and stuff like that bugs me lol!

  • JosieLCPC

    Jillian, that shift dress pattern from the 60s made me smile! My mom probably made that for herself in that era. As someone who has sewn from patterns for many years, I can affirm your statement that there is something to be learned about sewing construction and techniques from them. And there is plenty of room for creativity too. I consider them “road maps.” My guess is that the reason you were disappointed with the fit of this particular pattern is that the dress was a looser-fitting style, not body-hugging. The short description on the pattern envelope (in small print on the back or flap) should say something about the fit (terms to look for: close fitting, semi-fitted, loose, etc.) If that pattern did not give this info, shame on them! Thanks for your creativity inspiration! Hope this helps.

  • omyn77

    Stunning dress! patterns.. hmm.. I rip them up and use them as bases for my paintings 😀

    I don’t think I have the sewing skills required to translate one of those things yet 🙂

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