How to make a sewing pattern from a garment

It’s very easy to copy the pattern of one of your garments and, in most cases, it’s a lot faster than drafting it from scratch. If you already have a garment that is exactly like the one you want to sew, or that needs very few alterations, why not?

Most sewing patterns I copied were part of Modateca, a fashion museum in college. I reproduced more than 100 patterns. And since the clothes were vintage, I had to be really careful. I used a few different methods, each suitable for different styles of clothing. However, none of them are suitable for clothes that can’t be pinned, like leather and vinil.

The method I am going to teach you today is more adequate for clothes with few panels, and that don’t have darts, because we’ll have to stretch every panel flat. In the example, I’m going to use a women’s shirt. The materials we’ll need are:

  • Pattern drafting curves and rulers;
  • Kraft paper or other inexpensive and large sheet of paper;
  • Bed sheets;
  • Pencil;
  • Paper cutting scissors;
  • Sewing pins;
  • Tape measurer;
  • Colored pencil in two different colors that are similar to the fabric. We need them to trace the pattern without staining the fabric;
  • A garment you want to copy;

How to do it

Fold the garment in half at center back and center front, and pull one sleeve into the other. If the garment doesn’t have sleeves, align armholes. Align the shoulder seams and side seams, and pin them so they won’t shift.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Fold the bed sheet twice and place it on the table. Over it, place a big sheet of paper, big enough to contain the first pattern. The bed sheet is necessary as a cushion to pin on. On one edge of the paper, draw a straight line that will be the center front of the garment.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Pin the center front of the piece, from top to bottom, along this line. I place the pins like this:

There are two pins in the same hole, but they are tilted in opposite directions. This way of pinning is secure and gentle on the fabric. However, it only works if the pins are inserted all the way to the table.  Make sure the fabric is secure before you continue. Pin every 2 inches until you reach the hem.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Smooth the fabric to the side until you reach the side seam, and start pinning it. Be careful not pull the fabric in a diagonal, because that will distort the final pattern. Always smooth along the warp or weft threads.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

The area under the armholes may be a little more difficult to reach, so be careful not to stretch the garment too much or you’ll accidentally unpin the rest of it.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Continue around the armhole, shoulder and neckline. When you finish going around the whole front, stop and check that it is flat and undistorted.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Now start marking around the front with colored pencil. First the hem. The center front is already marked.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

After that, go up the side seam. Fold the fabric exactly on the seam and mark along the fold.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

When you reach the armhole, continue with the same method. Here, it can be a little more difficult to fold the fabric back, so feel the seam with your fingertips and slide the pencil under the sleeve in order to reach the seam. After the armhole, do the shoulder and neckline.

I decided to mark the position of the buttons too. I did it like in the picture below.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

When you finish the front, unpin it and neaten the markings with rulers and curves. The seam allowances will be added later.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

The next pattern is the sleeve. Draw a straight line that will be the center of the sleeve, or fold the paper and use the fold as the center line.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Fold the sleeve according to the undersleeve seam. The center of the sleeve, in one piece sleeves, is always straight. Pin it along the line or fold.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Smooth the sleeve toward the side seam and pin it. On the sleeve head, you can see there are two different curves, the one on the front of the sleeve and the one on the back. Since the sleeve is folded in half, one of the curves will be on top of the other. Pin along the curve that is the lowest.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Start marking from the side seam, then mark the cuff seam. The cuff itself doesn’t need to be marked, because it is a separate pattern.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

The markings on the sleeve head are a bit more complicated, because of the different curves. You’ll have to mark them separately: first, fold the fabric along one of the curves, feeling it with you fingertips if necessary.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Mark the other one with a different colored pencil.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

When you finish, redraw the lines with the pattern making curves. When you cut this pattern (only after you add the seam allowances), one of the sides will be cut along the front curve, and the other along the back curve. Don’t forget to write which is which.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

How to make sewing patterns from garments

The cuff will be drawn from the measurements, since it is a rectangle. Measure the height and width and then draw from these measurements.

In order to make the back pattern, fold the paper in half and pin the center back along the fold. In the back of this shirt we have two patterns, the back yoke and the back itself. They must be marked separately.

How to make sewing patterns from garments

Pin everything like we did for the front. The markings follow the same principles.


How to make sewing patterns from garments

How to make sewing patterns from garments

How to make sewing patterns from garments How to make sewing patterns from garments

How to make sewing patterns from garments How to make sewing patterns from garments

The collar, collar stand and back yoke: Fold them in half and place on top of a sheet of paper, also folded in half.

How to make sewing patterns from garments How to make sewing patterns from garments

All these three patterns are cut on the crossgrain.

How to make sewing patterns from garments How to make sewing patterns from garments

Finishing touches

Now we have to add the seam allowances. You can check the garment itself to know how much to add. In this shirt, for example, the side seams have 1,5cm. The hem has 1cm allowance. If you can’t see how much, as in the collar, use your sewing knowledge to decide. Remember that 1cm is standard for woven clothes. On the center front, for the button placket, I added 4cm.

Draw the grainline, if you haven’t done it yet. Always consider the garment itself and your own sewing knowledge. In some cases, as when you need to match prints, the grainline is shifted, so take it into account. For example, sometimes the yokes of shirts are cut on the bias to form a chevron effect with striped fabrics, but if you don’t want it, you can cut it on the crossgrain.

Identify the patterns by the name (front, sleeve, etc.) and mark how many times they must be cut in order to make a single garment (ex.: sleeve, cut a pair). Specify the fabrics to cut, as in fashion fabric, interfacing or lining.

Other important informations to add are: name of the garment, your own name, date, size, number of patterns in the package (so you’ll know if any part is missing).

In order to maintain your patterns organised and avoid losing any pieces, keep them together in an envelope. Write all the important information on the cover, so you can identify the pattern without having to open the package.


I hope you like it, and please let me know if you have any questions!

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