how to · Projects

How to get from pattern to thing: the basics

A lot of times I get asked how to make something and I hate to tell y’all….the Google force is strong with me and I can find anyone a pattern for almost anything.

That being said, getting a pattern and reading the pattern are not the same thing. So we’re gonna go through the basics of pattern you found that comes in one size to making the thing. This is something that happens a fair bit in historical costuming and general home sewing. They are easy to scale up or down as needed.

You are going to need the following:

  • Writing implement
  • Paper
  • Fabric tape measure.
  • Chalk.
  • A straight edge of some kind.  a cheap yard stick from the hardware store works really well.
  • Cheap af fabric. I recommend sheets from goodwill or cheap muslin.
  • Fashion fabric.

Step zero: start your project page.

This is where you keep your notes. Write down the date, make some doodles if you want, write down the project name. I keep my fabric swatches on a big safety pin attached to my notebook so I know what I’m thinking and can find matching things.

Project page for 1 hour 1920s day dress
My measurements are usually on the upper right corner, because then I can flip through my book and find them quickly. You do you though.

Step one: find a pattern.

You can find patterns in books, online, from your friends, where ever. The problem is, it’s in one size and well, you aren’t that size. NEVER FEAR.

Write down where you found the pattern or the title of the pattern if it is well known. You will forget.

Step 2: measure thyself.

I measure the following in no particular order:

  • Shoulders.
  • Bust
  • Waist
  • Hip

WRITE THESE DOWN. You will need them. I like to have a specific square on my project page for measurements.

Step three: scale the pattern.

This means math. Sorry. Halve your measurements. Most patterns only have the one side and by halving them, we get the right size for half a garment. Some patterns are easier to scale than others. If there are grid-lines, I count the number of squares between two known points. Bust line is 22 squares in this example. Half of my bust measurement is say 11 + 4 inches. Oh no. My measurements do not align and I still don’t know what this square means!

Tudor Tailor smock pattern.
This is a pretty typical pattern type in books. From the tudor tailor.


Time to math. If the bust is 20 squares and my bust is a mere 15 inches that means that 15 ÷ 20= .75 inches.

Now we know what each square is, we can go forth and write this down.

No grid? Whip out your measuring tape and measure the pattern. All over. Shoulders,waist, hips, whatever. Use the same method. If you know that the tiny picture uses 1 inch for the waist but your waist halved is closer to 15 inches, we’ve established that one inch equals 15 inches.


Step four: PROTOTYPE.

Now that you have an idea of the scale, you can get out your cheap fabric and start measuring and marking. Measure as many times as need be to make sure you are close. When you’re satisfied, cut what you drew out of the fabric. Cut both front and back and at least 1 sleeve.

A prototype with cat.


Sew the thing together really quick and try it on. Be critical about it. If it doesn’t work, make a note of what needs to be changed. If it looks weird or too big or too small, you can change that at this point. Keep all your notes on your project notes page.

I highly recommend checking out some books about troubleshooting garments. I thought I had one but apparently I just learned from something I got from the library.  But in short, if it is uncomfortably tight, rip a seam and add some more fabric.   If it’s too baggy for what you were hoping for, take some fabric away. It’s fine. This is where we do that. This isn’t your garment, mistakes are fine.  We can fix them here.

EXCEPTION TO THE BAGGY/TIGHT RULES:   Armscyes.    If they are too tight, take fabric away.  If they are too loose, add some fabric.

This is the most time consuming part, because you will change something and it will not work in new and interesting ways.  It’s all part of the process.

Step five: make the thing.

Once you are happy with your prototype, make the real thing. Your prototype is now the pattern.  Use it to cut the pieces.

Burgundian sleeve construction
First you make a pattern and then you cut the silk very very carefully…..

If you are doing treatments you have never tried before, try them out elsewhere first before diving into your fashion fabric.

Tadaaaaa you can read the pattern and do the thing!


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