Creating a paper pattern from a piece of your clothing

If you have a piece of clothing that you know fits you and you like, why not create a pattern from it so that you can make another?

I had an old top which was falling to pieces and rather than throw it away, I decided to unpick it to use for pattern pieces. You don't need to unpick anything of course as if the top is simple, you can still take a pattern from it. I'd start simply though with something like a tee shirt rather than a complex dress!

Now, any how-to no matter how carefully written down can appear like gobbledygook when glancing through, which if it does, I apologise!! It is in fact quite a simple process, and you might find it easier to google and follow some the the excellent videos on youtube.

Here's my cotton top carefully unpicked to give me a sleeve, back and front bodice pieces and some bias binding that finished the neckline. 

Iron the pieces so they are nice and flat, and for the front and back pieces which in this case will be cut on the fold, iron in half matching the shoulders and sides carefully.

Lay the pieces under a piece of pattern paper and carefully trace around the shapes, noting where folds are and labelling each piece of pattern so you can identify it easily. (It's also useful to mark a straight line so that you can place the pattern pieces on the grain of your new fabric when cutting out)


Now scroll down a bit to follow the making up.

If you haven't unpicked here's a couple of extra steps. 

 1) If you are not unpicking, then look at your piece of clothing and decide how many pieces went into making it. Usually there is a front, back, sleeve and facings. You'll need one pattern piece for each.

2) Turn the garment inside out and lay it on top of the paper. Start with the sleeve. Smooth it out so it's lying flat - you might find it helpful to pin into place. Draw round the outside of the sleeve, noting where there is a fold (if you've unpicked you will be able to just draw around the piece) Look at the seams and draw carefully around these noting how much seam allowance there is - you'll need to add that later.  Look at the hem - measure it if you need to - and mark the edge of the fabric and then add a dotted line to show where the fabric would end if the hem was folded out.

3) Pin the sleeve to the paper if you haven't already done so.  You''ll need a pin at each end of the shoulder/sleeve seam. Carefully fold back the sleeve, and draw in the armhole seam.

4) Note how deep the neckline fold is (on a tee shirt). Fold the front in half along the centre - pin if it helps, and draw round the shape. Unpin and mark a seam allowance (not the centre fold) on the edges and include the extra at the bottom for your turn up.

5) Do the same for the back.

6) Remove garment from paper, and draw straight edges with ruler, and even out any uneven lines, adding a seam allowance where necessary. This can be what you want depending on whether you're using a sewing machine or an overlocker.

7) Cut out the pattern from the paper.

Making up

You now have your pattern pieces and need to cut them out. Make sure you mark any seam allowances. If your garment was overlocked, then these might be very narrow and now is the time to make adjustments to suit you and your machine.

Lay the pattern pieces on your new fabric in the same way as any other pattern. You won't have detailed making instructions of course, but will know what bits need to go on folds and what pieces have to be cut out as a whole.

I found that marking hems etc with tailors chalk helped.

I made up the sleeves first, by sewing the hem line. I used 3 lines of stitch for decorative purposes. I then sewed the seam line. I don't have an overlocker so used a straight stitch and then oversewed the edges with a zig zag. My seam allowances were very small!

The back and front were sewn together at the sides and the sleeves fitted in the normal way. The neck line was finished with bias binding on the original, and I had to buy some as I don't have a bias binding maker.

I pressed the bias in half, and sandwiched the edge between, before stitching. I then turn the whole to the inside and stitched again through the binding and edge to make it lie flat. I used 3 lines of stitch to match the sleeves and hem.

The finished piece. I didn't want to use expensive fabric until I was sure this would work, but now have a pattern I know fits and I quite like, so can run up another at any time!

Simplicity pattern 8742 - jacket/cardigan

I still class myself as a beginner dressmaker but I am getting more experienced, and I've decided that I really like making clothes. I think I may have got over the horror instilled as a child by a rather fierce and unforgiving needlework teacher at school.  I used to hide in the fabric cupboard at the back of the classroom, but it appears that after 50 years, I've broken free!!

I have one or two patterns I've bought recently for various coats and jackets, but really liked the look of the model wearing her longer length coat on Simplicity 8742.

I prefer the more modern pattern makers that are around now, who use heavier weight paper rather than tissue for printing the pieces on. Liesl, Vogue, and The Avid Seamstress are definitely my favourites so far, not only for their quality but also the clarity of instructions.

I chose a warm wool in a plum colour from a local shop. I went for greens and blues but the assistant said this colour warmed me up a bit, and G agreed so I decided to try something different.

The pattern pieces and layouts were easy enough to follow, and as usual there was 1/4 to a 1/3 metre of fabric left over after cutting - enough for a bag I guess! The printed instructions were not that easy to follow. In one or two places I had difficulty understanding them (come on SlightlyArtisticWoman, they are supposed to be Simplicity itself!) Also I didn't think the pattern fitted that well when made up. I don't have a dressmakers dummy and wasn't going to bother with a toile, so maybe that's a bit my fault? 

I had to alter the shoulders and could have done with increasing the darts, but because these darts were sewn in as part of the collar fitting (they run from the collar down the front behind the lapel) that would be difficult. 

If you read this earlier posting you'll know that I am currently planning to make a pattern for G's new dressing gown - this jacket/cardigan reminds me a bit of his current one which is maybe why - and I'm being honest here -  I'm not entirely sold on it. The fit had to be adjusted by resetting the sleeve so the neck to top of arm was shorter,  and despite being cut out and made as instructed, it doesn't drape as well as I'd like at the front. I will wear it - it cost too much to not give it a go - but I won't make this one again.

This is one of the drawbacks to home sewing I think. If you go into a shop you have a choice to try on and usually in many colours and sizes, and probably a bit cheaper too. 

Still, I have fabric leftover from the rag market in Birmingham (really cheap!) so maybe I'll make other patterns in these fabrics until I find one I really like. I think I'm going to splurge out on a tailor's dummy too - looking in a mirror and trying to stick pins in your garment is not adding to my love!!


Barcelona - from an old photo I took some years ago. I loved the tall buildings and narrow passegways. As I recall, just around the corner from this delightful place, was a small shop selling hand made sketchbooks with leather covers. I did buy one, but a small one as they were very expensive.

I put some base notes onto mum's portrait too and have left it to dry.

Concertina sketchbook work in the style of Karen Stamper

You know I like to watch YouTube video how-tos! Here's a link to one by Karen Stamper who also runs courses/workshops (no affiliations)

I decided to have a go, and here's some photos of the processes I went through! If they seem too vague, I apologise but don't want to give away others creative secrets - click on the link to find out more!

The idea is to produce interesting backgrounds which you can sketch on. I have an old concertina sketchbook which was mostly unused as I found it wasn't good for wet media - the paper buckled and broke down when it got wet with paints etc - and it only had a couple of pen and ink sketches in of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Here are two images of the two styles of work. Which do you prefer?? 😊 The pen and ink drawing informed the more abstract one.


Here are a few photos of the process

A collection of collage bits and bobs. Some papers with marks on made some time ago following a workshop by Laura Kemshall (link in sidebar under "inspiring places")

Some sticky labels, gesso, various widths of masking tape, quink, Inktense paints, and magazine images.


Building layers of background texture with the tapes and gesso. Nothing in the least considered here, just sploshing on. If you wet the page in bits, then the quink flows delightfully and splits into component colours.

Magazine papers, sandpapered over a plastic rubbing block that the grandchildren use.

And fixed into place. When I'd finished with the sticking, inking and gessoing, (and it's very easy to do too much here), I turned to my image of the museum and put in a similar skyline. As you can see its a rough approximation only. I used a water soluble pen and diluted it to soften.

A new discovery for me, which Karen mentions on YouTube, is Posca pens. They are great fun and I love them. Kind of poster paint in a pen. They are permanent when dry but you can use water and a paintbrush to move them around whilst they are wet. I used a blue one above my building line to add definition to what was quite a busy image. I also knocked back some of the collage with white.

I'm definitely going to try this on a bigger scale - I've been given a landscape A3 sketchbook and would love to find somewhere quiet to draw some urban scenes and skylines. Anyone I know out there want to join me in Birmingham one day??

Dressing gowns, duct tape, and 3 course breakfasts.

He, who should be considered, has had a dressing gown which he's clung to like a comfort blanket for many years. Bless him, but the poor old thing is falling to bits (dressing gown not husband)  He's worn it to hospitals, hotels, on planes, in front gardens, and during Christmas mornings full of fun and frivolity for the last 40 years, and it is beginning to wear out and has holes popping up here and there. He has conkers in the pockets to guard against moths.

Over his 3 course breakfast this morning - he always has 3 courses: toast with marmite, toast with an egg, and another piece of toast with jam, I offered to make him a new one. Just for a brief moment he hestitated and I saw my chance. "It's ancient and needs replacing; it smells; it's in holes; it's as rough as a badgers bum" were the salient points of my argument. I don't need a new one he whined. "You do" I said, "it's in holes". He looked at me squarely and without humour and said "I can use duct tape".

You can't argue with that.

We did go to John Lewis to look at patterns for him, but he was unimpressed. I have however said I could probably draw a pattern from the existing dressing gown and bless his heart, his face lit up. So there's a job. Next problem is where to find some really horrible, dowdy, itchy, plaid wool fabric for a replacement for him.

Mmmmm, maybe the duct tape isn't such a bad idea.

And, just because you can't have a blog without a picture of some sort, I'm sharing this lovely teapot which is on display at Compton Verney at the moment. I'd love one like this; I thought it was ancient but it isn't. It's made by an Australian ceramicist, who has it on his website for a tad over £3,000.

I'm thinking of doing a bit about the Subversity of Tea next, and have been collecting images, but that's a way off - just behind the dressing gown.

Descending - The Quilt as a Canvas #3, progress

Well, there is much to do but I am exorcising my demons and getting on with it!! Just a progress shot for those interested in these things 😜

Very simple monoprints

Monoprint is such a lovely relaxed way to make an image, especially if you use a photocopy as part of the process!

Today, I just wanted to puddle around getting creative and not too heavily into something serious. Here's a 30 minute afternoon session whilst waiting for the rain to stop.

Step 1

Find something you'd like to reproduce. Here's a photocopy of a flower from a copyright free book.

I've drawn it onto a piece of printer paper - this is just so I don't mess up the original and can use it again.

Next stage is to find something to roller some ink onto. I've used Dura-La, a thin transparent film which comes in pads (photo - no affiliations) You can use glass, perspex, polythene etc. I know someone who uses plastic carrier bags.

Rollering ink can be a bit messy, so I like to cover my table with something disposable or wipeable. Messy Mats are brilliant for this.

You can use acrylic paint (Open acrylics are best as they stay wetter longer), oil paints, printing inks - oil or water based.

I squeezed a little bit of Caligo linseed oil printing ink onto the sheet and used a brayer to roll the ink in a thin layer- about half to one inch squeezed straight from the tube.

It makes a gorgeous crackling sound when it's just right, so if yours is silent you probably have too much ink on the sheet - scrape a bit off and keep rolling until you hear the crackling.

Find a piece of paper to make your print on - it can be anything from newspaper to watercolour paper.

Gently lay your inked sheet, ink side down, onto the paper. Try not to press.

Lay the picture you want to copy on top.

Use a biro to go over the outline of your image. Try very hard not to press on the sheet with your hand.

Here's the flower. The background has bits of ink which have transferred accidentally to the paper as well as the image, but I love this "noise" around the image.

The image can be left to dry or used whilst still damp to make any over-colouring seep and run into it. If you've monprinted onto watercolour paper, you could get some lovely effects. I've just popped some paint onto this to show you what I mean, but I'm sure you can do better than me!! 😜 Not really my thing.

But don't stop!

Your print plate can be used again and again without re-inking. If you like, you can use the brayer to just roller out your previous marks, but it's not necessary. Here's a self portrait, and you can just see the biro marks on the photocopy. I love doing the hair! I also left out one of my extra chins.

It's a very easy way to get an original portrait which you can colour, stitch, make part of a collage etc.

Infinity scarf made in less than 30 mins

I had some silk left over from another project and because it was too small to do much with, I made a scarf.

It's much easier to watch someone do this than to follow photos and instructions, and that's why the above link is so useful if you want to have a go yourself - it's free. I can vouch for Laura Kemshall's very clear instructions, and anyone could have a go as it's such a quick and easy sewing project especially for a rainy afternoon!

It would be right to say that I haven't quite mastered the art of the selfie, but you can get a good idea.

Your havin' a larf!

I think it was a couple of months ago, that I began posting about felting. I made a collection of small pin cushions for a charity sale that was cancelled.

I thought I'd open a small shop to sell them, but to be honest that hasn't worked!! So, I wrapped them in cellophane and took them to a couple of charity shops to see if they would like some pin cushions to sell. They wouldn't take them. Why? Well, unbelievably, it's because they contained pins!!!! Hilarious.

Descending - The Quilt as a Canvas. I begin painting

This morning, I've begun to put some paint on the quilt. Originally, the idea was to let the two figures on the left fade into the background, by painting some fabric and applying in strips, which would then be painted a bit like this.

I've always loved the juxtaposition of a completely finished painting ie the hands, and the unfinished remainder. It really focuses your attention

However, I had a change of heart and it wasn't working for me. I decided to go for colour but perhaps in a more painterly way than usual. Might not be possible knowing me. Here's the first hour anyway!

When couture meets quilts

A week or so ago, I had a meeting with Lee. He was the tutor for the Pattern Drafting course (see previous posting)

Lee is a fashion designer from Nottingham who wants to create a new collection for a year/18months time, to launch at Fashions Finest  during Fashion Week, in London. After his degree Lee spent time at the atelier of Victoria Beckham. It's a world that delights and inspires him, but is completely new to me!

However, we do have something in common - the love of making stories with a kick.

Over the 2 day duration of the course, I naturally chatted a bit with my fellow students, and my love of textiles sneaked out at some point. Lee took a look and liked the style of them and ended up suggesting that we work together on his collection.

Although at that point Lee only had ideas of where he wanted to go, he was keen to get started and involve me in the process as much as possible, so we met up for a brainstorm a couple of days later. Obviously designing clothes and making them is entirely for him to do, but I am going to try and help with the drawings and stitched and quilted fabrics he wants to use in the collection. Although he wants the pieces to be fun, he also likes the juxtaposition of real and sometimes darker meaning.

So, stay tuned!  We will start a blog before long and I will also post here about it all. The collection name will probably be The Rabbit and the Rainbow. (Lee is the rabbit, and guess what? I am the Rainbow!)

The Quilt as a Canvas and designing a Kimono top

Progress continues on Descending. I needed more stitch - the piece didn't, but I did! Purely instinctive. I've a bit more to do as you can see, but then I will start the painting of it all.

Moving on from The Life Story quilts, I think my collection of new pieces will be The Quilt as a Canvas. If you cast your mind back a year or so ago, you may remember that this was a title I gave to a proposed exhibition I wanted to do with others but at the time I couldn't get a gallery interested, and other things in life also took over. Time to start again.

Having gone on a course to learn the basics of making a pattern block for clothes, I've been buying some equipment. First of all this book:

It explains the process and is jammed full of blocks you can draft for yourself. Once you've got a grasp of what you're doing, then the instructions are quite straight forward.  However, if I'd have seen this book before my pattern cutting course, I wouldn't have bought it because it looks so complicated!!

Here's the drafted pattern pieces, and the beginnings of the toile. Something this loose doesn't really need a fitting, but I think I will alter the neck line and make it a bit longer.

If you go to the trouble of drafting yourself a pattern, you deserve a treat of some really nice fabric - it's what I'm telling myself to justify a bit of hand printed silk from Beckford Mill

I'll post again with the finished photo! (She says hopefully)

A start with pastels

An introduction to pastels - Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum £18 for 3.5 hours

Definitely recommend this one - a gentle start to a new medium. All materials provided for the price plus tea and coffee. One teacher and one helper so lots of attention!

How lovely to able to wander down to the local art gallery and spend a couple of hours pootling around learning new artistic things. Do check out your own nearby gallery and see if they have any courses you can join in. Today's course was very gentle and a nice introduction to pastels - I have used oils before but not really the chalky ones.

I'd be lying if I said I came away with an amazing piece of work ready to hang!! It wasn't the point. I spent a little while just playing with the pastels and papers provided and started with oil pastels and drew from life - a collection of fruit and veg, bottles, teapots etc.

Rather bright blue paper but it made a good contrast to the reds, oranges and greens. Part of the pastel thing is that you choose a colour paper as a ground - it could be mid tone, dark or lights and you can base your colours around that. I tried white paper with the chalk pastels and should have gone for a colour as it would have made life easier and been more dramatic.

Oil pastel sketches of veg. Very quick and I used a blending tool made of paper to put in some scratches.

The chalk pastels weren't as vibrant, though I guess if you paid for top quality pastels, they would hold more pigment than my cheapies from that well known High Street crafty shop.  I stood up for this one and used an easel - always easier for me to see - and made a start. I didn't get far as I ran out of time, but you may be able to make out where I was going!

The dreaded FB and a pastels course.

Just to let you know that Facebook have allowed me back again - had to be reviewed twice - but if you'd like to catch up with me and life in general then I'm on a brand new page called The Life and Times of A Rainbow, and there's a link in the sidebar. Thank you!

In my quest for new things, I'm off on another course tomorrow - using chalk pastels. I'm not generally a fan as I find they ever-so-slightly put my teeth on edge! Still if you don't try, you'll never know. I will of course be posting picks afterwards. I've very happily used oil pastels before however.

Bikes and Kites - one of my first pictures in oil pastel.

Pattern drafting - 2 day beginners course

2 day beginners pattern drafting course at Carolyn Rose.
(Warwickshire, about £180. No affiliations - have a look for a course near you by googling.)

If you click the link above you'll see it takes you to a 5 day course to make a beautiful tailored jacket from a pattern you've drafted yourself to fit your body.

Ultimately I'd like to do something like that, although I don't feel I have the shape and height to suit a tailored jacket!! But the principle of making something to fit remains the same, and my own 2 day course started at the beginning of things, by making a bodice pattern to suit my measurements - couture I guess!

What's involved

I'm a beginner dressmaker having only started a few months ago, so had no idea what to expect from a pattern drafting course, but was hoping I could find out more about how to make clothes which fitted my body shape - not all commercial patterns do that terribly well.

This is what we were aiming for.

So what's involved in pattern making? Well an astonishing amount! I can't talk you through a step by step process because everyone is different and the pattern making and the fitting and adjustment of your toile is personalised to you. I'd suggest a course or similar, where someone can stand beside you and put in pins and pleats, darts and tucks to your toile to get a close fit. but I can certainly take you through what's involved on a broad basis.

The first step is to measure your body accurately - you may find you need someone to help you with this. Do it 2 or 3 times perhaps just to make sure, as this is what everything - literally - hangs on.

 Simple mathematical calculations

To begin, you take a sheet of pattern paper and mark a completely straight line.  All your drawing stems from this line, and there are many simple mathematical calculations using your measurements, which will then enable you to put in the shape and end up with a pattern piece like the one above.

I've got to be honest, I found the drawing quite difficult to begin with, simply because it was so strange and I had no idea what was involved or what I was doing. I was a little slow at the start, but was given lots of help from our tutor, Lee, and managed to catch up in the end and not only make a bodice but also draft a sleeve.

Below, this photo shows my basic shape bodice, but has extra bits. It looks a little scary, but it's complex because of all the alterations that I made after trying on the calico toile.  This is a front and a back bodice block (the different coloured pens make it easy to identify the front and back pieces) and you trace off a useable pattern piece onto another piece of paper, but all your alterations go back on the block. Little notes and explanations are scribbled on as reminders. You also need to add a seam allowance, in this case, 1 cm.

So, day 1 was spent making this as accurate as possible and then tracing off front and back pattern pieces and cutting the shapes out in calico. This was then stitched - first the darts, then the sides and shoulder seams. The back is left open so that you can try it on for fit.

Having made the bodice shape and tried it on, you need a jolly good friend to help you to put pins in the places you need bits added or taken away. First you need to pin the back to the seam allowance then look at yourself in a mirror, deciding what you like and don't and what's comfortable.

My first fitting. The toile needed a tuck to make the front sit properly. The boob darts at the bottom went too high - basically they should stop where your nipple is. The armhole also needed a tuck as it was gaping, and I felt the shoulder length was a little too much. You can just see some pins on the front.

The toile was removed and those alterations were put onto the block and new pattern pieces were traced.

Here's an example of why it's difficult to give you a step by step; to make a simple tuck in the front of the toile, meant after the alterations were transferred back to the block, the new pattern piece when cut, wouldn't lie flat, so I had to cut on the bottom of the pattern piece and insert an extra bit. Doing that made the toile too large around the waist so I also had to adjust the darts to take up the extra. 

We got there and I now have a piece that fits reasonably well although I am going to make it again at home in the peace of my studio with acres of time to think!