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Cut Up Your Patterns and Add Seams

You can redesign a garment by adding seams to its original pattern.
You can redesign a garment by adding seams to its original pattern.

You can redesign a garment by adding seams to its original pattern.

by Mary Ray
From Threads #129, pp. 62-67

When I've spent time fitting a pattern and love the results, I'm not going to waste time looking for a new pattern. Instead, I add seams to the original and redesign the way it looks.

Anyone can rework favorite patterns by adding seams. The possibilities are endless, and you don’t need a degree in pattern drafting for success. I’ll show you step-by-step how to do this, but first, take a look at the photos of my wardrobe below, while I explain simple ways to add style lines, develop surface design, and create details on patterns you already know and love. (Most of the jackets started as the same pattern: Butterick 5941.)

  Insert elements into seams
Insert elements into seams. These sleeves were divided into five sections with a shaped fabric fin inserted between each section. Divide almost any pattern section into more pieces, then add piping, fringe, or bead trim, for example. Be careful to trim seam allowances to remove bulk. (The author's design).   Combine fabrics. Divide a pattern and cut each section from a different fabric. This is an excellent way to use leftover fabrics and coordinate a new garment with others already in your wardrobe.
Combine fabrics #2   Accent a precious fabric

Accent a precious fabric. When I couldn't follow the fabric's straight grain on a narrow silk, I cut each pattern piece on the correct grain from a lightweight knit fusible interfacing and fused these to the wrong side of the silk. Curves like this may require using staystitching and clipping to fit the shapes together smoothly. (Butterick 5941)


Add a peplum. Cut off the jacket pattern at the waistline. Cut a strip of the fabric the depth and length of the peplum with pleats added at the side seams and back. Piece if needed. (Butterick 5941) 

Add a peplum   Add seams for economy

Add seams for economy. Leather jackets have more seam detail because of skin sizes and shapes. Horizontal seams on the sleeves and princess seams help fit the pattern pieces on skins. (Butterick 5941)

  Add enriched inserts. Add seams for a fabric insert. Here, rows of double-needle stitching adorn the inserted panel. A narrower overlaid strip trims the shoulder and sleeves. (Butterick 5941)
 Add enriched inserts    Add a ruffle

Add a ruffle. Cut the jacket pattern 3 or 4 inches below the waist and the sleeves just below the elbow. Add a doubled bias ruffle for a stylish, soft blouse. (Butterick 5941)


Adding seams offers a benefit beyond style that I’ll just mention here. Every seam provides an opportunity to fine-tune the fit of a garment. For example, you can add or subtract small increments of fabric in the vertical seams of a jacket or skirt or pants to enlarge or reduce the circumference. You can also make slight changes in the shape of a seam to nip in a waist or expand a bustline, as just two possibilities. Tiny 1/4-inch changes in eight seams around a garment amounts to 2 inches.

When you have problems achieving a good fit, adding seams often provides a viable solution. But for the most fun, change your patterns for style in the ways I show on the fol­lowing pages—it lets you be the designer.

Redesign your pattern
Decide on your garment plan first. Then, trace a copy of your pattern. Finally, cut up the pattern according to your plan, and add seam allowances.

1. Make a plan. Use a photocopy machine to copy and enlarge the schematic drawings from the pattern instruction sheet. The copies are your templates for sketching design possibilities.
Decide on your garment plan
Trace   Transfer and mark

2a. Trace a copy of the original pattern. Position the pattern pieces on pattern paper over a piece of foamcore and trace the seamlines with a needle tracing wheel.

  2b. Transfer the existing notches to your traced version by making hash marks across the cutting line. After tracing, remove the tissue pattern and draw over all the pricks with a marker.

Make new pattern sections
3a. Make new pattern sections. Follow your planning sketches to draw the new seamlines on the traced pattern pieces.
Place hash marks
3b. Place hash marks across the new seamlines to indicate notches. Number the sections on both the intact copy and the individual new pieces. As new patterns, these pieces often don’t make sense when seen separately.
Make new pattern sections
3c. Trace each new pattern piece separately.
Add seam allowances
3d. Use a transparent ruler to add seam allowances before cutting out the pattern pieces.

Use new seams to add style lines
Enhance seams for any pattern, including dresses, pants, skirts, blouses, and swimsuits. New seamlines can flatter the figure and always create new fitting opportunities.

Princess seam, center panel
Add a princess seam. With a curved ruler, draw in the princess style lines. This won’t change the fit or shape of the garment, only the lines. Rotate the bust dart (see below) so it disappears into the princess seam.   Create a center panel on a straight, darted skirt. Topstitch the seams for added detail or extend the center panel, then shirr the side edges for a fresh, fashionable look.
Center seam, sections 

Create a center seam on front pant legs for a lengthened look. Topstitch the seam for added detail.

  Divide the back of a garment into sections for a more flattering look.

How to rotate a dart
How to rotate a dart
1. Trace around the pattern from the top dart leg to the lower front side seam.   2. Pin the pattern at the bust point; pivot to close the dart. True up the hemline at the lower edge. 
  3. The dart control is now rotated and released at the hem.

Mary Ray is a contributing editor.

Photos: Sloan Howard; illustrations: Lisa Summerell

ThreadsMagazine Threads Magazine, editor
Posted on Nov 15th, 2008 in design, embellishments, seams

Comments (2)

_nikki_ _nikki_ writes: Hi Kitty, Thanks so much for bringing this to our attention. I fixed the captions to go with the correct images, so you can now print this out for a reference.
Posted: 4:03 pm on March 5th

KittyF KittyF writes: The pictures don't seem to go with the discriptions. it would be nice to be able to print this and use it, which is not so possible when the pictures don't go along with the text. FWIW, kitty
Posted: 12:06 am on February 26th

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