Sunday, June 7, 2015

SAAS: Sewing at Any Size: Copycat Your Clothes

This is my series on Sewing at Any Size, or making basic wardrobe items to fit any body.  Please feel free to print/save for personal use.  You can find other patterns and instructions HERE.  

I searched everywhere for a wedding dress for my own wedding in 2014.  It was a casual summer beach wedding, so I wanted something simple, lightweight, and in natural materials.  What I ended up doing was making my own.  And since I had a beloved cotton dress that fit me well but was getting a little shabby, it was perfect for a pattern.  Now I can make that dress in any fabric and color I choose, including white linen.

Whether it’s a beloved old dress with a stain, or that perfect clearance skirt in a hideous color, sometimes the best way to get exactly what you want is to make it yourself.  Reverse-engineering your clothes lets you learn to sew clothes that fit you quickly and easily without having to buy or decipher a sewing pattern.  

You Will Need
  • A piece of clothing you want to make a copy of.  (Note: you will not be able to re-assemble it once it is marked up as a pattern, so make sure you’re ready to give it up)
  • Fabric of a similar weight and stretch to the original. Take the garment to a fabric shop for advice on how much you’ll need, and for advice on pre-shrinking the fabric you’ve chosen.
  • Pins
  • Sewing scissors or cutting tool with mat
  • Seam-ripping tool or small scissors
  • Sewing machine or needle
  • All-purpose thread, for most fabrics
  • Permanent marker
  • Fray-Check liquid, masking tape, craft glue, or other means of stopping the fabric from fraying

Dismantle and Document

It is very important to take pictures and make notes at each step, so that you know how to re-assemble the garment.  Use a marker to make notes on the piece itself, or number them for reference on an instruction sheet.  

Take apart every piece, including the hems.  If the edges aren’t finished somehow to keep them from fraying, you can use Fray-Check, masking tape, or craft glue along the edges.

When it comes to little pieces, make sure to number them and make note of where they go on the finished piece.  Also note how each seam was put together. 

Darts are folds sewn into the fabric to help fit.  Take darts apart, but use a marker to draw a dotted line where the stitches were, so that you can re-create them on the new piece.  

Pin and Cut

Pin each piece onto the new fabric, and then carefully cut out around the edges to make copies.  Leave the pieces pinned together until you’re ready to add them, to keep them from getting mixed up. 

Assemble and Sew

Using your notes and pictures, assemble the copy using the same type and width seam as the original for each piece.  In order, sew darts, main seams, sleeves, button strips or belts, and then hems. Take additional notes, and then store the pieces and notes together for future copies.


Simpler garments are very easy to copy, and you should make your first projects simple before trying to copy something complicated.  

To make a lining, you should be able to use the same pattern pieces as the main garment, and then put the lining together "inside out" or with the seams showing when it is assembled.    Put the lining and shell pieces together with seams touching, and then sew the hems and cuffs to connect them. 

Stretch and non-stretch fabrics behave differently, so you may find that a dress that fits you beautifully in a stretch fabric is too small in a non-stretch.  Thicker fabric also results in a smaller fitting garment.  Depending on your starting pieces, you may need to make up a test garment in cheaper fabric similar to what you want to use in your final piece.  I find, for example, that bedsheets from the thrift store make a great fabric for testing out patterns I want to make in cotton or lightweight linen.  Use a non-woven blanket to test out coat patterns. 

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