How to Copy your Clothes
Recently I've been struggling to fit into my regular clothes and have been stealing my husband's shorts just to wear around the house. Spoiler: they are not going to fit for much longer at the waistband. The clear solution is to make expanding pants based on the comfy men's shorts pattern!
Copying clothes you already have is a great way to start learning the basics of pattern drafting without needing to do all of the math that it typically entails. The key to this post is that we will NOT be taking apart the item in question. Let's go!
Q: What do I need to copy a clothing pattern?
A: To copy effectively, you will need:
The clothing item in question
Pattern paper - see notes below, mine is NOT expensive
Pencil and eraser
Pattern weights (optional but recommended - heavy washers work well)
Hem gauge (optional but helpful for seam allowance)
Ruler or quilter's rule
French curve and/or hip ruler (optional but helpful for smooth curves)
Enough fabric and thread for a mockup (this is best practice, I absolutely skipped it for this project)
Tailor's chalk (optional - very useful for marking adjustments to the garment you plan to copy)
Cork board (optional - makes it easier to trace along middle seams)
Q: When I copy a pattern, can I make changes?
A: Absolutely! This is one of the best parts of copying a pattern onto paper - the ability to make adjustments to the garment suits the wearer better. In this project, I shortened the inseam, adjusted the pockets, and completely changed the waistband design. In my next iteration, I plan to add a little more space at the hip. It's best to have your initial changes in mind before starting, but remember that you can always make changes as you go!
Some Notes on Pattern Drafting
Strictly speaking, copying a garment means you are drafting a pattern. Different from typical drafting where we would start with a set of measurements and use some geometry, copying a garment is much more straightforward. That said, if you know some basic rules of pattern drafting, your final product is more likely to be a success. Let's review:
(Adding Seam Allowance) When you copy the pattern pieces, they will not have seam allowance included, either because you've cut off the seams in order to get the pieces to lie completely flat or because the seam allowance is still stitched into the garment.
This means you will need to add your own, preferred amount of seam allowance before using your pattern. There are a few options here and what you choose should be based on personal preference:
No measured seam allowance - copy the lines of the pattern onto your fabric and use these as a guide when sewing. Cut unmeasured seam allowance around the lines when cutting out each piece.
Standard measured seam allowance - in commercial patterns, this is usually 5/8 inches. In home-grown patterns, it's typically 1/2 inch (this is what I use). To add, you'll measure all the way around each piece before finalizing your pattern.
French seam allowance - strictly speaking, this is also a measured seam allowance. The difference is you'll include enough allowance to sew the seams French (start with wrong sides together, trim, flip and press, sew again right sides together). When I do French seams, I usually measure 3/4 inch seam allowance, sewing 1/4 inch seams with wrong sides together to avoid the need to trim, then 1/2 inch finished seams.
(Ease) Put your garment on. Move around a little, try sitting. Are there any spots where the garment is just a little big snug? Enter ease. Make note of these spots by marking them with chalk or pins. Once the pattern pieces are drawn out, add a bit of space to these locations. Be sure to add the ease on to all pieces which affect that area.
For example, if the waist is a bit snug and I plan to add 2 inches for comfort, I most likely have four seams that sit along the waist line. 2 ➗ 4 = 1/2 inch so I'll add 1/2 inch TOTAL at each seam. Since each seam is made up of TWO pieces of fabric, I'll add 1/4 inch at each of these seam lines on my pattern.
(Pattern paper) This is an area where some folks have surprisingly strong feelings about what paper is the best choice. I do not. I use a jumbo roll of brown kraft paper or the MÅLA paper from IKEA. I also sometimes use poster board if I'm working on a pattern I know I will use many times. The biggest difference is width which typically determines which I will choose. If you want to be fancy, you can use Swedish pattern paper which has 1 inch grid lines. This is best reserved for true pattern drafting or scaling up based on a drawing (e.g. drafting a pattern from a Janet Arnold book) as it can be expensive.
To easily copy a pattern, I recommend choosing a paper that is easily pierced with a straight sewing pin. A side note, if you use a roll of paper as I do, flip the roll over before starting to work. This will help hold the pattern in place. You may notice the corners of my patterns picking themselves up at the edges - this is because I forgot to do the flip. Oops.
(Right angles) This is one of those things that, if you've been sewing garments for a while, is immediately obvious as soon as someone points it out to you: all corners and intersection points should meet at right angles. This ensures that the pieces will not only be easier to cut out, but also that the seams won't interfere with one another when sewing.
When working on a curve, I typically make sure the last inch or two will meet the intersecting line at a right angle.
(Check for alignment) This is a step I completely forgot while working on the example shown. Where two pieces will be stitched together, the length of the seam lines should be the same.
For example, the side seam along the edge of a pair of shorts. If I had simply lined up the pattern pieces, I would have noticed that the front side seam was about 3 inches longer than that of the back and been able to correct it before making the shorts.
How to Copy your Clothes
(Step 1) Turn your garment inside out, then put on your garment and mark any adjustments you plan to make, either with pins or tailor's chalk. In the example shown, I decided to switch out the waistband, lower the front significantly, and shorten the inseam.
(Step 1.5) If your garment is falling apart or just no longer getting worn for whatever reason, cut it apart at the seams. This is a completely optional step which is NOT shown in the example photos. It will, however, make copying the pattern much easier.
(Step 2) Set up your pattern station. If you have a cork board, lay it down first. Next, cover with your pattern paper and assemble your materials.
(Step 3) Keeping the garment inside out, decide which piece you will copy first and lay it flat on top of your pattern paper. Use pattern weights to hold the fabric in place. Trace around the outside of the piece using your pencil where possible. Adjust how the fabric is sitting as needed to gain access to all of the lines.
To trace lines that are part of seams in the middle of the garment, use your straight pins to poke holes through the paper along the seam line. I recommend doing one seam at a time, lifting the fabric up and marking the dots in pencil while you still know approximately where they are.
As you copy the pattern piece, pay attention for any markings you made in step 1 and copy these markings onto your pattern paper.
Note: For elastic seams like waistbands, be sure to stretch out the elastic as you trace to make sure you are getting the full picture of the pattern piece. If you have a helper, this is their time to shine.
(Step 4) Remove the garment from the paper. With your pencil, smooth out any curves. Use your ruler to ensure your 90° angles wherever the lines intersect. Use your ruler again to fix any lines that should be made straight. If you have a French curve or hip ruler, you may find it useful for making consistent curved lines.
Be sure to align your pattern using any adjustment markings from steps 1 and 3.
(Step 5) Finalize the pattern piece by erasing any extra lines. Add any additional ease and THEN measured seam allowance if you will use it. Label the pattern piece.
(Step 6) Repeat steps 3-5 with each pattern piece until all pieces are finished.
(Step 7) Check for alignment between the pieces. For example, do the side seams on the front and back pieces have the same length? Do darts have the same length on either side? Did you add enough seam allowance for that invisible zipper you plan on using? Make adjustments as appropriate. I recommend taking notes of the changes in case you need to reverse engineer them later.
(Step 8) Finalize all pattern pieces. Ensure they are appropriately labeled. I recommend including the following on each piece:
Piece name (e.g. boxer shorts front)
Seam allowance included
Stretch direction (if working with knits)
Up direction if it's not obvious
Front/side of the piece if not obvious
If the pattern requires additional pieces that didn't need a drawn pattern piece (e.g. rectangular waistbands, elastics, drawstrings, etc.), write their measurements down on the largest pattern piece so you will remember to cut them out later.
Finally, I also recommend working out the sewing method and recording the instructions on the largest pattern piece. These do not need to be complicated, but should tell you in what order to stitch your pieces together. You might also include the amount of stretch needed for knit fabric projects (e.g. 50%).
(Step 9) Sew it up! If you plan to make a muslin or mock-up version, now is the time. I highly recommend taking the time to sew a muslin for important projects like those for special occasions. The muslin provides the opportunity to make adjustments to the pattern before using your final (usually more expensive) fabric on the final project.
Do you plan on copying your clothes? Be sure to share your success (or valiant attempts!) with me on social media by tagging me @craftematics on TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook - I love to see what you create!
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