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Tips for Sewing without using a Pattern

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When sewing without a pattern most times you are mending garments or doing alterations. Mending and alterations are needed frequently by people on the go. They often take their mending and alterations jobs to tailors and dressmakers. You can however do your own mending and alterations, if you have learned how to sew.

There are also a few things you can make by just measuring fabric rather than using a pattern such as pillows, pillow cases, sheets, blankets, throws, bedspreads, tablecloths and the like. You also don't need a pattern for curtains and drapes.

Other things such as dresses, pants, suits, and gowns; even though we may not use a store bought pattern, we do have to make a pattern in order to effectively make the garment.


There are many mending type things to do such as sewing up a torn seam, reinstalling a zipper, sewing on a button that has come off, patching a hole, putting in new elastic that has worn out.

Sometimes we just don't want to throw out a beautiful dress or suit just because a small seam is ripped. We also don't want to pay 25 dollars to have it fixed. So it is a good idea to be able to sew well enough to mend one of our best dresses or suits and not have to take it to a dressmaker or tailor.


Alterations refers to resizing clothes so they fit properly. In most fashion stores and departments there are seamstresses who do alterations. Bridal salons always have seamstresses. Tailor shops do the alterations on men's clothes.

Common alterations are as follows:

Making a hemline shorter or longer

A dress hemline needs to be shorter if it just doesn't come to the right
length for its style and fit. Certain dresses can be shorter or longer than others. The dress needs to hang properly over the hips so that there is an even look to the length of the skirt. To shorten or lengthen a dress properly we need to measure it with a skirt marker. Each person has a different hipline causing the skirt to fit differently over the hip for each person unless it is standardized and the person wearing it fits the standard figure. It therefore needs to hang properly.

Pants hemlines are too long if they drag on the ground and too short if you can see the ankle. To be dressed properly the pants for both men and women need to fit well in this respect. So alterations in this area are often needed. The best way to do it yourself is to find a pair of pants that fit well and measure from the crotch to the hemline. Then make you alterations on the new pants according to this measurement.

Making sleeves shorter or longer

Sleeves for both men and women shouldn't cover the hand and shouldn't be shorter than the wrist. They should come directly to the edge of the wrist when the elbow is bent.

Making the waist smaller or larger

It is easy to make a waist smaller. You can adjust the elastic or just take it in a few inches. To make the waist larger you usually will have to add a piece of fabric.

Taking the dress up in the shoulder if someone is short-waisted

Often clothes must be adjusted in the shoulder area. You can do this at the shoulder if it is sleeveless, but most times it will have to be taken in at the waist by making the bodice shorter. It often depends on the garment.

Refitting the sleeve in the armhole so that it lines up with the shoulder

This is a very common alteration. People have different shoulder widths and the seam of the sleeve at the shoulder should match the edge of the shoulder. This goes for both men and women.

Sewing Measured items without a pattern

If we are making anything like a pillowcase, bedspread, blanket, towel, tablecloth, we do not need a pattern. We just measure the correct size we need by measuring one of these items that we already have. Write down the measurements and then decide how much material you will need. Then go out and purchase your material.

The best material width for blankets, sheets, tablecloths and bedspreads is the 60-inch wide width. You need a wider width for these types of items so that you don't have a seam running down the middle of your tablecloth or bedspread. You should also use the wide width for curtains and drapes. For smaller items like pillowcases, towels, and napkins, the 36 to 45 inch wide fabric is best. However, if you are making sets, you will need to use the same fabric.

You will need to measure very precisely for these items. Always make sure the item is cut lengthwise with the grain and never crosswise against the grain. It will not hang well, drape well, or look right if sewn against the grain. The length should be parallel with the selvage. The selvage is the edge of the fabric that has been sealed to stop it from fraying. Also often fabric stretches more against the grain than with the grain. It should only stretch in width and not in length.

Making your own pattern rather than using a store bought pattern

We can make many of our clothes without buying a pattern. We can make our own pattern.

There are a few easy ways to make a pattern, which are:

Taking apart a garment we already have and using it for a pattern or using the pieces to make a pattern.

Taking a favorite garment that we really love and laying it out carefully and tracing around the different parts of it such as the sleeve, skirt, bodice, etc. In this case we do not want to take our prized garment apart, but want other garments like it.

Looking at a garment we like and sketching a drawing of it and then either just cutting it out or drawing on paper and cutting out.

Cutting out a design that we think up without sketching a drawing first and without measuring. We fit the garment after it is cut.

If we are trained as coutourieres we can scientifically design a garment and then make the pattern for it.

Some coutourieres design clothes by draping on a live model or mannequin. Coco Chanel designed most her clothes by draping on live models. She hired many models for her many different designs and sizes.

If you are sewing without a pattern perhaps these tips will help. Store-bought patterns are very expensive and it is best to try sewing without patterns.

More about this author: Colette Georgii

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