by Whitney Remington
As a beginner sewist, I used to think of sewing patterns as a strict set of shapes and instructions to be followed to the letter, and that changing anything within would "ruin" it-- much as substituting the ingredients in a treasured family recipe might result in a very unfavorable reaction at the dinner table from guests who expect the original dish.
Following patterns right from the packet (other than the usual fit adjustments) certainly produces functional and beautiful garments to be sure! But with passing time and growing skill, I realized that patterns are merely guidelines to make garments that you can customize to your own shape, needs, and tastes. Don't like a design feature? Omit it. Too long? Cut it short. Too simple? Fancy it up! Body changes over time? Alter your clothes to fit your body! Not only is it totally ok to think outside the pattern envelope, whether in subtle or more extreme ways. It can be fun and produce awesome clothes that suit your individuality, and your own creativity is the limit. Here are a few examples of my own modified makes.
While my #128 Russian Settlers Dress is loose and billowy in the main body, the top band-- which is one solid piece-- started to feel uncomfortably tight, likely due to quarantine weight gain. I wasn't content to let this dress languish unworn in the closet, but I didn't want to part with it either! So I cut open the top band at center front, neatly finished the edges, then hand-sewed eyelets at either end to insert a ribbon. As I had already included the nursing slit when I first made this dress, it was incredibly quick to make this adjustment. The nursing slit now serves as an adorable keyhole opening (with the excess length safety-pinned shut for modesty), and the top band can easily be adjusted to fit with the ribbon tie.
The #261 Paris Promenade Dress is the first Folkwear Pattern that I've ever sewn, and I adore it for its effortless grace and comfort. When I first sewed it up, the only "change" I made was to go 2 sizes smaller than recommended for my measurements. This dress is still a favorite, three years later! But I decided it needed a bit of a refresh. So I lowered the top of the front apron piece by a few inches and shortened the sleeves a bit-- standing in front of a mirror, folding and pinning things into place to determine exactly how much I needed to adjust until it looked right. It's a subtle change, but doing so vastly improved the style lines for me!
I put so, so much effort into making muslins and fine-tuning the fit of these #240 Rosie The Riveter Overalls! When the sewing was done, the fit was absolutely *chef's kiss* perfect! Then just a few months later, my body changed... and the overalls became uncomfortably tight at the waist. (I'm blaming quarantine yet again for this one.) But I wasn't about let that throw Rosie's wrench into my awesome 1940's overalls-wearing plans! So I opened up the side seams and inserted diamond-shaped patches to expand the fit at the waist. To determine how much I needed to adjust, I took a new measurement of my waist (adding in a couple more inches, just in case), subtracted the waist measurement of the original overalls, and made the total width of both diamond patches reflect the difference, plus seam allowance. Now my overalls are comfortable to wear again!
The last few examples were of subtle changes... well now here's an example of deviously dramatic deviations from the pattern! I definitely used the #503 Poiret Cocoon Coat shape more as a base guideline, and proceeded to just toss fabric recommendations and instructions out the window! For both of my versions, I experimented by using poly chiffon and African wax print cotton, rather than the heavier fabrics suggested on the pattern envelope. I also omitted linings and collars, and shortened the sleeves by simply cutting them from the ends, resulting in wider, airier sleeve openings. To achieve a drapier look and tone down the floatiness of the lightweight fabrics, I used tassel trim to weigh down the hems of both, which also has the bonus of adding fun movement with the wiggling tassels! For the African wax print version, the characteristic stiffness of the fabric posed an interesting challenge, as it really wanted to puff outwards rather than slink down as would befit this garment. While the tassel trim alleviated some of that, adding tucks at the waist helped to tame the voluminosity even further, while also defining the waist in a way that I find very flattering.
Thanks so much for reading, and I hope learning about my creations will inspire you to try out some modifications of your own, whether they be tiny tweaks to full-blown pattern-hacks!
You can find Whitney, and see lots more of her Folkwear (and more) sewing makes as well as her adventures as a truck driver, on Instagram at @whitneygoose
May 12, 2023
June 11, 2021
These are all great modifications – especially the overalls! As a novice, I am sewing only very un-fitted things so far, but I will remember your creative approach when I tackle more fitted garments :)