How to: Make a Sewing Pattern from a Shop-bought Garment

It’s no secret that most menswear sewing patterns are uncool, boxy garments that you would never see in a shop. Women’s sewing patterns are modern and fashionable, with thousands to choose from and brand new patterns being released every month, while us guys are left making the one pattern we picked up five years ago that wasn’t that bad.

I get it — it’s all about supply and demand. There simply isn’t the huge demand for men’s sewing patterns that there is for women’s. Thankfully, things are changing, slowly. Thread Theory Inc is a Canadian company that do a fantastic range of men’s patterns. There are also some fairly modern downloadable PDFs on the Burda Style website. Still, compared to womenswear patterns, there is a very limited range of decent patterns out there.

But there is a way around this – I call it COPY CAT SEWING! As in, taking a garment that you already own and duplicating it by creating your own paper pattern.

Enter… the t-shirt

The simple t-shirt is a good place to start. It’s fairly quick to make, has only a handful of pattern pieces and the stretch that jersey offers will hide any little ‘quirks’ that sneak in when making the pattern.

So how do you even get started making your own sewing pattern from an existing garment?

The easiest way, of course, is to unpick the seams and simply use it as a pattern, but what if you want to keep the original? Maybe it’s your favourite t-shirt! Well, with a measuring tape, pen, paper and a bit of patience it’s not that difficult.

Here are the measurements I took for making my own t-shirt pattern based on a Topman one that fits really well and has a roll-up sleeve detail:

1FRONT & BACK LENGTHneck to hemline
2FRONT & BACK CHESTarmpit to armpit
3FRONT & BACK WAISTwaist measurement (i.e. narrowest point across the midriff)
4FRONT & BACK HEM WIDTHthe length across the bottom hem between the sideseams
5SHOULDER LENGTHfrom neck to sleeve
6LENGTH TO SHOULDER SEAMshortest and longest distances from the bottom hem to shoulder seam (front and back may be different so check this)
7NECKmeasure front and back separately but they will add up to the length of the neckband
8SLEEVE SEAMmeasure the sleeve seam on front piece and back piece individually – adding them together will give you “armhole circumference” (sleeve head, i
9SLEEVE LENGTHfrom shoulder attachment to sleeve hem
10HIGH CHEST / BACKthe shortest distance between the inward curves of sleeve seams at front and back

The image below shows a visual of these measurements. To try and keep it as neat as possible I’ve not shown all measurements on front AND back, but hopefully it’s straightforward to follow.

Then you simply transfer these measurements onto some blank pattern paper. I’m sure there are other measurements you could take, but I find these are more than enough for the t-shirt pattern. Using a bendy ruler or french curve you can make nice smooth lines at the sleeves and neck. For the sake of symmetry, trace just one half of the front and back.

Here are my final pattern pieces (minus the neck band which is just a long rectangle the same length as your neck opening plus seam allowance).

The front and back pieces are cut along the fold as usual:

top tip on paper

I used blank tracing paper, but I’d HIGHLY recommend dot and cross / grid paper, as having those straight lines would have made life much easier.

seam allowance

You must remember to add your preferred seam allowance to all your measurements when you are tracing out your pattern, otherwise it might be a little snug! I use 1.5cm, but go with whatever you’re used to.

keep good notes

All the different lines and numbers can become overwhelming quite quickly! So keep notes as you go; simple sketches with annotated numbers will keep you right. Here is an example of my overview sheet for a summer shirt I’m working on right now.

As you can see, there are lots of lines and numbers, notes and changes, with suggestions to myself for the next time.

woah, there! What’s the easy option?

The sleeve is by far the most awkward thing to measure for the t-shirt so, if you wanted to start with something easier, you could omit the sleeves and do a sleeveless vest top top as a dry run. I did one a few months ago to test some fabric painting and liked the result so much it became a holiday top.

The best thing about this method is that once you have prepared your pattern pieces you can use them over and over again to produce as many different garments as you want. Here are a few t-shirts I’ve cut from my “Topman” pattern.

duncan's self-drafted gym tshirt
Gym T-shirt with Airtex fabric
duncan's abstract blue tshirt
Abstract Jersey print
duncan's floral self drafted tshirt

I hope this is useful but I realise the instructions may have gaps in them and I’m no expert! I learn by trial and error so please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

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