Drafting a new pattern from an existing top

Recently I noticed Bryony wearing a very pretty blue top. It wasn’t particularly remarkable really but it was an interesting cut in nice, slightly drapey fabric. “I could copy that!” I thought….and so I did. I collected together all my trusty pattern-cutting bits and pieces-spot and cross paper, tape measure, pencils, pencil sharpener, Patternmaster (an essential piece of kit as far as I’m concerned-I bought mine when I started at LCF a million years ago, I ‘lost’ it for a while until it turned up in the shed!! Eh? how did it get there?!) I gathered all these together on my fit-for-purpose cutting table (aka the dining room table) and set about reproducing the blouse. The task was made easier by the fact it was sleeveless so, once I’d established the centre front line (CF) I could pretty much draw around the shape of the front piece. (Incidentally you don’t need to have spot and cross paper, I used to use newspaper, and brown paper or ‘craft’ paper does the job too)

The top is folded evenly in half down the centre front which is placed against the straight line that I've drawn on my spot and cross paper.
The top is folded evenly in half down the centre front which is placed against the straight line that I’ve drawn on my spot and cross paper.

I drew around the shape, flattening and smoothing the fabric where necessary, and making sure I followed as accurately as possible the various curves of the neck and armholes. Once I’d done this with the blouse in place I could remove it and draw the lines in properly using the Patternmaster or a ruler. You mustn’t forget to add the seam allowance around all the edges (except the CF) otherwise it will come up too small!! It’s better to be a little large because you can always make it a bit smaller-the other way around is more difficult, although not necessarily impossible. The back was what I really like about the top-it has a zip in the centre back seam which in turn flares into an inserted wedge-shape.

This is the whole back which has the zip opening and the flared hem.
This is the whole back which has the zip opening and the flared hem. You can see that the hem shape on this one goes to a point.
a closer detail of the back showing how the insert below the zip flares out into a type of 'godet'
a closer detail of the back showing how the insert below the zip flares out into a type of ‘godet’

I drew out the back in much the same way as the front, starting with a line drawn on the paper which I matched the centre seam against (this is the one with the zip in it) You can see from the photo the slightly strange angle that results.

This time the CB is laid against the drawn line. I traced off the 2 shapes separately for the back and the 'godet' insert.
This time the CB is laid against the drawn line. I traced off the 2 shapes separately for the back and the ‘godet’ insert.

Again, don’t forget to add the seam allowances and this time the centre back also needs 1.5cms too because it forms a seam. I decided not to insert a zip because I hadn’t got one in the right colour-simple as that! It was also a quicker make as a result too. Finally, I rounded off the hem of the insert because it gives a nicer finish to a rolled, or ‘pin’ hem. After cutting out the paper patterns I double-checked that all the pieces fitted together accurately-both side seams and shoulders were the same length, the armholes ran in smooth shapes as well as the neckline. You can pin the whole (half) pattern together at the shoulder and side seam at this stage and try it on to ensure it’s a good fit, armholes aren’t too tight, neckline too high or low, long enough etc etc. The back and insert pieces had 2 balance marks, or notches, because the seams would be unstable as they’re cut across the grain. The balance marks will mean that you can match them more successfully and know that you haven’t stretched the pieces out of shape. When you’re happy with the pattern you are ready to cut it out. I had a very limited amount of fabric because it came from my ‘stash’ that I’d bought previously from Hitchin market so there was barely a metre. This meant that, because I needed a fold for both the front and the insert, that I had to fold the 2 selvedges into the centre carefully and had a slight overlap because the back piece was quite wide. This was all a bit complex but spending the time paid off because I got all the pieces as well as ‘self’ binding for the neck and armholes out of it in the end.

You can see in this picture how the selvedges are folded to the centre and overlap slightly so that I could get the backs out properly.
You can see in this picture how the selvedges are folded to the centre and overlap slightly (bottom of the image) so that I could get the backs out properly.

  Now all you need to do is sew it together! I sewed one side of the insert to the back first, then neatened it (overlock or zigzag) then I sewed the second side, starting right at the top of the CB seam through to the hem. Neaten this now. Join the shoulders next (you could use a French seam here and for the side seams) and apply the binding to the neckline-it’s a bit easier like this as it’s still flat. You can put the binding on the armholes too if you like (you can do it after the side seams are joined if you prefer) A French seam is where the wrong sides of the fabric are joined together first with a narrow 5mm seam, which you trim slightly to get rid of any fluffy bits. Press the seam to one side then turn the garment to be right sides together as normal. Sew the seam again with a 1cm allowance so that the previous raw edges are now enclosed. This seam works best on straight or only slightly curved seams-you can’t turn corners using it.It’s ideal for sheer or fine fabrics and ones which fray. All that’s left to do then is finish off the hem by whichever method you prefer (you could even trim the edge with lace)

The finished top (modelled by Doris) Because of the flare of the side seams it has a nicely drapey fall to it.
The finished top (modelled by Doris) Because of the flare of the side seams it has a nicely drapey fall to it.
The back, the hem dips down slightly at the centre back.
The back, the hem dips down slightly longer at the centre back.

I was so pleased with this top (which wasn’t for me anyway) that I very quickly made a second one with more fabric from my stash-a pretty, slightly sparkly chiffon. This time I added a short sleeve, this is done by the ‘grown on’ method. What this means in practice is that you extend various seams or style lines in a way that creates a new feature, in this case short cap sleeves. Rather than drawing out the pattern again I just pinned more paper under the armhole and drew out the sleeve that I wanted.

This is the front with the extended shoulder making a cap sleeve.
This is the front with the extended shoulder making a cap sleeve. You can see the original armhole and the new sleeve drops down lower to make a larger opening and an ‘aesthetically pleasing’ line.

When I was happy with the new lines  I cut them out having ensured they matched each other accurately. The fabric was a bit easier to cut out as I had a little more of it although chiffon shifts around like a very slippery thing! [definitely not a fabric for total novices]

The back of the short sleeved version (modelled by Doris in the garden)
The back of the short sleeved version (modelled by Doris in the garden)
...and the front
…and the front

Since planning this blog I’ve made a third version of this top. That’s because I bought a bit more fabric recently(surely not!!) from Fashion Fabrics in Bath. I had this top specifically in mind when I bought it. It’s a very pretty floral print georgette which is perfect as it’s soooo floaty. This time I extended the length at the front and back even further. I kept the sleeves too as I like them. I whizzed it up in next to no time because I used my new 4-thread overlocker which sews the seams at the same time as joining them-crafty!

I'm a bit camera-shy so you've got Doris modelling again I'm afraid.
I’m a bit camera-shy so you’ve got Doris modelling again I’m afraid.

IMG_1532 I’ve noticed this version is slightly larger than the cream one as well as the pink one, I think this is because the fabric is very soft, pliable and drapey-which is obviously the effect I’m after. I have to say that I love wearing these tops as they’re sooo comfortable and easy to wear-I wear them over skinny jeans but they would probably look just as good over a slim-fitting skirt or even a dress (if I had suitable one!) I’ll probably create variations to the seams and sleeves as time goes by too-a longer-sleeved version in a heavier-weight fabric for winter perhaps…

Hopefully this blog has encouraged you to have a go at copying a favourite garment in the future. To start with choose one that isn’t too complex and which fits you well. Compare the original measurements of the garment with your paper pattern before cutting out so that the size isn’t wildly out one way or the other. Perhaps pick one with minimal, or simple openings, while you try things out. Make a toile (mock up in cheap fabric) if you want to check things out, you could still make it wearable but you aren’t risking good fabric if there are problems. Get a friend to give you an opinion (or take photos of the back) so that you can correct any issues that you can’t see on yourself. It’s been a while since I last did this but I used to do it all the time when I was kid and before I went to college-I’d think nothing of buying a bit of fabric from my local market and knock out a new version of a favourite I already had, or copy something from magazines like Vogue (WAY out of my league obviously!!) Once you’ve got it right then you can start to try out variations and really make it your own design.

Have fun, and good luck!!

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