Introduction: Copy Your Clothes!

Picture of Copy Your Clothes!

Sewing is pretty easy to learn, but pattern making is a skill which can take a lifetime to master. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced tailor, making a pattern from scratch is a time consuming and sometimes intimidating endeavor. Rather than spend days making a pattern from scratch, save yourself time and effort by copying clothes you already own!

This is particularly easy with knits and stretch clothing, as fit is forgiving and you don't need 100% accuracy for success. I'm using a cut and sew knit sweater as an example, but any piece of clothing can be copied.

Let me preface that for this project I was going for speed, and therefore did not actually make a paper pattern I can use again. Instead I traced directly onto final fabric and assembled the garment. A little more time spent up front to make a paper pattern would of course save time the next time I did this, but consider this a quick and dirty version of snazzybot's really great Instructable on doing a more precise job of copying a garment, particularly useful if copying a woven garment where accuracy matters.

Ready? Let's go!

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need

- A garment that fits well to copy. It doesn't have to be an exact copy, you can just copy the part you need (for example the sweater I'm copying is a tunic, but I only am copying the top half).

- Fabric of choice for your new garment, and any findings necessary to complete it (zippers, trim, etc)

- Tailors chalk or a chalk pencil

- Sewing machine/basic sewing supplies

Step 2: Start Copying!

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Choose a pattern piece to start with, and begin tracing. I began with the arm.

To start, I carefully laid out the arm of the garment, making sure it was flat and wrinkle free. The sleeve pattern piece will wrap around to the back, so after adding a few pins for support I began tracing along the arm seam, making perpendicular marks at the corners. For the more difficult to trace seam attaching the sleeve to the body, I dotted along the seam by feel. It's hard to be exact for seams that are not exposed, so do your best. Once the whole front of the sleeve was traced, I carefully wrapped the loose fabric around to the back of the sleeve along the fold, and flipped over the whole thing in order to trace the back of the sleeve. How you go about tracing isn't too important in terms of order, as long as the fabric keeps careful contact with the desired panel as accurately as possible. Continue with the same process to trace the back of the sleeve.

At this point, you will have a rough outline of the pattern piece. Use dressmakers curves (or freeform if you are experienced and just know what shape things are) on the whole thing to trace a second smooth line of the pattern, and correct for any obvious irregularities from tracing. Unless you are making a very unique pattern shape, most pattern lines curve smoothly and uniformly, and obvious fit problems can be fixed by looking for odd angles, or wiggles where a line should be straight.

Step 3: Keep Copying

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Continue this process for the whole garment. Some pieces are easier to trace than others. The body panels for this sweater were pretty easy to trace, as they are identical at the bottom and only differ at the neckline. The hood was also very easy to trace, as I could trace the entire silhouette when the garment was laid flat, and the bottom of it is a straight line.

Once all of your pieces are smoothed out, cut them out and get ready to sew it together!

Step 4: Assess Your New Pattern

Picture of Assess Your New Pattern

Depending on how stretchy your fabric is, or how accurate you want to be, before sewing everything together it's a good idea to walk your pattern pieces against each other.

This means taking the seams that will meet, and carefully laying them next to each other from top to bottom to see if they are actually the same length. If they aren't, adjust accordingly by either trimming down the piece that is too long, or cutting a new copy of the piece that is too short with the seam in question made longer. Which of these to do will vary in each case, but if in doubt I'll usually lay the pieces against the garment I'm copying to see which seam is more accurate, and use that as a guide for correction.

With stretchy clothing, small differences aren't a big deal. My sleeve ended up being half an inch bigger than the armhole of the body, but I just cut it down and it was fine.

Once you feel good about the pattern pieces, time to assemble!

Step 5: Sew It Together

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Now for the easy part, sewing! We have a serger at work which made quick work of sewing my sweater together. This step will obviously vary depending on your garment, so I'll just topline what I did here.

First I sewed the arms to the front and back body panels, then sewed the underarm and side seams. Next I prepped the cuffs with openings for my thumbs, and sewed together the hood along the top, and added a channel around the front for lacing. Last I attached the cuffs and hood, and left a simple serged edge at the hem since the look of the top is already rough.

Step 6: Finishing Touches

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The most time consuming part of sewing the sweater together was making the lacing to go through the hood, so I decided to break this out into a separate step. I first made some binding out of scraps, then threaded it through the hood channel with a safety pin. Last I added leather pieces to both ends to keep the lace from pulling out of the hood.

Step 7: Done!

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That's it! From start to finish this took me an hour and half. Leggings are even faster to copy.

Enjoy new clothes that fit like a charm!

Comments

jeanniel1 (author)2015-08-17

Really pretty succinct step by step for something as potentially complicated as pattern-copying! I had a friend who did this, and was able to modify from multiple styles into one style! Awesome work. It's all in the grain of the fabric in matching and stretching. Grain and the type of fabric to match will be important if mixing different types.

ooohlaa (author)2015-08-11

what intimidates me is which way to cut fabric to get the same stretch as the one you are copying because there are no selvages to guide you in the sample, so I guess you have to pull it for "give", but what about bias cuts? my fave has a piece of bias and not a clue how to negotiate that.

MelissaR16 (author)ooohlaa2015-08-11

Generally, if the garment you start off with has more stretch in one direction than another (side to side, usually), you just match it up with the same on the fabric. If it's equal stretch in both directions (rare) you would likely want to have the stretch going side-to-side anyway. Bias pieces are usually cut on the diagonal.

Natalina (author)MelissaR162015-08-12

Usually sleeves and body pieces on a knit sweater like this are cut along the lengthwise grain. I lined up the lengthwise grain of the fabric I was using with the body pieces running top to bottom, and the sleeves running along the fold from top shoulder to wrist. I would avoid cutting knits on the bias generally because it can lead to twisting, but if the piece you are copying has a piece cut that way, try to mimic it! You don't have selvages to guide you, but if you look closely at the fabric you can see the direction of the grain.

avocadostains (author)2015-08-12

This is the height of the clothes copy. Very Impressive. I have tried similar before, cutting simple shoes up to get the exact pattern. It was difficult. I want to do this with t-shirts and add some length to them. A couple of my t-shirts are two put together into a longer one.

GrfxGawd (author)2015-08-11

Just an overviewing observation and an experience to pass on.

A fellow designer who works on the industrial side of things is employed in Research and Development. We were having a couple beers and I asked him, curious,
"So, what's a day like doing what you do?"
He said, "Oh, probably not much different than a day like yours."
"So, for bread and butter... you steal sheep?" feeling slightly surprised.
"Oh yeah, Ripoff and Duplicate! That's the meat in R&D. The trick is being good enough to not end up in court, and being smart enough to catch what's hot as early as possible and get it to market."
"Hmm. So, pretty much design, huh?"
"Yep."

jongscx (author)2015-08-11

I'm curious, because im sure lawyers use instructibles too. Where does this fall in terms of copyright law? Is she 'technically' breaking any laws here?

GrfxGawd (author)jongscx2015-08-11

This may or may not win me friends, but a much loved hobby is building and fabricating firearms and related components. Do I violate patents, intrude on trade secrets and/or proprietary processes? I can't. I'm a private individual. My work is my own for myself and never sold. The only way I could break a law is if I bypassed some form of security measure designed to protect intellectual property, thanks to the DMCA. As long as I am compliant with the laws set forth in the NFA, I am completely within my legal and moral constitutionally protected rights and need provide no mark of identification and certainly no burden of registration to any agency. Here's a funny one though, you can't patent or copyright a smell (like cologne) but Harley Davidson has Intellectual Property Protections on the Patented and Trademarked Harley Motorcycle Sound. - Fair Use is all but forgotten in our increasingly litigious society. Consumers have rights and protections. Make your own and reap the rewards of your efforts. Try to profit from protected properties belonging to another and enjoy your day(s) in court. But I implore, utilize and Fight for your rights of Fair Use. Or we shall lose them all.

MelissaR16 (author)jongscx2015-08-11

Actually, clothing isn't copyrighted. A pattern isn't either. However, *printed instructions* that come with a pattern are. Beyond that, since she's changing quite a few design details she's actually "knocking off" someone else's work less than "designer knockoffs" you see in stores. In practical terms, knockoff artists are really only even publicly shamed if they use a particular designer's 'signature' (one designer who springs to mind uses a gorgeous curved welt pocket), and it's only something that can be prosecuted if they use the designer's logo and try to pass it off as the designer's work (faux-Coach bags come to mind).

Natalina (author)MelissaR162015-08-11

Yes, clothing is outside of all copyright laws. It would be pretty much impossible to implement such a thing. That's why you see knock offs that are literally exactly the same as the original designer pieces, usually just subbing out cheaper fabrics to offer at a lower price. But that's a whole other thing :) I'm just using an existing sweater for pattern reference.

syates3 (author)2015-08-11

quick trick on lacing, use a rod to "fish" the line in, an Aluminum Round Rod you can usually find at a hardware store come in varying diameters but you can tape the end of the pole to the fabric either before putting it threw or after and thread it threw (like needle work only bigger), then just push it threw. My guess is this is how they do it in factories, using a small blunt rod mounted to a table then push own straightening out the hood's lining till it goes threw the other side and then pulling the lace with it. or they sew it in.

Catley (author)syates32015-08-11

Neat! Gonna try to find one of those round rods. I always hate trying to get ties or elastics through small tubes of fabric. Thanks!

Catley (author)2015-08-11

This is very nice! If you have something you have loved to death and are going to throw it out, you can also cut the garment up in such a way that the pieces of it become a pattern for you. This would probably work best with a non-stretch fabric, but I have done it with success for several cotton or polyester fabrics. For example, you would cut up along the underarm seam of a sleeve and then cut all around where the sleeve is set into the body, keeping right next to the stitching line. Of course, working this way, you have to make allowances for the seams and hems and so on, when you lay the old pieces on your new fabric and begin to cut.

If there are darts in the clothing that is being turned into a pattern, pick out the stitching so the pattern will lie flat. If the fabric is folded into pleats, just cut right across the pleats as close to the line where they were sewn to some other part. You can smooth the pleats out flat when using the pattern, and you will probably still be able to see where the pleats were folded so you can copy them in your new garment.

Leathaldose (author)2015-08-11

HA!! Now i can copy my favorite pair of shorts that have more holes in them then swiss cheese.

CharlesA10 (author)2015-08-11

Thank you! This was very useful!

SnazzyBot (author)2015-08-11

I got a shout-out! :O

I love how your sweater turned out. The fabric you chose is pretty awesome, too. :D

Natalina (author)SnazzyBot2015-08-11

You did! Your instructable is great. If I were to copy something more complicated I'd use your method :)

costumer341 (author)2015-08-11

Sewing is pretty easy? Sez who? Just saying. It takes a lot of us the willingness and the diligence to sew decently. Passion helps, too! Good project, nonetheless.

emmer (author)2015-08-11

another way to help get seam shapes and line accurate is to use pins at the seamline. that is, say you are tracing a sleeve and the arm hole seam is out in the middle of the laid out garment. push a series of pins thru the garment and the fabric to outline the shape of the arm sythe curve. peal the body of the garment gently away from the fabric so that you can see the shaft of the pins poking thru the garment and into the fabric. chalk mark each pin shaft and then remove the garment--leaving you with a dotted line indicating the sewing line of the seam. be sure to add a seam allowance before you cut your sleeve out. also, to be sure your new garment fits like the old. check the stretch in your new fabric--be sure it is as stretchy as the garment you are copying. if it is less stretchy, the garment may be too tight.

Natalina (author)emmer2015-08-11

Thanks emmer! This is definitely the more accurate way to go for those that have more time, and the instructable I link to in the intro uses this method.

tinaciousz (author)2015-08-10

Love! I'm copying a few of my favorite shirts. It's so hard to find a cut that looks good. :)

Carleyy (author)2015-08-10

Wow! This came out so well!

flavrt (author)2015-08-09

You make a great point — we shouldn't be held back by trying to reinvent the wheel for every project. Even copying individual details like sleeves or necklines can launch a new creation.

I would only add that a substantial open work surface is an essential element in copying designs. We can't do this with garments in our laps.

iceng (author)2015-08-07

Elegant solution !

About This Instructable

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Bio: I'm a designer at Instructables. I have a degree in fashion design and like to sew, get crafty, and attempt to use power tools.
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