Introduction: Shirt Pattern-making With Your Own Shirt

About: Knitter, Textile creator, Designer, Teacher. Passionate about recycling and upcycling.

What you'll need:

  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Pencil
  • Ruler (& a curved ruler if you have one, I did this without one)
  • Tape Measure (if you want to make a pattern drawing out of this and increase or decrease sections evenly over the garment)

Useful space you might like to use:

  • Flat mattress or foam as a base
    • Anything for padding - an ironing board could possibly do
  • Plain waste paper or newspaper for the pattern pieces
    • You can also use patternmaking grid paper which is lush if you have it.
    • I used a roll of white waste paper

Step 1: Pick Your Garment

I chose my favourite check shirt.


  • If you are looking to scale up i.e. make a bigger version of your garment, it's wise to leave a a lot of space and margin when you draw and then cut the paper of your pattern
  • You could also copy the pattern exactly and then make a copy with more of a margin to play with on the copy
  • Leaving a bigger margin would also allow you to play with the shape and measurements which can be really fun!

Step 2: Get Comfortable With Pins - Pin Down the Front of the Shirt

Pins can be notoriously tricky and there are so many kinds! (Maybe I'll do a post on this one day or find a relevant link to add at a later date)

*TIP* I can recommend you to iron the piece of clothing first (if the material is ok to iron of course!), so that the panels and sections of your garment are as clear as possible. This will make it easier to pin and help you to get a better paper pattern that is closest to your piece of clothing/garment.

I started with the front shirt panel (Image 1 & 2)

  1. Place the paper onto the mattress or foam
    1. You can pin this down if it was rolled mine was!
  2. Pin the sides of your shirt flat
  3. Then pin straight into the foam, through the paper, along the edges of the garment
  4. You can now draw the outer edge of the shirt.
    • For me it was the side seam, from under the arm to the lowest hem point

*TIP* You can use more or less pins in some areas but believe you should use as many as you feel you need to!


Leave the armhole till last as shown (Image 3)

  1. Open the garment, line up the edges to what you have just drawn & pin the garment down again.
  2. You should now be able to see the shirt centre opening flat, along the button line.
    • You can choose either side of your shirt, the side with the buttons or the with button holes.
    • I chose the button holes as it is generally easier and flatter... and the buttons dont get in the way!
    • Usually both side are the same but you should lay them flat doubled over and check this.
  3. You can use a ruler for sections that you know are supposed to be straight, like the centre opening, but that may have gone a bit wobbly after many washes.

Get those pins out again! (Image 4)

  1. Especially around the armhole area, I recommend placing a pin with a spacing of every 2 cm or so. This can take some practice, but persevere as it will be worth it.
  2. Draw around your garment, as close to the seam lines as possible.
  3. The nice thing with pins is that you can lift up different sections to check that they have been drawn neatly.
    • Using a pencil is also advised as if you do make any mistakes, you can rub them out.

Step 3: From Pins to Drawing, Make Your Margin & Seam Allowance

Now you have one section completely drawn. The first panel, the front of your Shirt. (Image 1)

*TIP*: You can draw over the first lines you've drawn to make a more darker and more defined line. My lines are at times light or over lap so this tip may make it easier to follow. At the end of the pattern making you can always go over the lines with a pen if you want to make it more permanent.

Seam Allowance (Image 2)

  1. Take your ruler or tape measure and let it stick out 2cm from the edge line that you have just drawn.
  2. Make a pencil mark at the zero.
  3. Move the ruler up, still keeping the 2cm notch on the line.
  4. Make another pencil mark.
  5. You can join these marks or diots up to create a line outside of your original garment line. This is the margin.
  6. You should do this all the way around the line drawing.
  7. Once you have done this, you can cut out your first section. (image 3)

I like to draw on my paper the margin or seam allowance as 2cm around each pattern which is the line that I will cut it out at (Image 3)

  • This is firstly to give me more than enough space use in the sewing of the garment. But also just incase I want to change the shape or make the garment bigger or smaller in areas.
  • I might also draw a 1cm allowance on the paper if time permits and I feel that the pattern would benefit from both.

Usually you only need 1cm of seam allowance of fabric depending on the kind of fabric and the kind of seam you are going to sew, but for a simple seam 1- 1.5 cm is standard practice. This means the seams are not too thick once they have been sewn and the garment is neat. It also wastes less material!

*Tip* Giving the Margin as 2cm, I also have to only draw and then cut-away from the pattern if I want to change it, It’s much more difficult to add or stick on paper pieces as these can get torn or damaged over time.

Step 4: The Back Panel

Repeating step 2 & 3 for the Back Panel

*TIP* You can put one sleeve inside the other. This is a tip I was given years ago at a sewing class. (Image 2)

As a recap

  1. Fold the shirt in half at the back.(Image 1)
  2. This will give you the shape of the back panel.
  3. Pin the two side together so that they are flat.
  4. Pin down the sides onto the foam, through the paper.
  5. Draw around
    1. the side seam
    2. base hem/seam
    3. the centre length (along the fold)
  6. Then pin down the armhole with lots of pins as you did with the front
  7. Draw the armhole.
  8. Un-pin and lift up the garment to make checks (image 3)
  9. Draw or mark any changes
  10. Draw the seam allowance/ Margin as in Step 3.
  11. Then cut out. (Image 4)

You now have the front and back panel!

Make any adjustments at this stage. I'm going to update the common phrase:

Measure twice, Draw twice, Check 4 times, Cut once.

*TIP* You can line the two panels up as well to see if the side seams match in length. They should! Unless it is specifically in the design of the shirt/ clothing/ garment that they don't, as I know there are some styles out there that are made longer than the back.

Step 5: Back Upper Panel

*Not all shirts or garments will have this, but it can be a common design feature*

Repeat Step 4

  1. Fold the shirt in half and pin
  2. Pin down each side to the foam through th paper, including along the collar
  3. Lift up the sections and draw around the seams and edges
  4. Un-pin and lift off the shirt/garment
  5. Check the back panel and and upper back panel to see if the lines correspond
    1. The top line of the back panel should be the same measurement as the base line of the upperback panel
    2. The armhole curve should also be a continuous line and matched.

*TIP* You can layer two paper pattern panels, line them right up so their lines in common overlap, then mark on both pieces where these two meet.

Step 6: That Tricky Shoulder/armhole Curve!

Yes, this was one of my least favourite things to learn, but once I got the hang of it and understood why, it became much simpler...

The S-curve of the armhole section in a sleeve is usually different at the front than it is at the back. The curve may only change very slightly, but it can be enough to mess up your pattern completely!

On we go!

  1. Fold the sleeve flat
    • It should be folded in alignment with the side seam as if that were laying flat too.
  2. Pin the sleeve together along the folds/seams or lines
  3. Pin the sleeve down onto the foam, with the paper underneath, along the length of the sleeve both side and right up to the cuff edge.
  4. Draw along these edges
  5. Around the armhole, place the pins much closer together.
    • Put the pins as close to the actual seam as you can, on the sleeve-side of the seam (image 1)
    • You should be able to lift up the shirt and a clear curve will show (Image 2)
    • *Note* You might also be able to see as with my image 2, that the curve seam of the other side of the sleeve seems to show too! This should visually explain a bit how the shoulder and armhole shape different at the font and back of a garment.
  6. Draw along this first S-shape curve.
  7. Un-pin the garments from the paper and see the first half of your sleeve pattern

*TIP* Keep the sleeve pinned and folded flat. (Image 3) Using the Upper Fold line from shoulder point to cuff to line up your shirt sleeve when beginning to draw the other half of the sleeve. If you're clever, you might even be able to just flip it like a pancake.

*Repeat numbered points 1-7*

You should notice the difference of the curve from the front to back. The S-curves should join up perfectly to create an asymmetric Hill-like curve. (Image 4)

Create the Seam allowance or margin using the instructions from Step 3.


You can check if the Sleeve pattern piece fits into the front and back pieces. (Image to be added)

  1. Loosely tape the Front and Back piece together where they would join and be sewn at the shoulder.
  2. Using the sleeve pattern piece, align it with the Main Front piece at the point where they would be sewn.
  3. Manoeuvre and move the paper sleeve edge around and along the front and back pattern pieces.
  4. For me, the place where the front and back met was further onto the front section of the sleeve.
    • Apparently this just happens sometimes and it's down to the technical design.
  5. I marked this as you can see (in Image 4).

*TIP* One sleeve is made! And 90% of the time sleeve are a pair and mirror each other. This rule goes for the front, back, upper back, collar and cuff pieces.

Step 7: Shirt Cuffs

Again Shirt cuffs are a mirror, so you should only need to measure one.

Repeat instructions from Step 3

In addition to pinning down and drawing around the cuffs, I drew the locations of where the button and buttonholes lay. I also marked where the underarm seam finishes on the cuffs too.

Step 8: Collar

The collar paper pattern is more similar to doing the back or upper back piece.

  1. Fold the garment in half and pin it together
  2. Lay it along the piece of paper and pin it down.
  3. Draw around the collar on the top and sides, including the side where it is folded*.
    • You can also note on the paper pattern where the fold is.

*TIP* As with the armhole and shoulder piece, you can pin down the neck. Then you can draw along the seam where the collar joins the back. This will create the whole piece.