Survival Mom DIY: Homemade Sewing Patterns

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DIY sewing patterns-

Sewing is a great skill to know and some people are extremely skilled to the point of artistry. I’ll be honest, though, if you have a needle and some thread, you can eventually figure out how to sew. It may not be something you can sell on Etsy, but you could create simple things with enough time and patience, especially if you could make homemade sewing patterns.

I’m a mostly self-taught seamstress (and I might be going a little far calling myself that), but I can sew pillows, skirts, simple dresses, pajama pants, nightgowns and simple dresses for dolls with my sewing machine. I can patch up clothing and stuffed animals (a very important mom skill). I had one lesson from a friend on how to use my machine and make a skirt and since then, I’ve been on my own.

I’ll make a confession: I don’t really know how to sew with a store-bought pattern. I’m sure I could learn, but I’ve been making my own homemade sewing patterns and it’s a nice skill to have. Imagine being able to make clothing for your growing children, new babies or pregnant women if the stores were not an option.

If you want to try sewing with homemade patterns, you’ll need:

  • Fabric and thread
  • Good scissors
  • Sewing machine (or needle and thread)
  • Pins
  • Butcher paper or blue washable fabric pen
  • Measuring tape
  • Original item to base pattern on

Basic instructions to make homemade sewing patterns

The secret to creating your own pattern is knowing that sewing involves a ½” seam allowance. That means that when you sew two pieces of fabric together the thread is sewn ½” from the edge.

The first step is to take the item you are basing the pattern off of and trace it on butcher paper or on the fabric you are going to use (with the blue pen). You will need to trace it by each piece of fabric that is sewn together, such as tracing the sleeves separately from the shirt (you can do this by tucking in the sleeves when tracing the shirt). If there are exact duplicate pieces of fabric like the front and back of a skirt, you only need to trace one copy.

Either you want to make an exact copy of the item you are sewing or change its size.

If you are doing an exact copy, you will want to add a ½” between the item and where you draw your line wherever you will sew. When I say to put an extra 1/2” wherever you sew, this includes hems, although you may want to do 1” for a hem to give you more room to fold the fabric under. You will not want to add any space for any place the fabric will be continuous. Pajama pants and sleeves have a place where the fabric is traced, but not sewn. You will usually go about this by tracing the continuous part on a folded edge of fabric.

To change an item’s size, you will want to measure how much bigger or smaller you want the item to be and after you add or subtract that amount to the tracing, add ½” allowance for where the fabric will be sewn together.

Pajama pants (elastic waist)

Pajama pants are one of the easiest items to use to learn how to make your own pattern. I have done this for my children and they are easy to adjust. I found a pair that was very comfortable for one of them and traced it. I added some length and width for the older ones and subtracted a little for the youngest. I added ½” on the outside and inside of the pant legs and 1” at the bottom for the hem and 2” at the top to create a pocket for the elastic.

I cut out two pieces based on the pattern, sewed them together, hemmed the bottoms and then folded the top over to create a pocket, leaving an opening for fishing elastic through. Measure the elastic based on a waist measurement and add the ½” allowance to it. Get a big safety pin and pin it on the end of the elastic to easily fish it through the pocket. Then, pin the ends of the elastic together and sew it and then sew the pocket opening closed.

This same technique could be used for a simple skirt with an elastic waist.

Nightgown or simple shirt (sleeves)

A nightgown or simple shirt involves the body of the shirt and the sleeves. For the body of the shirt, you will need to add a ½” seam allowance to the sides and the sleeve holes. Add 1” to the bottom for hemming. For the neckline, you can either add no seam allowance and use bias tape or add 1” and hem it. Bias tape is when you cut cloth on the bias (diagonal) to give the cloth more stretch, like around the neckline. You cut it four times the width you want and fold each side in to the middle twice. You then attach the fabric to the middle of the fold and sew it on.

When it comes to attaching the sleeves, you will want to know how to do a gathering stitch. You sew a stitch along the edge of the fabric where you attach it to the body set at the longest width. Then you can gently pull on the thread at the end and gather the fabric a little bit. This can allow you to attach the sleeve and keep the fabric smooth.

If you need more help to try out this skill, you can also find free basic patterns with descriptions and instructions online. These are different from the patterns you can buy in the store. Many of the online versions will take you step by step and show you how to alter it for a different size.

You can create your own homemade sewing patterns out of anything you have in your house made of fabric. In my house, we have made clothing for dolls, mattresses for doll bunk bed, purses, bags, animal-shaped pillows and different items of clothing. The more you practice creating your own patterns from items you have, the more confident you can get in your sewing abilities and can probably start creating patterns from your own imaginations and drawings to either create things you need that you don’t have or just for fun.

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Sarah Anne Carter is a writer and reader. She grew up all over the world as a military brat and is now putting down roots with her family in Ohio. Visit her at SarahAnneCarter.com

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7 thoughts on “Survival Mom DIY: Homemade Sewing Patterns”

  1. Very good for people to know this! I started making my own patterns in preschool. In order to make new doll clothes my Mom would have me trace my dolly.
    It amazes me the number of people who have never learned to sew.

  2. A great skill to have!

    I make most of my patterns from paper grocery bags, as my mother used to do. Just cut down the back seam, cut off the bottom, and iron them flat.

  3. Stealth Spaniel

    I do sew from patterns, but being able to do custom work is a big bonus! I am so sad to that many people do not know how to sew or seem to have any interest in learning. Even with shows like Project Runway, the participants appear to only want to win at any cost. They rarely have any pattern knowledge, garment construction skills, or form to function insight. I think a lot of was lost when schools no longer taught sewing. I try to interest young girls with the prospect of unique clothing, comfortable fit, and more clothing for your dollars!

  4. I have three favourite sewing books for doing patternless clothes. I love the patterns that are just measure yourself here, here, and here, cut your fabric like this, sew this seam and that seam, and hem. Simple clothes that fit well and look great!

    1. So do I. Hassle Free, Son of Hassle Free, and Cuts of Cloth. Are they the same as yours? Had mine since the 70s.

  5. Pingback: Survival Mom DIY: Homemade Sewing Patterns | Sarah Anne Carter

  6. I have sewn for years and years but use patterns. Sometimes they just don’t work out for me, but often they do. I make my own crafty items, curtains, etc without a pattern so one would think that I would be able to use my own patterns? I would enjoy seeing more detail about how you sew without a pattern.

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