View Full Version : Altering Sewing Patterns--a LOT

11-21-2014, 11:42 PM
I sew and understand the basics of simple pattern alteration. But I have a new challenge which is stretching my abilities past their limits.

Our daughter came out as transgender last year. She's about 6'4" and slim, with little waist definition. This is going to change as the hormones take effect over the next two to three years, so I'm trying not to gift any clothing which will only fit her for a short time.

She's about to start a new job--finally!--and has need of professional-woman mix and match pieces. My intention is to sew her clothes out of really stretchy rayons which should fit now and might well fit once she's rearranged her body fat and developed breasts. So far, so good.

Except altering the patterns to fit her height is crazy. I took a lot of measurements so I'd get it right, and I'm finding I simply cannot see how to add five inches here and nine there. The only alteration I trust myself to get right is lengthening the sleeves.

I just quit in frustration after trying to draw a new pattern onto Pellon using Butterick 5954 (http://butterick.mccall.com/b5954-products-47647.php?page_id=147), which would flatter and add shape where there isn't a lot. The "lengthen or shorten here" line is two inches below the natural waist, which is a full seven inches short of her waist. Cutting on that line and inserting seven inches destroys the curve of the shaped pieces which make up this pattern. I managed to add five inches, redrawing the curves to match, but it took forever and I have no confidence it'll work, much less fit.

I also have to add to the shoulder width and height, so I'm jumping between the size L line at the neckline and the XXL for height at the shoulder and sleeve opening, and adding width beyond the XXL line at the shoulder. I'm changing it so much I fear the sleeve will no longer fit in the completely reshaped opening.

Anybody got any tips? Websites where I can get help? My usual go-to, Craftster, doesn't really have anything.

Edit: Just to make it fun, she lives far away, so I can't fit anything to her while I'm making it.

Maryn, who at least got to whine

Alessandra Kelley
11-21-2014, 11:53 PM
It's a pretty pattern.

If you need to stretch out the whole pattern, one method is to trace the pattern piece, then cut it horizontally into five or six slices, tape them down stretched out to the right length, and retrace the pattern, adjusting the curves to be smooth. It's tricky, but doable.

Another method is to make what's called a "sloper," a generic pattern fitted exactly to the individual with all her quirks, and then use that to generate patterns.

Slopers have something of a learning curve, and it takes care to generate the initial pattern. On the other hand, they're extremely versatile. I have a series of books detailing how to go from a basic sloper to just about any historical period and many types of cut.

11-22-2014, 09:07 PM
I'd second the sloper idea. Even if you don't make a custom sloper for your daughter, just reading about how to construct one and then use it to design patterns can help a lot in learning how to alter them. The best learning sloper instructions will explain how the shape helps to accentuate or alter the shape of the body. For example, I've got a pretty exaggerated sway back and had a horrid time trying to fix patterns to fit, until I read how to just straight-up draft the pattern myself. Now the sway back alteration is something I can build in. I've even successfully altered male clothing to fit and flatter female bodies and vice versa.

There are plenty of places out there, but this site is my favorite:


Chapters 2, 4, 8 and 9 (bodice, sleeves, skirts and slacks, respectively) are the most relevant, but the rest all have good info.

All of this with a grain of salt. I'm the epitome of the self-taught seamstress, so usually formally trained people have some better ideas.

11-22-2014, 10:48 PM
I've not heard of slopers. I have much to learn. Thanks to you both!

Maryn, who thinks she should try cutting the pattern into more pieces, which sounds easier

11-22-2014, 11:16 PM
I'm not greatly experienced but the sloper idea does sound good, once you've got your head around it. Especially if your daughter's statistics will be changing a by quite a lot.

Old Hack
11-23-2014, 01:14 AM
Maryn, I've always found printed patterns to be troublesome: they never seem to produce clothes which fit right, no matter how carefully I work with them.

Instead, I take a garment which fits me well and make a paper pattern from it. It's not nearly as difficult as you'd think: all you need is lots of large sheets of paper, a bit of determination, and a way of holding the garment to the paper while you trace round it--then add your seam allowances, work out the construction, and you're done. If you're cautious you can make a toile out the resulting pattern pieces, but if you're slapdash like me you can just go ahead and busk it. It works, often enough to be worth doing. At least, for me.

Also, I find relatively unstructured, layering pieces work very well if getting an accurate fit is difficult. If your daughter likes the look you could search for "lagenlook", and see if you can find patterns in the style; just a thought.

(Also, this is such a nice thing you're doing. I applaud you.)

11-23-2014, 01:28 AM
(Why, thanks! The years during which she would have learned about fashion were lost, so she's not at all savvy. The clothes she buys herself fit but they sure don't flatter! Her sister and I hope to take her shopping after Christmas, if we're together.)

11-23-2014, 03:02 AM
If you have second hand shops near you, they can be a useful source of a pattern. Find something you know she will like but not in her size and use it as a toile. I find that much easier to size up or down than a paper pattern.

12-04-2014, 03:42 AM
I agree with the sloper suggestion. Once you know how to make a basic sloper, you can alter it into any kind of pattern you want. It will probably be easier than trying to alter a pattern that much.

Check out Fit For Real People (http://www.amazon.com/Fit-Real-People-Clothes-Pattern/dp/0935278656/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1417649920&sr=8-1&keywords=fit+for+real+people), which is the best book on altering patterns I've found.

Also, check out Craftsy.com. They have all kinds of classes on sewing, including several on fitting and patternmaking. Their classes are very professional, many are taught by famous dressmakers, and once you own a class, you can watch it as often you like, over and over. I love them!

Here's a tip. . . . To ensure that the clothes you make fit, without wasting valuable fabric, make a mockup (aka toile or muslin). Use cheap, throwaway fabric to sew the garment. Send the mockup to your daughter, have her try it on and take pictures from every angle. (Or even better, videotape it from every angle.) That way, you can see exactly how it fits, and you'll know where to make alterations. She can also pin it, or mark where it needs adjusting. She'll send it back to you and you'll make the adjustments. You can do as many mockups as necessary to ensure a good fit. Once your mockup fits beautifully, then you can cut your real fabric, worry-free.

Old Hack
12-04-2014, 11:25 AM
Why didn't I suggest a toile before? It's such an easy thing to do, and helps so much. You could make a couple, Maryn: keep one and send the other to your daughter. Ask your daughter to video herself wearing it, then you could make similar adjustments to them both.

12-04-2014, 09:47 PM
No suggestions for sewing Maryn (but looking at those patterns makes me want to start sewing again!) but I do have a website for tall women that might interest you. A friend is 6 feet tall and she loves the website "Long Tall Sally" - you may be able to find things that you can buy now and will adapt to your daughter's changing shape.

12-17-2014, 02:04 AM
I could do it (have done it), but I'm not sure I can explain how to do it. I never had a book on how to do it. Instead, I had a mom who sewed. I was never all one size, especially once I hit adolescence, so pretty much everything got altered. These days I can eyeball a lot of stuff.

Mom bought the end of a roll of newsprint paper and we would trace out the pattern onto that (so you can mess with the pattern you're using without damaging the original). For complex designs or for anything with expensive fabric, like my Homecoming dresses in high school, Mom would make up a muslin mock-up and we'd mark any changes we made onto the newsprint so it shows up on the final cuts.

You can also do the mock-up in the newsprint directly, but that method works best if your model (your daughter) is there with you, and probably not for the pattern you posted.

Will your daughter be around for the rest of the holidays at all? You could make something like a quick duct-tape dress form...