Sewing without a pattern has been my reality this past week! I’ve been locked away ticking dragon and Viking bits off my plan for our Halloween plans, and freewheeling has been a total necessity.
But this whole process has got me thinking about just how good it is to sew without a pattern from time to time.
There’s no shortage in this world of great patterns and awesome pattern companies. That being said, there’s times when you can’t find *just* want you want or need. So what do you do dear?
You could search for hours trying to find the right pattern. I know I’ve done that more times than I could count. Or…..you could dive head first into sewing without a pattern.
Here are 7 ways to jump into sewing without a pattern. Try them out! I think you’ll enjoy the creativity you unlock, how you can create just what you want, and the little extra money you’ll save trying to hunt down the right pattern.
Table of Contents
Sketch things out
There’s something that happens in your brain when you draw things out on paper. Even the most basic scrawly drawing will help you understand what you’re trying to create.
Think of your drawing as your snapshot view of what is to come. It’s my first step quite often in sewing with a plan, and it’s the most helpful thing you can do when you’re starting on a patternless sewing or freehand sewing project.
On your sketch, be sure to include any design lines or other details you want in your project. Color it up and write yourself little notes to start hashing out your ideas.
Have you grabbed the sewing planner pages from the Resource Library yet? There’s a page in there for sketching plus some more pages to help you plan out any sewing project. Get the planner pages when you sign up for the newsletter below:
Start small with pattern hacking
Freehand sewing or patternless might sound super intimidating. The thing is that you don’t have to start from the ground up when you’re sewing without a pattern.
Start small with a little pattern hacking.
If you have a pattern that you’re really comfortable with, change up something about it the next time you make it. You can alter a neckline, add a new design line, or give it a different sleeve style.
You might have to make a new little template for your new design element, but you know that every other pattern piece is going to work since you’ve already made this pattern.
Reaching back into the video vault, here’s how to do just this for a split flutter sleeve on a knit top.
Use your own body to measure
Our bodies all have certain peculiarities that a standard pattern might not address.
It’s always a good idea to pull out a tape measure and double check those specific areas.
But there’s other times when you can literally lay out a body part of paper and draw around it.
Need a pocket template? Draw around your hand for that perfect depth for your hand. (*note to self* I totally need to do this for my husband’s jackets. His man hands are much bigger than mine, and he’s forever complaining about too shallow pockets!)
How wide do DIY boot covers need to be to cover over a boot? Put on your boot and wrap fabric around it. It’s an easy way to measure without numbers.
This is just the method to use for a pair of DIY fingerless gloves.
The ancient art of eyeballing can go a long way in helping you sew without a pattern.
With all my Halloween sewing this week, I’ve been doing a crazy amount of this.
From creating wing templates in multiple sizes to cutting tiny felt accessories, there’s been a lot of looking at something and just cutting.
Eyeballing works best when you’re working with add-on pieces in a sewing project. For example, appliques, embellishments, and other things that don’t involve the fit of a garment are going to be your best bet for this.
In truth, I eyeball a lot of bags as well. Though I use a ruler, I very often make my 7 minute DIY zipper bags with varying dimensions based on how deep I think that bag needs to be.
Measure things out on fabric
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There’s a lot of garments that you can make simply by drawing out measurements on the fabric itself.
Things like circle skirts, peplums, ruffles, and flounces work really well with this kind of treatment.
I loved watching Chinelo Bally during the Great British Sewing Bee use this very method of freehand design to create all of her incredible designs.
If you want to really dive into her artful method of freehand sewing, definitely put her Freehand Fashion (*affiliate) on your book list!
Test out your pattern
Ok, so say you’ve eyeballed, freehand drawn, pattern hacked or slapped your body down on paper up to this point.
If you’re not sure about how things are going to work, please, please test out your pattern!
It’s a brave new world when you’re sewing without a pattern, and you want it to work out before you cut into your swanky fabric!
You can make a quick test pattern with paper, muslin, or another fabric to test out your ideas. If you need to adjust anything, you can do that right on your test pattern.
From there, you can cut up your muslin and use the muslin itself as a pattern.
Muslins can be your ultimate weapon when it comes to measuring twice, cutting once.
The hidden patterns you already have
You don’t need a giant pattern stash to be a great sewist. Actually, you have tons of patterns in plain sight.
What is this magical pot of gold? It’s hanging in your closet right now.
The thing is that every garment you own was made with some kind of pattern. If you like the fit of one, or it’s almost there, you can make your own pattern straight from the garment itself.
If it needs a little tweaking, grab a couple of pins and make the changes. From there, you can get some tracing paper and make your pattern right from your clothes.
I walk through this process on this DIY raglan t-shirt pattern.
Sewing without a pattern will make you more creative!
While you won’t ever have to give up sewing with good old reliable sewing patterns, patternless sewing can be a great way to expand your own options in the sewing room.
The reality is there are no perfect patterns. Searching for forever to try and find just what you want can be frustrating, and big time and money wasters.
Instead, when you practice sewing without a pattern, you’ll be able to work out creative problems, and to make just what you have in your head. You might even discover that you’re better at it than you think you ever could be!
So roll up your sleeves, and look outside of the proverbial sewing pattern box! Which one of these sewing without a pattern ideas do you think you’ll give a shot?
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.