Patterns are not the law...FACT

Sewing patterns are not the law…FACT

Sewing patterns are not law…FACT!

I really like to use patterns, they give me a great starting block….but there is absolutely no reason why they always have to be stuck to.   Some of the best clothes I’ve made have been by modifying a pattern or thinking about how I can approach the design in a slightly different way.

There’s nothing more satisfying than to look at a sewing pattern and think “hummm I wonder if I could just do this little change here” and then it actually working out in the long run. I know Neela from the Great British Sewing Bee is a great fan of this, I had once shown her a pattern for my summer dress in week one and only a matter of weeks later she was wearing a dress that incorporated the top half from this and the bottom half from another. Gorgeous!


So here I’m encouraging you not to panic or worry, but instead to embrace your inner creative side. We all have it, that’s why we love making and stitching. For your next project why don’t you reuse an existing pattern and follow some of the below tips to create a different garment?

It’s important to take your time to understand how a sewing pattern reads, what the markings mean, how it all comes together as a sequential process and results in a great wearable garment.

Quite often I tend to make the garment as the pattern suggests. But then the next time around I perhaps try them in a different fabric, or maybe change the neckline, add an embellishment here and there. The options are endless.

You only have to look at some of the fantastic alterations that have been done on GBSB over the last three years to see that there’s endless possibilities, take Jenni’s T-shirt modification for example, who would have had the courage to give that a go.

I’d made a sheer blouse for Gemma a little while back in a lovely floaty georgette, the pattern was a Simplicity New Look 6035. In the instructions it has a gather on the front neck edge to bring this up into a slight ruffle. I wondered if I could, instead of this do it in a printed cotton and bring the front neck edge together as two inverted pleats almost meeting in the front centre.

The change was simple, I had the neck binding cut so an idea of how far the gather brought the neck edge in, so all I had to do was use this measurement, halve it and create two crisp knife pleats pointing inwards.

Once I’ve made sure these are evenly spaced and symmetrical I run a few edge stitches from the neck edge downwards to hold them in place I then press them well for the first third and allow the lower two thirds to fall naturally. Simple but effective.

Perhaps it doesn’t even need to be a pattern. You can always adapt something that was shop brought, like the jumper that I changed for Gems with some sparkly sequins on the shoulders.

Remember, there’s no pattern police out there waiting to tell you off for giving it a try, so I say why not….Go Sew for it!

Matt Chapple, winner of the Great British Sewing BeeMatt

The stitcher. A magnet for foolery & prankster at heart. Loves being creative, whether with some wood and a saw or with a needle and thread. Attempts to disguise his past time activities as manly pursuits, but is actually pretty handy at sewing!


  1. char 4 years ago

    I love piecing together elements from a range of patterns to make the dress I want – I take design elements from one bodice and often add it to a different skirt or whatever. I think it’s great to be able to make something totally to your own specifications.

    • Author
      Matt 4 years ago

      Ahhh you’re just like Neela, she loves doing that. I must experiment a bit more on that mixing and matching. :)

  2. Jan Halls 4 years ago

    Great post. However it will only work if you can get patterns to fit in the first place. If a person cannot get patterns to fit (i.e. me) you are either regarded as a complete imbecile or expected to pay out big bucks, that is if you can find anyone prepared to help. I have been sewing for more years than I care to recall, yet because I cannot get patterns to fit (just cannot identify why) people tell me I need a course to learn how to sew, and no, fitting problems never seem to be covered either. I just make toile after toile in the everlasting hope I might hit on the right thing, though after five years plus of this its getting a bit disheartening. Fitting is something that NEEDS to be covered on the GBSB. I want to sew tops and garments its just the fitting that is the stumbling block here.

    • Author
      Matt 4 years ago

      Hi Jan,

      I see exactly where you’re coming from, the patterns do tend to always need the top and bottom halves of the human body to be the same, god forbid we varies 😉

      I had a good read of Claire-Louise Hardie’s book for this years GBSB series and she has given some great tips and advice on adapting a pattern for a real body shape/size.

      If you can handle not having the clearest of instructions then I’d say have a look at the website (yep it’s not a typo, it really is just “.co”). On there you can pick from hundreds of patterns and then stick in your own measurements, then print a personalised pattern at home just a couple of hours later.

      Drop me a message if you need any tips on using the site. Good luck.


  3. Sarah 4 years ago

    That is the beauty of making your own clothes. You can adapt things to suit yourself. As I have done with Tilly and the buttons Mathilde blouse pattern. It really doesn’t resemble the original pattern much at all anymore. But I now have the perfect blouse for me :0)
    By the way I love the fabric you used for Gemma’s top with the centre pleat.

    • Author
      Matt 4 years ago

      Hi Sarah, Isn’t it just, the thought that what you’ve made can’t just be picked off the peg in a high street shop if fantastic. It’s about finding some guidance that give you direction and then ad-lib until you find something just right for you.

      I think I’m going to have to take some of my own medicine soon, I’m determined to make a fitted shirt for myself but really struggling to find the right pattern to begin with. They’re all a bit retro.

      • Sarah 4 years ago

        Good luck with finding the right pattern to start playing with. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  4. Sam 4 years ago

    This is so true! I’ve been sewing for 30+ years, but only in the last few years have I come to realise that sewing patterns (and knitting patterns too for that matter) are not “the law”! Now I’ve realised this it is actually pretty unusual for me to make something without deviating from the pattern at least a little bit. I think the only thing I’ve made in the last year where I didn’t change a thing was the Style Arc coat I made last month.

    • Author
      Matt 4 years ago

      Hey Sam,

      Thanks for that, I’m glad that you’ve found this out too. Isn’t it funny that, to begin with, we all feel they’re rules not to stray from. Only over time and with a bit of experimentation do we get more confident.

      I must admit I love to challenge myself, maybe thats just deep rooted inside me.

      Happy stitching.

  5. Neela 4 years ago

    Great post Matt. Just be brave and experiment, it’s only fabric. If you get it wrong you can always start again. The more you do it the more original your home-makes become!

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