I have discussed how to find discounted fabrics, now let’s discuss patterns. I can’t draft patterns; it’s not in my skill set. I can take existing patterns and piece them together, a sleeve from one or the bodice from another, to make a new garment. But if in making a costume, I need to start with a pattern of some type.
Patterns are expensive, it’s a simple fact. However, there are ways around that. If I purchase a commercial pattern, I rarely pay full price. The major companies frequently have sales at your local fabric store. I usually keep a list of patterns that I want from each company (McCalls, Butterick, Simplicity, Burda and Vogue) so that when they are on sale for 40% off or $1.99 a pattern, I know exactly what patterns to buy.
Patterns from the smaller historical companies, Past Patterns, Folkwear or Truly Victorian to name a view, can be harder to find. You can find good deals on sites like eBay or Half.com. These patterns are normally priced around $20 a pattern. While I feel the price is worth it, my budget disagrees. Most of these patterns that are multiple sized patterns not only come with the pattern pieces and reconstructed instructions, but also a bit of history regarding the time period and the original garment used for the pattern. Some historical patterns are duplicates, meaning that they are only one size and usually contain the original sewing instructions. Unless you are an experienced sewer, I would stay away from the patterns that state they are simply a duplicate, even though the price can be significantly less.
There are also pattern books, usually containing historical garments and their pattern pieces, that can usually be purchased for under $20.These books contain anywhere from 20-100 illustrations and the accompanying pattern pieces. These are also for the experienced sewer as the book will contain only the patterns and no instructions. Sometimes the pieces will have a guideline for matching them up: match corner “a” on one piece to corner “a” on another, but you will still need to understand what the basic shapes mean (how to tell a sleeve from a yoke, for instance) and how to sew without written instructions.
Of course, free is best and there are quite a few free patterns out there. Any Google or Pinterest search will return hundreds of free patterns, all ready for the taking. There’s just one problem: the pattern is sized to print on the standard 8.5” x 11” paper, which will fit no one except maybe the fashion dolls tucked in the toy box.
Even if you do find standard patterns on sale for $1.99 or 50¢, they may not be the right size. Remember the Irish dress from Orphan Train? The one made from a plaid tablecloth and a green sheet? This dress was created using a pattern purchased from Savers. The pattern was cut to size 3T. It needed to fit a middle school child. The price was right-about $12 for the dress. But the pattern was all wrong.
Never fear, math is here to save the day. Wait, come back, it’s not scary math, I promise. Just a bunch of triangles. Remember the concept of similar triangles? No? Here’s a refresher: Similar Triangles.
Basically, here’s what Sal is saying: the angles remain the same. So, if I have a vest pattern, which is made up of a set of rectangles (or two triangles), if I need it to be smaller or larger, I change the length of the sides of triangles that make up that vest. I can take any pattern from a doll pattern (except for fashion doll patterns, which follow no body sense) to a plus size pattern and re-size it to the size I need.
So how to do this? Threads magazine has so kindly published a detailed instruction set, along with diagrams. How to Enlarge a Pattern. Download the pdf and start with that. It works as the pattern piece shown below illustrates. This method is particularly useful when making costumes for middle school students as there are very few patterns for that age range. Small children usually have patterns for costumes from infant to 5T. And many high school students can wear small or medium adult sizes. But middle school patterns, from 6 to 14, seem to be a sort of lost opportunity and scarce, particularly historical based patterns.
To the left is the back bodice to the Irish dress, re-sized from a 3T to a 10. It might be a little hard to see, but if you look closely you can see the lines and the measurements for each line along with the original pattern piece in the middle.
A few things to remember when sizing patterns…
Small patterns are best when creating middle school costumes, large patterns are best for high school costumes. The reason that small patterns are best for middle school students is that there are no darts and limited difference between the chest/bust and the waist. For the average middle school student, there is not that much difference between those two measurements. Doll dresses are great for historical garments because they already have the darts removed, are simply designed (for both the construction and the dressing) and there are quite a few historical costume patterns thanks to the popularity of American Girl dolls. If you do need to use an adult sized pattern scaled down, do not cut out or sew in the darts. Create the garment as though there are no darts. This will help make up the difference in general body types.
Likewise, if you are creating a costume for a high school student and using a doll or small child pattern, you may need to add darts to the waist area to create the curved shapes for the hips, waist or bust. This can be done when fitting the pattern. It is best to create muslin or practice garment when sizing up like this so that you can properly place the darts where needed.
A few more examples…
The front piece…and the sleeve.
And the final product: