Wednesday, October 16, 2013

So Sew! Day 16: Who needs a Pattern?

Welcome to day 16 of our 31 Days sewing series! This week we are discussing patterns. Today's topic is on not using them.


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There are two kinds of seamstresses in the world - those that use regularly use patterns and those that don’t. I’ve already explained that I don’t usually use a pattern. My projects are usually the type that I make up as I go along.

This might be intimidating to some. I’ve heard people say that the reason they don’t like to sew is because of “the math.” That makes me laugh, because I rarely use math to sew! You certainly don’t need to know calculus or anything to sew - just a simple “add an inch here, 2 inches there” is all the math I ever do!

I’m going to attempt to explain a little bit of how I sew without a pattern, and how you can make it work for you, too! It isn’t really that hard - and if you are not a pattern person you may be doing these things already!

One of the most common things I make without a pattern is curtains. I’ve mentioned on the blog a few times that I love making curtains, it is so fun to come up with different styles to fit a space! You can see a few curtain examples and tutorials here, here and here. Probably the most complicated ones I’ve made were these.

I outlined some of the “math” in this post, but really it is quite simple.


 Generally when making a valence, I plan on using the width of the fabric. If your window is just a pretty normal width, nothing too wide, than the fabric is wide enough as is! I just hem the sides about ½” and call it a day.

If I’m making panels, I still use the width of the fabric for each panel. If it is a narrow window, you’ll want to use less, but for a big window or door the width of the fabric will give a good amount of gather in the finished curtain.

To figure out the length of the curtain, that is totally up to you! Lets take a valence as the example. Decide how low you want it to hang, and measure that. For our purposes today let’s say you decide on 12”. Here is a simple formula to figure out how much fabric you actually need to make this length:

Curtain length + bottom hem + rod casing and heading {x2} + top hem = fabric cut size


Confused? Let me explain:

Take your curtain length {12”} and add enough for the bottom hem. ⅝” is good for a valence. If you are making a longer panel curtain, you may want a large hem.

After that, you need to add enough for the rod casing, heading and top hem. For a standard, thin curtain rod, it takes 1½”, plus 2” for the heading. Now double that. Then add ½” for the hem. So all together you are adding 8⅛” to the 12” length. There is a reason for doing that doubling thing, but it is too confusing to try to explain - it will make sense when you put the curtain together. Promise. =)

That is an explanation of the math you may need if you are not using a pattern. Really, it isn’t complicated, just a matter of figuring out all the hem widths and such. The more you do it, the more common place it will become.

Here is another example of a time I used some math - designing my tablet sleeves.


For this I was so paranoid that I’d make these sleeves and then they wouldn’t fit your tablet. So I did a bunch of research about different tablets and their sizes. Then I planned the sleeves accordingly, adding enough around the edges for hemming and seams. It wasn’t hard either, just took a bit of research.

About clothes: there are ways to make clothes without a pattern. I’ve never tried it. I would say for clothes, use a pattern, or a least a similar garment to go by. For those of you that sew, what would you do in this case?

That is just a brief overview of using math in sewing. Bottom line: don’t let the math keep you from trying something new! If all else fails, get a pattern.

And let me say this - it may fail. Lisa Leonard said recently, “Failure doesn’t mean you’re bad - it just means there is room to grow.” That is so true. Your project may fail. Mine have more than once. Take the time I tried to make oven mitts.



True story. It was a complete fail. But from that failure I learned at least one way that didn’t work, and what I should try differently next time.

So don’t worry about failing. Failing just gives you the opportunity to try again!

Challenge: Leave a comment below: what is keeping you from sewing and/or trying something new? Have you failed before? What happened in that circumstance? Are you a pattern person, or a “math” person? {I use that term loosely! =) }




Other posts in this series:

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