Pattern Hacking

Making patterns your own.

Making a sewing pattern fit well can be time consuming, which is why I encourage my students to re-work the same patterns several times before starting the fitting process all over again with a new pattern. To avoid having a wardrobe of all the same outfits, you can “hack” your well fitted pattern, creating unique new versions of the original. My good friend Nigel May from Create and Craft TV says patterns are merely a serving suggestion a phrase I’ve now stolen and used many times when teaching!

simple pattern hack from a top

You’ve probably heard the word “hacking” and may be confused by what it means?

Essentially it means you are making changes to a sewing pattern that will create a design that’s different from the original. Hacking can mean small changes, like adjusting the length, making up in a different type of fabric etc, OR it could mean large adjustments like mixing together the sleeve from another pattern with the bodice of a second one and the skirt of a third pattern. Personally I work with a small selection of patterns that I make fit me well, and then change up into multiple versions.

When I wrote my book The Great British Sewing Bee: Fashion with Fabric, I wanted to introduce the concept of hacking to the Sewing Bee books, so that readers could make multiple variations without constantly starting the fit process from scratch. I managed to sell the concept with my fav set of hacked projects from one pattern:- “The 3 in onesie” This pattern could be a jumpsuit, slouchy trousers or a cami top. Just saying,but  I’m still hoping to see this jumpsuit and the corset top hacked together!

The 3 in onsie pattern

Hacking can also cover small style details like pockets and fit.

 I made the Tilly and the Buttons Cleo dungaree dress, but as a woman with Boobage, I chose not to add the bib pocket and emphasise that area. I also wasn’t wild about the 2 small hip pockets, so I made a kangaroo pocket that sits at the waistline. This broke up the expanse of fabric over my tummy area, and is super practical! Plus it was a super speedy hack too. In terms of the fit, I made mine a closer fit at the waist and created a more A line shape towards the hem, as I know this shape suits me better than the straighter original



Pattern Hacking
Pattern Hacking

A few ideas to get your creative hacking juices flowing!

  • Add a flat collar you’ve previously made to a round neck top/dress pattern
  • Convert a round neck into V neck
  • Add a style line at the hip point of a shift dress and add some hidden pockets
  • Lengthen a shirt pattern to a shirt dress
  • Move side and bust darts to the neckline to create an interesting neck feature.
  • Substitute a straight or pencil skirt pattern to the emery dress if gathers aren’t for you, or vice versa add a gathered skirt pattern to a more fitted style dress
  • Divide up a shift dress or T shirt pattern to create colour blocks in the style of a Mondrian painting
  • Experiment making up a woven pattern you love in knit fabric
  • Add an opening where there previously wasn’t one, eg a button fastening down the centre front/back of a simple top
Hacking idea number 1
Hacking idea number 2

Just like following a recipe, it’s a good idea to make the pattern up exactly as the designer intended before you start messing around with its ‘ingredients’ or pattern elements. This also allows you to refine the fit.

Once you’ve understood how the pattern works, it’s then much easier to play around with. I like to do a pattern audit after making up for the first time, making a note of all the details I particularly liked, this helps me decide what aspects to change on another hacked version. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, not all your ideas will pan out, but you will learn a lot by creating a few duff pieces.

dart rotation guides

The basic principle of garment design is based around dart rotation, or moving darts around. Even if you haven’t studied pattern cutting, this is a fairly easy process to understand, and it will open up so many opportunities for pattern hacking. Darts don’t even have to stay as sewn darts, they can be converted to gathers or pleats or tucks. Megan Nielson has an ace post on dart manipulation and most good pattern cutting books will show a few examples.

Essentially darts can be moved around the bodice radiating out from the bust apex at any angle. You can see all the possibilities in the diagram above

Some simple rules for hacking

  • ALWAYS make a copy of the pattern before hacking it, otherwise you’ll never be able to make another hack or the original again.
  • Add seam allowance to every new seamline you’re creating. If you’ve decided to colour block a shift dress for example, each of those new seam lines will need seam allowance added on either side, or the dress will be way too small.
  • Prepare yourself for a little maths! When hacking together pieces from different patterns, you need to measure the areas that will join together and make sure they fit. This means you may need to add in extra or take away some bits of the pattern.
  • Factor in the original fabric choice advice on the pattern when going off piste. Often I remove the seam allowance or cut a size smaller if using a knit with a woven pattern. Add more seam allowance if using woven cloth and a knit pattern
  • Make a mood board of clothes that suit you, and identify the elements that match your pattern stash, this will help you mix and match your patterns for hacks you’ll want to wear.
  • Remember that this is now your pattern and sew it your way. So if you like to wear something less fitted, you can, if you prefer your trouser legs more tapered than the pattern, then taper them. The beauty of paper patterns is that they can be changed to suit our own tastes
I've just got back into sewing and I find your newsletter tips really useful so do please keep them coming.
Many thanks


  • Yvonne Ammann

    18.01.2019 at 15:57

    Hi Claire-Louise,

    I love your tips and tricks for pattern hacking, especially the ideas you’ve listed in the post!

    I’m a sewing newbie and guess what I received for Christmas this year? Your sewing book! The best present ever and I can’t wait to get started with some new projects. First on the list is the jumpsuit; I’m absolutely in love with it. A post on my website and pictures on Instagram will follow once I’ve completed the project – I promise.

    Can’t wait to read more from you soon.

    All the best,

    • The Thrifty Stitcher

      27.02.2019 at 23:26

      Hello Yvonne,

      Thanks so much for your lovely compliment. Hope the jumpsuit is going well?
      Best wishes :)

  • Angie Earp

    07.01.2019 at 18:18

    Oh CL that TATB Pinafore looks amazing on you. I am tempted to try it now, although I am nearly 60yrs old I love it. So I am going to ignore the one who say I am too old for it and crack on with one.

    • The Thrifty Stitcher

      27.02.2019 at 23:27

      Thanks Angie, Sadly i’m a bit chibby for the pinafore at the moment- will have to make a new one. Good luck with yours

  • Sarah

    21.01.2018 at 11:09

    Excellent post! Thanks very much. I can see myself returning to this one a lot.