How to design your own dress pattern

Updated April 17, 2017

Create a garment that is custom-made for your body by designing your own dress pattern. Commingle elements of several existing patterns to design a simple sundress, complex wedding gown or any style of dress in between.

Examine fashion magazines and pattern catalogues for inspiration, making notes as you go regarding aspects of each potential dress feature. Based on your notes and the pictures of several dress designs that feature design elements you find attractive, formulate a concept about the sleeve, bodice and skirt style that will be used in your dress design.

Make a sketch to illustrate your finished dress design. Trace the sketch onto drawing paper over a photograph of yourself. This gives you a representation of your personal angles and curves, which helps with pattern piece selection.

Select and buy the sleeve, bodice and skirt patterns that you will commingle to make your dress. Choose individual elements that most closely resemble your sketch. The sleeve may come from a shirt pattern; the bodice from a dress pattern; and the skirt from a simple skirt pattern that hadn't previously been used as part of a dress.

Pin and cut a muslin mock-up of the dress using the pattern pieces you have assembled. The amount of muslin you use will vary according to the proportions of the dress and your size. You won't be sewing this mock-up. Instead, you pin the pieces together along all the seams, which allows you to make changes easily.

Hang the mock-up on a dress form, making sure that the form accurately represents your measurements. If you don't have a dress form, you can enlist the help of friend with sewing experience. In this case, you put the mock-up on your own body, and your friend makes the necessary adjustments.

Adjust the pins as needed. This adjustment process accommodates both your body's shape and the differences in the meeting places of the various pattern elements. For instance, you make adjustments if your hips are shaped differently than the standard pattern sizing. Also, since the sleeves, bodice and skirt of your new dress weren't originally made to go together, you may need to make some modifications. This usually involves resizing armholes, adjusting the waistband on the skirt so that it aligns properly with the bodice, or adding darts or gathers to manipulate the fullness or fit of the garment.

Mark the locations of darts, zips, buttons, buttonholes and other notions on the muslin using a tailor's pencil. Make notes on the muslin pattern about tricky construction details or modifications so that you will remember the process in the future.

Unpin the muslin mock-up. The individual pieces can now serve as your pattern pieces. Transfer each piece to blank newsprint or butcher paper if desired, transferring the exact location of all markings and notes.


Do not combine elements of patterns that are recommended for different types of fabrics, specifically knits and wovens, as the fits differ significantly.

Things You'll Need

  • Drawing paper
  • Photograph of yourself
  • Sleeve, bodice and skirt pattern elements
  • Dress form (optional)
  • 5 metres (5 yards) of muslin
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Tailor's' pencils
  • Blank newsprint (optional)
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About the Author

Laura Britton is a graduate of Indiana University and a former English teacher. She is the managing editor of "The Balefire" magazine, and her work has appeared in several magazines and journals. Britton has been writing professionally for 10 years.