Copy Cat

They don’t come along very often, but occasionally one finds that rare thing – the perfect garment. It’s the piece of clothing that people always comment on when you wear it; telling you how much it suits you or how fine you look today. And it is the garment you remember long after you’ve worn it out or passed it on. Can you think of a garment like that?

The first thing you probably remember is what colour it was. The colour is most definitely important, but people probably weren’t complimenting you because that green brought out the simply delicious colour of your eyes! I’ll bet the style suited you really well and the garment fit you properly.

When I was in university I had a top that people always remarked on. It was a casual top made from a green and black knit fabric, and had a low, square neckline, an empire waist with a tie in the back and little capped sleeves. It was really cheap and I bought it from a slightly dingy underground shop. It wore out and is long gone now, but I often wish I had something similar in a more modern colour palette and style. And well, er, probably a bigger size. Uni was a while ago, and lots of life has happened since then! But I still wish I had another.

Which brings me to the topic I want to talk about: Copying pre-existing garments.

I have to confess, I am a copycat. Copying isn’t something I’ve seen being done a whole lot in the home sewing world, but I love it! Making a pattern from an existing garment is usually called doing a “rub-off” and it seems to be done a lot in the costume industry. I first came across the idea of doing a rub-off in a book I bought a decade ago in a book called “Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit: Using the rub-off technique to re-create and redesign your favourite fashions” by Steffani Lincecum. She has a very practical approach to sewing that I like. In the last few years I’ve rubbed off several garments.

Why? Here are some of the reasons I’ve done it.

Reason One: You know they style will work for you

Have you ever been really excited about something, made it up and then realised the garment was all wrong for you? Yeah, me too. Sometimes when something doesn’t suit you it’s because of fit but sometimes it’s because the design just isn’t right for your body shape. Those boxy tops people really love? I admire them from afar.

The advantage of a rub off is that you have tried the garment on first. In some cases, it’s a much loved garment you have already been wearing for years. Sometimes it is a new style. When the wide legged pants trend came along I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull it off. So one day when I was in a shopping centre I found some and tried them. They do work for me (hooray) and I actually bought the ones I tried on and I did copy them.

It also works the other way. When I first noticed overalls becoming a thing again I was so excited. I was so SURE they’d work for me. I had to order some online (I was in a regional area at the time) and I was so pleased when they arrived. I was ready to start wearing my new “cute gardener” look. I tried them on straight away. I looked in the mirror. They immediately came off, the return form was filled out and they were back at the post office not an hour after they arrived. While they did fit, it turns out that overalls not right for me. I’m glad for the experience though, because it has saved me from buying ALL the cool overall patterns I’ve seen since. I like, I admire, and I scroll on.  

Reason Two: You know it’s going to fit you (more or less)

If you are copying a garment you already have then you know it’s going to fit you. I say more or less because you might choose to make to make minor alterations to get it really perfect, and there might be some small errors from the copying process you need to fix (more on that another time) but if you copy carefully and make it up in a similar fabric it should fit the way the original does.

My husband was interested in making some t-shirts. I started going through the male t-shirt patterns that are out there. My husband a little unusual in his figure. He is quite short but fit and well muscled – rather stocky. (I am not well muscled, by the way. I am a bookworm who likes to sew and only manage to exercise if I can listen to a good audiobook at the same time. I was rather surprised I ended up marrying a guy with a six pack, but I can’t say I was disappointed.) He has a very particular taste in t-shirts and doesn’t like them too baggy. The patterns were not really working out, and while I could see what was wrong I was not entirely sure how to fix the issues. And I didn’t have anyone I could ask.

So off we went to a major department store in the city (little kids in tow) where my husband proceeded try on t-shirts from every brand that made t-shirts. He found one that fit him really well. It didn’t come in many colours, and it was $75. Also, we were doing the uni thing at the time. A whole wardrobe of these t-shirts was not an option (besides, it is nice to wear something other than navy blue or white). But we bought just one. I took it home, copied it and now I make his t-shirts in whatever colours he likes at a fraction of the cost. And he looks good, even if I do say so myself!

Reason Three: It can save time, money and fabric

You might be thinking “Say whaaat? A $75 t-shirt is way more expensive than a pattern is, and you still had to make the pattern from it! How is this saving you anything?” Patterns are not cheap – especially if they are from indie pattern companies, and the exchange rate is not in your favour. The thing is, you don’t really know if a pattern is going to work for you until you’ve bought it, cut it out or traced it and made it up in some inexpensive fabric. Or expensive fabric, should you be one who likes to live on the edge. I really do think I would have gone through several patterns and tries until I found a shirt that worked for my husband – if I found one. Buying one that fit him the way he wanted saved me a lot of work and a lot of patterns. It also saved me from trying to make a lot of alterations that I wasn’t entirely sure how to do. It was expensive, and it still did take time, but I think I came out on top.

Reason Four: You can make a garment you can’t buy anymore

Vintage pieces? Jackets you have had for 20 years? A shirt you got second hand and have no details about it? No worries! You can make yourself one in ALL the colours – if you are willing to put in the work.

At the moment I am copying a denim jacket that I bought around 2003. The brand does still exist, and when I looked on the website they are selling a similar jacket but the lines are slightly different. And I want one the same, damn it. A new one would be a bit different. I also don’t want it in denim. I have found the jacket works really well with the high waisted pant trend – it falls in just the right spot. But I don’t like to wear denim with denim so I’m going to make mine in something else. (My Mum doesn’t quite understand why I don’t just go out and buy a new denim jacket, but I’ve assured her it is fun. She cuts up little pieces of fabric and sews them together as very expensive blankets for fun. It’s called quilting. My Dad spends a lot of money trying to catch really big fish that he then lets GO. We all get our kicks somewhere.) 

In the past, I have also copied a shirt I got second hand. It was obviously rather old, and it was passed to me through convoluted means. The fabric colour was a little dated, but it had the perfect neckline for me. So I copied, and have made it up several times – though I don’t think I’ve ever worn the original!


Reason Five: You can make “variations on a theme” for your favourite garment

We have all heard stories of people who have loved a garment so much they have gone out and bought it in all the colours. Or maybe you are someone who has done that! But what happens when the garment only comes in one colour?

Such was the case with the high waisted pants I mentioned earlier. They only came in light brown. And denim jackets usually only come in denim, my husband’s t-shirt came in navy or white and the second hand t-shirt came in a colour that wasn’t quite me. What happens when something fits you perfectly but only comes in a colour that makes you look ill?

Or you have a shirt you love but you really wish it had long sleeves?

If you can copy it all these things can be overcome.

I have read that costume designers often have to come up with several “looks” for a character but don’t have endless access to the actor for repeated fittings. Apparently, one of the things they do is to take a dress or outfit they know works well and then create several variations of it by changing the fabric, sleeves, neckline, waistline etc. And I think this is really very smart. It takes me a long time to get a pattern to where I want it in terms of fit, and varying something you already know works means you can create more outfits with less effort.

Reason Six: Sometimes you can make it better than you can buy it

Those high waisted pants I keep mentioning? I bought them from a brand I thought had a good reputation. After a few wears the hook and eye at the top of the zip fell off. After a few months, one of the seams began to come apart (and it wasn’t a high stress seam!). They look nice, but the construction is pretty lousy. Not only can I make them out of nicer fabric, I can make them better.

So those are the reasons why I copy.  

There is one more thing I want to say here. I don’t think it’s okay to make patterns from pre-existing garments and sell the patterns or the garments you make from the copies. As I understand it (and I am not a lawyer) to copyright your fashion design in Australia there has to be something new and unique about your design. For example, you can’t copyright a pair of jeans (unless there is something about them that has never be done before). So I’ve been copying my favourite t-shirts, jeans and denim jackets for personal use with a clear conscience.  Never-the-less, selling it would be rather contemptible, don’t you think?

Next post, I’m going to tell you about some of the different ways you can copy a garment.

This post was written by @MrsPincushions. Mrs Pincushions is keen Australian sewist who likes to skill up with each pattern.  


Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published