Copying a RTW dress

I like browsing in the high street fashion shops – do you? I rarely buy an outfit but I need inspiration. Also, when the sales are on, I do sometimes buy oddments either to wear, alter or copy. This week in Top Shop I bought

  • A deep red vintage silk blouse (it was a cut down man’s shirt, slimmed at the side seams with the sleeves, cuffless and cut shorter. £12.50 for lovely, heavy silk
  • A large pair of white cotton shorts with lace on the hems. I pulled up the elastic waist and now have a nice pair of summer PJ bottoms £4
  • A blouse from a firm I like called Miss Patina, reduced from about £45 to £18.
  • I also got a really nice quality beige suede coat from Warehouse for £60. I bought a large size (16) as the 10 was just too skimpy in the skirt. I removed the belt carried and have a better belt and it looks really classy, with the too long sleeves pushed up.

Then I popped into H&M and saw a shell pink, fit and flare dress with interesting darts. Well about 14 copies of this item remained.  They had loads of them. Made from a sort of crepe polyester jersey with 3 per cent Elastane, the garment is fairly stable with a little stretch, and the sad selection was pretty grubby. They had been £40 (made in China), but now reduced to £20. I looked for my size, thinking of dying it maybe, and found that every last one was an 8 or a 6. I didn’t expect the 8 to fit but tried it on anyway.

Sadly it was much too tight. I needed the 10 or 12. I nevertheless photographed it in the changing room, with a plan to copy it. The assistant said there was no hope of getting a different size.

That night I searched the internet, hoping to find a bigger one. But no luck.

But luck came the next day. I found myself near H&M again, and decided to pop in. Now all the remaining sales items had been moved and I sauntered up and down the racks hoping my dress might have appeared in the right size, perhaps returned from the changing room or from the store room. No. In fact the large stock had reduced down to about 4, and the price had dropped too. Just £7. I took the dress to the counter to confirm the dress really was just £7. The girl checked and told me it wasn’t £7 – it had now gone down to £5.

So I bought it.

I thought “I would pay £5 for a pattern, even in the wrong size. Why not use the dress as a pattern?”

So, as an experiment, rather than drafting this dress from my dress block, I tore the whole thing up. It was pretty quick to unpick. It only has four pieces and a side zip, and I had the idea that rather than tracing it and enlarging it at several points I might just add width at the side seams. The great advantage of this was that I didn’t even need to transfer the pattern to paper. I would be able to pin it to the cloth and then add a bit of width and length using my tailor’s chalk. A bit of a risk I know but while the dress was tight on me, it more or less fit in terms of where the seams and darts lay. Also my life (and blog, and approach to life) is all about learning, and I will be using a fabric remnant, and I will see if it works. If it doesn’t, so what?

I know the side seams are a bit hard to discern in the photograph, but I have used chalk to add 3cms to each side seam and 5cms to the hem.

How to copy a RTW dress
Copying a RTW dress (back)

So far the most challenging thing was deciding what to do about the grain. Some of the seams have stretched out of shape as I ripped this open fairly fast.

The fabric I chose is also a slightly stretchy polyester crepe, but it is much softer and drapier than the original which is rather stiff. Here is the dress pinned together, on Camilla.  I think it looks great – a really nice bit of creative pattern cutting, and it was such a quick and easy process.

It has a combined neck and armhole facing – which I haven’t cut yet. I am not sure if this is going to lined or not. I will stitch it up first and then decide.

Have you ever unpicked a RTW garment and used it as a pattern?

25 Responses

  1. I don’t know what happened to my comment when I navigated, umm, somewhere else on your site? I love that dress. It’s gorgeous. If you were to make a paper pattern of it, I would buy it? Wait, we have H& M here. I could see if they have the dress.

    • Oh dear! Your comments and my site. I delete so much spam and always look for you in there first. But here you are, with a lovely comment. It is a nice pattern – and actually very easy to stitch up. Will show it next week. Just fiddling with facings…

  2. The construction of this dress is interesting and it looks so pretty, definitely worth trying to get a pattern out of it! I once burned a blouse with a too hot iron and I cut it apart to sew a similar blouse. It turned out quite well, and I wore it often.

  3. On that is very clever Kate. I have had a couple of tries at sale shopping and bought nothing on 2 occasions, a full price knit top another time and some costume jewellery another. So impressed you’ve found useful things for yourself in the sales.
    I copied the skirt of Rtw dress which I have used a lot for skirts or the skirt part if a knit dress.

  4. Yes absolutely I find delight in taking a garment apart and tweaking the pattern. It is fair game and I know people have done it to mine. I am a bit of an anorak in that I have stood in shops trying to work out the contruction of jackets or coats. Sad isn’t it.

  5. You must be psychic just yesterday I bought a dress that I intend to make a pattern from and I’m often on the lookout for quality bargains just for the fabric. I like the seaming on your dress and I don’t think I’ve seen a similar dress pattern, good plan.

  6. Have I bought a garment and unpicked it for a pattern. Many, many times. What I love about it is that I know with confidence that it will fit and will also suit me – in advance. I have also done the same with clothes that I have worn a lot and want to replace. Only yesterday, I unpicked a casual beach dress that I bought on holiday and made up in a much nicer fabric. The most complicated remake I ever did, however, and I can’t quite believe I attempted it ( I certainly wouldn’t now) was unpick an all-in-one ski suit. I made sure that all the technical fabrics involved were the best quality and it worked out really well. I really like to look around H & M. A lot of women would consider their stores to be for a much younger customer, but amongst a lot of rubbishy items they have some really nice pieces. I also like their more upmarket sister stores – COS and & OTHER STORIES.

  7. Just to add. Not sure if it is just me, but on opening your posts, I always find the photos are visible, but completely blurred. It then takes about 5 minutes for them to come into focus. Thought you might like to know Kate.

  8. Genius! And a very interesting pattern too.

  9. I have copied RTW garments in the past (clients think I am either a goddess or a witch!) but never thought of sale shopping with that in mind. Your dress looks an interesting shape, and I look forward to seeing the finished article.

  10. I am inspired! I hate shopping but I might try doing what you do. Love the colour of your copied dress.

  11. Thanks for posting your ripped down dress find, I love looking at ‘patterns’. I’ve never actually done this, but it crossed my evil mind to buy an expensive garment I liked, take a pattern off it without damaging it and take it back. My conscience yelped. Its true that it isn’t always worth making a garment when so much is available cheaply. I’m trying, and boy is it difficult, to avoid buying from companies using workfare in the UK, (because I’m opposed to the concept, especially with sanctions), so sometimes I pass on a bargain and get the machine out anyway. I’d put the grain parallel to the CF which can be seen easily from the bodice btw. I think that this is what you chose.

    • That is what I attempted Jay, but the skirt was a bit one sided as a result. It is not very well balanced and now I have sewed it up I think I could make some improvements. But I really like the seamed darts and the hip level pleats. It has got potential.

  12. What a great result from a £5 purchase. I think the paler colour in the original really shows the style lines beautifully. I get a lot of my inspiration from RTW too and have bought and returned a few items just to copy them, with mixed results. Never bought and took one apart though. I find I need a lot of help, visually, to come up with ideas for things I’d like to make and browsing the shops does that for me. I also wondered if you would have noticed the dress in the shop if it hadn’t been made in a colour you really like.

  13. Yes, in my fact my trouser pattern was made from a €7 euro sale purchase.I’ve made three different pairs from it, well worth the short time it took to unpick them. I usually only shop in the sales! Jan and July are when I fill wardrobe gaps. I also buy sale items even if they’re too big and then alter them. I really like the seamlines on your dress, you could always trace it onto paper afterwards to preserve it for future use.

  14. Stephanie

    This is really neat, Kate! I have never done this and have one dress at home that I’d like to copy. Only problem is that I don’t want to take it apart! I am going to think about this in future. To be honest though, I generally feel quite depressed when I go to the shops, especially of the H&M and Zara variety. I hate seeing all of the cheap, ugly fabrics and the damaged merchandise where people have tried on things that are too small and ripped them or smeared their makeup on the neck opening. It always fast forwards me to giant dumpsters full of disposable fashion that doesn’t sell, and backwards to other parts of the supply chain. I might be slightly over-sensitive. 🙂

  15. It’s so funny that your topic is copying RTW. I literally just finished copying a dress that I bought recently. I love it so much that I thought I would make another. It has very interesting elements and details….so was a very satisfying project to make. It called for a linen and a cotton knit in the SAME colour….so I decided I would try to dye white cotton the same soft orange as the linen. So last Sunday I did test strips….and found it was actually quite easy! – I also dyed the trim required. – I am very happy with the result. – (I would attach a photo here but don’t know how….)

  16. I have done exactly what you have done several times. A dress I didn’t want to take apart, I used the masking tape method, a top that fit, I took apart, cut a pattern and sewed back together (now I have 3 tops from that pattern), and a dress from the thrift shop that was fraying at the seams–I took apart and used as my pattern. Like you said–we pay for patterns and sometimes the RTW garment is the same price or less. Works for me1

  17. I’ve never been asked to take something apart to copy as most folks are so attached to their RTW garments and just want me to trace off styles. Before I do that, I run thread basting lines along the grain lines to see where my straight of grain lines should be on the paper. Those get pinned down first or traced first since they will be on the fold or selvedge. Your new dress/pattern is so interesting…cutaway darts essentially to make the bodice more fitted. You could even insert piping into those darts for a wild look…you go, Kate!

  18. I love your new dress. Gorgeous colour. I tried once to take a copy of RTW trousers that nearly fitted me – made modifications. I have the pattern I drew but haven’t made up yet. I’m on an RTW fast so haven’t been buying at all – but buying something that didn’t fit to copy wouldn’t count as breaking that fast, I’m sure – I just haven’t seen anything yet.

  19. Very cute dress and certainly no more expensive than a pattern. In fact, most of the H&M clothing I’ve seen has great styling but the fabric and construction are so terrible you probably are better off just using it as a pattern. Mrs Mole is right about tracing the grain lines but I wouldn’t be too sure that the grain lines in your dress are accurate. These garments are cut by stacking multiple, multiple layers and cutting through the whole stack at once. No wonder the grain lines get twisted! I would square it from the horizontal balance line across the chest and go from there.
    I do love this design and think it will be very flattering on you. Please post your results.

  20. The paper pattern for that would be quite big and a very unusual shape! I would have bought the dress and ripped it apart too. It is very unique. Love your blue!

  21. Fabulous dress! This will be awesome with your hourglass shape. Can’t wait to see the “good one” all finished and worn.

Leave a Reply