How to Alter a New Pattern Using an Old Favorite

The sun here hurts my skin.  After suffering through three summers, I decided to make a sun jacket from hemp silk.  I like to gamble, in this case I married an unknown garment with an unknown fabric.  I could have lost.  Like a good gambler, I hedged my bets by using a simple pattern.

 (Simplicity 4044, no fiddly bits)

I won big- I barely take it off.  The fabric wears well, the satin side slips deliciously over my skin and the outside wears tough with a pretty texture.  The hemp allows the slightest breeze to penetrate.   I suspect part of the jacket love comes from the fit, especially over my difficult lower back:

I thought to make another exactly like it, with a few tweaks to the front fit but that’s boring- especially with so many gorgeous jacket patterns available.  Besides, I want more details.

Instead, I’m working on Advance 2690, View A.  I knew I needed to alter the pattern and decided to use my 4044 as a reference.

This will be a dry technical post for pattern geeks. 

(left- 4044; right- 2690)

The Advance pattern has more pieces with a hip-length peplum and waist seam.  I started alterations on the back.   The back shoulder and armscythes were similar enough to allow me to focus solely on the lower back.

I drew a line straight out from the bottom of the armscythe across both pieces, then measured down from that to find the correct CB length.   Next, I compared the length of the side seams.  Finally, I measured the newly marked seam line on 2690 and compared it to the back waist measurement (shown by an orange line on 4044).

Sudden realization: 4044 was a modernized re-print with ease built in to the design.  2690 is pure WW2 with zero ease.  While the pattern sizing indicates a 28″ waist and I usually take a 28″, this jacket would not fit me without the help of a girdle.  I will wear them with pretty dresses, but I balk at daily wear.

I eliminated one of the back tucks to make both waist measurements match.  I found it handy to have a pattern on hand with the perfect amount of ease already, no guesswork.

Despite the differences in cut, once I pinned the peplum to 2960 and performed my alterations, the two patterns looked remarkably similar.  I added ease to the peplum piece, using the 4044 measurements as a guide.

The front worried me less.  I made a standard 1.5″ FBA.  FBA’s larger than an inch or so tend to distort the armscythe, I often find they bite ever so slightly into my front armpit.  I tried smoothing the armscythe slightly, I’ll use the pen line as my cutting line and hope for the best.

When I perform a FBA, I usually make a new side dart by simply bringing together the cut edges of the pattern.  On my 4044 jacket, I noticed the dart hung too low and seemed to distort the side seam.  This time I made sure to re-mark my bust apex and the side dart points right to it.

To decide the width of the dart, I folded it out until the front side seam matched the back side seam.  I compared the front waist width on 2960 with the front waist width on 4044 and added slightly to the side seam while reducing the width of the front tuck.  Likewise, I added width to the front peplum piece.

Pinning or taping tissue paper gives me hives (if I badly alter a tissue pattern, I can’t start over) but sewing together my polytrace patterns before I cut my fabric acts as a happy medium between a muslin or no muslin.

My halfie:

The pull in the back comes from the tuck, and will work fine in the finished jacket.  I’m happy with the fit but not the photography.  My usual photographer has gone away for 9 days on vacation on an ecological field assignment.  He spent the morning snorkeling here:

I must make do the best I can for photography until he returns.

Besides refining the FBA, I wanted to allow my arms freer range of movement in my new jacket.  4044 slightly restricts forward and downward reaching, occasionally annoying.   As the intrepid wife of a tropical explorer, I must be able to swing from vines, ride camels, climb pyramids and brandish my whip without shucking my outerwear.

(From John Peacock’s Men’s Fashion, The Complete Sourcebook)
(From an Ebay Cache, 1930’s wool)
A back yoke and pleat will add a dash of complexity to the pattern and allow easier whip brandishing.  I’d like to make a pointed yoke to echo the pocket shape on the front, but I may settle for a simple straight yoke.  Notice the left jacket in the top photo- I see this double pleat over and over in WW2 military jackets and rather like it.  When I make the militarized version of this jacket I may incorporate the double pleats.  
I plan to make a back belt feature for this jacket as I’ve always admired back belts on 30’s active wear.  I’ll bind most of the seams and top stitch the darts and pocket tops, it works very well on my other jacket to keep the lines smooth. 
In a sticky impetuous moment I chopped off my ponytail.   Bad idea- I could pin it up and forget it before.   Now I have to wash my hair more frequently and the heat turns my hair stringy.  Lesson learned, at least I can still make a victory roll.  No makeup either, the weather is completely unglamorous.


  1. Your confidence with these patterns floors me! I think somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm afraid of "disrespecting" the elderly pattern (like she's a little old lady, or something), but in reality, you're taking her out dancing! I love what you've done, and your pictures really help me understand the process better. Oh, and some "research" trip that looks like… :)

  2. Thanks. I really enjoy alteration, it's like a puzzle.He really is working, that's the irritating part. This is the scouting mission, I get to go with him when he takes a longer trip.

  3. OMG I nearly chopped my hair of today too…! damn heat. I keep threatening C that I will if he doesn't fork out the $$ for some serious thinning at the hairdressers.On a plus side I actually stated sewing something for me again :)

  4. The fit in the very first photo – your sunscreen jacket – is so good. You look so well proportioned that I could not understand what you meant about needing fit adjustments. Then I followed along to see what you did.It is a testament to your skill that the finished garment looks so nice and nothing about yoour figure looks 'difficult'.well done!

  5. "the sun here hurts my skin" – love that i'm not the only one not into the sun! (i'm a pale aussie who gets burnt all the time). Its great to hear that you cover up, so many ex-pats and tourists try for the lobster-tan – makes me really worried cos of our rates of skin cancer down here…

  6. Steph, thanks so much for your words of wisdom! I opened up the side and center back seam and then taped some extra fabric to it. I then stitched it together and took in the sides a little. It looks a lot better! Thanks for the help. Now I feel like I can actually continue on.

  7. Pingback: Finished Object: Lady Safari Jacket in Hemp Silk « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  8. Pingback: Getting Creative with a 1930′s Blazer « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

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