Monday, July 10, 2017

6 Steps for Putting Your Unique Spin on Any Craft Pattern

We all see projects on Pinterest or blogs or Etsy listings, and it's love at first sight. We adore the appliqued table runner but we don't need a table runner. And those fabric choices on that quilt! We'd love to make that quilt block, but forty of them? Maybe not.

How many times have you gawked and drooled and ogled crafts and even bought the patterns only to think: That's not exactly what I want to make.

Hey, that's no problem. In fact, that's a sign that your creativity is bursting at the seams. You want to make stuff from patterns, yes, but you also want to break out and let inspiration take you and that pattern somewhere that has your unique mark on it.

What this post isn't

We're not exactly talking Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon, because this isn't about how to be enriched by other makers and from that develop your own way. I highly recommend the book, but it's not quite what this is about.

And this also isn't about how to take one item, such as a pillowcase, and turn it into a bunch of things you would never have thought of - though I find the Craft Challenge books like Dozens of Ways to Repurpose a Pillowcase by Suzanne Tourtillott motivating and fun.

What this post is

This is about how to take a craft pattern - a sewing or embroidery pattern, an applique hoop art pattern, a quilt block pattern, a crochet pattern, any pattern you would stitch - and use what you love about the pattern to make more than just the original idea. This is about putting your own spin on any craft pattern.

Most of us follow craft patterns because we like the original item and want to know how to make it. Fair enough, right? But what about ALL those pins and pics we file away for patterns we never try because we don't want to make the actual item. Still, there is something about that pattern that makes us feel like we're just a little bit in love. You know, just like chocolate does.

You can do amazing things with these ideas. You just need to know how.

These steps are pretty much the same steps a designer uses to imagine a pattern for you in the first place. You won't have to do quite the same process because the original pattern has all the instructions and templates completed. But creating a project spin may mean using methods not suggested or outlined in the pattern. This might be:
  • using free hand machine embroidery instead of hand embroidery or vice versa
  • enlarging an applique image to use on a jeans jacket rather than in hoop art
  • taking away the cutely vintage embroidery on that clothespin bag, sewing it with modern fabrics to make a fabulous tote bag
  • turning a certain floral granny square you love so much (but you don't crochet) into a quilt block pattern
You may not even know you can translate all those great craft pattern ideas into many different and unique projects to keep or give. If you're shy about trying your hand at these kind of things, don't worry - it's so much easier than you think.

You're just six steps away from putting your unique spin on any craft pattern. 

1) Understand the original stitchery pattern

What is the pattern? Is the pattern an applique? An embroidery? A doll? A tea cozy? A peg bag?

Why are you drawn to it? Is it the colors, the style, the function, the timing, such as a holiday, wedding, or birthday item? Is it the artisan you love?

Is it a skill you already have, such as sewing, knitting, or embroidery? Or is it something you dream of trying out or would like to add to your repertoire on a regular basis?

What is it about this pattern that makes you bookmark it, re-pin it, or save it to your to-do file?

In order to re-imagine a pattern, you kind of have to get to know it. You have to know if this is really doable based on your skills level. Are you good at improvisational sewing? Do you just want to know how to take one element of a pattern and use it elsewhere?

Maybe you love the peg bag style but not the design on it. Maybe you love a turtle pincushion so much, you're wondering how to make it big enough to make as a softie. Maybe it's an applique of seaside row houses that you'd like to turn into a doorway draft stopper.

Know the pattern well enough to identify the part of the pattern you want to re-imagine.

2) Dream and make lists

How does this pattern - or  part of it - inspire you to do something other than to simply make it in its original form?

This is a hoop art pattern I'm including in Issue 2 (August 2017) of Stitch Cafe digital magazine (shameless promotion opportunity), but after I made it, I started wondering about Brown Betty teapots. I had not made the teapot to be a Brown Betty on purpose. It just turned out that way because I had some yummy brown linen. So I did some research and included an article about Brown Betty teapots and a Brown Betty dessert recipe in that issue. I started with just the pattern and it ended up expanding my creative mind.

But it didn't stop with additions to the magazine. I like my patterns to feel open-ended, to inspire makers to take elements of them and create more.

The hoop art was a lot of fun. I love several elements of it, such as the storybook reference in the words, the colorful embroidery, and the teapot itself. I started thinking about how I could use these in other projects, using the original template as a start. I came up with a number of project spin ideas. 

  • teapot pillow
  • pincushion
  • embroider Once Upon a Teatime on a teatowel
  • embroider the teapot onto a small zip or clasp purse
  • applique patch for a shirt or apron pocket
  • use the pattern on a journal cover
  • embroider or use fabric pens to make a set of teatime coasters
  • kitchen window valance with a teapot on either side of the text 

Grab a craft pattern or tutorial you love, or check out one of the patterns in my Etsy shop or from Stitch Cafe magazine. Pick out something you love about the design and start dreaming -

  • great tote bag size and shape, uninteresting design on the front - how would you rather adorn this tote to reflect you
  • awesome little kitty key fob - maybe this design would make a great crib mobile
  • loving a recipe book cover with a kitchen scene, but don't need that item - could simply make the front and frame it for some kitchen art
  • very cool cuff bracelet - wouldn't wear a cuff but, size altered, would make a completely not-boring wrap for electrical cords

Let the dreaming begin!

3) Choose something and decide on colors and materials

Who is it for? Is it a gift? Is it for a special occasion? Is it for your home? Are you going to use this in a craft challenge or teach a stitchery class using your re-imagining of the pattern elements? These questions will help you decide on color, style, and what to choose from your dreaming list.

This is one of my favorite parts. I love hunting and gathering. I stalk thrift stores and fabric shops. I love flea markets and yard sales. Most of the time, you can't find the amazing fabrics you see on clothing and home linens in fabric stores. There's a stitchery gold mine out there, waiting for you to discover it. So go hunting, first in your own stash, and then in the shops and thrifts.

Sometimes I simply can't match available materials to what I see in my dream. That's okay if you find yourself in that position. Don't get discouraged.

Make a small list of what you would need to make your project and be very specific when you go a'hunting. If you decide you don't have time to go looking for the perfect materials, file that idea on your wish list, and pick another re-imagining.

Remember to adjust the detailing materials. If you are embroidering on a much larger image now, you will need to adjust the size of your stitches and probably the number of strands of floss used, possibly even the type of embroidery thread used. If you would have used stranded cotton embroidery thread for a smaller project, you might need to substitute perle cotton or another larger gauge thread.

4) Prep the pattern - Enlarging and Reducing

Recently, I found myself completely stumped when it came to figuring out percentages for reducing and enlarging a craft pattern. I had a digital copy and wanted to make it larger, but I had no idea at what percentage to enlarge it.

Then another designer directed me to a tutorial by Choly Knight for enlarging and reducing pdf toy patterns. The whole tutorial explains how to use Adobe Acrobat Pro to do this and if you have this, go for it.

But I don't have it and I just needed to know the math. When I print, I can tell the pop-up window at what percent to print the image. So how do you calculate the percentage?

The very first image in the tutorial explained it all to me. You simply divide the desired size by the current size and then multiply that answer by 100.

Take that teapot again. The original image printed at 100% is 4 1/4" (11cm) wide. I want the throw pillow to be 12" (30.5cm) wide.

I divided 12 by 4.25 and got 2.82 (or 30.5 by 11). So I'm going to enlarge the pattern 280% (rounded off). Hmmm…I doubt my printer can do that, so I will likely take a file to Kinkos or Office Depot and have them do it for me.

And to reduce? If the pattern is 4 1/4" and I want to make a small patch 3" wide. 3 divided by 4.25 is .70 so I'll reduce it by 70%.

In her post, Choly reminds makers that if seam allowances are marked on the pattern pieces they will also be made larger or smaller so you'll need to adjust these manually. 

5) Get the instructions

You may need to Google some basic instructions for the type of project you'd like to make. So if you want to make a throw pillow, coasters, a coin purse, or a journal cover (who isn't in love with bullet journals yet?) using my Brown Betty teapot or other design, the links at the end of the post will help you with fundamental methods for making the basic item (like a coin purse) that you can embellish using the design you've chosen.

For the design work, you can refer to the original pattern instructions which will help you with embroidery stitch choice, fabric choice, and other directions that will carry over into the design of the new project.

For free tutorials other than the ones in the resource section below, you can usually find just what you're looking for at:


All Free Sewing



Remember to bookmark your favorite tutorial sites for future reference.

6) Ready to work!
Once you've decided on your project spin idea and narrowed down your materials choices, use this handy planner to organize your project.

On this planner, you can note the original idea, your new ideas, helpful links or tutorials, materials on hand and materials needed, and there's even a place for a sketch of your dream project spin.

Download your planner. 

Assemble all of your materials for the new project. Be sure to have copies of the original pattern instructions and any additional tutorials or specific instructions you'll need, such as how to accomplish new skills such as needle-turn applique or the instructions that come with iron-on fusible fleece.

If you are really concerned about how the pattern will translate to a new size or medium, you can make a mock up using calico/ muslin fabric to check on shape and size.

Before cutting fabric, check on whether or not seam allowances have been included in sewing pattern templates. If you have enlarged or reduced the pattern, adjust the seam allowance sizes.

To transfer embroidery, read this post about the many methods you can choose from.

Now you can cut out the pattern template(s) (for sewing) or use your favorite method to trace or transfer the pattern to the fabric (for embroidery).

But first, take a deep breath. Relax. Then put on some music that will forever be the soundtrack for this creative day in which you put your unique spin on a pattern you like so much, it has inspired you to create even more.

And when you're done, don't forget to have a little dance party, even if you and your new creation are the only invited guests!

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Sewing and embroidery craft patterns:


  1. Informative blog, every time it shares a new idea for embroidery. Thanks for sharing the 6 Steps for putting unique spin on any craft pattern.

    1. Glad you found the article! Love the link to sewing machine and vacuum repair business in Lancaster County. It's a lost art. I once had a sewing machine that was turned into a hand-crank model by a sewing machine/ vacuum repair guy in Tucson. There was no crank kit that fit that machine, but he figured out a way and it worked beautifully. We don't fix stuff anymore, we buy new. Kudos to your business.