Hack the System: Seeing Possibilities Instead of Patterns with Simplicity

We’ve all heard the term “hack” applied to pretty much everything at this point: life hack, cooking hack, storage hack, every kind of hack you can imagine, but what does it mean?  “Hack” these days is usually short for “a new and more efficient way of addressing a problem, or an alternative way to use a product other than as intended.” So what does it mean when you apply the word “hack” to a garment or sewing pattern? You could take it in a literal sense: “hack” a pair of pants by turning them into shorts, “hack” a t-shirt by fringing it or cutting the neckline into a new shape, but it’s when you really look at that second definition of hack that the possibilities for patterns really start to come into focus.

Most sewing patterns are a collection of silhouettes that share a common theme. Maybe they all have the same body with different sleeves, or several different lengths, or they’re a combination of multiple fabrics, or all of the above. In fact, I bet you’ve thought more than once before, “hmm, I wonder if I could put those sleeves on the other bodice instead” or “I would really love this dress if it were in two different colors, and maybe a little shorter.” Well, if you’ve had those thoughts and followed through—congratulations! You’ve already hacked a pattern!

It can be a little tough sometimes to look at a pattern and see something other than what is right there in the picture on the envelope, but patterns can be even more rewarding if you look beyond the view letters. After all, patterns can cover a wide range of styles, but we’re all complicated individuals: sometimes you want to mix it up, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t! Simplicity wants to encourage sewists everywhere to think outside the box—or the pattern envelope, as it were. That’s why we’ve created a brand new line of patterns to get you started down the path to a more unique wardrobe. We give you a basic wardrobe item and a few suggestions for how to hack it, and provide you with the means to do the rest on your own (including a blank sheet of pattern tissue with a printed grid, so you can draft your own additions). Changing lengths, adding and subtracting sleeves, using elastic or trim to change a look—the only limits are your imagination.

Getting started with putting your own spin on things can be super easy. Here are a few simple suggestions to get you hacking!

  • Swatch it up. If you like the look of a pattern but you still think there’s a certain something missing, why not try color blocking? You’ll have to figure out your own yardage, but a little contrast can make a simple top feel like something utterly special.
  • Mix and match. If you really want those sleeves with that bodice, why not give it a shot? As long as the armscye (the opening in the bodice for your arm) is the same shape on both bodices, you can swap the sleeves out with no problems! (Hint: if views A and B share the same back but have different fronts, that’s a pretty good clue that you can pop Sleeve A on Bodice B with no worries!)
  • Take a shortcut. Feel like showing off your legs, or have arms that just need to be free? Don’t let us tell you how long your garment needs to be. We give you the length of the finished garment on the back of your pattern envelope, but that’s just a place to start!
  • Pockets? Pockets. Every pattern should have pockets, in this sewist’s opinion. But just in case yours doesn’t—or doesn’t have the type of pocket you like—why not draft one of your own, or borrow one from another pattern? Patch pockets are easy as pie and twice as cute!

Good luck, and happy hacking!

About the author: Deborah Kreiling has been part of the Simplicity team for over 35 years. She is currently the Design Development Director at Simplicity where her daily work touches every part of the sewing pattern product – working on each design from concept to final pattern with envelope. Learn to sew with Deb on her YouTube channel and at creativebug.com.