Exciting New Tech for Clothes Making

With high street brands offering mass customisation, we can create unique colour patterns and clothes based on our body shapes, but as consumers rather than makers. So I’ve put together an overview of technologies that could enhance the DIY experience of making clothes.

Paradoxical as it may seem, using automation can increase our creativity. By seeing what clothes will look like before making them, we can be more adventurous with the design and we’re not so limited by our skill-set. Plus it opens up new areas to be creative such as buttons and fabric design. This is not about automating everything, where you press a button and it does everything for you. It’s about picking the processes that are satisfying to do by hand and which would be preferable to have the help of machines.

3D Body Scanning
3D body scanning opens up opportunities to design clothes based on your body shape rather than standardised models. For example, I used my scan to make a personalised dress makers dummy that’s the exact replica of my body. The scans can also be used to simulate what clothes will look like on you before making them and for finding body measurements quickly and accurately.

3D technology is being developed to help people make decisions on which clothes to buy, as shown in the video below. It could also make a useful tool if it was adapted to include sewing/knitting patterns.

Pattern Making
Design software makes it easier to create clothes that fit on the first time attempt. Currently it’s a steep learning curve for people who are used to buying their clothes ready made. I spent 3 months knitting my first jumper, to find I’d made the arms too short. With 3D garment visualisation software you can upload a 3D model of yourself and see where to make alterations to the pattern.

Garment visualisation software could also help people gain confidence in designing their own clothes. Amy Twigger Holroyd1 found through her research that creative design “is the area that most excites, but also most mystifies” DIY makers. Experimenting with design ideas when you can see the results in real-time and have the ability to press ‘undo’ if you don’t like them, may give people more confidence to have a go.

CLO3D is an example of garment simulation software for sewing projects. It works out where to put seams and darts, so once you’re happy with the design you can print the pattern on to paper or use a laser cutter to cut it straight out of fabric. It costs $99-149 a month, so it’s not an accessible price for most DIY makers.

Valentina Project is a free, open source tool for pattern making, with a global community of people contributing ideas and working on the code. The software uses body measurements and mathematical formulas to set the length and position of lines, making bespoke patterns that will fit well.

Clothes design is already in the world of virtual reality, which may spark new interest in clothes making. With Google Tilt Brush you can design clothes using the built in mannequin, and although there’s no way to convert the design into a pattern for real clothes, the fashion designer Jasna Rokegem is on the case with Epicmode VR in collaboration with the Valentina Project.

If designing clothes doesn’t appeal, there are websites that use algorithms to generate custom patterns based on your body measurements. MakeMyPattern creates sewing patterns under a creative commons license and provides the source code used to make each one. CustomFit provides knitting patterns to make sweaters for $10-12.50 each.

Fabric Design

By designing your own fabric you are not limited to what you can find in shops and can recreate your favourite designs. You can also create colour palettes for complimentary fabrics and plan for repeating patterns to join up on the garment.

The book Print, Make, Wear by Melanie Bowles has tutorials for creating your own digital textiles designs using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. The open source alternatives to Photoshop and Illustrator are GIMP and Inkscape, respectively.

Royalty-Free Image Libraries

Pattern Bank is an example of an image library that sells fabric designs as JPEG and Photoshop files, to be digitally printed. The website demonstrates each design as clothing and accessories which has been helpful for learning how to imagine flat fabric as a finished garment.

There are various websites that have free designs to download under a creative commons license. Although they are not specifically for clothes, Freepik.com has illustrations and Flickr has photos.

Digitally Printing Fabric
Services such as Bags of Love (UK) and Spoonflower (USA) offer digital printing with no minimum order. Spoonflower also has an online market place with fabric designs and an online tool for creating patchwork quilt ideas that are then printed on one piece of fabric.

Laser Cutting

Laser cutting fabric speeds up preparation time whilst being accurate. Using a laser rather than a blade or scissors prevents the fabric from fraying at the edges. The craft magazine Mollie Makes puts PDF templates for their projects on their website, which can be downloaded and cut out on a laser cutter (or with scissors).

Digital patterns, such as the ones created with Valentina Project, CLO3D and MakeMyPattern or bought from Burda Style are suitable for laser cutting. You can also create your own patterns and shapes using vector graphics software e.g. Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape.

Makerspaces, which are membership based community workshops, often have laser cutters and in the UK many secondary schools have one in the Design and Technology department.

Automatic Sewing Machines

Moving and positioning fabric are tricky processes to do by machine because fabric flows and doesn’t act in a uniform way. The variations in material properties between fabrics mean that many machines are designed for a single production process.2 The video below shows an automatic sewing machine which relies on an operator to position the fabric and the next video gives a glimpse of the research and development going on to fully automate the process.


Automatic embroidery machines and laser cutters can decorate fabric quickly as demonstrated by the videos below.

3D Printing Buttons and Poppers

Basic fastenings, such as buttons and poppers, which are normally mass produced can be made locally with a 3D printer. Lara Grant, a lecturer in Wearable Electronics has created an Instructable teaching people how to 3D print poppers directly on to fabric, with no sewing required.

Shoe making

3D printers are being used to make custom footwear. By including 3D printing in the clothes making process, DIY shoes could become a natural extension. Flexible 3D printing filament such as Filaflex expands the possibilities of DIY makers getting involved in making shoes from a scan of their feet.

Most of the digital technology tools covered in this post can be used together to create a contemporary approach to DIY clothes making. Automating the processes has the potential to enhance the experience, providing new areas to be creative and reducing the use of pre-made fabric and buttons. Visualisation tools could help people who are used to being consumers, learn to design clothes.

However using modern technology could detract from the traditional benefits of DIY. A lot of the processes involve using a computer screen, whereas hand sewing and knitting can be used as an antidote to a culture of intensive computer use. It could also have negative effects for people currently making their own clothes and for small businesses. For example, the use of laser cutting for greeting cards can cause hand cut cards to be less appreciated. And if handmade is devalued it puts even more pressure on the handmade versions to look as good as machine made.

As with mass production, there are environmental costs of automating DIY, but as Cindy Kohtala points out “the more personal fabrication becomes … the more exposed the individual becomes to materials and processes and their as yet unknown properties such as toxicity. This also means it is less certain that other safety mechanisms are in place (as they would be in more established and regulated contexts such as commercial activities). The risk of harmful emissions to the environment may also be greater.”3

In terms of social resilience, these processes increase the dependency on electricity but people would be engaging as ‘active’ makers rather than ‘passive’ consumers. By having each tool separate, there is also flexibility in which processes are done by machine and which are done by hand. However learning how to use the machines and going from one process to the next, will be time consuming and may not appeal to the people who currently make their own clothes. This led to the idea of an automatic clothes making machine for DIY.

  1. Twigger Holroyd. H., 2017. Folk Fashion – Understanding Homemade Clothes. London: I.B.Tauris
  2. Inui, S., Yamada, T., Horiba, Y., Hashimoto, M., 2012. A preliminary study of a cloth guiding mechanism for automatic sewing system. International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology, 24:1 pp.6-14. https://doi.org/10.1108/09556221211194309
  3. Kohtala, C., 2015. Addressing sustainability in research on distributed production: An integrated literature review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 106, pp.654-668