Charity Sewing,  Free Pattern,  How To,  Sewing Tips

Angel Gown Update: using Clear Patterns

Update from this previous post about making Angel Gowns: burial dresses for preemie infants:

Sharing a studio with my daughter (when she’s not away at school!) lets us bounce creative  ideas  and challenges off each other.  The other day I was telling her that although my Angel Gown pdf pattern  has been downloaded hundreds of times from sewists all over the world, I do get requests for vector images to make clear laser-cut Lucite patterns. Often the gowns are cut out from donated weddings dresses, and clear patterns make it easier to center or place embellishments and embroideries that are already stitched into the dress fabric.

screenshot of pattern

Unfortunately I don’t have the software to create vector images (I use my daughter’s old hand-me down computer). Her immediate answer: “Why not just trace the paper patterns onto clear sheet-protectors?”

Why didn’t I think of that? We always have sheet protectors at home: I use them to organize pdf patterns and sewing notes. (PS: they are also awesome for storing cooking recipes and keeping splatters off):


An alternative to clear sheet-protectors is common vinyl sheeting, the stuff used to protect furniture. I picked up a half-yard at Joann’s for around $5.00:


8/26/17 Update: One clever reader suggests using clear shower curtains…brilliant!! Thanks, Marianne!

11/22/17 Update: Debby Rosser had another idea: Hi! I am the founder & executive director of Angel Robes Alabama and we will be using your micro preemie pattern for our robes. I found boxes of overhead transparencies at a yard sale and bought them to print patterns!

Still, I have promised people who want to have Plexiglass patterns made that I would try to get them vector files, and so my daughter has made this file available:

AngelGownIllustratorPDF (1)

(To  print the PDF template you will need the latest version of the Adobe Acrobat Reader program.  If you don’t have it, you can download it for free here:

Be sure to first download the pattern and then print it. This means rather than simply clicking the link and opening the PDF in a browser window, you should click on the pattern link using the “right click” or “control click” option on your mouse or keyboard. This will give you the option to “Download the linked file.” Once the file is downloaded, it should print like a charm!) If you print directly without downloading, the size may not be accurate to the 2″ test square.

She also made an outline-cutting file that anyone can take to a laser-printing service. This file has the three most popular sizes (Preemie, Tiny and Micro) fitted onto an 18″ by 32″ rectangle which is the standard surface area for laser-cutting machines.


screenshot of laser cutout

Note: when this post was originally written, laser services needed AI files, now they only need the PDF file. To give you an idea of the price, The Laser Specialists at Etsy charge:

  • Laser cut service $30
  • Material $25
  • Shipping $20

You can save a LOT by ordering multiple sets at the same time. My original idea was to order in bulk and sell at cost in my own Etsy shop, however I was accused of having “bad intentions” so I’m not going there.

8/26/2017 Update: The ShannonAngelSisters group in Shannon, Ireland contacted a local laser cutting service who graciously provided them with 18 sets of clear polycarbon patterns free of charge! I imagine that other small businesses would also be amenable to such an idea; it’s always worth asking!

Going back to the cheaper DIY clear options…first I tried the sheet protectors. If you open up an 11″ x 8.5″ sheet protector, it’s the perfect size to trace a pattern:


Using a ruler, you can draw in the outlines with a permanent marker like a Sharpie (just let the ink dry a few seconds before touching it). The result is very lightweight but definitely usable:


Next I tried tracing a pattern onto vinyl by the yard:


The result is (of course) much thicker and therefore a bit easier to use:


Next step was to try using the clear pattern for determining trim placement. Here’s the dress I’m cutting up this week:


We’re not supposed to have favorites, but the extravagant gowns from the 1980’s are special to me because they have yards and yards of fabric and lots of trim. I usually work with donated gowns, but I still look for gowns in thrift shops, and couldn’t pass up this steal:


Honestly if it were a dress that somebody would wear these days, I would leave it on the rack for a lucky bride-to-be….but today’s brides want the sleek fitted styles, not the poufy fluffy look like Rachel in the first episode of “Friends” with the big sleeves. So I don’t feel badly cutting this one up.

While I was playing with the clear patterns, the dress was in the wash. It was pretty filthy.


Yes the cleaning instructions say “Dry Clean Only” and if it was a silk dress or a family heirloom, I would definitely send it to a professional cleaner, or maybe soak in the bathtub.  However I know these 1980’s polyester gowns are tough as nails, and they can take the gently cycle:


I let the dress air-dry; the dryer would probably melt the sequins and pearls:


Here are the sleeves from the gown. I tried placing the lace motifs at the upper bodice of the preemie pattern:


… and then I tried placement lower on the skirt:


This is where clear patterns come in really handy. I decided on the bodice placement, and then combined that with fabric from the gown’s skirt:


I stitched the two fabrics together along the bottom edge of the lace appliques:


….then trimmed the excess bodice fabric away from the back:


The rest of the sewing directions are in this post .

You can watch this video by DIY Danielle if you find the side-seam stitching tricky!  :

Here are the end results:


One more Angel Gown for charity.  This pattern is so quick to make, fully lined with no exposed seams, easy for the nurses to dress the littlest angels…and even simpler to make using clear patterns.

Happy sewing!

Best, Janet


  • JustGail

    “bad intentions” ? Huh. That’s about all I can say without entering snarky comment territory.

    Sometimes the best solution is the simplest, and it can take someone with new eyes to point it out. And thank you to your daughter for that observation and creating the files for anyone wanting to make the acrylic templates. And to you for making the files available for free.

  • Carolyn Waind

    Great idea.
    Our angel gown group has been using bristol board negative pattern cut outs to do something similar but the clear pattern looks so much better 🙂
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Marianne

    Thanks for this updated info. Another option for the “clear” fabric might be clear shower curtain liners from WalMart or similar retailers. Can get quite a large piece of fabric for a great price, especially when they are on sale.

    Thank you for your efforts and inspiration to help many of us create and provide angel gowns.

  • [email protected]

    It was actually quite hurtful. A reader (angelgownsbyconsuelo) commented that she’d had my pattern made up in plastic for $150, and suggested that I might contact the company. They refused to work with me until I got permission from “the file owner”. After many emails back and forth, Consuelo did an about-face and contacted the plastics company, saying “I have decided NOT to release the file to Janet. It looks as if her intentions are not what we would have expected, for a charitable cause.” I guess she thought I would sell them for a fortune or something, and take advantage of the grief of others? Anyway it’s all pretty ridiculous, now that ShannonAngelSisters reported that they were able to get polycarbon templates made for free, since they are a charity. I’ll bet any plastics business would do the same, if asked nicely!

  • Portia Clem

    Thank you for your inspiration for making Angel Gowns. I recently came into possession of a wedding dress. No body I know could wear it since it was for a TALL and SKINNY bride. I could not bring myself to throw it away. I have made one of each of the 4 sizes but need a pattern for a bonnet. Do you have a pattern that would work for a bonnet? Since I have only 1 dress, I don’t wish to do the trial and error.
    Thank you for any suggestions!

  • June Roberts

    Thank you for the wonderful idea of using vinyl for the pattern. It will make it so much easier to place the pattern to make better use of the trim. I will share this with the group I work with at a local church. Keep up the great work and thank you for creating these lovely gowns for our Angels.

  • Mary

    Awsome idea. I may need to make copies of the dress pattern for some ladies who may be helping me make some Angel gowns.
    How well do the page protectors do?
    I have been using your design and method for making Angel gowns and just delivered some gowns to our local hospital.
    I started a group here in Sudbury, Ontario called Miranda’s Angel Creations. Named for an Angel called Miranda who left her Mom & Dad way too early, very good friends of mine.

  • [email protected]

    Hi Mary! The page protectors come in different thicknesses, and the thicker the better in my experience. I did find the clear vinyl from the fabric shop to be stronger though. It’s lovely that you started a group in memory of your dear friends’ little one…I’m sure it gives them comfort. Best wishes, Janet

  • Lisa Gallinat

    I would love to receive your AI file to send to a laser cutting service. I have a laminating machine, that will laminate as large as 11×17. I’m going to print on 11×17 cardstock and try laminating them first to see if these will hold up…Otherwise, I would love to receive your file, please — and Thank you!

  • Cheryle

    Quilters template material would also be great for cutting your pattern to get the clear view. It’s a stiff plastic you can see through. It’s used to make quilting patterns you use over and over again. I also make my patterns from architectural drafting paper. It’s a weird yellow, heavier than tissue paper and harder to crinkle, but you can see through it. Available in rolls in diff widths from craft stores. Love your posts! Thank you.

  • Jewell Cline

    You can obtain all kinds of motifs from I needagoogdesign by anetta goodson embroidery designs. I have the same motifs. You would only need to emblish with fewpearls and bling

  • Sharon Rayner

    I would also love to receive your AI pattern. I used to sew all the time but quit while I was teaching. I am anxious to try your pattern.

  • Deborah

    Omg I think the 80’s dress you used is just like mine that I bought just to cut it up. Unfortunately the pictures of the gown intact was on a hard drive that crashed. But the train on the one I had is a huge peek a boo. I have made a gown using a pinkish lining and it turned out beautiful. I love the floral appliques and the ones around the bottom. I am using the sleeves to make an angel wing wall hanging for a friend’s anniversary gift. I want to try the clear patterns out. I have some job jackets left over from my print shop days and I am going to cut some of them up. And shame on the person who did the about face on th original idea.

  • [email protected]

    Don’t you just love the 80’s dresses?! So over the top. Reminds me of TV shows like “Dynasty”…big shoulders, and the huge bows on the behind. I am partial to them because I was a bridal buyer for a short time during the eighties. Ah brilliant idea to use the sleeves for a wall hanging! PS: yes it was quite strange that the individual who suggested the clear patterns did a sudden 180-degree about-face. Turns out his mom is starting a business selling angel gowns, which I find bizarre. Maybe he decided to sell the clear patterns as a business, that would be even weirder. This is for charity, people!

  • Teresa

    Dollar Tree has flexible cutting mats in their kitchen section for chopping veggies and meats. I think they would be a great thickness to make a pattern out of. They are like the quilters template plastic

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