Friday, October 9, 2015

Pattern Drafting, AKA Magic


On the first day of my freshman apparel design class I was pretty nervous, what if despite all of my ideas, all my sketches, and serious obsession with fashion I was bad at pattern drafting? There are plenty of high fashion designers who only ever sketch and have nothing to do with actually physically designing the patterns to translate their drawings into clothes, but I didn't want to be one of them. I worried it would be too much like geometry, or that I would't have "it", whatever "it" was in this case. 

Imagine my relief when we jumped in and I was a natural. Adding ease and moving darts, changing style lines and drafting sleeves, it was magic! Not only were my worries quickly proved unnecessary, it was soon obvious I was one of the best in the class. Draping also seemed daunting at first, but it turned out I had the touch there too. I mention this convenient disposition towards apparel design skill not to brag, I promise! Pattern drafting is one of the only skills (in the professional/useful human sense) I posses. Of course sadly, pattern drafting is pretty localized as a profession, and Colorado is pretty far from the hub! We have a few ski/snowboarding clothing companies based here, but I can think of few design areas I have less interest in. Anyways, while acknowledging that I do seem to have a natural predisposition for "getting" pattern drafting, the skill is not something one needs natural talent to learn. In fact, I'd imagine someone who is better at math would pick up pattern drafting rather quickly!

Being able to make my own sewing patterns changed my life. That sounds dramatic, but when you create for a living (not in the professional sense, not for money, I mean to exist, without creating I go crazy pretty fast), being able to make exactly what you sketch in 3 dimensions is pretty awesome. Instead of hunting for patterns similar to what you want to make, you can just dive in. Suddenly you can make whatever you can dream up, or more importantly, copy vintage designs without needing to search out a pattern.


So to every seamstress out there, I recommend learning to draft your own patterns! Plus nothing is more satisfying than saying "Oh thank you, I made it!" and knowing you even made the pattern too! The task may seem daunting at first, but I'd wager you have already begun my making modifications to sewing patterns you have used. Ever shortened the bodice for your short waist? Added a bit of ease to the hip so a skirt wasn't so tight? Used the bodice from one pattern with the skirt from another? You are already well on your way to adding pattern drafting to your retinue of skills!

The first pattern drafting I ever did was the sort of "cheating" way of starting out. Dipping the toe into the realm of pattern drafting if you will. Take your favorite dress pattern, the one you have used three times now because you like the fit so much. Say you change the neckline, or move the dart from the waist to the side seam. Look at you! Your pattern drafting...ish!

Imagine if you could create any style of sleeve you wanted? Move the style-lines on a bodice to however you'd like them? The time has come my friend, get yourself some basic supplies and join me on the other side!


Basic Supplies for Pattern Drafting:
- 18 inch c-through ruler (This one is the one that came in my freshman year sewing kit and will be your best friend)
- Large paper (I use alphanumeric paper, but butcher paper, craft paper...it all works!)
- Paper Scissors
- Scotch tape
- Pens and Pencils
- A pattern drafting book manual

I can totally recommend Patternmaking for Fashion Design (5th Edition) by Helen Joseph Armstrong. This was the required textbook for my pattern drafting class, and I still use it all the time. I'll level with you, this is a very pricey book (because all textbooks are crazy $$$ for some reason), but unlike the rest of my textbooks I still use this book all the time. There are much cheaper books, used books are a good option too, and just searching the internet is always available. I like having the physical copy, I find it easier to have the book open to follow along with as I go. Things become second nature eventually, moving darts for example, but for drafting a cowl neck, or a certain style of sleeve, I like having this book handy.

I also recommend getting some alphanumeric paper. What the what is that you ask? It is a perfect weight of nice clean white paper with a 1 inch grid of random letters and numbers printed on it. I can only assume they have a metric version of this paper out there somewhere, and while I was studying in Europe they just had plain white paper. Tissue paper is too thin and rips too easily (see commercial patterns), sometimes butcher paper is too thick for pinning onto your fabric later to cut out the pieces. The nice thing about alphanumeric paper is that you can get it in large widths, on a roll, so that you have a nice large surface to work with. I order mine online from here.

My original sketch and the finished dress, at some point I changed the neckline to curve the other way!
There will of course be some trial and error involved in the beginning (and then also always). I recommend getting a good Joanns coupon and buying a bolt of muslin to keep in your sewing room for texting out your patterns. The first thing you will need to draft is called a sloper (also called a block), a basic bodice front and back, and skirt front and back. From these you will be able to simply draft almost every other style. I keep a few different basic patterns I have made over the years handy all the time in my sewing room. Once you have a basic dress pattern you love, it is easy to pull it out and simply modify it for your next design, add a different sleeve or change the neckline. The patterns that get the most use in my sewing room are my basic dress bodice, my basic blouse, pattern and my pencil skirt pattern.

There is nothing like the feeling of opening up your pinterest board (lets say the one where you keep all those 1940's images that set your heart aflutter) and going "hmm I can make that!". There will be moments where you maybe can't figure out where they've hidden the darts, or how they made the bodice front and sleeve in one piece, but that's where experimentation can lead you down great paths. When I get stuck on a particular style (and it isn't in my book, which is rare) I'll even look at the backs of vintage patterns (on pinterest or Etsy) where they have the tiny pre-view drawing of what the pattern pieces look like, even those tiny drawings can solve a lot of mysteries!

I hope this little introduction into my pattern drafting story and basic advice has helped inspire some of you seamstresses to break free from commercial patterns and start making your own. Why should your sewing be limited by what patterns are available? Go forth and create my friends! Have any of you experimented with pattern drafting before? Anyone else out there already make their own patterns?


15 comments:

  1. I have to say that I am officially obsessed with your blog. I love coming here and seeing what creation you've dreamed up, for real, you have my dream closet. I also love that you are a real woman with a body type similar to my own so it feels like I could definitely wear what you wear.

    I'm really inspired by your blog and although my mom is an awesome seamstress, she just doesn't have the time to teach me. I was wondering how you learned to sew and if you have any recommendations for someone who doesn't currently sew but desperately wants to learn.

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    1. Thank you so so much for this most lovely comment! Coming home from work to read your words has made my week <3 I was initially taught a bit of sewing by my mom, who made me and my little brother outfits when we were small children and made me Halloween costumes for many years. She didn't really have a lot time to teach me either, so she kindly arranged for me to have a few sewing lessons. This was when I was 12, so I have been sewing for rather a long time now! As far as recommendations I would say start easy, try the basics first, make a pillowcase (the classic beginner project). Even just playing around with the machine, sewing lines on a piece of fabric to get the feel for speed, stitch length, things like that. As for first "real" projects, a pencil skirt isn't a bad place to start as you will learn how to sew darts for the waist and also how to insert a zipper! I still find zippers challenging, best to practice with some spare fabric and get the hang of it before going for the real thing. The internet will be your friend too, there are tons of amazing sewing focused blogs out there (and youtube videos, and pinterest tips), I heartily recommend Lilacs & Lace ( http://www.lauramaedesigns.com/) Lucky Lucille (http://luckylucille.com/category/tutorials/) and Gertie's Blog for Better Sewing (http://www.blogforbettersewing.com/) as great and inspirational sewing blogs. I think my best advice is not to be scared and to jump in, everyone starts somewhere and practice will get you far in any new skill! Thank you again for your comment! :)

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  2. My student has that exact textbook. I guess MassArt and your program do similar things. :-P My only comment about that book is the pages rip easily, and don't turn as easily as I'd like a spiral bound book to do. My personal drafting books are Kawashiima's Fundamentals of Men's Fashion Design (1970s) and Pepin's Modern Pattern Design (1940s). I find that if one is looking towards vintage or historical sewing, using their sense of drafting is a good place to start. Darts are higher, armcyes are smaller, etc.

    I'd also like to add that many vintage drafting books are available for free online. And my personal first drafting project for students is usually an A-line skirt. Measure waist, measure hips, measure distance from hips to waist, measure how long you'd like the skirt. Bing bang boom.

    The things I'd add about drafting clothes are: a) don't forget you'll need to breathe (aka ease), b) don't forget you'll need seam allowance!, c) put information all over your pattern pieces. I usually say things like "Bodice Front -- (the date I drafted it) -- (Piece #/Total # of pieces, eg, 2/8) and grainline, and whether or not I've included seam allowance already. (Usually not -- I like adding that on the fabric).

    I usually use newspaper for my patterns, since I'm cheap and I can get the free daily newspaper from the train station. It's also much sturdier than tissue paper, so if I ever (rarely) use a commercial pattern, I copy it onto newspaper anyway.

    I love drafting. It's my favorite part of sewing. Because everything is going to be glorious and gorgeous when it's still planning and numbers on paper. :-P

    -- Tegan

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    1. I would love to have a vintage pattern drafting book! That sounds like it would be so fun to flip through, I would want to try/make everything. Nothing makes me more angry than when I forget to add seam allowance, that was something I picked up real quick out of necessity! Labeling pattern pieces is so important too, luckily since I had to do a lot of labeling for class I am sorta pre-programmed to do it now. I totally agree that pattern drafting is one of the best parts of sewing, sometimes I find the actual sewing part annoying compared to the drafting!

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    2. http://hearth.library.cornell.edu/ That's a digital archive of Home Ec books. I bet you'll find some nice drafting ones in there. :-P I haven't browsed it in a while, but I remember some gems.

      Also, Project Gutenburg is a place to go. I remember reading a really good home decorating book from the 19teens a few years ago. Two things stuck out to me. One: covering a banister with VELVET so it always feels nice under the hands. Two: covering the box spring with a well tucked and folded flat sheet so that it always looks neat and clean. Brilliant.

      -- Tegan

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  3. Such an interesting blog, thanks! I am still stuck at "ish" but maybe someday I will take the leap and just make a pattern from scratch!

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  4. I love pattern drafting too! It's very satisfying to know you've created a garment from scratch, without the use of a pattern. I have a copy of "Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear", which I quite like. I'd love to buy some other drafting books, but as you mention, they are expensive. When I have a bit of extra cash floating about, I will have to see if I can get a copy of the book you recommended. It looks like it goes into a lot more detail than the book I have.

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    1. It is relatively detailed indeed. I don't do much beyond pretty basic/retro/traditional styles so it serves me very well. I'd love to learn how to do tailoring someday so those are the kinds of books I want to invest in next!

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  5. I'm currently studying Fashion design right now and own and love that exact same book! I love the freedom that knowing how to pattern draft provides, makes me feel like they sky is the limit!
    Out of curiosity, where did you study Apparel Process?

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    1. I think it is a pretty universal textbook out there for us apparel design people! I did my freshman year of university at Woodbury University in Burbank California, and my last 3 years at Colorado State University. I also did a semester abroad in London at American Intercontinental University and took a few courses at École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne in Paris over the summer after my study abroad. I was lucky to study apparel in lots of places and from different angles! Where do you study?

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  6. This was a really interesting insight into the start of the process that you follow to make your fabulous outfits. Maybe one day I will learn this kind of thing!

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    1. Thank you Kate, I'm glad you liked it! It is definitely a fun part of the process!

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  7. Thoroughly fascinating and very, very impressive post and degree of pattern drafting knowledge. This humble (for all intents) non-sewer is in awe!

    Big hugs,
    ♥ Jessica

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