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 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?