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How To Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Using Commercial Clothing Patterns

If you’re just getting started with making your own clothes, you will most likely have turned to commercial clothing patterns to begin with.

These are clothing patterns that have been created by a designer or a pattern company, and made available for you to use to make your own clothes. There are a lot of clothing patterns out there in the world. Clothing patterns that are free to use – usually as a PDF download from the internet, printed and taped together and off you go – as well as paid clothing patterns costing anything up to £30! These are also available as PDF downloads but can be bought as paper patterns from online or in stores.

If you have chosen to use a commercial clothing pattern instead of starting with your own hand drafted pattern, it is essential to consider the different sizes that the clothing pattern comes in. Much like how clothing bought from different stores will fit you differently, so too will clothing patterns bought from different pattern designers and companies.

Why The Difference In Clothing Patterns?

The answer my friend is in target customers; specifically their measurements and that of fit models. The patterns in the image below all reflect a different target market.

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Measurements

A designer or a company has a set of measurements that they use to create their house block / sloper. These measurements relate to their target customer.

A great example is Alexander Wang from RTW (ready to wear) and Topshop from the high street.

Both of these brands are looking to dress the younger woman. You can see from the screenshot of Toyshop’s current website that they would be targeting the late teen up to her mid twenties. A woman’s body shape hasn’t altered much at this point and is often quite slim, with little in the way of lumps and bumps to get in the way of their design aesthetic unlike those that us older ladies and gents have! 😉

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above Image: Screenshot of Topshop Website November 2016

Topshop also accommodates those who are taller or shorter than their average customer by grading their patterns accordingly for their tall and petite ranges.

The other example is Alexander Wang who also appeals to the younger, somewhat sporty woman, only this time she has more money to spend. We all know that a bit of Alexander Wang isn’t as cheap as Topshop (even if they are both made in China – but let’s not go there…)!

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above Image: Screenshot of Alexander Wang Website November 2016

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above Image: Second Screenshot of Alexander Wang Website November 2016

These two companies with a similar target customer will find out the measurement range for that customer. They then create their brand block using those measurements.

A brand such as Evans, Lane Bryant or Curvissa have a target customer who is much more curvy, often referred to as plus size (a term I find a tad insulting and unfair to be honest – I don’t consider UK14 to be ‘plus size’ and it isn’t as though those who are a UK8/US4 are referred to by the label ‘tiny-size’ right???). As such, the measurements used to create their brand block will reflect that target customer.

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above Image: Screenshot of Evans Website November 2016

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above Image: Screenshot of Lane Bryant Website November 2016

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above Image: Screenshot of Curvissa Website November 2016

Fit Models

These are models that reflect the designer or brand’s target customer, and used in a studio setting, not on the runway. When a pattern is made, and graded, it needs to be checked on fit models for several reasons.

  1. To check the overall fit
  2. To check that the grading up and down between sizes hasn’t altered the design in a bad way
  3. To check that the garment is comfortable and wearable. There is little point in making a jacket if the person buying and wearing it cannot move their arms at all!

This method also applies to pattern companies and pattern designers that create clothing patterns. This is why we have the need for pattern testers! And because we are not all made the same shape and size, nor do we all confine to a specific brand’s sizings; for the most part we will need to adapt that pattern to fit us properly. (And THIS is totally normal!)

How Do You Do This?

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Start by looking carefully at the sizings of clothing patterns. A general guide will have the bust, waist and hip measurements for all the available sizes. Find your measurements for each of the different body measurements. I usually have the bust and hips about right, but have to adjust the waist measurement.

The next box on a pattern will usually have the garment’s finished sizings. This is a really important section to check, because it will help you to work out just how much ease there is in the pattern; is it very fitted, or does it have a bit of room to move? You can then tell by how much you might need to adjust the pattern in those different areas.

Actual size – finished size = amount of ease

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above image is a photo of the By Hand London sizing chart for the printed Holly Jumpsuit Pattern

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above image is a photo of the By Hand London FINISHED sizing chart for the printed Holly Jumpsuit Pattern

Deciding On The Fit You Want

Depending on HOW you want the pattern to fit, you can hack it up to your heart’s content. When I made up the Sew Over It Betty Dress I knew I wanted it in a size 14, because I don’t like dresses to be too fitted; I like to be able to breathe comfortably afterall! 😉 With the circle skirt of the dress sitting high on my waist, I knew it would help to accentuate my waist and hide my tummy bumps. So I made sure to sew with a bigger seam allowance on the bodice waistline, and adjusted the skirt pattern accordingly.

Adjusting Clothing Patterns

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above image is a photo of the Rosa Shirt from Tilly and The Buttons – printed PDF pattern.

Usually when you buy a pattern it has been ‘nested’. What this means is that it has been graded for all the sizes, and these sizes then all lay within each other instead of separately. It saves paper whether printing at home yourself or buying a printed paper pattern.

In the image above, you can see that the nesting of the different sizes has resulted in sizes overlaying each other at certain points (the pencil arrow in the top left corner is one example).

This nesting can however make it much harder to work out which size you want to use for the different sections of the garment.

Worry not, there’s a trick: trace your patterns!

Choosing The Correct Size From Clothing Patterns

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above image is a photo of the printed measurements – Body and Finished – from Tilly and The Buttons Rosa Shirt PDF

Firstly, use your bust or chest measurement to work out with size bodice you need. My bust is 38 inches, so I know that if I were to make the Rosa shirt from Tilly and The Buttons, the above image shows that I need to use size 5 for 38inch bust.

When you have found the size right for you, you then need to trace off all the pieces for the size you want to use. I don’t recommend cutting into the original pattern, as that original pattern is much like the working pattern I talked about in last week’s post ‘Pattern Making Basics’.

If you aren’t in need of changing any of the pattern pieces, you could just trace them off, cut them out in a test fabric and sew it up with a long stitch – kind of like a basting stitch if you were making it by hand.

If you do need to mix up the sizes, you’ll need to trace off the correct sections and then spend a little time ‘truing’ up the seams, style lines and darts.

Truing Up?

Well yes m’friend! You cannot expect a size UK10 bodice to play nicely with a size UK14 skirt right? It just ain’t gonna happen! 🙂 So, we need to make sure that they do play nicely, and we do this by MEASURING the seam sections – using a tape measure standing upright on its edge – and extending or shortening the seam amount as needed.

Once we have the pattern pieces trued up, we need to make it up as a toile or muslin so we can check the fit. It doesn’t have to be really detailed. At this point we really are only checking the shape and fit of the garment on our body!

Making It Up

Pattern making Basics 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Above image is a photo of the modification notes on my trench coat pattern. 

Use pins to mark any changes needed on the toile/ muslin. I quite often go at it with a marker pen too, before taking it off me / my stand / model.

You then need to mark these changes onto the pattern pieces that you traced off. You might need to take sections in, or even add more fabric! Add these changes carefully. Just like I did to the picture above; my trench coat pattern from my Graduate Fashion Week collection. I would then at this point make a second toile / muslin, as I’m not a fan of making up a design in real fabric if I’m uncertain what the outcome will look like.

Your Own Personal Block / Sloper

Now that you have completed these steps, you have a pattern that fits pretty darn good. Make it up in the real deal. Add lining and facings where necessary so that you have a beautiful finish.

If it really fits perfect, and it is a kind of classic reusable shape, consider using it as YOUR block / sloper. You can take this pattern which you’ve modified to fit you, and design freely with it!

This is the easiest way to start making your own clothes that fit you, without diving too soon into the process of creating your own block / sloper.

The next post in the Pattern Making Basics series is live – truing up patterns! – and can be read by clicking here! 

RECOMMENDED READING: If you loved this post on making your own block / sloper using clothing patterns, check out last week’s post on pattern making ‘The Process‘. There’s also THIS POST talking you through deconstructing a sweater or THIS POST  showing you how to make a pattern from the process!

Learn Pattern making - Part 2 - How to Use Clothing Patterns To Create Your Own Block - The Creative Curator

Comments (6)

  • sonja

    November 23, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Interesting post. I decided to make my own clothes about two and half years ago. Choosing a brand that makes the best pattern fitting my body type is really a challenge. There are so many designers and all use like you said different blocks or slopers depending on the customer where they want to go. I’ve tested for some Indie designers patterns and it’s really interesting to do. Until now I use all types of patterns from the big 4, sewing magazines and Indie pattern makers. The negative I’ve with Indie pattern makers is the price of their patterns and sometimes you’ve to buy two patterns for a different look (marked by big 4 as view A and B)

    1. Eve Tokens

      November 24, 2016 at 11:41 am

      Hi Sonja! I totally get what you mean about the price of Indie Patterns.. that said, they are usually sold in much smaller quantities than what the big companies can sell. This means the price per item is affected, much in the same way that mass produced clothing is much cheaper due to the vast volumes that can be ordered by retailers, versus the cost of producing collections with fewer orders, by smaller designers such as myself. It’s tricky for consumers that are looking to save money, but also part of sustainability and how we can help improve the way the world works.. We have such issues with mass production now, as too many people are happy – and expect – much lower prices year on year. This of course then leads to exploitation of workers overseas, so that people here in the ‘west’ can benefit financially. Sorry – that turned into a bit of a lecture, I just feel very strongly about it.
      I guess the best answer is for us to draft our own patterns right?!? 😉

  • S A

    December 29, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    Just like the idea that I can make my own clothes to my own measurements so my first real new year resolution is to make some slopers for my own use. Its taken me about 2 years to get to this stage though as there is so much to try out if you are a self taught newbie sewist/sewer. Some people seem to get the idea straight away and are pretty competent from day one but I have had no contact with garment construction or sewing processes and have found it a steep learning with so many hurdles. Not naturally able to draw or cut a straight line it’s not been the easiest thing to tackle but so much fun (and pain!) Thanks for your posts as I love the different ways people approach sewing. I learn so much from so many sources. Such talent out there and so much generosity in the sharing. It is definitely not a cheap hobby so saving money by making your own clothes seems unattainable but saving money by learning how to make your own creations wearable I can maybe achieve one day(?!!!)

    1. Eve Tokens

      January 4, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      Hi Sue!
      Wow! I love your new year resolution! And you are so right – there is a lot to try out. It can be overwhelming too if you’re not sure where to get started! Im so glad that you found me – and are enjoying the content on the site! Do please let me know if you’d like to see me cover something specific. I have a sneaky suspicion that you are the Sue who emailed me about making your own clothes.. Did you used to work in a sewing factory? If that is you, I’m replying to emails over this week! 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by Sue!

  • Bee

    May 5, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Hi Eve

    I would love to be a tester for you. Just started sewing again after 10 years. I always have to do a full bust adjustment with whatever patter I use. Got any tips on that?

    Thanks Bee

    1. Eve Tokens

      May 9, 2017 at 10:40 pm

      Hi Bee – I checked and you’re on my email list! I’ve added you to the ‘pattern tester’ section, and will be in touch shortly! thanks so much for showing interest, I really appreciate it! Best, Eve

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