So, you still want to create your own fashion?
You’re still excited by the thought of designing and sewing something new? You’ve thought about the color and the fabric and you’ve a couple of your hand drawn designs clutched in your excited hands?
What on earth do you do next to get from that drawing to an actual garment?
Yep. The next step to create your own fashion is to pattern cut your design. This process is known as pattern making, pattern drafting or pattern cutting, depending on where in the world you live! Now, who here knows what patternmaking entails? Has anyone here ever used a commercial pattern? Are you excited or daunted by the thought of making a pattern yourself? I’m here to give you the lowdown – because it’s my FAVOURITE part! Woohoo! 🙂
What is a Pattern?
I like to describe a fashion pattern as a blueprint. Just like how an architect will have a technical drawing for the building she is designing, a sewist has a pattern for the garment she will make. It carries all the technical information: seam allowances, notches, sizes, grain line, description, quantities. There’s a fair bit of information printed on a pattern y’know!
It’s also invariably printed on a type of tissue paper, to make it light and easy to package and ship. The idea is, you find the right size for your body, cut around that particular line, lay the pattern on the fabric as per the instructions, and after pinning them together, you cut around the pattern, like a template. Easy!
Commercial patterns don’t necessarily have the best fit. After all, we all come in different shapes and sizes. Some of us have bigger butts, some of us have bigger boobs, and some of us have a bit more of both or not enough of both than we’d like. And all these differences make us unique, which is why a commercial pattern will struggle to fit us perfectly, in the same way something bought from a store will struggle to offer us the perfect fit.
Hand Drafted Patterns
This is where we get to the good bit. For me anyhow! 😉 We get to draft a pattern ourselves! Woop woop! There are three ways to do this – and this really is the way to create your own fashion pieces!
Take a commercial pattern (or a block you’ve drafted yourself) that has a shape similar to what you’ve designed. This is what my tutor at uni would have some of my fellow students do. You measure yourself at the bust, waist and hips to make sure that you select the right size from the different sizes available, and then trace around the stitch line.
You take your own body measurements and draft a ‘block’ or ‘sloper’ that fits you perfectly. There are many books explaining how to do this – the one I learnt from years back was by Winifred Aldrich. It’s very dry and numbers based, and there are a few incorrect sections, but it worked for me.
I remember using it for my first ever professional sewing class at Central Saint Martins. There was an error – or I was just rather rubbish having jumped in at the deep end with pattern making! 😉 – and my crazy historical looking coat turned out with the shoulders considerably dropped. And it was unlined. WHAT????
If you have a dress form, you can pad it out to match your measurements. The video below is by Connie Crawford who is a whizz at pattern making!
If you’ve followed this technique, you then need to drape fabric to fit the form. Following the seam lines carefully – shoulder seams, centre front and centre back seams, princess seams and side seams – you need to carefully pinch out any excess fabric to get a great fit using pins.
You then go over these pinned lines with a marker pen, before taking the draped pieces off and laying them flat on top of paper. Don’t press them, as the steam can shrink or distort the fabric!
Next, use a tracing wheel to go around each of the different sections marking the stitch lines onto the paper underneath. You then need to use a hard pencil – I love a sharp 3H – to mark in the lines.
Development Pattern: Modifying the Sloper
Next up, we need to take our starting block / sloper and develop it into a pattern. To do this, we’re going to line the correct front pieces together, and match up the back pieces too, so that all seam lines meet to form darts. Trace these off onto pattern paper. This gives us front and back patterns to develop on. Yay!
Now, with your slightly scrunched up design drawing in front of you, grab a pencil and lightly mark in the stylelines from your drawing. Maybe you have a horizontal line running just below the bust? Or the shoulder seam site two inches to the back? All these lines need to be plotted and drawn onto the development pattern.
Also, don’t forget to mark in the grain line! This is one of the most essential markings on a pattern as the grain line will affect the drape of the fabric!
When we have the style lines plotted, we need to trace off all the different sections. It’s kind of like taking a jigsaw puzzle apart. But… To put it back together without making any mistakes, we need notches. These are little snips in the paper and fabric that we match up so that our jigsaw doesn’t end up with pieces in the wrong place, or matched up back to front! So, grab a set square and mark out your notches.
Then, you get to trace off all the sections, and add a seam allowance all the way around. How much seam allowance you add really depends on the seam finish you plan to use. As a guide, I generally use 10mm here in the UK for a standard open seam, but I believe in the US it is usual to use ⅝ of an inch, which would be about 16mm.
Finally, cut around the seam allowances of your pattern pieces. I have a tendency to number mine so I don’t lose track of any. 1 of 3, 2 of 3, etc…
Making a Muslin / Toile
Now you have your pattern, you’re going to lay the pattern pieces in the most economical way on your test fabric, using the grainlines to guide you. This is a different type of jigsaw! 😉
When you have everything laid out and pinned down, you get to start cutting! Woohoo! Be sure to cut carefully. Don’t distort the fabric. You can use scissors or a rotary cutter, but put a cutting mat beneath if so! Remember to snip in your notches too!
Next, unpin the pattern pieces and match them up in the right order. A right order you say? Yes. There is a right and a wrong order when it comes to sewing!
Now that you know what gets sewn first, go ahead and stitch them lines!
Testing the Fit
Your design is sewn up into a muslin / toile. You’re ready to test the fit and see what those stylelines look like! Pop on the garment and find a mirror. How does it look? Is there any glaringly obvious issue that makes you think ‘YIKES!’? (I’m thinking of my crazy blue evening coat mentioned earlier!) 😉
How does it fit? Are the shoulders ok? Is there enough room to move your arms? How’s the ease around the boobs and tummy – do you feel at all constricted? Is it long enough? Too short? Remember, this is supposed to fit you as close to perfect as possible, so if it’s not working, we need to mark it on the muslin, and adjust the pattern afterwards before making it in your chosen fabric. I’ve been known to toile up a design several times for my fashion brand! 😮
The Final Design
You’ve okayed the fit, or you’ve modified the pattern and refitted. And you’ve cut out the pattern pieces in your final fabric choice. The interfacing is fused on or sewn in where necessary. You’ve sewn your facings and linings if required. You can now say that you can create your own fashion pieces. Go you, you’re now all set to rock that new look all over town. Love it, enjoy it, and send me a pic for my gallery page!
Want Easy Sewing Patterns?
If the thought of drafting your own patterns terrifies you, worry not! There are plenty of easy sewing patterns online, and I too shall be throwing my own in too in due course. I’ve got amazing comfy ‘Banana Trousers’ from a collection shown at Brighton Fashion Week last year. I have ‘The Slinky’, a draped kaftan made from only two pieces of fabric! And then there is ‘The Bomb’, a cropped bomber jacket with a fabulous shawl collar.
But until then, why not check out my free email course Pattern Making Basics? You can learn how to draft your own blocks! Boom!