There is simply no way around it: for humans, clothing is essential.
So is looking decent – not that your Superprof is deeply concerned about appearances but, in these times so dominated by social media influencers, looking shabby is looked down on.
The idiom The clothes make the man has never been truer!
Doesn’t that make you wonder why the clothing industry seems determined to only outfit people of average height and weight?
It’s true! If you are tall, more than, say, a size 16 and/or irregularly shaped, you have to either shop for clothes at speciality stores or resign yourself to an ill-fitting wardrobe. Unless…
Unless you know how to sew, in which case you can make all of the clothes you want, tailored to your exact measurements.
Of course, you could always go to the dressmaker’s or tailor every time you need a wardrobe addition but have you seen the price of bespoke clothing?
That is a great reason for you to engage in dressmaking – or tailoring, if you are male.
Other great reasons are that you have a unique sense of style that you would like to express through your clothes, you are interested in fashion but not quite sure you want to make a career out of it, or you might be looking for a new outlet for your creativity.
Whatever your reasons for entertaining the idea of home sewing, we applaud you.
So, whether you are a student contemplating a career in fashion design, looking for your next ‘new thing’ or fed up with clothes that never seem to fit right, it’s time to gather ‘round.
Your Superprof is about to tell you all about pattern-making and how you can make it work for you.
What is Pattern Making?
If you have ever made an article of clothing, you know that it is not a simple matter of clipping fabric, sewing it together and applying appliques to the finished garment.
Those sewing projects start with a desire to create but begin in earnest once the pattern is selected, adjusted and pinned.
If you are a seamstress, you are familiar with that part of the process, but what comes before it?
How do patterns get made?
Basically, it all starts with a sloper – a block, in industrial terms.
A sloper is an unadorned template that pattern drafters use as a guideline to draw patterns; you might think of them as stencils.
Most garment makers have several slopers/blocks: a top and a bottom for menswear – for shirts and trousers. For women’s apparel, they would have a top, a trouser and a skirt sloper. Both male and female slopers come in a variety of sizes.
When it is time to draft a new pattern, the pattern drafter selects the appropriate sloper, traces it on pattern paper and then starts marking it with solid lines for the garment outline and dashed ones for the seam allowance.
S/he then goes on to include notches to match the panels up; darts and pleats if the design calls for them. They will also draw in pockets, buttonholes and, if the garment is supposed to be ruffled, s/he will draw in the ruffle placement.
Much like house builders follow blueprints, dressmakers use patterns to ‘build’ clothing. In that sense, you might call pattern drafters the architects of the garment industry.
Now, find out if pattern making has always been so prevalent…
How Can I Make My Own Dress Pattern?
Perhaps, as a child, you loved to sit around on rainy days, colouring pad on your knees and pencil gripped tightly in your hand. What did you draw?
It’s not uncommon to engage in fanciful drawing at a young age so, if you drew knights and warriors in full battle dress or maidens in shimmering gowns or a tunic dress, you already have an idea of what it takes to plan a pattern.
You chortle: “It’s a far cry from a child’s drawing to pattern drafting!” We beg to differ.
Would you be surprised to know that legendary designers like Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld never went to art school? And Michael Kors dropped out after only nine months. What did they do that you can’t?
Whether you have an art education or not, the best way to start a dress pattern is to visualise it. Will it be a maxi dress? What fabric will it be made of? Will it have any embellishment – bows or ruffles? What about the bodice?
How about dreaming up an open-backed summer dress?
Once you have a good idea of the dress you want to make, sketch it out in as much detail as you can… and then, explode it.
To get those explosive details, you have to read our step by step account of pattern drafting to learn exactly how to make that dress pattern.
Where Can I Learn to Make Patterns?
If you spend a lot of time ogling Sew Easy pattern panels, you might become discouraged at the thought of ever turning out such a masterpiece of plotting and precision.
Don’t throw in the towel just yet!
Those patterns have to be detailed and intricately marked because they are mass-marketed; 15 people could buy the same wrap dress pattern and there is a good chance that no two of them will have exactly the same measurements.
Eventually, you too may mass-market the patterns you make but, for now, focus on making one-sized patterns; patterns to your measurements.
To make your own patterns, you will need:
- a roll of pattern paper
- pencils and coloured pencils; having a rubber handy is a good idea
- scotch tape
- a tracing wheel
- a 30cm see-through straightedge
- a French curve (you may also consider a Vary Form curve)
- an L-square
- a fabric tape measure
- scissors or a rotary cutter
Ideally, you should have a large table to work on; a sewing table with lines imprinted on it would be aces!
As you might have noted from the shopping list above, you don’t necessarily have to have an artistic hand to guide your pattern drawings; most every mark you make will be guided by a straightedge or a curve.
Now that you’ve got your shopping list, you only need to discover the best places to learn pattern making.
You may choose between open sewing courses hosted by your local university or college, head to the library to check out some sewing books, or you could take a course in pattern making online.
Don’t forget to stop by your local sewing shop to see if they offer courses, too!
How to Adjust My Patterns?
It’s a paradox: the clothing industry should cater to its buyers; if they don’t, people will simply stop buying… right?
Wrong! For years, garment factories have been turning out cookie-cutter clothes that fit only averagely-proportioned people. Curiously enough, it’s been only recently that the industry has conceived the idea that not everyone fits in a standard size.
Thanks to independent designers with a strong online presence, activists and ongoing social media campaigns, there is a growing awareness that limiting sizing is seen as discriminatory.
Those are steps in the right direction. Unfortunately, they are baby steps because it simply is not profitable for garment companies to make a greater range of sizes.
Where does that leave those of us who do not fit in that average mould?
For the most part, we are still altering the clothes we buy and making our own clothes if we know how to adapt a pattern to our unique body type.
You might think that messing with a professionally drawn sewing pattern is a recipe for disaster but, if you follow the hacks we outlined to adapt your patterns, you will marvel at your success in turning out that cute skirt or wrap dress in time for your next night out!
Where Can I Buy Sewing Patterns?
Of course, there is nothing wrong with buying a Simplicity or Butterick pattern, especially if you are just starting down the road to making your own patterns and/or designing your own clothes.
In fact, it would be a good idea for you, at the outset, to work from patterns so you can get the feel for them.
The big names in dress patterns – the two mentioned above and others, like Vogue, Lookbook, Kwik Sew, New Look and Burda Style pretty much all follow the same guidelines in making their patterns.
Each pattern envelope offers the possibility of up to four designs and comes with instructions, sizing guidelines and, more often than not, fabric recommendations.
You might know that not every fabric flows and falls the same way, and some are decidedly more difficult to work with than others.
In that same vein, we might say that not all pattern makers are the same, either.
For instance, independent designers offer free sewing patterns that you can get as a PDF download; they are a lot less 'crowded' than name-brand patterns you find in stores.
Whatever you decide, perhaps it would be best if you spent some time in your local sewing shop, talking with people who have experience in the needle arts.
They may be able to give you some pointers on the best patterns for beginner sewing; they may even offer you sewing tutorials.
If you’re not sure where your local notions shop is, you may refer to our full-length article on the subject; if you’re certain there are none near you, surely you have a Hobbycraft store somewhere close.
Those shop assistants may not be as knowledgeable as an independent shopkeeper would be but, rest assured: Superprof has sewing tutors if you need a sewing tutorial…