Commercial patterns – like McCall, Butterick, Vogue, what have you – those have zero to do with how clothing is actually constructed and/or manufactured in the industry. However, I won’t tell you that they are totally useless. For the cash-strapped aspiring fashion designer, they are a place to start. If you want to start with patterns, my advice would be to start with something like McCall or Butterick. They are relatively inexpensive, and the instructions are relatively clear. Few of the techniques they will guide you through are how things are actually put together, but they will at least get you using your machine and thinking about garment construction. They have clear instructions, fabric usages, notions, etc., which can make it seem easier and more approachable. In professional sewing, seam allowances are varied (and not gigantic 5/8ths of an inch), there are more intuitive rules about how and why to make decisions about interfacing, and oh gosh, how to properly turn corners. But don’t worry – we’ll get there. In the short term, they’ll help you learn the lay of the land when it comes to your machine.
If you don’t want to mess around with patterns and want to work more quickly/intuitively to figure out garment construction, you can just dive in and work with tutorials. Wendy Liu has a TON of awesome ones. For brand spankin noobs, here is a basics of sewing tutorial she has that will help you get your feet wet. For those who want to knock off their fave pieces they already own, here is that tutorial.
She also does one for making this awesome blanket coat:
You’re past home-sewing. This is a passion. Maybe you want to study fashion, or you’re currently in school but need to know the difference between what they teach you in school and actual industry patterns. You’ve done all those boring and dry flat-pattern drafting classes and they only kind of help because real humans have different bodies and clothing styles than those stale princess-seamed bodice dresses they still somehow make you focus on.
There is a big difference between just making patterns like someone shows you, and actually understanding patterns and bodies in a way that will allow you to create the things you envision in your head.
I’ve taken those dry patternmaking courses, both for ‘fashion’ and ‘manufacturing’, I’ve studied tailoring in the UK, I’ve worked as a pattern-cutter and marker for a sportswear company, and I’ve spent the last fifteen years honing my own method of draping and patternmaking for my couture bridal label.
The most elucidating and practical book I’ve ever read on patternmaking is How Patterns Work.
I promise you. Whatever level you are at with patternmaking, my personal opinion is that this book is a must read. It will elevate your work and make patternmaking so much easier to visualize and execute.
Also. I mentioned her tutorials in last week’s newsletter, but I’m going bang on about them again – if you want real industry standard patternmaking and cutting advice, go to Kathleen Fasanella’s tutorials. Specifically in this case, go through the tutorials for Production Patterns and the first three tutorials in Pattern and Style Management.
Once you understand how patterns work, you’re going to be much better at patternmaking. Y’know, when you’ve put the hours in. Patternmaking is a developed skill and an art. It absolutely takes time and discipline to get there. But once you’re there, you will be able to start making some really weird things that are flawlessly executed. When you’re ready to start playing with strange shapes and techniques, I strongly recommend the Pattern Magic books.
Now, they’re a little light on the construction details – they more or less show you the finished product, and the flat pattern. You have to suss out and connect all the dots. BUT, if you’ve worked through the material and resources in the intermediate section, you’ll know what to do. You will absolutely still need to test your muslins and make adjustments (if anyone ever thinks patterns don’t need to be tested or fitted on a real human, they’re a lunatic who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t let anyone try to push you into that insane situation. All patterns need to be fitted and tested on a real human), but you’ll understand what you’re doing and what you are looking for as you go.
I’ll share a lil personal anecdote to back this up.
I have a bad habit of just drawing bonkers pictures of gowns for my clients. My clients come in with these lofty dreams, and I somehow go even further and draw wildly aspirational sketches of dream gowns that just elate them…
And then I have to fricken figure out how to construct the thing in real life.
I genuinely think fashion gets short shrift in a lot of ways. As a concept it’s been really misunderstood, even more so as an art form, and, in my humble opinion, it’s been all but ignored as the engineering magic that it is. So few people really appreciate the technical prowess that goes into really good patternmaking. So many gowns that look simple only look simple because the patternmaking is so flawless.
I, for some reason, seem to enjoy masochistically throwing myself into deep trials of fire to make extremely complex designs look simple, all while working under the intense pressure of an immovable deadline (the wedding date) and the expectations of a bride.
ANYWAY, here is what I currently regard as my best pattern-making achievement to date. My darling Rzy came to me with a very specific brief. She wanted something that made her look like a origami napkin with a warrior vibe – pointy and clean and unapproachable. She wanted to look like a work of art that you can admire, but not touch. And she had done her homework. She came to me with some deep cuts of my work from way back (another dress that to this day, looks more simple than it was, but was a feat of engineering and crazy angles in silk).
These were the sketches I came up with for her.
During the concept part of the design for these, I played with a lot of paper. I have an Amidala Barbie doll in my office that I frequently use to test pattern theories to make sure the things I draw are at the very least viable. I included some of these folded paper examples in the support material I showed Rzy when I presented the sketches. This is the revised design we decided on.
And here is the final result.
I really should have taken more detail shots while in progress but honestly, it was the last gown of my very intense season, and I just…didn’t. lol. Not good ones, anyway. Here are a few showing me drafting the detail for the bolero and the dress almost complete except for pressing the angles sharp on the waterfall fold.
I do have more to say about patterns, but I should stop here for today. (I feel very passionate about this subject, I could wax on forever. xo
Are you interested in a two-day intensive workshop where I show you how to develop custom couture patterns for a specific fit-model of your choosing?
It would be over a Saturday and a Sunday, and would be limited to three students in the class to make sure you have all the one-on-one instruction required. Materials would be provided but you’d be able to choose your fit model, learning how to fit whichever body type you wanted to. Get in touch if you want to hear more about this.
You should be able to click on these images and get the full res so you can screenshot and voila! If you have any requests for specific pieces, just let me know.