Sunday, June 18, 2017

How I Make Patterns

figure 1: draft design in Garment Designer
When I woke up today I knew that I was going to spend this Sunday making a pattern for a new project. I've recently had some questions about my pattern-making technique, so I decided to document my work today and share what I've learned.

When I first started sewing in 2008, I bought commercial patterns and just tried to follow the instructions, not knowing that you have to know how to sew to follow them. When I read a word I didn't know, like "baste" or "edge stitch" or "ease" I would just use Google and YouTube and muddle my way along. It worked pretty well for me!

After many seasons of watching Project Runway, though, commercial patterns started to feel like cheating. Why couldn't I just make my own designs? Luckily, I didn't know that you can go to school for four years and earn a damn college degree in pattern making otherwise I never would have tried.

figure 2: sliding glass door light table
Cochenille Design Studio makes a Mac / Windows software product called Garment Designer, which is deceptively easy to get started with, but actually requires you to understand quite a bit about garment construction and pattern drafting. Garment construction I had down, but the geometry of pattern drafting was a money pit of trial and error. Luckily, the company also offers online training. Several webinars later, I have a much better handle on all kinds of topics like sleeve fitting, crotch geometry, and a host of other things.

So, you can see in figure 1 that I have my first draft ready of a flared jacket which I'm making for the conductor of the Gaelic choir I sing in as we are taking a trip to Scotland in October to compete in the Royal National Mòd. I will execute the final garment in her family's tartan, but this time it will be cheap polyester suiting!

figure 3: lining up registration marks
Once I was happy with the basics, I printed out 58 pages and started taping them together. I like to use my sliding glass door because the light coming through allows me to line up the registration marks more easily. In the Winter, I usually use a glass-top table and a strategically placed light bulb. For long pieces like this jacket, though, it's better to use the glass door.

figure 4: paper tiling is done
Once all the paper pieces are assembled, I use the brilliant idea given to me by my sewing Mentrix, Paula Lalish. I lay transparent plastic sheeting over the paper pattern pieces and trace them with a Sharpie. That gives me durable plastic pattern pieces that are easy to store and re-use. Most importantly, though, I can see the fabric through the pattern piece while cutting.

figure 5: The most important sewing
supply you can find at the hardware store
When matching patterns for a patch pocket on printed fabric, or just getting the grain line right on jeans, this is like having a damn super power!

figure 6: Trace with Sharpie
Once you have your plastic pattern pieces done, you can start cutting. The first time I use a pattern, I cut through both the pattern and the fabric, but I haven't noticed and significant decrease in the lifespan of my rotary cutter blades, so maybe it's not like cutting paper with fabric scissors.

Another great benefit of the registration marks on the tiled paper pieces is that you can use them to make horizontal and vertical grain lines on your plastic pattern pieces. Very helpful when working in tartan, let me tell you!

figure 7: Ready to start cutting
No matter what fabric you are working with, the ability to see it through your pattern pieces is transformative in terms of your relationship to the cutting process. We all hate cutting, but with the right techniques, it can be much less of a pain.

figure 8: Visibility matters
And there are my grain line marks giving me total confidence that when the final garment is done that all the vertical lines will remain vertical and all the horizontal ones horizontal.

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