12 Tips for Pattern Drafting

Drafting your own patterns can be a lot of fun, and, even better, it opens up whole new realms of possibilities for the kinds of garments you can sew. From changing up or duplicating the items already in your wardrobe to creating custom looks that are all your own, there’s so much you can do with pattern drafting! Here’s what you need to know to get started.

1. Start with good measurements

The most important thing you need when you first start drafting patterns is a solid idea of the measurements you’re working with. This means knowing not only what those measurements are, but also how they were taken. For example, is that hip measurement a true hip measurement taken at the fullest part of the hip and seat, or is it actually a low waist measurement? The best way to be certain of the measurements on you’re working with is to take them yourself, unless, of course, you’re planning on making a pattern to your own measurements. In that case, enlist a friend to help you measure.

2. Familiarize yourself with the tools of the trade

Pattern drafting gets a bad rap as being overly complicated and equipment heavy, but really it takes only few specialized tools. An L-square is helpful for everything from triangulating measurements to helping true up your pattern to the grain of your fabric. A French curve helps with armscye and neckline drafting, while a clear plastic ruler can help with other types of curves (plastic is flexible) and short straight sections. A variety of coloured pens and pencils will help you identify which lines you want to keep, and which are just for reference.

3. Work on a large surface

Making sure all your measurements end up in the right spot can be tough if you’re not working on a large enough space. Clear off your cutting table or the dining table, if you must, but make sure there’s enough room to get all your measurements on one flat surface at the same time.

4. Understand how different materials behave

Every commercial pattern comes with a list of fabric types recommended for the garment, and there’s a very good reason for this! Fabrics all behave a bit differently, and understanding whether you’re designing a pattern for a lot of give or a little will change how you design it. You can also impact this with the way a pattern is laid out. For example, woven fabrics cut on the bias have more stretch than those cut on the grain. Experiment with different materials so you can plan accordingly in your pattern.

5. Don’t forget seam allowance!

You don’t haveto include seam allowance in your patterns, but you had better make sure to document that! If you do include seam allowance, make a note of how much, especially if you use different seam allowances on different pieces. A good way to make this abundantly clear is to mark your seam lines as well.

6. Mark all the important points

Notches, fold lines, gathering points—all those little marks on commercial patterns make it possible to line everything up and create a finished garment, so make sure you don’t leave them out of your patterns! When in doubt, go ahead and mark that extra point. It’s easier to ignore an extraneous mark than to find one lacking when you could have used some guidance.

7. Learn from the pros

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to pattern-making. Start with something in your own wardrobe. It’s easiest to see how clothes are made by taking them carefully apart at the seams. You can then use these to create your own patterns, or to compare to drafted patterns to see how closely a pattern made to your measurements matches something you already know fits.

8. Start with the basics

You don’t need to start by drafting a tailored three-piece suit! Start your pattern drafting adventures with a basic garment that you can easily revise and experiment with to see how subtle changes in pattern can create drastic differences in fit and style.

9. Cut-and-paste is your friend

One of the nice things about working in paper is that all you need to completely revise a pattern is a pair of scissors and a bit of tape. Don’t be afraid to cut up your patterns as you work to find the best fit and style lines. If you’re concerned about ruining an existing pattern, trace out a copy (complete with markings) and then cut away!

10. Study standard adjustments

While there’s a lot you can do with established formulas for creating basic patterns, these often rely on assumptions of proportion that just aren’t true for everyone. That’s why adjustments, like a full bust adjustment, sloped shoulder adjustment, or narrow hip adjustment, can be quite helpful. Once you’ve drafted a pattern using “standard” proportions, you can use these existing pattern manipulations to adjust them to appropriately fit each individual.

11. Practise sewing with your patterns

It’s one thing to draft a pattern, but something else entirely to create a garment from it. Make sure that when you’re drafting patterns, you experiment with sewing the finished garment as well. You might find that you need some extra guidance marks, or that a narrow seam allowance works better in certain spots. Not only will it make you a better pattern drafter, but it will improve your sewing techniques and knowledge, too!

12. Don’t be afraid to experiment

Often, sewists just getting started in pattern drafting are afraid of getting it wrong. While it’s true that there’s more maths involved in drafting new patterns than in using existing ones, it’s just as much an art as it is a science. Don’t be afraid to try something just to see what happens. Give yourself room to play and experiment with your designs. Fashion is a great medium for self-expression, and, since they’re only paper, patterns are a great place to start.

Are you already drafting your own patterns? Share your favourite tools, tips, and tricks in the comments!

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