I'm Erin. I love to sew pretty things for my children. I haven't bought an actual pattern in over ten years now. Read more...

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how I make my patterns (and how, if you want to, you can too)

I do not have a design degree.  Okay, I do, but it's a landscape design degree, and not a fashion design degree.  Before I began designing my patterns, I had read a lot of pattern designers' bios, on their websites and such places, and it seemed that every one of them had been to fashion design school.  It was discouraging, in a way, since I'd had four years of college and wasn't really in a position to have any more.  And I wanted to design patterns. 

Fortunately, however, I remembered something very important from my own college years.  The most valuable information, the most rubber-to-the-road stuff, hadn't come while I was in a classroom doing all those factor-label problems about fertilizer titrations.  It had come during summer jobs and internships, when, hoping to glean all the useful information I could, I worked in the university greenhouses and completed street-tree analyses for city councils.  The knowledge that I left school with I had pieced together from classes, library books, part-time jobs, and those internships.  

So that when I stood at the bottom of the pattern-making learning curve looking up, I knew this one valuable thing: that no one person or entity holds all the keys for any particular piece of knowledge or set of skills.  If I dug long enough, I told myself, I could figure this out on my own.  And you know what?  I was right.

As I'm in the middle of reworking my basic patterns, it occurs to me that you might like to know where they come from.  Heck, you might even like to make your own.  When you're finished, call me and we can talk patterns, okay?

First I began with this book:

Childrenswear Design, by Hilde Jaffe and Rosa Rosa.  This book is designed, I think, to be a children's design class textbook, and they assume that you have a dress form on which to drape fabric and create your basic block patterns.  I suppose they assume you have as many dress forms as you need sizes.  I did not, and was chagrined at this new roadblock.  This book is, however, very useful for explaining how to tweak your basic patterns, and was the beginning point for my understanding of that part of designing. 



Then I got my hands on this book:

Make Your Own Patterns by Rene Bergh.  This one is all flat-pattern drafting, but for women's sizes.  So now I understood darts and fitting for a woman's shape, but I wanted children's sizes and designs. 






At this point, I found this little gem:

Pattern Making for Children, by Sarah Doyle.  Now I was getting somewhere.  Sarah's method is entirely flat-pattern, requiring no dress form, and made from measurements you take from your child.  Bravo, Sarah!  I made patterns by her method for a while, but then I realized that her book is geared, more or less, toward sewing for plus-size children, which I don't have, and my patterns were looking a little...large. 

Also, I realized about this time that if I had a chart of standard children's sizes I could just make a set of patterns and put them away on a shelf (or in a computer file) somewhere and grab one when I needed it.  Starting from scratch and making a new basic pattern each time was keeping me from wanting to sew. 

So I dug some more.  And I found this:  Dress Rite Forms Measurements Chart  It's a sales brochure for dress forms, but it has all the measurements for each dress form in one chart.  Fabulous! Now I had what I needed.  (***Update:  Looks like Dress Rite no longer publishes its children's dress form measurements.  Alas.***)

But I used the chart to make patterns from one book, and they weren't quite right.  I used the method from another book, and those didn't fit well either.  So I cleared off my dining room table, laid open every one of those books, a copy of the measurements chart, and a blank notebook, and began to triangulate.  I went through every step in every book and tried to figure out why the author had told me to do that.  And then I searched for correct ease amounts and figured out where, in each equation, the ease came in.  And, after much tongue-chewing and eye-squinting, I finally came up with a method that worked every time, for every size.   (In retrospect, it seems it might have been easier to go to fashion design school...)

After that it was a matter of drawing them into the computer, making sure all the measurements stayed correct, tweaking all the corners to look just right, and printing, printing, printing, to make sure they were still correct and that I caught anything that wasn't just right. 

The original patterns, which many of you have, were created using a difficult string of computer programs that I had available at the time, the inefficiency of which left several of them with minor glitches.  Now that I've upgraded, I'm redoing them to erase all those little snags.  Just now, I'm at the print-print-print stage, which is also the send-patterns-to-testers-and-wring-my-hands stage, on the bodice patterns.  Pants patterns will, naturally, be next.        

Now that I've told you all about it, you're ready to go make your own set of patterns, aren't you?  Good.  Let me know when you're done.  I'm going to go take a nap.


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Reader Comments (2)

I am very interested in making my own patterns and am where you were looking at book after book. Granted my degree is in the IT side of the house :-). I, right now, truely wing it when I am making clothing for my daughter and friends children. I have tones of what I think are great ideas but have been so frustrated that I cant get them on to a pattern. I will be headed for the books that you recomend and was wondering what computer software you use or recomend.

December 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Hello, Rebecca! I use Adobe Illustrator to make my patterns. I believe that the version that I have, CS4, is the first to have multiple "artboards" that allow me to easily create tiled patterns. Good luck! Winging it does work amazingly well, but I understand eventually wanting to know what you're doing. Do let me know how it goes.


December 3, 2012 | Registered CommenterErin

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