Beginner and experienced sewists have one major challenge in common. Getting a commercial sewing pattern that fits. When a pattern is too big or small, knowing how to fix it is the key to successful sewing. That’s where pattern drafting becomes a useful and essential skill. But what is pattern drafting and where do you start?
Pattern drafting is creating a paper template from body measurements. The template forms the blueprint of a garment. First, the pattern designer will sketch the design. Shaped using fabric and a dress form, the design becomes 3-D sections. These sections are then made into a block or sloper, which forms the basis for the pattern.
This article on pattern drafting is a beginner’s guide on how to draft patterns. Find out how, why, and when you should draft your own designs. Read on to discover how easy pattern drafting can be.
What Is a Pattern?
A pattern is a template to sew a garment in a particular shape and size. Usually made out of tissue paper, a sewing pattern is made up of several pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. Just like a puzzle, a sewing pattern comes with clues in the shape of markings to let you know which part goes where.
The number of pieces in a pattern is determined by the garment being made. A basic sleeved bodice will include a front, back, two sleeves, and a collar section. There will be markings on the pattern saying how many individual pieces need to be cut. It will also indicate whether they should be cut on the fold or as two separate parts.
Each piece has markings to indicate which sections should be sewn together to form the garment. There will also be markings for zipper placement, buttonholes, and the location of the seam line. Most of the construction information you need can be found on the pattern pieces.
Sewing patterns also come with written instructions and diagrams explaining how the different pieces should be sewn and what order. These instructions will include information on which parts need to be reinforced with stay-stitching, decorated with topstitching, and confirm the seam allowance.
There are two types of sewing patterns: commercial patterns and self-drafted patterns. Let’s take a look at each type and examine the pros and cons for both.
Commercially produced patterns are available from most fabric outlets. Most of the patterns available are designed by large companies like McCalls and Simplicity. There are also smaller, independent designers who tend to sell their patterns online.
All commercial patterns have the same things in common. They are mass-produced and cater to home sewists looking to recreate current fashion trends.
- Patterns are tested to ensure accuracy
- Come in a range of multi-sized options
- Compliment current fashion trends
- Available online and from fabric stores
- Have written step-by-step instructions with diagrams
- Pattern markings make construction easy
- Include seam allowances and ease
- Best fabrics for the project are recommended
- The sizes available can be limited
- Don’t always allow for pockets
- Only cater to the average body shape
- Most sewists find patterns have to be altered to fit properly
- Not all stores carry the full range of patterns available
- Can be expensive
- Current trends may not be to everyone’s taste
- Can come with complicated instructions
As the name suggests, a self-drafted pattern is one you draft yourself. Many sewists choose to create their own patterns because they cannot find a garment that suits their style.
Self-drafting also comes in useful when sizing is an issue. To design and create your own patterns, you’ll need to learn the skill of pattern drafting.
- Can design a garment to your own taste
- Using your own measurements will ensure a better fit
- Not restricted to current fashion trends
- Choose your own embellishments
- Garment design can include pockets
- Cheaper than buying a pattern
- Buying the correct tools could increase the cost
- The pattern doesn’t come with handy markings or written instructions
- You have to remember to add seam allowances
- You have to decide on the best fabric to use and allow for ease
- Takes time to design, draw and fine-tune a pattern before use
- Need to learn how to draft patterns
- You have to test the pattern yourself
What Is Pattern Drafting?
Pattern drafting is the craft of making a paper plan or template for a garment. The plan is the first step in the design process.
Drafted patterns are created from body measurements. Either the industry standard for commercial patterns or individual measurements for self-drafted patterns. The measurements used form a block or a sloper that can create any style of the same garment.
Forming a 2-D representation, the paper template is flat. It needs to be reproduced in a fabric toile or mock-up to show how it will work on a body. The mock-up tests the design elements within the 2-D pattern. Tweaks and adjustments are made to the test garment and transferred to the final pattern. The resulting blueprint forms the foundation on which the final garment is based.
Essential for designing patterns from scratch, the skills needed for pattern drafting can also be used to alter existing patterns. Whether it needs extra room at the bust or a longer back length, alterations can be made to a pattern piece to ensure a perfect fit.
Not only that, but two different patterns can be joined together to create a hybrid piece. Through pattern drafting techniques, a bodice from one pattern can be adjusted to fit the skirt from another. Or maybe even pants to create a jumpsuit.
Drafting a pattern includes making blocks or slopers for all the essential parts of garments, from bodice back and front, sleeves, skirt sections, and pant legs. Each piece has an individual starting block which, once made, can be used over and over again.
Why Draft Your Own Pattern?
There are several reasons why you would want to draft your own pattern. Probably the first and most important one, to get a perfect fit.
Commercial patterns are incredibly useful, but they have limited size options. Designed for a mass market, they are produced to fit a range of average body sizes. An irritation for many home sewists is most of us don’t fit into the average body shape.
The chances of you buying a commercial pattern that fits straight out of the packet are rare. All sewists need to alter either the bust or waist. Sometimes even the length of a bodice or the size of a collar.
This brings us neatly to the next reason for drafting your own patterns. If you know how to draft a pattern, you can use that knowledge to alter a commercial pattern. Understanding how a sewing pattern works will alter the design, so it fits your measurements a lot easier. You’ll even be able to add extra features like pockets.
You might find you need a particular style or design that can’t be found. Commercial patterns follow fashion trends and are released per season. If you’re itching to make a swimsuit in the middle of winter, the pattern you need might not be available.
This is where the skill of pattern drafting can be worth its weight in gold. Not restricted by the current clothing fads or time of year, you can design and produce your own swimsuit. Or any other garment. On your timeframe. You can even add your own design touches to make a truly unique garment to match your individuality and style.
Methods of Pattern Making
Whenever pattern making is mentioned, two terms are always used: pattern drafting and pattern draping. It’s easy to confuse the two. They are, in fact, two different processes.
They can be used together or separately. Which one you use is up to you. Some designers use both together to help make a 3-D paper plan for a garment that can be reproduced in fabric.
The word drafting means to prepare an outline for a plan. A design for a garment is drawn on paper, creating a 2-D or flat representation of part of the body. Using a template made from body measurements called a block or sloper, the basic design can be altered to create different styles.
Humans aren’t flat, though. To test the paper pattern to make sure it fits, a test garment needs to be made. This garment, called a toile or mock-up, shows which areas need tweaking, where darts are needed, and if the design will work on a body. These alterations are then added to the paper pattern.
Draping involves fabric and a dress form or mannequin. Using either muslin or calico, the fabric is pinned to the form and smoothed out to form the shape of the desired garment. To get a better fit and shape, darts and pleats can be added to help the fabric mold to the body.
The pinned fabric is taken off the dress form and used as a template to draw a paper pattern. Complete with grainlines, notches, and an added seam allowance, a test garment can be produced to check for fit. Any tweaks are then noted on the paper pattern.
Pattern Making Tools
Some of the tools needed for pattern drafting are probably already in your sewing box or at least close at hand. The basic requirements are pens, pencils, paper, tape measure, and rulers.
Pens and PencilsYou can use any pens and pencils for drafting patterns. They don’t have to be specific to pattern designing. Pencils should be hard enough to leave a line you can see on your paper, but not too sharp they’ll punch a hole in it.
Pens need to be in at least 3 different colors. One color to outline your pencil sketch, another for alterations. The third, for final tweaking.
Pattern PaperPatterns are drawn on fine paper. This can either be pattern paper which is essentially tissue paper. You can also use normal tissue paper used for wrapping or artwork. Just make sure it’s a light color. White tissue paper is perfect as you can see through it easily.
Tissue paper is used for sewing patterns because it can be pinned to a dress form or a person to help with fitting problems. It’s light and can be manipulated around curves. Although you can use printer paper, it’s less easy to work with.
RulersThe best rulers for pattern drafting are see-through with gridlines, if possible. Quilting ruler is a good choice, but you can also get specific pattern drafting rulers.
One ruler that is an absolute must is the French Curve or a curved dressmaking ruler. You’ll need that for armscyes and other rounded parts of the pattern.
They make truing or straightening out pattern lines as you come out of a curve a lot easier!
Tape MeasureAny time you are making a pattern for a garment, you will need to use body measurements. A tape measure designed for sewing is essential. Make sure it is made from fabric, fiberglass, or flexible plastic.
It can have whatever units of measurements you are happy using. But, it has to have the flexibility to go around the body.
ScissorsA decent pair of paper scissors for cutting out the drafted pattern will help you keep your lines neat and true to the design.
Similarly, fabric scissors for your muslin or toile fabric are also invaluable for ensuring accuracy.
Dress FormThis is the tailor’s dummy or mannequin used by sewists for fitting garments. If you are looking at pattern draping, a dress form is a useful gadget to have. Otherwise, you’ll have to pin and drape your fabric to your own body. That can be a tricky thing to do. It can also be a little painful.
Dress forms also help with toiles or mock-ups as they allow you to see areas of a garment in need of altering to get a better fit.
Although not technically drafting, you can take some pattern pieces from one commercial pattern and mix them with parts from another. This creates a unique design with less of the work needed to draft from scratch.
These are particularly useful if you are making a one-off garment for a special occasion or you’re on a tight deadline. However, to use existing patterns, you will need to purchase the commercial patterns first.
How to Draft a Sewing Pattern
The first thing you should do when drafting your pattern is to make slopers or blocks based on your measurements. Blocks and slopers can be used as permanent templates to form the foundation of any garment.
For instance, a bodice sloper can be put under tracing paper and used as the foundation for a new pattern piece. By changing design elements on every tracing you make, you can create any design of bodice. Keeping your sloper intact allows you to use it again and again.
To make an accurate sloper, you’ll need to make sure you take your measurements carefully. Once you have them, draw them onto paper to form the shape of the garment you want to make.
For a bodice, you’ll have measurements for your shoulder, neck, armhole, and distance from the neck down to wherever you want the bodice to end. This can be either the waist or hips, depending on your preferred style.
When designing a pattern from scratch, remember to include your seam allowances and pattern ease. The ease allows extra space for getting the garment on and off. You may find this measurement is easier to calculate once you’ve made a test or mock-up item.
For your first foray into pattern drafting, choose an easy garment to work with. Skirts are simple and easy to construct and make a great beginner drafting project. Another bonus is skirts tend to form the bottom part of dresses, jackets, and coats. Get skirts under your belt and you’re already halfway towards creating a different garment.
Always make a test garment from your freshly designed pattern. That’s the only way you will know if the garment will fit properly and if the different elements will work on your body. The mock-up or toile will let you know if your design needs darts or tucks for a better fit.
Drawing a new pattern from the start isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. An easier way to create patterns is to use pattern drafting software. These packages can be expensive, though and you’ll not only need to know how to draft patterns, you’ll also have to learn how to use the software. It may be worth weighing up the cost against how often you will use the package.
Another way to make drafting easier is to use commercial or ready-made patterns. You can create unique designs by mixing pieces of different patterns. Adjustments for fit will still be needed, but the initial block has already been drawn for you.
Using Pattern Drafting for Alterations
Every sewist needs to know how to do basic alterations. Commercial patterns rarely fit properly without needing a tweak. Some of the techniques used in pattern drafting are used to amend patterns. Here are the top two.
Darts give shape to a garment. They can either be at the side going towards the bust or from the waist towards the bust. You can also get back darts and shoulder darts.
To create a better fit or even a different design element, you can move the darts or even join them together. Princess seams are an example of where a shoulder dart meets a waist dart to create a flattering seam. Manipulating darts is an easy way to give a fresh, modern feel to a garment.
Slashing and Spreading
When you cut into your pattern piece and move the sections away from each other, you are spreading the pattern. If you slash to the edge of the pattern piece and stop before you cut straight through, you’ll create a hinge.
Using the hinge, you can move the still attached paper. By adding extra paper between each slashed section, you create volume or fullness. This technique is used for full bust adjustments and making pencil skirts into full skirts.
Things to Remember When Pattern Drafting
There are a few basic rules to remember when you begin pattern drafting. These will ensure your self-drafted patterns are both accurate and usable.
- Always make sure to take your exact measurements when you are making your slopers or block templates. Ask a friend to help if it’s difficult to measure yourself.
- Once your pattern is ready, make a test garment. Toiles or mock-ups are a useful tool in gauging the success of a pattern and how well it fits.
- You’ll need to remember to include seam allowances and extra room for ease. Ease is essential if you are working with woven fabrics!
- Make sure you use the right tools. You’ll end up in a pickle if you try to draw a curved armhole with a straight ruler.
Pattern Drafting Software Options
Wild Ginger PatternMaster
The Wild Ginger PatternMaster range of pattern drafting software covers everything from women’s daywear to tailored menswear. Sold as standalone modules, each package covers a different aspect of drafting. Which means you only have to buy the section you’re interested in.
You can design any type of garment as each module contains a full wardrobe of clothing ideas and inspiration. Allowing you to create a stylish, functional, and adaptable range of attire custom-fit to you and your lifestyle.
There are no size limitations and the price of the software includes free measuring and fit support. Your designs also include a yardage calculator. With a 90-day money-back guarantee, this is a pattern drafting solution designed to take the guesswork out of designing your own garments.
Cochenille Design Studio
Cochenille Design Studio can be used to create patterns for both sewing and knitting. Designed by pattern drafting experts, the software is aimed at creators who are looking to produce garments with a great fit. From menswear to childrenswear and everything in between, it’s a comprehensive design tool that can be used by any level of sewist.
With a handy symmetry function, designs can be altered in several places at the same time. There is even built-in “pattern smarts” that will keep sleeves in sync with armholes.
Simple and effective, this software enables you to create a pattern that not only suits your individuality but also appeals to your creative side.
Pattern Drafting Books
A Basic Guide To Pattern DraftingCompiled by an instructor of pattern drafting, this guide to pattern drafting covers the essentials of the craft. Helping students of fashion grasp the connection between garments and pattern tissue, the book covers wardrobe staples for women, including dresses and skirts.
This book is a series of diagrams on how pattern pieces should look. Ideally suited to those with knowledge of pattern drafting, the book is designed to be used in unison with a text-based reference book.
Patternmaking for Fashion DesignOffering detailed instructions on the principles of pattern drafting, this book is comprehensive and yet still easy to understand. It covers the relationship between designs and the three main patternmaking tools. Those are dart manipulation, contouring, and adding fullness.
Students of fashion are guided through the process of pattern design to create unique ideas with accuracy. From the simple to the more complex, this book gives an introduction to the art of patternmaking for sewists of all skill levels.
Pattern drafting is a useful tool to have in any sewist’s workbox. Giving you the freedom to create your own designs. As well as the ability to alter commercial patterns for a better fit. It’s a skill both easy to learn and essential to your sewing progress.
Let me know in the comments if you liked the article. Have you tried pattern drafting? Did you draft from scratch or alter an existing pattern?