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Easy Pattern Drafting for Absolute Beginners
by Cathy Hay
“Using your individual measurements, a pattern is drafted by scratch using the most exacting of standards. It's very clinical and scientific. Everything is measured with a ruler to the greatest degree of precision possible, much like an engineering drawing, using a drafting square and a scale formula. It's extremely complicated, and everything must be checked and double-checked. There are slightly different methods you can use, but they all involve a lot of measuring and calculation. When you are taught this for the first time, you feel as if you're studying nuclear physics, rather than pattern drafting.”
The bespoke clothing industry and the patternmaking industry make pattern drafting seem terribly complicated and mysterious, and why not? Every pattern drafting method I've ever seen seems terribly complicated to me.
But let's cut them a little slack. Anyone who’s ever had a go at dressmaking would probably agree that the biggest challenge in making a great garment is to make it fit correctly.
Although patterns are made and sold for our convenience, available in a range of convenient sizes, most of us know that this still does not guarantee a well-fitting garment. Firstly, human beings are not mass-produced in bulk. We’re all different and require different sized clothes. Secondly, many of us have found that commercial pattern sizes often cannot be relied upon for accuracy.
And so the single most freeing skill that a sewer or costumer can have is to learn to draft his or her own patterns. To take your own measurements and a blank sheet of paper and draw a pattern that fits you individually frees you to understand the makeup and adjustment of a pattern better, not to mention the scope it gives you to shape the design.
To begin, a basic “block” can be produced. This gives you a standard shape and a standard system that can then be adapted in myriad ways to produce all sorts of garments. Once the block pattern is drafted, you can make up the result in fabric and check the fit. Any changes can be transferred back to your block pattern to save effort later and give you a well-fitted pattern that you can use again and again.
Yes, the traditional process of pattern drafting is complicated and mysterious. Sparsely explained diagrams dizzy us with geometry and jargon. But I'm here today to change all that for you.
With sixteen years of sewing and a Maths degree under my belt, not to mention three year's training as a teacher of Mathematics, I'm well-placed to take the mystery, the jargon and as many numbers as possible out of the process. Baby step by baby step, I'm about to show you how you too can harness the freedom of drafting your own patterns.
Before we begin
We will begin with a basic fitted bodice block that will cover you from neck to hips. This will be suitable as a basis for garments that fit close to your skin such as shirtwaists, blouses and tops.
This block would not be suitable for coats or jackets, however. For them we’ll make a similar but looser fitting block. Eventually, you'll begin to learn that the difference is in the amount of "ease" you add to the pattern (how loose the fit is.) But for now, to keep it simple, let's just call this a fitted bodice block and not make it too complicated or over-flexible.
Theoretically, the fit of your finished bodice block will be 100% perfect. This is absolutely possible, but not guaranteed with the method we'll use today. In order to achieve absolute accuracy, many many measurements must be used, which may make this tutorial overwhelming. My aim today is to provide an easy guide for beginners that'll leave you confident and curious to learn more. I've had to make some compromises about the balance between ease of drafting and perfect fit, and I hope you'll follow with me. As you try this method out and tell me how it came out, we'll notice the places in which it doesn't work perfectly, and from there we'll gradually add levels of complexity that'll give a better degree of accuracy. It'll also be useful for you to see this happen and ask yourself questions about why results come out the way they do and how they can be improved, eventually giving you a better understanding of how pattern drafting works.
Furthermore, we’ll be concentrating on the torso today, and we’ll leave sleeves until later.
For now, however, I recommend having a go at this basic block in order to try out the skills you’ll need to learn for basic pattern drafting.
First of all, we'll run through the equipment you're going to need, and then I'll talk you through taking those all-important measurements. Finally, we'll take pencil and paper and begin our draft.