Pattern Drafting – A New Vocabulary

I am an expert at home sewing.  I know the techniques, the tools, the jargon.  I’ve made tailored suits, coats, lined dresses, and many other detailed garments.  BUT I almost always started with a commercial pattern and step-by-step illustrated instructions.  I have made very little without a pattern, and those few items were relatively simple.  I suspect that this is the same for you.  So this new pattern drafting venture will require that we get familiar with some new terms introduced in Chapter One of our textbook, Pattern Making for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong.

Pattern Drafting is the term for what we are in the process of learning.  It is a system of creating patterns from measurements taken from a model or a dress form.  The first process is to create a Basic Pattern Set, which is a set of five fitted patterns that are created without design features.  The pieces in this set are then traced to create a Working Pattern, from which the designers (you and me) create patterns with added design features.  The process of developing designs from this basic pattern set to other working patterns, and then to final patterns for use in creating a test garment is called Flat Patternmaking.

The Basic Pattern Set consists of a bodice front, bodice back, long sleeve, skirt front, and skirt back.  After we learn how to take measurements correctly in Chapter Two, we will be creating our very own basic pattern set from these measurements in Chapter Three.  Once you have your basic pattern set, anything you create from them are your very own designs.  Even when you create something simple from them – like a gathered skirt – it is still an original design by you, the designer!  And we are going to do much more than that.

When working with flat patterns, we will need to know how to True seam lines, to transition smoothly from one angle to the next.  If you have ever made a garment using a multi-sized commercial pattern, and cut a different size pattern line for the waist and the hips, you have already done this blending of seam lines.

Dart lines and notches are some of the ways patternmakers mark working patterns.  Special instructions are also written on the pattern piece that mark the location of fabric features, such as stripes or plaids.

Balance refers to a perfect relationship between all the parts of the pattern.  To Balance a pattern, the designer makes adjustments to improve the fit and hang of the design.  Horizontal Balance Line (HBL) refers to any horizontal line on the dress form.  HBL lines help guide the balancing of patterns.  A Plumb Line is a vertical line that is at right angles with the floor.

Styleline Guides are created on a dress form by Pin Marking or Style Tape Marking, as I did on my dress form in the following photos.

Style lines marked with pins

Style lines marked with pins

Style lines marked with adhesive tape

Style lines marked with adhesive tape

There are also a few production terms that we need to be familiar with.  A First Pattern is the original pattern developed from the basic pattern set for a new design.  Improvements are made to the first pattern, unless a decision is made to drop that particular design.  After patterns are tested by cutting and assembling in muslin, the final and error-free pattern is made.  This is the Production Pattern.  Grader is then used to size the pattern.  Designers use a medium size for developing patterns, then grade up and down to form other sizes.  (This was interesting to learn; I always assumed pattern drafters used those six-foot size zero models that walk those runways…)

*Heads up Be looking for a medium sized female to act as your Fit Model.  And if you don’t have a dress form, you will need one with measurements close to, but not bigger than, your fit model.  Don’t waste your money on those cheap crank-out forms that the fabric stores sell.  Purchase a professional dress form, such as those available from Fabulous Fit.  These come with a padding kit, so that you can make your dress form conform to the actual measurements of your fit model.

Marker is developed from production patterns.  Markers are made by arranging all pattern pieces for the entire production line onto paper, or by computer.  Before this step, the independent designer or the company has already determined how many finished garments will be produced and in what sizes.  The number of layers of fabric that are spread for a marker play a role in this process as well.  Patterns are arranged on the marker paper, or by computer, to minimize waste of fabric.

Cutting patterns from a marker differs quite a bit from what we are used to in regular home sewing.  Fabric is spread in single layers, not folded with selvages together.  Each left and right of a design requires a separate pattern piece.  And when a production house cuts out the pattern, several layers are cut at once using special fabric cutters.

To see the process of spreading fabric for a marker, watch this YouTube video.  To see the process of cutting the fabric from the marker, watch this YouTube video.

This chapter includes information about fabric qualities.  I am assuming that if you are following along with me, you are already a rather advanced sewer, and you know fabric.  If this is not the case,  please refer to my posts on Beginning to Sew topics.

Chapter One concludes with a discussion on cost sheets, pattern charts, and design spec sheets.  All of these are extremely important if you decide to go into production one day.  If that is your goal, please buy this textbook. Or go to design school.  Or both.  For our purposes, we will move on to something that directly involves pattern drafting.  In our next lesson or two, we will learn how to accurately measure our fit model and our dress form.

Pattern Drafting – A New Journey

I’ve had the textbook for a year or so:  Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong.  It’s time to get serious about learning pattern drafting.  This is the necessary first step in creating my own designs.  Plus, I hear that learning new things keeps the brain sharp, and that’s always a good thing.  Forget Lumosity…let’s learn to create patterns and design us some gorgeous clothing!


So today, we start with Chapter One: Patternmaking Essentials for the Workroom.  I had many of these tools already, like pins and holder (mine is a magnet), paper and fabric scissors, assorted pens and pencils, a French curve ruler, weights, and tape measure.  I had to buy more rulers, a notcher, an awl, and a handy-looking tool called a Simflex folding measure.  I also – just now – ordered marking paper, used to develop first patterns from model measurements.  I will use it to learn to create a basic pattern set.

This handy tool helps to space buttonhole markings correctly.

This handy tool helps to space buttonhole markings correctly.

Weights are used in place of pins, for a quick way to cut patterns from fabric.  Pictured here are 2" washers, available from hardware stores, and Wiggle Weights that I bought at Atlanta's Original Sewing and Quilting Expo last March.

Weights are used in place of pins, for a quick way to cut patterns from fabric. Pictured here are 2″ washers, available from hardware stores, and Wiggle Weights that I bought at Atlanta’s Original Sewing and Quilting Expo last March.

Tools pictured here are marking chalk and holders, used to mark fabric; an awl for punching holes in pattern paper to mark things such as the point of darts; and a notcher, used to notch pattern paper at strategic places.

Tools pictured here are marking chalk and holders, used to mark fabric; an awl for punching holes in pattern paper to mark things such as the point of darts; and a notcher, used to notch pattern paper at strategic places.

The French curve and other rulers are used to shape patterns at the armholes, hips, and other areas.  Not pictured are the vary form curve and the hip curve,both of which I have on order.

The French curve and other rulers are used to shape patterns at the armholes, hips, and other areas. Not pictured are the vary form curve and the hip curve, both of which I have on order.

Most sewers will already have these items on hand: pins and holder, paper and fabric scissors, and a variety of marking pens and pencils.  The pens and pencils pictured here are for making patterns, not fabric.

Most sewers will already have these items on hand: pins and holder, paper and fabric scissors, tracing wheel, and a variety of marking pens and pencils. The pens and pencils pictured here are for marking patterns, not fabric.

Also listed as items needed in this chapter are push pins, stapler and staples, and black twill tape which is used on the dress form to mark style lines.  The one thing listed that I am not going to purchase are hanger hooks or ringers.  These are used to organize and hang patterns; I am not going into production anytime soon, so I don’t think I need this.  I will use, instead, skirt hangers with metal clips to organize my patterns while working my way through this textbook.

So, gather the tools you need, and maybe this textbook, and let’s learn this process together!

Next time, we will discuss some patternmaking terms from the second half of Chapter One.

2013 Atlanta Original Sewing and Quilting Expo

Image 6Tomorrow is the start of the 2013 Original Sewing and Quilting Expo, and I can’t wait!  In fact, I got a jumpstart by signing up for Cynthia Guffy’s skirt-fitting class that was held today, and it was so much fun!  If you have never taken a class with Cynthia, you owe it to yourself.  If she is ever in your area, don’t miss her.  Her energy and anecdotes are a bonus to her hands-on and informative classes.  Cynthia is a designer and independent pattern maker whose exquisite design details are immensely inspiring.  Every time I have seen her, she is wearing something she made, and the fit and design is classy, innovative, and inspiring.  I can’t wait to get home and make my skirt!

Today’s class was so much fun.  Not only did I come away with a well-fitting master skirt pattern, but I was also able to watch her fit a variety of body types, solving all kinds of issues.  Since Karen and I want to offer garment fitting courses in our studio at some time in the future, this was absolutely perfect.  I took lots of notes!

On top of everything else, my fitting partner was Carla Powell from Roswell, and I was so excited to learn that she is also a sewing instructor!  Carla offers classes at her studio called Stitch Pretty.   She offers a variety of classes that sound very interesting, so if you live in the Atlanta area and want to take some quality classes, look her up at

I’m going to bed early, so I’ll be ready when the doors open in the morning.  I’ll be posting pictures and stories from each day, so stay tuned!Image 1IMG_2064

This Cynthia Guffy design features contrasting piping or Guffy seams down one side.   This vertical line elongates the body in a flattering way.

This Cynthia Guffy design features contrasting piping or Guffy seams down one side. This vertical line elongates the body in a flattering way.

A close-up of Cynthia's zipper application, which is beautifully hand-stitched

A close-up of Cynthia’s zipper application, which is beautifully hand-stitched

Another of Cynthia's beautiful skirt designs

Another of Cynthia’s beautiful skirt designs


This Cynthia Guffy design features a front insert cut on the bias which gives the skirt an A-line.

This Cynthia Guffy design features a front insert cut on the bias which gives the skirt an A-line.

Do-It-Yourself “Butterfly” Shirt

Make yourself this flattering top! Easy do-it-yourself project!

How about a free pattern for a butterfly shirt?  Some call the look “batwing,” but I prefer butterflies to bats–I’m just that kind of girl.

I came up with this very simple pattern a few weeks back, and I have now used it to make myself four varieties of this flattering, easy-to-wear shirt.  I also made my Mom one, and she says it has become her “go-to” shirt.

So, I thought I would share it with you in case you want to try it.  It’s quick and easy, and I bet if you make one you’ll want to make another.  This pattern is easily adapted to the fit you prefer, since the main fit comes from the tapered side seam, which is the last step.

You will need basic sewing skills to attempt this top.  Although it is a simple pattern, it is not something I would recommend as an introduction to sewing.  (If you live in our area, take our beginning sewing classes for a great skill foundation to build on!)

Take the dimensions shown on the pattern below and use pattern paper to draw a full-size pattern.  Hancock’s or Joann’s should have tissue paper or a substitute. You could really use any paper available that you can pin through.  Don’t attempt to just enlarge the pattern image, because it is not drawn to scale.  Use a ruler to mark the dimensions on your pattern paper as shown.  Seam allowances are included in these dimensions. Draw and cut two pattern pieces–one using the solid neck cutting line for the shirt back, and one using the dotted neck line for the shirt front.

The curved line that  tapers out from under the arms to the bottom of the pattern is a seam that attaches the front to the back with wrong sides together; it forms the side seams and creates the armhole.

Mark your pattern according to the dimensions. This is not drawn to scale.  The lines with arrows show the dimensions of the pattern and are not stitch lines.  They do not need to be transferred onto your pattern.  There is ONE stitch line which needs to be on your pattern, and which forms the side seams and arm hole.  It is shown on the pattern as a 10 1/2″ curved line and 4″ straight line.  Use this plan to draw out two pattern pieces–the shirt front and the shirt back.  The only difference in them is that the front is cut lower (see the broken neckline).  To insure success, be sure to read and follow the step-by-step instructions

You will need 1 5/8 yards of fabric; any width is fine.  (If you want the shirt longer than the dimensions shown, you may need more fabric.  Buy twice the length you want plus three or four inches.) This pattern works best with soft fabrics that have a nice drape, such as rayon or a crinkle cotton or a soft silk.  I have used a thin linen as well.  A somewhat stiffer fabric will work, but the look will be different.  Do not attempt this pattern with heavy fabrics such as denim or chintz.

Pre-wash your fabric.  I serge the cut edges of my fabric, then wash and dry the fabric in the same manner that I plan to wash and dry my finished garment. The only adjustment I make is that I use a scant amount of detergent, since the fabric is not soiled.

It’s always a good idea to make a “muslin” of a new pattern.  Use some inexpensive fabric that has similar weight and drape as you would like for your finished project for your first attempt, and make changes as needed before using a more expensive fabric.  But this is such an easy-fit pattern that you will probably be able to wear your practice shirt proudly.

The finished measurements of this top are: neck opening – 26″; center back length -24″; bust – 43″; waist 43″; hips at bottom of top – 55″.  The bust, waist, and hips are adjustable by moving the side seam in or out.  The neck opening can be enlarged by lowering the front and/or the back.  (A little adjustment goes a long way here!)  The length can be changed by adding or subtracting at the bottom of the pattern, but be sure to redraw the tapered side seam so that the hip measurement is still what you want it to be.  Extend the side of the pattern out if you enlarge the bust, waist, and hips very much, or if you want longer sleeves and wings.

If you know that you will only have to increase/decrease the bust, waist, and/or hip measurements two inches or less, you can do that after you have finished all of the steps of the top except the side seam, which is the last step. (See step #7 in the instructions below.)


Here are your step-by-step instructions:

1.  After you have used the above dimensions to draw out your two pattern pieces, lay out fabric and place the pattern pieces on the fold at arrows.  Pin, or use weights.  Cut out the two pieces.

This photo shows the layout of the front and back pattern pieces, but it is only a partial view.  Follow the dimensions shown in the previous graphic to create your front and back pattern pieces.  If you want to try using weights instead of pins, buy some inexpensive washers from your local home improvement store. The ones shown here are 2″ in diameter.

2.  Mark the curved seam line on the shirt front.  (You can also mark the shirt back, but it is not necessary.)  I do this by placing a pin through the pattern and fabric at the beginning and end of the line, and three or four places in between.  Then I remove the pattern and use chalk or a disappearing ink fabric marking pen to lightly mark the line with a dot in a few places along the pinned line directly onto the right side of the top. (Hint: Use small head pins and push the head all the way in to the pattern and fabric.  Then lift the paper pattern off carefully.  The pins will stay in place.)

3. With right sides together, serge the front and back together at the shoulder seams, using a 1/2″ seam.  Press seam toward the back.  (If you don’t have a serger, use a straight stitch, trim the seam to 3/8 ” or so, then finish the edges with a wide zig zag stitch to form an overcast seam, allowing the needle to go past the cut edge of your fabric on the right side of the zig zag.  Or, use a French seam for a neat finish.  A French seam works best with thinner fabrics such as Rayon or silk.  Sew the shoulder seam with WRONG sides together, using a 1/4″ seam.  Trim the seam carefully, so that it is a little less than 1/4″.  Press the seam allowance to one side.  Turn right sides together at the shoulder seams; press and pin.  Stitch, using a 1/4″ seam.  Press.  Now the raw edge is enclosed.)

5.  Roll the neck edge into a scant 1/4″ hem by folding the edge twice; pin.  This can be tricky, so take your time.  I use a lot of pins in this step.  You will need to gently pull to manipulate the curved edges into this rolled hem.  Stitch carefully, using a skinny zigzag stitch, which makes it easier to catch the turned fabric. A zigzag stitch will look better than a crooked seam that was supposed to be straight.  Practice the stitch on a piece of scrap fabric to get the width and length you like.  I use a stitch width of 2.5, and a stitch length of 3.5.  Press the seam.  (If you used a stiffer fabric, this step may be very frustrating.  Alternatively, you can use bias tape to finish the edge.  Pin and stitch single fold bias tape to neck edge with right sides together, then fold the tape to the wrong side; press, pin, and topstitch.)

Take your time pinning the neck edge into a scant 1/4″ rolled hem, manipulating the curves and using lots of pins.

Rolled neckline was secured with a narrow zigzag stitch, then pressed.

6.  Finish the sides and bottom of the shirt by turning the raw edge to the wrong side 3/8″; press.  Turn again 3/8″, press again and pin.  Sew the sides first, finishing to the edge with a backstitch.  Then sew the hem of the front and back in the same manner.  I prefer to topstitch with the garment’s right side to the machine, but you can do it either way.  Just take your time so that your topstitched sides and hem are neat and straight.  You can either miter the corners, or just turn and square the edges.  It should not be very bulky on the corners if you are not using a thick fabric. (When I made the shirt pictured at the top, I actually made the bottom hem about 3/4″ deep but I kept the side seams at 3/8″.  It’s up to you and the look you want to achieve.)

Here is a close-up of the corners. I folded the corners rather than mitering, since the fabric I used is a lightweight rayon. These folded corners actually give some weight on the bottom and help the top hang well.

7.  Now that all of your edges are finished, the only thing left to do is the side seam.  This is the seam on the pattern that is a curved line that tapers out from under the arms to the bottom of the shirt.  Lay the top down on a flat surface right sides together, aligning the front to the back at the sides and bottom; pin the front to the back along the seam line that you marked earlier on the front.  Place the pins close together in a line along the seam line.  Then carefully try on the shirt.  Adjust the pins according the the fit you like.  (If you don’t want to pull the top on and off with a bunch of pins in it, you could machine baste the line using the longest stitch your machine will allow.)  When you have made any required adjustments, take the shirt off and make any necessary changes to the marked seam line.  Pin for sewing.  Stitch along the seam line.  Be sure you neatly backstitch at the beginning and the end of this seam to keep it intact. (If you prefer, the side seam can be sewn much lower, creating a larger armhole opening.  However, will need to wear a tank top under your shirt if you do this because the side opening will expose the side of your bra.)

Pin along the marked seam line, placing pins close together.  Then try on to make sure the seam line is where you want it.  Make any adjustments necessary.

Once you have tried on the top with the pinned side seams, and have made any necessary adjustments, then place pens perpendicular to the seam mark for sewing.  Stitch, following your marked line.  Be sure to backstitch well and neatly at the top an bottom of the stitch, as this topstitch is your side seam.

Congratulations!  Now wear it proudly, and enjoy the compliments!  And be sure to send us a picture.

Now that you are familiar with the pattern, you can come up with all kinds of alternatives for variety.  One variation I did was to cut the bottom with a rounded hem (see the blue print shirt below).  When I made this pattern for the first time (pictured at the beginning of this article), I used a fabric that was really pretty on both sides.  So I turned the bottom up to hem on the outside, which made the bottom match the inside of the wings on the side of the top.  I also did one with a “collar” and split sleeves. You could insert elastic in the front and back between the side seams to form and empire waist, which is a very flattering look.  You could use a drawstring to gather the top at the shoulders.  You could use a sheer fabric and wear a tank top under it.  For more ideas, look around your local mall.  Variations of this top are everywhere!

This variation has a rounded hem.

My pretty mama in the top I made her!

This variation has a “collar” formed by cutting the shoulder seam higher and then cutting down the center front and finishing in a narrow tapered hem, reinforced at the bottom of the split.  I covered the reinforcing stitches with buttons.

A Very Special Silk Dress

A couple of years ago, I bought some beautiful pieces of an old Japanese kimono from one of the vendors at the annual Original Sewing and Quilting Expo, an event held every spring in Atlanta that I try not to miss.  This vendor has the most gorgeous vintage silk fabrics that she groups together.  None of the pieces are big enough for an entire garment, but I knew I would eventually find something special to do with the pieces I purchased.

When my niece announced her engagement, and plans began to form for a spring Nashville wedding, I pulled my kimono silk out and started playing with it, draping it on my dress form to look at the kimono fabric with some black silk.  My daughter would need something pretty to wear, and this would be the perfect starting point.

I bought Tracy Reese Vogue pattern #1190, because I liked the general silhouette of it.  But I left off the front ruffle, and since my daughter wanted the back of the bodice to be “regular” rather than the style shown, I drafted a plainer version.  I used the kimono fabric for the bodice front and back, and a soft washed silk charmeuse in black for the skirt.  The tiny waist band was cut from a piece of kimono silk in a deep navy, one of the other pieces from the grouping I bought in Atlanta.

Because I wanted everything to be just right when I cut this vintage silk fabric, I made a muslin for the trial bodice to tweak the fit.  When my daughter and I were both satisfied with it, I used that as my pattern to cut the kimono fabric.  I then sized the skirt pieces to fit the bodice, and cut them out of the black charmeuse.

Vogue pattern #1190

The dress went together like a dream!  (I love sewing with good quality silk!)

I also made her a necklace and earrings to go with her dress.  I bought the glass necklace focal component three or four years ago at an art gallery in Destin, Florida.  The necklace and earrings are fashioned from Swarovski crystal beads.  The wedding was beautiful, and so much fun, and my daughter was beautiful in her very special silk dress!

Shelley trying on her new dress

Sterling, glass, and Swarovski crystal necklace