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.