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!

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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.

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.)

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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

The Big Book!

Fabric swatches and details in my "Big Book"

Fabric swatch pages in my “Big Book”

Copies of pattern envelopes

Copies of pattern envelopes in my “Big Book”

A while back, after buying yet another pattern I already had, I decided to get organized.  Now, I know there are all kinds of apps for my smart phone that will keep up with pattern information, but until they make an app that will let me post swatches of my fabric–swatches that I can actually touch–I am sticking with my old school “Big Book.”  So, just in case you are looking for a way to organize your patterns and fabric samples in one place, let me tell you how I did it.  Feel free to be a copycat.  Better yet, leave me a note if you have done something similar, and give all of us some pointers.

I bought a large, sturdy three ring binder, some divider pages with write-on tabs, and white copy paper pre-punched with three holes.  Then I hauled out all of my patterns–and I do mean ALL.  I decided that if it was worth holding on to, it was worth a place in my book.  I separated them into categories, such as “tops,” “jackets,” “pants and skirts,” “dresses.”  You get the idea.  I recorded these titles with a pen on the tab pages.  Then I copied the front and back of every pattern I owned. To save money and space in my book, I copied the front of the pattern in color, then flipped that same sheet over to print the back of the pattern in black ink.  Some of the envelopes were flat enough for my flat bed printer that I didn’t have to remove the contents, but some of them were too thick.  I was careful to not get in too big of a hurry, so that I could be sure to get the pattern pieces back into the right envelope.  This all took some time, but now when I go to the fabric store, I take my Big Book, which holds everything I need to know about what patterns I have and their fabric and notions requirements.

Behind the pattern sections, I put my fabric swatch pages.  I used my computer’s word processor to design a simple page that would hold four swatches and information on them.  I printed these on both sides of some light gray card stock that I already had on hand, and used a three-ring punch on them so they could go in my book.

I cut fabric swatches approximately 2 x 3 inches, and stapled them onto the card stock.  You can see this in the picture at the top of this post.  In the information blanks, I recorded how much of the swatch fabric I had, whether or not it had been pre-washed, the width and the content of the fabric, and the source and cost.  All of this was recorded in pencil, so that when I use a portion of the fabric or when I pre-wash something, I can change the information I recorded earlier.  If I use it all, I just strike through the information.  But I leave the swatch.  I figured that in a few years, it might be fun to see all of those swatches that (hopefully) became garments.

I have a basket in my sewing studio, just inside the entrance, that holds any newly acquired fabric or patterns until I have had the chance to record them in my book.

“The Book” is quite large and heavy, but it’s worth the effort of lugging it to the fabric store.  Even if I haven’t planned a trip to a fabric store, it usually stays in my car because I never know when I might need all of the vital information it holds!