There are many ways to develop a pattern for a garment. Depending on your skill level, some methods will be more straightforward than others. Here are some of the methods that I’ve used to better understand a garment and its pattern pieces, or to develop a pattern. I often refer to my skills as 'hacking' a pattern since I'm usually cloning something I love to learn how it's made.
1. Take it to Pieces
Skill Level: Novice
Special Equipment Required: A good seam ripper, pair of scissors or snips
If you have a favourite garment that is perhaps wearing out or is damaged and you want to replicate it, or see how it's made – here’s a good enough reason to take it apart. Of course, you can always find things specifically to take apart!
It’s important to first document the garment with perhaps a quick sketch or some photographs, so you can make notes of any special construction methods and seam allowances, or to piece together the order of how you will sew the new garment together, and then you’ll know which pieces go where. That’s the challenge of making your own patterns, they don’t come with instructions! If it’s at all possible – only take HALF of the garment apart. So, in my situation, I’m normally looking at bras. Literally cut it in half down the centre front and only take one side apart. That way you’ll still have half of the original to refer back to.
Once you have your garment in pieces, you can press the pieces and then trace around them onto paper so that you will have your new pattern. This mens brief is made from a thin lightweight cotton. To better get a pattern from the pieces, I'd likely try pinning it to a sheet of Foamcore or cardboard to stabilize it. The next method, Pin Copying, will give you more details.
2. Pin Copying
Skill Level: Novice
Special Equipment Required: Sturdy corrugated cardboard or Foamcore, pins, paper, tape and a pencil
This is a quick and easy way to copy a garment without taking it to pieces. Perfect if you are not wanting to part with that special garment.
Again, it’s important to thoroughly review the garment and make any notes about special construction methods and measure any seam allowances. The bonus is you’ll still have the entire garment intact and will be able to refer back to it.
You’ll need a sheet of sturdy corrugated cardboard, or sheet of Foamcore, along with some paper, tape and pins. If you’re working on a delicate work surface, like your boyfriend's lovely wooden dining room table, I would also suggest placing a cutting mat underneath your work surface to protect from the pins.
First, you’ll need to tape a sheet of paper to your cardboard or Foamcore board that is large enough to accommodate your largest pattern piece. Smooth out just one of the pattern pieces of your garment, grab your pins, and start pinning around the edges of the garment piece, keeping the fabric flat along the paper. If you’re pinning a bra that has elasticated edges, you’ll want to pin the garment stretched a bit in order to get the pre-elasticated pattern piece. When you have finished and have removed all of the pins – you’ll now have a record of the pattern shape on the paper. Just play ‘connect the dots’ with a pencil and you’ll have your pattern piece – likely without the seam allowances. Don’t forget to add these!
3. Garment Measurements
Skill Level: Intermediate
Special Equipment Required: Multiple measuring devices, pencil and block patterns help!
If you’re a bit more skilled with drafting patterns, or have a a few basic blocks in your pattern ‘library’ – drafting a pattern by measurements is a great way to develop a pattern.
You won’t damage your garment in any way, and still have the original at your fingertips for reference. This method can take a bit longer than the pin copying method, but remains simple.
I like to start out with a good solid technical sketch, either by hand, or on the computer, so I have somewhere to make my measurement notes.
I have a few different measurement tools at my disposal when using this method. I’ll often have my fabric tape measure for the basic measurements, a flexible ruler for curves, as well has my hem gauge for really small seams and measuring the width of elastics.
You’ll need to measure each seam of your garment, and make notes on your tech drawing of precise measurements, as well as any ‘landmarks’ such as the highest and lowest points of curves, which will make your life much easier when drafting your pattern, whether on paper or on the screen.
I find this method works really well if you’re drafting your measurements over a basic block pattern that can be related to the pattern that you are drafting. It makes it easier to see things like the shapes of underarm curves, or the shapes of leg openings. I draft my patterns on the computer this way using Adobe Illustrator.
4. Modelling on the Stand/Draping
This is a great method if you have no idea where to start, or you’re not confident with your flat pattern drafting skills.
I’ve never given this process a fair chance as when I began to learn how to draft and cut patterns, I was always taught how to do them flat on paper, based on measurements. This process works well for experimentation with fabrics and shapes, so don’t let my own personal fears of this method scare you away!
You’ll need a mannequin in the size you wish to create your pattern in. There are lots of options here in shapes, sizes, styles and types. At De Montfort University, we use a covered plastic mannequin, and she’s an industry standard 34B for lingerie designs. Our basic blocks fit her quite well.
It’s up to you and your working style on what type of mannequin or dress form you would like to use. Foam styles can be easier to work with as you can pin into them – although taping design lines onto a plastic mannequin can work too. You’ll also need some fabric to work with – something with similar properties to what your final fabric will be, along with pins, and scissors. It's also helpful to have something to mark your design lines like a marker, thin sticky tape, or even a narrow ribbon to pin in place.
You can start off by marking landmarks on your mannequin such as the waist, hip and bust. From there, you can position the fabric on your mannequin as you desire. There are some basic guidelines that you can follow in regard to draping. I personally have no formal training in this method, but have tested a fantastic book for you, Draping by Karolyn Kiisel and would highly recommend it as it contains numerous step-by-step exercises for a variety of garments, and includes an instructional DVD.
5. Modifying Block Patterns
Skill Level: Novice through Expert
Special Equipment Required: Block patterns, pencil, ruler, French curves, paper, scissors, tape or glue, including possibly a sewing machine and threads
This is a great method if you have a ‘library’ of well-fitted patterns to manipulate, and is an easy way to test new bra cup shapes.
What you’ll need is a copy of your block pattern (never cut up your originals!) and you can manipulate the shape in either paper or fabric. I find the paper method to be a bit quicker, as you can just quickly tape or glue the pieces together. Also, you can easily 'squish' or cut the pattern piece to get the volume out so that it can lay flat.
To get started, build your sample garment in either fabric or paper using a copy of your block pattern. You can now add new style lines and begin to cut up the sample to determine the shape of the new pattern piece. This is where a bit more technical skill comes into effect as you’ll need to round off these straight edges to get the volume and fit correct.
If you have a good understanding of flat patterns, you can just go ahead and manipulate your block flat on paper, or the computer, without constructing anything.
I really hope you found these methods interesting. I'd love to know which ones you've tried, or which ones you prefer. Are there any methods that you use that I haven't covered? Happy pattern cutting!
Educating women on the benefits of proper fitting bras is important to Kim. Designing lingerie that complements the fuller figure, and is comfortable, on-trend and beautifully constructed is her mission.
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