Drafting a pattern

I used to do a lot of pattern cutting in my youth. 

I’m talking 30+ years ago here, so remembering what to do means trying to retrieve the information from deep storage in my already fairly wonky memory. Accordingly, I’m starting with a quick and easy job: drafting off an existing garment. Depending on the success of this mission, I may have to dust off my old skills.

Screen shot 2015-01-30 at 6.06.50 PMHere’s the dress I’m copying. The armholes are generous, the neckline is good on me. The dress itself is very comfortable, since it scarcely touches me when it’s on. There’s nothing remotely tricky about it, except the binding around the neckline and neck opening/button loop, and since the neckhole is large enough to get my head through without the opening and button, I’m going to ignore them.

Screen shot 2015-01-30 at 6.07.45 PMI’m taking the pattern off this by folding the dress in half down the centre, and drawing around the outline on a large piece of butcher’s paper, also folded in half. That way, you only have to draw half the lines before you cut it out, still folded, to get the whole thing. This is helpful if you want to do something fancy and asymmetrical later on. If you’re confident you won’t, you could get away with cutting just half the block. You then repeat with the back.

Screen shot 2015-01-30 at 6.08.07 PM Screen shot 2015-01-30 at 6.08.42 PMThere’s obviously a difference between the armhole and neckline shapes on front and back, and if you can’t get the fabric out of the way to get a true outline, you prick out the line through the layers using a pin and then follow the line of holes with your pencil. This task is easier if you do it with a blanket or some batting under the pattern paper – but just for this part of the job. With this style of dress, you may also find that the front is longer than the back when you lay it flat, which is to accommodate one’s personal endowments, such as they are…

Screen shot 2015-01-30 at 6.09.04 PMI mark on this outline notches for matching shoulder and side seams. At this point, the pattern is a block, or template, and I don’t add seam allowances, since I’d have to take them off or work round them if I want to manipulate the pattern later. It’s easy enough to remember to add 10mm (3/8″) all round when you cut out. I also mark on the block where I will want side seam pockets to go, and I make a pattern for these pockets too. I mark the centre back and centre front of each piece, where the natural waist and bust point fall, and the direction of the straight grain of the material from which it will be cut.

Screen shot 2015-01-30 at 6.09.27 PM

Butcher’s paper, sticky tape, sharp pencil and eraser, paper scissors, a tape measure, a long ruler and some batting. All you need….

Once I have this pattern sorted out, I can play with it. I can make the skirt longer, I can shorten it and turn it into a flared tunic or make it asymmetrical. I can slash through from hem to neckline, and open it out to add extra fullness in the skirt. I can use those slashes as seams and cut each panel on the straight grain or on the bias, which will give the garment a different hang. I can shape the bodice a little by putting in bust darts, either from the side seam or set into one of the slashes. I can add sleeves, or change the back fastening to a zipper. I can stitch wide elastic in at waist level, and create a waist for the dress, with a gently bloused top above and a full skirt below. I can create a neck and armhole facing instead of bias binding, add a collar, change the shape of the neckline or cut the dress in two parts and two colours to give a completely different look. Hmm. It’s all coming back to me…

Somewhere still packed away in one of many, many boxes waiting for bookshelves is my pair of pattern cutting textbooks. I think I’d better go and dig them out….

… I’m hijacking this post… Happy Birthday Wife of Chiconia…XXXX… with Love HoC… 

32 thoughts on “Drafting a pattern

  1. I don’t think you need a textbook. You seem to have the method perfectly! That’s how I made my Seychelles dresses, though I did put bust darts in, to make it look as though I have a bust!

    • katechiconi says:

      It all came back to me! But I will need the textbook if I’m going to do anything more ambitious. It seems to me that I need to start with even more basic blocks which are actually fitted to my now rather portly person. That way, I can use them as the starting point for any new pattern making. The textbooks will enable me to do them from scratch.

  2. Happy happy birthday Kate!
    “Lang zal je leven!”

  3. Happy birthday!! I hope there are candles and cake and parcels… strangely Skype told me of your birthday earlier, even before Husband of Chiconia got a look in.
    Much love xxx

    • katechiconi says:

      Thank you! No parcels, I needed to replace my old laptop and the new MacBook Air I received is my ‘big’ present. There will be a visit to the fabric shop later today for me to pick out some more birthday loot. The chocolate fudge cake I am making myself later today to take round to the Dowager’s for dinner. Sadly, the Husband is on night shift this evening… And I think discretion is called for in the matter of candles. Too many for the cake to support…

  4. anne54 says:

    You make it look so easy!! Great step-by-step tutorial. You seem to be able to work magic with material. Happy Birthday 🙂

    • katechiconi says:

      Not quite – you don’t get to hear the cursing, see the mistakes or get a look at the projects that don’t get a starring spot on the blog! Do bear in mind I did a lot of it in my young days and don’t find it too scary. Thanks for the birthday wishes!

  5. Happy birthday! I hope the Husband of Chiconia has something special planned for you – other than hacking into your blog posts!
    You will soon have a nice dress to wear. This time of year is all about things that don’t touch the sides, I find. (I wore a middle-aged A-frame dress yesterday! 🙂 )

    • katechiconi says:

      The poor HoC is on night shift tonight, so is head down this afternoon and out tonight. But he did take me shopping to the the LQS and for a gelato afterwards. He’s a very, very nice husband. I have another of those sleeveless tops to finish, and then I’ll cut myself a dress. I have some fairly vivid dark brown and white huge graphic floral fabric which would look pretty good in this pattern. Watch this space…

  6. Gail says:

    Happy birthday, Kate, hope you had a wonderful day and that the year ahead is filled with joy.

  7. ordinarygood says:

    Happy Birthday Kate and many happy returns of the day!

  8. tialys says:

    Happy Birthday!!

  9. Lynda says:

    Such a practical post. I’d always imagined that it would be a simple thing to do, but never worked up the courage to try if… that is for myself. I have made dog blankets to keep my little dog warm, but hardly counts I think. I’m probably too late for the party, but I can’t neglect to wish you a Happy Birthday, Kate. (And, I love that your Husband hijacked your post. 😀 )

    • katechiconi says:

      Courage to do this is truly not required. The final photo lists everything you need – apart from the will to start! Pick a simple favourite garment, and just give it a try. You’ll be amazed at the sense of achievement. I’ve had a great birthday, and I too love that the Husband managed to insert his message with such panache!

  10. Jule says:

    Happy Birthday! And if your cake doesn’t support all the candles just make a bigger one. Or two. 🙂

    • katechiconi says:

      The trouble is, all those candles displace the chocolate fudge frosting… It was exceptionally good, and everyone had seconds (and some even had thirds). I was hard pressed to save a big chunk for the Husband to have with his coffee in the morning… It’s been a great birthday, thank you for the good wishes!

  11. Happy Birthday Kate and many happy returns !!!

  12. EllaDee says:

    Patterns and sewing are way out of my ken but Happy Birthdays and Good Husbands I appreciate. All the best to you [both] from me and the G.O. 🙂

  13. Kirsten says:

    I know how to draft a pattern from scratch but I would love to be able to do it from an existing garment. I have a summer dress that I adore but I know that at some point it is going to give up the ghost and that will leave me with a dilemma – replace or try to replicate. Trouble is there is some shearing elastic involved . . . !

    • katechiconi says:

      Wait till it’s unwearable, and then dissect it. Shirring elastic isn’t impossible, you just have to put the spool on the top and thread on the bottom, and fiddle around with the tension so the elastic is held on the inside of the fabric and isn’t visible on the outside.

  14. Jen Gardener says:

    Haha, love the hijack!

    • katechiconi says:

      The Husband keeps a low profile most of the time, which makes this uncharacteristic announcement such a surprise. But I’ve had such a lot of lovely good wishes that perhaps I’ll encourage him to contribute something else another time!

  15. Belated birthday greetings you clever pattern drafter!

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