Drafting Patterns

Random thoughts on the debate about ‘indie’ pattern makers, their testers, followers, blog tours.

– inspired by the ongoing sewing community debate about value

Fit Issues.

If an indie designer’s, or a plain old Big4 designer’s pattern doesn’t fit you out of the envelope, there’s a good chance that it isn’t all their fault. It should fit the imaginary figure flagged up in their size chart.  Putting a pattern out to a bunch of randomly selected bloggers to test will not determine if the fit is correct per size chart. The person drafting a pattern has to know that it fits their chart, that pockets fall in a good place, openings are big enough, collars sit well.

Pattern testing is part of designing and drafting. In a stint in manufacturing I had a sample maker, but she sat in the same room as me, close enough to throw the pieces back if there was an error. Nice ladies who sew, whom you ‘met’ in blogland having a go at your pattern are something else. They might be able to help you to know if the set of instructions you put out are comprehensible, but for design and drafting purposes, their work is useless.

How It’s Done

Patterns get made in one of two ways – draping or flat drafting. If you drape the pattern you need a stand which is the right size, or a person, then the pattern necessarily turns out to fit. If you flat draft, you work from a set of blocks which you drafted to the right size. Since you input the correct measurements to get the block, the garment will fit the same measurements, unless you wander off for a coffee part way through and forget that you added ease or seam allowance already, or absent mindedly pick up the wrong size block. Realistically though – the system works like a dream.

There are some rumours to the effect that one or more newly indie pattern makers get the patterns by rehashing old commercial patterns. You could work this way, but lose control of those measurements and risk passing on errors – the Chinese Whispers of drafting.  Does that matter? Possibly. A pattern with an element of fudge on sizing won’t give your customer a good start. Much of the flack going Vogue’s way from this and other blogs has been about variable ease in patterns.

How Hard Can It Be?

In her open letter to indie’s Debbie asks independent designers to flag up their training. I don’t think this is realistic. There’s no single route to designing and drafting and no one ‘test’ for getting admission to the club. There’s pretty much nothing to stop someone from making claims which gloss. Those of us who took full time training might smell a rat, but the average home dressmaker probably wont. Not all training is equal, not all students are equal. There could be a privacy issue too. No-one else has to tell all to the online world.

There’s been an upsurge in interest from home sewists in learning to draft. Its not rocket science, but you don’t get to the position of being able to draft pretty much anything for anyone in a short course. At least, I never had a student who could pull off this trick.

How Great Is the Design?

One of the gripes about the newest indies is that they design for one figure type. Is this fair? Most fashion is aimed at largely fictional women. Gravity challenged, chubbily bulging, stooping, wrinkly don’t sell well. And its more complicated to design something fitted that works in a larger size on a G cup. I made many  office shift style dresses in this figure type. Those designs which worked best don’t translate as-is to a standard 34 B size, and vice versa. Its a different challenge.


If we want a big choice in designs for other figures we’ve got to get good at voting with our feet. I don’t want to pick on individual pattern makers or bloggers, but how many brave attempts at getting a sweet little mini A line  dress to work on un-doll-like figures do we need? I couldn’t get these to totally work on me first time around. (as a young, fit inverse pear.) A fifties pattern for a wiggle dress with a drawing on the front that looks like the model had an eighteen inch waist doesn’t come with a free magic spell either. I wish. Seriously, the question we need is ‘how great is the design for me’.

Price or Why Doesn’t the Indie Realise I Can Get Patterns For $3.99?

I’m guessing they do know this. Check out printing costs or the work involved in putting out those horrid horrid horrid pdf’s. Hats off to those with the commercial know how to get this going, I’m not surprised they don’t compete on price with the labels who have pretty much the monopoly of the pattern printing, and a big single currency, single language  market on their doorstep. Its like wondering why the corner grocer doesn’t carry discounts like the supermarket. Qui pro quo – we don’t owe them our custom. Suspending  critical judgement when checking out an indie pattern won’t do the indie market any favours. If the designs are awkward, dull, or unoriginal, or don’t work with your figure type, or the patterns are iffy, pretending otherwise will make it harder for other independent designers to put a toe in the home pattern market. Indie will end up meaning not so good.






About jay

I design and draft patterns
This entry was posted in Opinions Questions Rants, Pattern Making. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Drafting Patterns

  1. mrsmole says:

    Seeing both sides of the industry gives us a chance at an informed buying choice. Not all patterns are good or bad…not all drafting and grading is good or bad and certainly there is no such thing as the ideal model 34B body…even brides come in all sizes no matter what their age or bank balance! Thank you for more information on a complex situation…keep sharing! We need it, Jay!


    • jay says:

      Your brides give us all a good picture of the difference between that standard dress form and real people Mrsmole. Do they have any idea what a great resource they are?


  2. helen says:

    Great post. I’ve really enjoyed reading and the corresponding linking articles. I do use a few indie patterns and somehow in blogworld I can feel it’s not ‘cool’ to use a pattern from one of the big 4. I studied pattern cutting for 4 years and work in the industry, I’ve never been employed as a pattern cutter but my experience helps greatly in the product development that I do.


  3. Wise words. There are some good independents out there – but they seem to be outnumbered by those who ‘ read a drafting book’ and now think they can do it. They will vanish pretty quickly once people run into difficulties with their patterns.


  4. piakdy says:

    Interesting post! It’s so easy to take what other people do for granted isn’t it? At the same time there are some who abuse people’s trust and ruin it for others who don’t.

    FIT ISSUES…I think the ‘nice ladies who sew’ can contribute to better design and drafting if the testing process is better instructed and managed. Because ultimately they’ll be the people who buy the pattern, which will have to fit bodies that aren’t perfect match for the brand’s fit chart (or who makes mistakes measuring & choosing the best size). Such test can be useful to find out the limits of the design and pattern fit, useful info for managing expectations and providing support. Yes, there will always be customers who behave unreasonably or have unreasonable expectations. But doing every thing one can to help reasonable customers make informed purchase decisions will surely lead to loyalty.

    HOW IT’S DONE…I wonder if anyone uses the Big 4’s fitting patterns as a starting point for their designs. You know, the way that Vogue is suppose to but apparently don’t, making it hard for even loyal customers to get consistent fit. Would that be considered rehashing old commercial pattern or a valid starting point for more interesting designs without another fit learning curve? I’d love the idea that it’s base on a sloper that I know how to adjust, but with designs that are more imaginative and varied than the Big 4 are willing to invest in.

    HOW HARD CAN IT BE…Hmm, to me Debbie’s post doesn’t seem like a qualification challenge to the designers. Rather I interpreted it as a desire to get to know the brand and being open to different paths to great products. Yes there will always be customers who judge on qualifications and professional claims rather than the quality of the products themselves. And for struggling indies it can be scary to expose one’s untraditional background. But I hope some will find the courage and creativity to capitalize on their untraditional path to pattern design. They may actually find a more loyal niche audience. Besides, not all famous designers had proper designer training when they started out (eg Oscar De La Renta)…and the numerous successful people in other fields never did finish their official qualifications (eg Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg). And not all professionally trained designers make great products or ones that suit one’s taste.

    HOW GREAT IS THE DESIGN…Maybe even the Indies are too scared to specialize because they’re worried there’s not big enough a market. So they try to sell their pattern as suitable for all to get as broad an audience as possible. There’s also not enough variety in the designs. Almost all of them look quite basic and like what one can get from the Big 4 anyway. That, coupled with lack of fit specialization (ie alteration shortcuts), makes it less worth my time to try the Indies.

    PRICE…Like the 2nd title to this point. Here in the UK I can never get the pre-printed Big 4 that cheaply. So Indies could be competitive. But to be honest, I’m more and more inclined towards Burdastyle magazines if I were to get commercial patterns. It’s the same value of money consideration. I could never understand why the Big 4 puts out magazines that are effectively just mini-catalogues. (I once subscribed to Vogue Pattern mag. And paid full price for Vogue Designer patterns.) Compare to the US Big 4, Burdastyle not only gives me all the patterns featured in the mag, they also style them like proper fashion magazine, which means I’m much more likely to buy them as I get entertainment value even if I don’t end up sewing anything. US Big 4 are so dull by comparison. Why do they not invest in more interesting & inspiring photos? (Or has my taste become more European after living here for such a long time?)


  5. jay says:

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the basic look of much indie design. its a shame, having innovative or even a little wacky design would be something to look forward to, but the economics probably work against that.


  6. Sarah says:

    I’d like to see more indie patterns catering for specific figure types – so far I’ve seen lines for pear shape, C cup bust, petite plus size, and I think one for older women. I’m waiting for someone to do a Pepperberry/BiuBiu type line for me – aimed at D cup women. Of course there would still be fitting adjustments to make, but my work would be greatly reduced if I knew a pattern was likely to be a reasonable fit in the bust and shoulders to start with.


    • jay says:

      I’m guessing that the important factor in deciding on a niche market is how many people it will appeal to.Sarah (how many D cup and above would sew, what aesthetic would they want etc)


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