Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Patternmaking Books In Review

Today, kiddies, I’m feeling like a discussion on patternmaking (aka pattern drafting or pattern cutting) and pattern fitting is in order. As you all know (or are beginning to suspect) I have a lot of books. Also way back in the Dark Ages I took sewing and pattern drafting classes, so I think I’m a little bit qualified to comment though I am reminded why I quit sewing when things weren’t working out so well. However I recently feel that my understanding has undergone several quantum leaps. I’m re-energised and really enjoying my return to garment sewing. All because I’m now finally getting the kind of results that make me happy. Now if only I could get my young skinny-minnie body back. Sigh. Oh well.

No, I was not inspired to take a new patternmaking course. I figure that the amount I have spent on books is actually less than that would have cost – plus I’d probably still need to buy books anyway. Also I have discovered that no one single source has all the information that I need to really comprehend the techniques. There are a lot of publications out there, particularly new ones with good photos and illustrations, that really helped my understanding. The advances of the internet search engines and the generosity of sewing bloggers with their tutorials have also contributed. And let’s not forget PatternReview, BurdaStyle and the Stitcher’s Guild Sewing Forum online. Just ask and someone will answer. Resources that I sure didn’t have back in the day.

I’ve found that sewing books come in several categories. There are the ones that are trying to inspire you to get started making your own clothes, with included patterns or cutting diagrams and garments that have relatively simple lines and fitting. These are great if your body shape and style are compatible. Some titles are Design-It-Yourself Clothes by Cal Patch, Twinkle Sews by Wenlan Chia, I Am Cute Dresses by Sato Watanabe and Simple Modern Sewing from Shufu To Seikatsu Sha. There are lots more coming out and many are translations of Japanese books. The drawback is that if you have a larger figure especially in the bust, there will be issues. You need to learn how to fit the garments to your body and decide whether the style will look good on you. These issues usually aren’t discussed in any depth in these titles. More research! Always.

If the simple garment approach isn’t working for you, then you need to deal with more complex patterns. Patternmaking for a Perfect Fit by Steffani Lincecum uses existing garments to create a pattern that you can then play with to get different garments. How to Use, Adapt, and Design Sewing Patterns by Lee Hollahan gives you instructions on adjusting commercial patterns or creating basic blocks to then manipulate further. Working with commercial patterns is also the main focus of a number of fitting books. The ones that work best for me are Fit For Real People by Pati Palmer and Marta Alto and Fast Fit by Sandra Betzina. Other older but excellent ones are The Perfect Fit from Creative Publishing International and Fantastic Fit for Every Body by Gale Grigg Hazen.

You really need these fitting skills because the industrial-level patternmaking books don’t actually consider body shapes outside the standard ones. The first book of this type that I bought back in the 1980’s was Metric Pattern Cutting by Winifred Aldrich. (This book is still available, updated to the 5th edition.) Although the styles are dated in my copy, the information and the many line drawings are very helpful in seeing how the basic measurements work to create blocks (slopers) and thence how to go from there to get different styles. Of course that still wasn’t enough information for me so I recently bought the large and expensive Patternmaking Made Easy (Second Edition) by Connie Amaden-Crawford. This book is a college-level course in itself! And well worth the outlay. But then I heard about a new book that seemed really interesting and perhaps a good balance to Connie’s. It also got good reviews from others in the business.

PatternMaking book

Patternmaking by Dennic Chunman Lo in my opinion is quite fabulous! Artsy cover dress aside, it has a more organic and holistic perspective on what can be a pretty dry exercise – even while the focus is on building skills for the fashion industry. I’ve really only read about half the book so far and already had several ah-ha! moments. Yes, there are standard measurements but the mathy bits relate to them in a way that can be extrapolated to different sizes. There are practical applications and there are also inspirational (or what I consider fantasy) garments. There’s even a chapter introducing CAD-CAM pattern cutting. This book may not include everything you might want to know, but it does explain why better than any other text I’ve seen.

Lastly there are the books exclusively for “inspirational” patternmaking: Pattern Magic, Pattern Magic 2 and the soon-to-be-released Pattern Magic: Stretch Fabrics by Tomoko Nakamichi. These books document amazing imagination and skill in creating flat patterns for unusual garment shapes. Pure fun.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to free myself from the limitations of the offerings from commercial pattern companies. Not only do they not fit correctly, they are mostly very far from my style. So far I’m finding my new personal blocks are truly time-saving devices! My next effort is to reverse-engineer my shoulder princess blocks back into a regular darted bodice and skirt. It’s actually not hard. After that I will need to break down and finally make an actual muslin to test it. And then on to…gulp! Pants! If the worse comes to worst, I always have my favourite pair of yoga pants to trace. Heh. Yes, I believe in cheating. OK, it’s not cheating. Whatever it takes to get the desired results. Tracing, frankenpatterning, drafting, tissue paper confetti. I’m all over it.


Trapunto said...

Great post! I really appreciate your information on books, and love seeing what you've done with your wardrobe! Someday when I'm braver I'm going here--if simply because it'll be that or go naked. I scrounge up a few garments from a few brands of low-tech granola-y hiker clothes every few years (so not my style) that occasionally sort of fit me, but once it became impossible to find jeans without spandex, I saw which way the wind was blowing. I've done frankenpatterning (and frankengarmenting), but lately I've been feeling that maybe if you're not starting in the right place, everything's a lot harder, which may have something to do with why I hate sewing clothes so much!

Sandra Ericson said...

For even more fun, check out the Center for Pattern Design -- we have we have a wide spectrum of unusual pattern design books!