Making ePatterns Part One: Pattern Drafting & Grading
Carla Crim from Scientific Seamstress is here today for part one of a three part series on drafting, grading, formatting and marketing your own ePatterns! In addition to Scientific Seamstress patterns Carla works with Jennifer Paganelli to create Sis Boom eBooks; she’s an ePattern/eBook expert and also a top-notch designer. We know Carla’s series will be a fantastic resource for those of you thinking about creating your own ePatterns. If you’ve already ventured into your own ePattern designs Carla’s tips can help you improve your patterns, instructions and marketing efforts.
Part One today covers pattern drafting and grading, and tomorrow Carla will be back for Part Two in her series to show you how to “e-format” your patterns. Part Three covers writing instructions and marketing your patterns.
We’re offering a 20% discount on all Scientific Seamstress PDF Patterns in the shop. One of the (many!) nice things about Carla’s patterns is the wide range of sizes offered in each pattern. You get a lot for your money, for example, with a Portrait Peasant Top and Dress pattern that covers sizes eight months to eight years! Check out all of Carla’s patterns in the shop and take advantage of the discount today…
Hi, my name is Carla Crim, and I’m the patternmaker behind Scientific Seamstress and Sis Boom eBooks. Almost seven years ago I left a career as a research scientist to stay home with my infant son. To help make ends meet, I designed and sold one-of-a-kind ensembles for collector dolls on eBay. I loved making the little clothes, but given the cost of materials and the amount of time I put into them I really wasn’t turning much of a profit. I was getting lots of requests from other sellers for my patterns, so I put together a few using the same software I formerly used to give presentations about DNA molecules. Since I was working in electronic format, I could go “over the top” with detailed instructions, photographs, and color diagrams. The response was so positive, I decided to make and sell simple ePatterns for American Girl dolls. From there I transitioned into children’s patterns, and a few years later teamed up with popular fabric designer Jennifer Paganelli to make patterns for kids and adults. Like many ePatternmakers, I am completely self-taught, using books and internet resources. At first I was a little sheepish about my lack of “professional training,” but have gained so much confidence thanks to my customers, who have generously shared their testimonials and photographs of their beautiful creations. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing my techniques and tips for creating and distributing ePatterns.
I get lots of emails asking: “What patternmaking software do you use?” The truth is, I don’t use patternmaking software at all. I did a little research when I first started out, and commercial versions were WAY out of my price range. The more affordable, user-friendly versions are for home use only (which is fine if you are making patterns for yourself, but you can’t sell them – bah). My patterns are actually made using good, old-fashioned drafting techniques and outdated presentation software. I know I could probably justify splurging on commercial software at this point, but you know what?– I don’t even want it! First off, I know there would be a huge learning curve as with any advanced, highly-specialized software. Most importantly though, I’ve come to think of my patterns as a handmade product. Lots of time and love go into them, and I’m proud of the fact that my two hands touch each size of every design (even though it is via a keyboard to a great degree). Today I’m going to discuss the resources I used to learn how to draft patterns, and the tools I rely on to ensure accuracy.
My patternmaking studio.
Making the initial pattern can be done by draping, flat drafting, or a combination of both. When I designed patterns for dolls, I did everything by draping. I would hold up pieces of muslin or tissue (paper towels work great) to the doll, then manipulate and cut to fit. She would hold perfectly still, and didn’t mind if I occasionally jabbed her with a pin. After trial and error, I would get just the fit I wanted, and would then proceed to computer import. I knew that if the pattern fit my doll, it would fit every doll just like her (life was so simple then… Sigh). I don’t do that much draping for human clothing. I have a vintage adjustable dress form, but she is a bit warped and she’s missing some parts. Plus, I tend to stick to basic, free-fitting designs that are very suited to flat drafting. If you want to learn more about draping, there are entire textbooks written on the subject (or you could just watch lots of Project Runway and learn by osmosis).
Patchwork Twirl Skirt
My first multi-sized pattern for girls was the Patchwork Twirl Skirt. Sizing on that one was really simple because the elasticized waistband was all that needed to fit to the body, and length determination (waist to knee) was very straightforward. After that, I did the Stripwork Jumper. It has a very basic bib-style bodice with straps… Something I had made over and over for various-sized dolls. I made the prototype to fit my then two-year-old son by the draping process I described above. It fit like a size two should, and he looked cute as a button twirling around in it. But what about the other sizes? I was pretty sure what should happen with girth just based on sizing charts I had found online. But what about the length of the bodice? And how deep should the armholes be… And what about the straps? ACK! After lots of trial and error (mostly studying size charts, measuring finished garments, and getting fit feedback from friends), I drew up bodice patterns in sizes 6 months to 8 years. They worked out great, but if I had known about flat pattern drafting, I could have saved weeks of effort.
Flat pattern drafting is based around 2D renditions of the human form called slopers. Slopers are basically patterns that, when put edge to edge (no seam allowances included), would fit the body exactly. I’ve seen them referred to to as “second skins.” Slopers are drawn using a set of measurements (standard or custom) and a series of calculations. Here is an article from 1942 that shows in gory detail how to draw a bodice sloper. Don’t be intimidated… It is easier than it looks if you just take it step by step. I’ve actually drawn a couple of bodice and pants slopers, and I have to say it was a good exercise and I’m glad I understand and appreciate the process. But, it is a lot of work, and there is always the chance of making one tiny mistake and messing up the sloper (and all subsequent patterns based on it). Luckily, there is a great company in Canada called String Codes Designs that sells standard and customized slopers to the patternmaking community (that means they are yours to trace and modify as you please)! They are computer generated and printed on large format paper, and contain the detailed measurements that were used to generate them. They come in toddler through plus sizes, and you get a big discount if you purchase multiple sizes in a group.
A bodice sloper complete with sleeve.
So how does one go from sloper to usable pattern? In a nutshell, it is all about adding length or width to different spots to get the fit you want. Ease is a term I’m sure most of you are familiar with– It is what makes the garment wearable and not skin-tight and constricting. Wearing ease is the amount of excess needed so you can walk around and move comfortably (I think some of the skirts I wore in college lacked this). Design ease is excess beyond wearing ease to give a certain look– fitted, semi-fitted, loose fitting, etc. Again, that is a subject that entire textbooks have been written about. I own Patternmaking for Fashion Design, and it has instructions for drafting lots of different styles for both adults and children. It is a good reference to have on hand, and covers lots of neat details like collars and cuffs (FYI– It tells you how to draw them, but not how to sew or add them).
The A-line Tops and Dresses pattern was my first foray into flat pattern drafting. Below is a little recreation of how I drew the bodice front piece for each size:
- First, I traced around the top and side edges of the sloper (because of the style, I didn’t need to worry about the bottom edge or the darts).
- Then, keeping in mind the amount of ease I wanted and the placement on the shoulders, I drew the outline of the garment edges.
- After that, I added in the seam allowance. Keep in mind that this is just the pattern draft, and the finished version is electronically rendered and much neater!
At first, it was a little hard to envision that flat piece of paper as representing a human figure, but I got used to it with time. I’ve used this technique for all my child-sized patterns, even for more complex designs like the Bowling Shirt and Precious Dresses. I like to flat draft toddler, child, and tween sizes individually, because the proportions change so much as children grow. Once you have a good fit at one size, however, grading can be used to make a few smaller and larger sizes.
Three sizes of Precious Dresses with different collar, sleeve, and bodice options.
Before I get into grading, I want to talk a bit about measurement charts. Just about every clothing company has the basic measurements (chest, waist, and sometimes hips) they use for sizing online. This is a good starting point if you are doing simple things like skirts. More detailed charts that give vertical measurements (waist to knee, waist to ankle for example) and additional girth measurements (like neck and wrist) can be found scattered about the net and are also compiled in many sewing and patternmaking books. The ultimate source for detailed sizing charts is the ASTM– These folks come up with standards for everything from the electrophoretic mobility of proteins to the retackablility of carpet adhesives. They offer separate size charts for infants/toddlers, children, women, plus-sized women, and probably dogs and cats. The standards are $30-$50 to download, but well worth it if you plan to get into the patternmaking business. The science geek in me loves the comprehensive nature of these documents– Diagrams of the different body measurements are given here.
ASTM standard chart taped near my computer for quick reference.
OK, back to grading. As the human body grows (up or out as the case may be), different parts of the garment need to expand to different degrees. In other words, you can’t just enlarge a size 2 on a copier and make it fit a 20. That is why the size chart is so important– It tells you exactly how much each part of the body changes from size to size. Grading is something that can be contracted out (here is an article geared towards fashion designers, but gives some good information on hiring a grader), but I like to do it myself because 1.) I’m a control freak and 2.) it is actually pretty fun. This article from Threads Magazine gives a great explanation of two different methods. I use the pattern shifting method, but I do it right in my drawing software rather than with actual pencil and paper. If you are just starting out, I recommend doing it as described in the article. Then, as you become more comfortable with digital drawing, you can replicate the same process on the computer screen, saving you from having to scan so many pieces.
If I am doing a multi-sized pattern, I usually start out with a single, middle-of-the-range size for a “group” of patterns. For example, I’ll flat draft a Misses’ size 6, and then I’ll grade it up and down to 4 and 8 (and possibly 2 and 10 depending on the complexity of the design). Of course, before you go to the work of grading, it is important to make sure the original size is a good fit. It is very helpful if you have access to a live person who is this size. Dress forms are great, but they don’t move and they lack limbs. I’m a Medium on most days, so I usually make something that fits me (bonus is I have something new and pretty to wear). For kids’ clothes, my son is a great test size, but I find it harder and harder to get him put on dresses… Imagine that! Anyway, once you get that first size just perfect, you can go ahead and grade up and down a size. After grading, I measure the pattern piece to make sure the right amount was added or subtracted. If I’m grading several sizes, I also like to “nest” them by aligning all of them at a top or bottom corner to make sure they are increasing or decreasing as expected.
Some nested bodices.
The ultimate test of whether or not grading worked out is to sew up a sample and see if it fits someone (or a dressform) of that size. Sometimes I’m jealous of people who have lots of kids to use as fitting models (but then I remember that they have to feed them and do their laundry). Luckily, I have a big group of friends and family who are more than happy to trade a sewn item for pictures and detailed feedback on fit.
Cute neighbor kid in the new Sis Boom Marissa Dress.
After I get all the sizes graded to my liking, then comes the task of breaking the full-sized patterns down into overlapping pieces that will fit onto letter sized pieces of paper. In tomorrow’s post, I will outline the techniques and common software I use to import and format my PDF patterns. Hope to see you then!
It’s Digital Delivery Sewing Month!
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