When someone asked me what I like most about fashion design, I said, "pattern making, because it's like solving a puzzle." Translating a sketch or an idea into a pattern and then confirming that it is a good pattern by sewing it into a garment that fits -- I love this. This is the technical, engineering aspect of fashion, one that is overshadowed by the glitz and glamour of runway shows and celebrities, but is absolutely critical to making quality garments.
When I took my first pattern making class at Canada College in Redwood City, I was inspired -- it was my lightbulb moment. I was no longer constrained to using commercial patterns, as I was acquiring the skills to draft my own. That feeling of freedom is indescribable. I learned the basic rules, but after that, it was all about experimenting, playing and solving problems.
Some old homework pages from Advanced Flat Pattern class.
I also learned how to drape, which is another method of turning an idea into a pattern. With draping, you use muslin (plain cotton fabric) and manipulate it into the shape you want -- directly on a dress form. In this way, you can visually see how the design takes shape as you create pleats, folds, flounces, etc.
A muslin of the Flounce Cape. I previously draped the flounce collar to see how the collar would look as I was designing.
I wanted to delve more deeply into pattern making, and was fortunate to be able to complete the pattern making program at Apparel Arts in San Francisco (now in Oakland). This intensive program started with the basics, from taking measurements and creating base patterns to presenting a final collection of original designs.
Sleeve pattern from my final collection at Apparel Arts. There was a lot of trial and error in developing the pattern: the pleats were too shallow, or the sleeve was too short -- a lot of refining along the way to get to the final pattern.
Working muslin. Very exciting to see the sleeve take shape!
Final sleeve. My original idea for the sleeve had shallow pleats and a much shorter length. As the design progressed, I found that deeper pleats and a bit longer sleeve balanced the dress. It's definitely a process.
Pattern making is a technical skill that not only requires education but practical experience as well. I never stop learning -- there is always something new to discover or puzzle out, which is what makes it so fun for me!
Reference books for making patterns.