Or: Quick and Dirty Pattern-Draping for Fun and Profit! If you're even a neophyte home sewer, you've probably dreamed of making clothing from your own customized patterns. Commercial patterns are fantastic in many ways — the sheer variety always makes flipping through a pattern book (or browsing vintage reproductions online) inspiring. But commercial patterns have drawbacks, too. They have standardized fits, and sometimes you have to make so many adjustments to them you wonder if it wouldn't be easier just to make your own. And what if you have an awesome idea for a piece of clothing that doesn't exist in any commercial pattern? What then? Making a pattern is your only option.
I am a nearly totally autodidact do-it-yourself-er; the methods I relay in this tutorial may or may not be what they teach in fashion school. But they work. So I'm patchy and self-taught, but you know what: that just proves that this kind of stuff is not beyond anyone's reach. It's not that hard. To me, D.I.Y. is about self-sufficiency and, frankly, taking the means of production back from entrenched interests who would rather keep you buying things than making them. Making things is powerful. And it saves money. Being able to draft your own patterns, to be honest, feels pretty incredible. When you have these skills, no design is off limits.
To demonstrate basic pattern-drafting, I made a simple, A-line summer sundress with one stand-out design feature: a geometric cut-out on the back. This is really not my own design. I seem to recall having seen a dress very much like this in, I think, an Yves Saint Laurent ad from the Tom Ford era, maybe in 2001 or 2002; I have a pretty vivid memory of an ad campaign with two models, one wearing the dress in black and the other in white. The model in black was, I think, just starting to unzip the model in white. (I can't find any trace of this ad anywhere online — I know because it's one of those Internet rabbit holes I go down every so often.) How similar my minidress is to the one I've been seeing in my mind's eye for a decade (was it even YSL?) I can't really say, but nor can I take sole responsibility for the design idea itself. I'm telling you this to attempt to give credit where it's due. This dress made for a great example to explore basic pattern drafting because it is relatively simple, but unlike any readily available commercial pattern I've ever seen.
Obviously, even though I happen to be drafting a dress, this tutorial shows you the skills necessary to draft a pattern for whatever kind of garment you want.
This tutorial is intended for relatively experienced home sewers who are familiar with basic construction methods — I'm talking about techniques like basting, fitting a muslin, and setting a zipper. If you're not an experienced home sewer, fear not: reading this, you can still learn a bit about the wide creative world that awaits you once you have those sewing skills down. As always, let the scope of your ambition be your guide.
To complete this project, you will need:
1. A dress form (mine is a custom body double — here's how I made it last year. It wasn't that hard and it's been holding up great). Before I got my dress form, I drafted a lot of patterns by dressing in polypropylene long underwear and pinning pieces of muslin to myself in front of the mirror — like I said, quick-and-dirty autodidact here. I don't exactly recommend that method, because it's truly tedious and using a dress form is much faster and easier, but if you don't have a dress form and you want to give it a shot, the skills outlined here will get you going.
2. A sewing machine.
3. Fabric scissors.
4. Bias tape.
5. Pins and needles.
7. Muslin or other cheap fabric (fabric store off-cuts can sometimes be cheaper than muslin itself — look around) for pattern-drafting.
8. Fashion fabric, for the dress.
9. A zipper.
10. Hooks and eyes.
11. Pencil and paper.
12. An iron.
13. A ruler, preferably a clear, wide plastic ruler marked with a 1" grid. A set of French curves is, in my opinion, optional (and not used here).