Patternmaking, pattern making or pattern cutting is the art and science of designing and producing patterns.
A custom-fitted basic pattern from which patterns for many different styles can be created is called a sloper (home sewing) or block (industrial production).
A patternmaker typically employs one of two methods to create a pattern.
The flat-pattern method is where the entire pattern is drafted on a flat surface from measurements, using rulers, curves and straight-edges. A pattern maker would also use various tools such as a notcher, drill and awl to mark the pattern. Usually, flat patterning begins with the creation of a sloper or block pattern, a simple, fitted garment made to the wearer's measurements. For women, this will usually be a jewel-neck bodice and narrow skirt, and for men an upper sloper and a pants sloper. The final sloper pattern is usually made of cardboard or paperboard, without seam allowances or style details (thicker paper or cardboard allows repeated tracing and pattern development from the original sloper). Once the shape of the sloper has been refined by making a series of mock-up garments called toiles (UK) or muslins (US), the final sloper can be used in turn to create patterns for many styles of garments with varying necklines, sleeves, dart placements, and so on. The flat pattern drafting method is the most commonly used method in menswear; menswear rarely involves draping.
The draping method involves creating a muslin mock-up pattern by pinning fabric directly on a form, then transferring the muslin outline and markings onto a paper pattern or using the muslin as the pattern itself.
After a paper/fabric pattern is completed, very often pattern-makers digitize their patterns for archiving and vendor communication purposes. The previous standard for digitizing was the digitizing tablet. Nowadays, automatic option such as scanner and cameras systems are available. Examples of scanner, camera and digitizing table digitizing systems include the NScan (scanner), PDS Digitizer (table), NShot (camera), iDigit (camera) and etc.
Although a sewer may choose to use a standard size that has been pre-graded on a purchased pattern, they may decide to tailor a pattern to better fit the garment wearer. There are several ways this can be done.
Creating a sewer's muslin, similar to a garment template, is one method of fitting. Muslin material is inexpensive and is easy to work with when making quick adjustments by pinning the fabric around the wearer or a dress form. The sewer cuts muslin pieces using the same method that they will use for the actual garment, according to a pattern. The muslin pieces are then fit together and darts and other adjustments are made. This provides the sewer with measurements to use as a guideline for marking the pattern pieces and cutting the fabric for the finished garment.
There are some applications today that enable a home sewer to customize a computerized pattern to fit the wearer's body measurements. The 3D technology enables the home sewer to see a virtual simulation of the final garment as it will appear on the wearer. For commercial clothing designers, this also reduces the Time-to-Market as well as the number of muslins and test garments that are needed.
Pattern grading is the process of shrinking or enlarging a finished pattern to accommodate it to people of different sizes. Grading rules determine how patterns increase or decrease to create different sizes. Fabric type also influences pattern grading standards. The cost of pattern grading is incomplete without considering marker making.
Standard pattern symbols
- Seam allowances. A pattern should indicate whether or not it include allowances and how large the allowances are.
- Dart placement, intake and focal point
- Double lines indicating where the pattern may be lengthened or shortened for a different fit
- Grainline arrows, indicating how the pattern should be aligned with the grain of the fabric. Usually this is a long arrow with arrowheads at both ends. The arrow is meant to be aligned with the straight grain of the fabric.
- Dot, triangle, or square symbols, to provide "match points" for adjoining pattern pieces, similar to putting puzzle pieces together
- Placement lines for pockets, zippers, buttonholes, trims, and other elements
Patterns for commercial clothing manufacture
The making of industrial patterns begins with an existing block pattern that most closely resembles the designer's vision. Patterns are cut of oak tag (manila folder) paper, punched with a hole and stored by hanging with a special hook. The pattern is first checked for accuracy, then it is cut out of sample fabrics and the resulting garment is fit tested. Once the pattern meets the designer's approval, a small production run of selling samples are made and the style is presented to buyers in wholesale markets. If the style has demonstrated sales potential, the pattern is graded for sizes, usually by computer with an apparel industry specific CAD program. Following grading, the pattern must be vetted; the accuracy of each size and the direct comparison in laying seam lines is done. After these steps have been followed and any errors corrected, the pattern is approved for production. When the manufacturing company is ready to manufacture the style, all of the sizes of each given pattern piece are arranged into a marker, usually by computer. The marker is then laid on top of the layers of fabric and cut. Once the style has been sold and delivered to stores – and if it proves to be quite popular – the pattern of this style will itself become a block, with subsequent generations of patterns developed from it.
Home sewing patterns are generally printed on tissue paper and sold in packets containing sewing instructions and suggestions for fabric and trim. They are also available over the Internet as downloadable files. Home sewers can print the patterns at home or take the electronic file to a business that does copying and printing. Major pattern companies such as Burda Style and independent designers such as Amy Butler distribute sewing patterns as electronic files as an alternative to, or in place of, pre-printed packets. Modern patterns are available in a wide range of prices, sizes, styles, and sewing skill levels, to meet the needs of consumers.
Ebenezer Butterick invented the commercially produced graded home sewing pattern in 1863 (based on grading systems used by Victorian tailors), originally selling hand-drawn patterns for men's and boys' clothing. In 1866, Butterick added patterns for women's clothing, which remains the heart of the home sewing pattern market today.
Once a pattern is removed from a package, it is traced onto fabric using one of several methods. In one method, tracing paper with transferable ink on one side is placed between the pattern and the fabric. A tracing wheel is moved over the pattern outlines, transferring the markings onto the fabric with ink that is removable by erasing or washing. In another method, tracing paper is laid directly over a purchased pattern, and the pieces are traced. The pieces are cut, then the tracing paper is pinned and/or basted to the fabric. The fabric can then be cut to match the outlines on the tracing paper. Vintage patterns may come with small holes pre-punched into the pattern paper. These are for creating tailor's tacks, a type of basting where thread is sewn into the fabric in short lengths to serve as a guideline for cutting and assembling fabric pieces.
Besides illustrating the finished garment, pattern envelopes typically include charts for sizing, the number of pieces included in a pattern, and suggested fabrics and necessary sewing notions and supplies.
Sewing a tailor's tack with thread to mark a pattern on fabric before cutting the fabric.
Patternmaking books are instructional manuals that provide instructions and diagrams on the constructions of various garments. They are primarily for personal and educational purposes.
Evolution of American sewing pattern manufacturers
Four historic American pattern companies still exist:
William Jennings Demorest and Ellen Louise Demorest began the home sewing pattern industry in 1860 by holding fashion shows in their homes and selling the patterns. This was the beginning of the Mme. Demorests' Emporium of Fashion. They published a magazine, The Mirror of Fashion, which listed hundreds of different patterns, most available in only one size. Patterns were of unprinted paper, cut to shape, and could be purchased "flat" (folded), or, for an additional charge, "made up" (with the separate pieces tacked into position). The latter version was intended to compensate for the absence of detailed instructions.
Ebenezer Butterick launched The Butterick Company in 1863 to create heavy cardboard templates for children's clothing. Butterick's innovation was offering every pattern in a series of standard, graded sizes. Members of his family cut and folded the first patterns that were sold from their home. In 1866 Butterick began manufacturing patterns for women's fashions, and later added some articles of men's clothing. They began publishing the fashion magazine The Delineator in 1873 to publicize their patterns. Their patterns started as unprinted tissue paper cut to shape, folded and held together by a pinned (later pasted-on) label with an image and, later, brief instructions. In the early 1900s they began to use an envelope to hold the pattern. In the late 1910s they introduced a separate instruction sheet, called the "Deltor" (from the first three and last three letters of Delineator). In 1948, they purchased two new presses specially designed to print markings directly onto the pattern tissue.
James McCall, a Scottish tailor, established the McCall Pattern Company in 1870 in New York City. Patterns were unprinted until 1919, when they started printing information directly onto the pattern pieces. In the 1920s, selected patterns had full color illustrations on their pattern envelopes. In 1932 they started printing full color illustrations on all pattern envelopes. McCall usually printed the date of release on their envelopes (the only company which consistently did so before mid-century), which makes it easy to date their patterns.
Vogue Pattern Service began in 1899, a spinoff of Vogue Magazine's weekly pattern feature. In 1909 Condé Nast bought Vogue. As a result, Vogue Pattern Company was formed in 1914, and in 1916 Vogue patterns were sold in department stores. In 1961 Condé Nast entered in a licensing agreement with the Butterick Company.
Simplicity Pattern Co. Inc. started producing patterns in 1927. Their goal was to produce an easy-to-use, lower-priced pattern. They were one of the fastest growing pattern companies, opening offices in Canada, London, Australia, and several in the United States. Their patterns are sold in over 60 countries. Their unprinted patterns ended in 1946, and were all printed thereafter.
DuBarry patterns were manufactured by Simplicity from 1931–1940 exclusively for F. W. Woolworth Company.
Hollywood Pattern Company was started by Condé Nast in 1932. They were known for printing photos of Hollywood stars on some of their patterns, quickly making them very popular. They continued production through the end of World War II.
The New York Pattern Company started in 1932 and continued until the early 1950s. They were unique in that the pattern sleeves had drawn characters rather than photos and the paper used was non-glossy.
Advance began manufacturing patterns in 1933, which was sold exclusively at J. C. Penney Company. The company continued through 1966 until it was sold to Puritan Fashions.
Fitzpatterns.com began offering downloadable sewing patterns in 2004. These consist of full-size patterns to be printed at a copyshop on a large format printer and or in a tiled version that can be printed on an A4 or letter sized printer and taped together.
- Sewing machine
- Clothing terminology
- Ellen Louise Demorest
- William Jennings Demorest
- Ebenezer Butterick
- Whitt, Kay (2010). Sew Serendipity. Krause Publications. pp. 11, 13. ISBN 9781440203572.
- Pattern Grading
- Marker marking
- Veblen, Sarah (2012). The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting. Creative Publishing International. pp. 11–2. ISBN 9781589236080.
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- Brockman, Helen L. (1965), The Theory of Fashion Design, Wiley
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- Butterick's history, from Butterick.com
- The Vintage Fashion Guild
- Patternmaking: Past to Present
- The Vintage Pattern Lending Library