Episode 208:

Episode 208

Pattern Play by Sarai Mitnick

Learn expert tips for successfully choosing and working with a commercial pattern.

Taking Accurate Measurements
One of the best benefits of sewing your own clothing is that you begin to understand your body shape. You’ll notice what shapes you like on yourself and why they work for you. Getting in tune with your body begins with taking accurate measurements. Unfortunately, many women are afraid to know their measurements, but being honest with yourself about your shape is the first step to making clothes that fit and make you feel great.

When taking your measurements, it’s best to have a friend to help if possible. Stand up naturally. While you might be tempted to stand rigid and tall and suck in your stomach, try to stand the way you naturally do. Wrap the tape measure around yourself and hold it snugly, but not tightly.

TIP: Look for a tape measure used in fitness training which adjusts to the right snugness with the push of a button.

Choosing a Pattern
Women’s bodies are extremely diverse, so rules that are based on broad categories aren’t helpful for many of us. What one woman may want to de-emphasize may be something another woman loves about herself. Instead of concentrating on flaws, just think about which clothes make you feel good.

To help figure out which designs you want to sew, create a personalized croquis. A croquis is an outline of a body that designers use as a template to sketch their designs. Trace a simple full-length photo of yourself to create a croquis on which to sketch various silhouettes.

Understanding the Pattern Envelope
Different pattern companies have different layouts, but most provide the same basic information on the envelope back:

  • Fabric types: This gives recommendations for fabrics with the right weight and drape for the project.
  • Other notions needed, such as zippers or buttons
  • Size chart: Different companies have different size charts. Colette Patterns have a size chart that is closer to ready to wear rather than traditional pattern sizing.
  • Yardage chart: This indicates how much fabric is needed, and will list common fabric widths, such as 45”-wide or 60”-wide.
  • Finished garment measurements: These are the actual measurements of the completed garment. They’re slightly bigger than the body measurements that they’re designed for. The difference between the body measurements and the garment measurements is called “ease.” Ease gives you room to move around or gives a garment a looser style.

Preparing the Fabric
Prewash the fabric before cutting into it to eliminate any shrinkage before you making the garment. Prewash it in the same manner you plan to wash the completed garment, and then press. If needed press the pattern on a low heat setting without steam to remove wrinkles or foldlines. Fold the fabric lengthwise, and then lay it out flat on the cutting surface. Occasionally, pattern instructions will call for the fabric to be cut a single width, but it’s usually cut on the fold.

Laying out the Pattern
Refer to the pattern instructions for the diagram for laying out the pattern pieces on the fabric. Lay out the pieces that go along the fold, then place the larger pieces and finally place the smallest pieces.

Hold the pieces flat against the fabric with pattern weights. The benefit of weights over pins is that they’re easy to reposition, and they don’t bunch up the fabric, so it’s easy to cut accurately.
Make sure that the grainline marked on the pattern runs perfectly parallel along the fabric length. To make sure it’s straight, measure from each arrow end to the fold or selvage. The measurements should be the same.

When cutting, use a rotary cutter and mat or fabric shears:

  • The benefit of a rotary cutter is that it’s fast and accurate. The main downside is that you’ll need a large cutting mat to place under your fabric, which can be pricey. To cut out the pattern with the rotary method, cut each piece by sliding the rotary cutter along the pattern outline. Before removing the pattern piece, transfer all markings with chalk, fabric pencil, or marker. Snip the pattern notches along the edges.
  • To trace and cut using fabric shears, first use chalk, a fabric pencil, or marker to trace along the outside edges of each pattern piece. Transfer all pattern markings to your fabric. Remove the pattern piece, and then cut with the shears along the traced lines, using long strokes rather than short choppy ones.

Test Fitting
Make a test garment the first time you use a new pattern to eliminate the frustration of making a garment that doesn’t fit. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments. The Colette Sewing Handbook has information on doing some basic, common pattern adjustments. You’ll probably find yourself doing the same type of adjustments over and over, so it’s worthwhile to master them.


Products used in this episode:

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