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Friday, November 4, 2016

Patternmaking for Clothing

How do fashion designers make clothing?  Many, many, steps.  Obviously, we can't discuss every aspect of product development in a single blog post. Certainly, we could give it a try, but that is not the plan for this post.  This post is simply about "one" aspect of product development.  That would be the patternmaking process.

A patternmaker is a person who makes patterns for the manufacturing of clothing.

In sewing and fashion design, a pattern is the template from which the parts of a garment are traced onto fabric before being cut out and assembled.  Patterns are usually made of paper, and are sometimes made of sturdier materials like paperboard or cardboard if they need to be more robust to withstand repeated use. The process of making or cutting patterns is sometimes condensed to the one-word Patternmaking but it can also be written pattern making or pattern cutting.

Patterns may be drafted on paper or in a computer program designed for patternmaking.  Their are currently a wide variety of software options available. Most of the time, in modern American samplerooms, the patternmaker pulls an existing pattern (or block) and makes a modified copy of it to match the new style, either on paper or on computer.  If it's a completely new style, the patternmaker will usually drape a rough draft in muslin fabric on a dress form, then show it to the designer to discuss any changes before transferring the markings to paper to create the pattern for cutting. Patterns may also be drafted from measurements, but this method has fallen out of use, as it's less accurate and takes longer than the other methods.  Patternmakers are also asked to copy existing garments without damaging them.


Patternmakers have a combination of engineering and design skill. They need to be able to understand what the designer wants, and translate that into the lines of a pattern that will cause the garment to fit correctly. Ideally the pattern captures not only the fit, but also the flair intended by the designer.  They have to have a high level of understanding regarding fabrics, sewing, and other aspects of garment manufacturing.

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. 

A sloper pattern (home sewing) or block pattern (industrial production) is a custom-fitted, basic pattern from which patterns for many different styles can be developed. The process of changing the size of a finished pattern is called grading.  Maybe we will discuss the grading of patterns on a future article.  In bespoke clothing, slopers and patterns must be developed for each client, while for commercial production, patterns will be made to fit several standard body sizes.

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.  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.

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.

You may want to also view our Pattern making services in NYC blog post.  Also, be sure to vising the patternmaking section here on Apparel Search to find patternmaking software, consulting services, books, etc.

Thank you for taking the time to read our fashion industry blog post. If you are interested, you can browse our site for additional pattern making information.

We hope that you have found this news to be informative. If you have comments or questions, please add your thoughts in the discussion area below.

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