I saw this question online: “What exactly is good drafting? How do I know if a pattern is any good? What should I be looking for?”
Good drafting refers to proficiency in understanding the shape and proportions of the human body, and the ability to translate a designer’s sketch into flat pattern format to create a comfortable garment that is flattering…one that fits well and hangs beautifully, without straining, pulling, or “drag lines” across the body.
Drafting is NOT designing: designing is creating the sketch or concept. Yes the designer CAN draft her own patterns, although in industry this is usually done by a dedicated patternmaker.
Drafting is NOT grading: although a patternmaker CAN grade her own patterns, in industry the grading is usually done by dedicated graders, or a grading service. (Poor grading may coincide with poor drafting, but not necessarily.)
Drafting is patternmaking, whether the pattern is created by draping muslin directly onto a dressform, and then transferred to paper….or done through the flat method, by calculating measurements and engineering directly onto paper. Either way, success depends on a thorough understanding of how the body is built, and moves.
So how do you know by looking at a pattern, if the drafting is good? As with any artform (and patternmaking is an art, not a science) quality is a matter of taste….yet there are some guidelines. And as with many parts of life, it’s easier to tell when something is “wrong” than when all is going right.
In music, singing off-key is easy to identify, but you may not know when an aria is sung to perfection until you’ve listened to many operas
In cooking, burnt food is instantly recognized, although your palate may not be so refined as to appreciate a rare earthy truffle unless you’ve eaten at four-star restaurants
In Olympic ice-skating, you may not be able to discriminate between a triple axel from a triple salchow, but you clearly see a fall
Why do our senses notice the negative so easily? It’s human nature, a defense against danger…it’s in our DNA. We are hard-wired to notice a crack in the windshield, a stubbed toe, food gone rancid, an itchy label. Sadly we notice when things go wrong more easily than when they go perfectly right. In patternmaking, some instant clues to poor drafting include:
Other issues are more elusive and are recognized through trial-and-error, or patternmaking classes, plus years of training and experience….just like developing a refined taste for wines or art. Your “eye” will get accustomed to recognizing:
armscye depth that is too high (cutting) or too low (gaping)
neckline depth that is too high (choking) or too low (gaping), too narrow (restrictive) or too wide (falling off the shoulders)
front/back rise lengths/ratios that will cause pants to hang badly
sleeve-cap height that is too shallow (will cause fabric strain)
crotch “hook” that is too short, crotch width that is too narrow
proportions anywhere that will be unflattering
Keep in mind that no pattern will fit every body-shape and body-size. Patterns are drafted to fit the company’s fit model and pattern blocks. But you can learn to recognize a well designed pattern that you can adapt to your own figure. And while no single pattern will fit everybody, there are some patterns that won’t fit anybody (example above).
It’s somewhat like cooking: an experienced chef can read a recipe and instantly recognize when the proportions are “off” or there’s a typo. But I wouldn’t see it: I just follow the amounts and instructions exactly and hope for the best. And then each time I cook, I’ve learned a tiny bit more about that recipe and what I would adjust. Cooking, like sewing, is a lifelong learning process. (Of course I could speed up the process by taking cooking lessons, just as learning about good drafting can be hastened by taking a drafting class.)
And then there is the genius level of pattern drafting skill. I remember a story about a young fashion design student who read an interview of the late Yves Saint Laurent. Asked what was the most important element of apparel design, he answered “La coupe!” The student was elated, thinking “Oh I’m fine then, my cutting skills are excellent, I can slice through oaktag with straight smooth lines.” She was dismayed to learn that “the cut” doesn’t refer to actual cutting out, but rather to developing the fit and contours of the pattern.
Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal magazine has an amazing article about John Galliano. Asked about being a couturier, he replied “I’m a dressmaker. There aren’t many of us who can cut, make patterns, drape.”
At that level, yes there are not many who have the skills required to make the works of art that Galliano does. But there are plenty of patternmakers who have the skills to cut a high quality pattern in less outrageous silhouettes. I find that it takes a lot of sifting through patterns designed for the home-sewing market, to find those that are beautifully drafted…but it’s worth the effort. A well-drafted pattern is a joy to use.