Sewing Tips

What is “good” pattern drafting?

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:

  • pants rises that are mirrored front/back
  • armscyes that are mirrored front/back (except for some knits)
  • fullness in skirt sweep or dress sweep that is tacked onto the sides, not built into the body of the garment
  • seamlines that don’t match in length
  • corners that are not trued
  •  lack of grainlines or notches
  •  jacket and coat lapel facings that are duplicates of the outer pattern (lapel facings should be larger to curve around to the outside and create a nice roll)
  • Peter Pan collars that are drafted the same as the bodice (they should be drafted with the shoulder overlapped, again to create a nice roll and sit snugly without flipping up)
  • crotch width that is too narrow  (the pattern on the left fits well, the one on the right I can tell just by looking that it will cause a wedgie in back, crotch-bite in front):

peekaboo

(left: Pattern Emporium “Tumblebums”, right: Peekaboo “Cloud 9”)


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.

8 Comments

  • Theresa in Tucson

    I’m taking my usual spring sewing class “Shirts and Trousers” at the community college and this post will be very helpful to suggest to the three new students to join our group. I just reviewed your pants posts on crotch curve and need to go back and read “all” the comments. They are very helpful. I intend to print them off and file them with my Palmer and Pletsch “Pants” book. Thanks for the info.

  • Jamie

    Another one I would add to the “more elusive” list is a lack of understanding of turn of cloth. I bought a blazer pattern once where the there was no facing for the lapel, it was just a rectangle folded in half and sewn into the front edge with the lining going right to the front edge. This pattern had dozens of rave reviews in the sewing blogosphere and it wasn’t until I bought it and went back to look at all the photos that I noticed in every picture the wearer was holding the lapels or hand their hands on their waist in a way that held the lapels down. Of course, they’d never roll properly the way the pattern was drafted. And the lining showed at the front.

    You buy enough patterns like this, you start to get skeptical of the poses in every modeled picture…

  • [email protected]

    Yes this!! I see poorly drafted lapels and collars all the time. Even simple Peter-Pan collars that flip up instead of sitting nicely. A beautifully tailored blazer lapel is such a pleasure, and it starts with a well-drafted pattern that includes a real facing pattern, not just a double of the outer pattern (and certainly not a rectangle!). I’ve learned to study the photos ever more closely…it’s sad because the photos should highlight the best features, not hide the worst ones. And if the model is a tester, it makes you wonder if they realize the pattern has issues or not.

  • [email protected]

    Hi Theresa! Pants are a challenge for sure, but mastering the right crotch curve for your body makes things so much easier. The Palmer and Pletsch Pants book is a gem. Have fun at your sewing class!

  • irma

    there is a typho in the description:
    collar or lapel facings that are duplicates of the outer pattern (they should be smaller to create a nice roll)
    No – lapels facings should be larger. They are bending to the outside. (And the pattern for a collar is mostly the undercollar if not labeled otherwise)
    lg
    posaune

  • Pam

    I just found your blog, and I’m so happy you are sharing your professional knowledge about pants fitting! I’d be very interested in your thoughts about an indie pants pattern I tried a few months ago. If you search for the hashtag #calyerpants (from French Navy Now) on Instatram, you’ll see lots of pictures. In so many of them, the pants have weird, numerous and extreme drag lines on the legs. The pair I made had this problem too. I tried a second pair with alterations I thought would work, but just decided the pattern draft was beyond redemption. It may have something to do with the design feature where the back pant leg wraps partly around the side to the front. I’d be interested in your observations. What surprises me is that people are raving about their pants, seemingly unaware that they shouldn’t have drag lines wrapping around their legs!

  • [email protected]

    Hi Pam! I have so many mixed feelings here. To start with, pants aren’t easy to draft, for several reasons: they don’t “fall” away from the body as a blouse or dress does, instead they must curve under the crotch, so that adds an additional fit element. They need to be fitted for length not only in the leg length but also the crotch depth…and crotch width, otherwise there are drag lines at the front and/or back crotch. Plus, the fit changes as the body does: you need to sit, and walk, to see if the pants fit is still comfortable. So, for a relatively new designer (I mean, without years and years of fitting hundreds of pants in the garment industry) to attempt a pants pattern is a challenge. I can see why the Calyer pants have many fans: the design is interesting (the side-seams wrapping to the front create vertical lines that can be slimming), the adjustable elastic back reduces back fitting issues, no zipper fears, and they have pockets! and they do seem like a nice dressier substitute for yoga pants while being more relaxed than fitted suit-pants. That said, do I like the fit? From most of the photos, it looks like there’s an issue with the front crotch curve. The photo in the pattern itself, of the model (who appears to be tall and slender!) sitting at the edge of the stool, would make me shy away from this pattern, or at least be prepared for alterations. I realize from the description that the crotch is designed to be dropped, and the side seams meant to curve around….maybe a lot of tricky design elements put into one pattern?

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