Many people are scared of making the jump to CAD software and understandably it can be quite daunting at first. For those who haven’t used a CAD program before the learning curve can appear to be quite steep. Most programs seem expensive, take up lots of disk space, have more manuals than you have sewing books and so many buttons you don’t know where to start … but let me assure you it’s not all as hard as it first seems.
Because most people who talk about CAD do so from the negative view point let me me dispel their myths one at a time! Firstly you don’t need to buy an expensive CAD program to do pattern making. You can even get free and shareware CAD programs that don’t cost anything at all. On average they cost more money as they get more tools and special features. The big three retailed products are Corel Draw, AutoSketch (AutoCAD) and Adobe Illustrator. These programs are sold at most retail computer outlets and are probably the best as they are well supported, training is easily available if you need extra help and most of all they’re around half the price of CAD software designed specifically for the fashion industry … not to mention that they have lots of nifty tools and can do lots more than the industry specialty programs when you get used to them.
Specialty software does have the early advantage however as it’s usually much easier to learn (especially the type aimed at home sewists) and doesn’t have all the extra tools cluttering up the workspace and confusing you. The biggest complaint I hear about specialty software is you get used to the easy format and you stop learning or, even worse, become afraid of stepping up to a real CAD program (which is what you’ll have no choice but to do if you end up working seriously in the fashion industry). There is nothing you can do in a specialty program that I can’t do in a cheaper standard CAD program … but there’s lot’s I can do in, say, Corel Draw that you can’t do in a specialty program … and I have 15 years working on everything from Gerber to domestic CAD software to back that up. Don’t get me wrong, for a home sewist that just wants a pattern to fit themself so they don’t have to learn pattern making or buy commercial patterns then these little specialty packages are just fine … but you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t interested in learning pattern making!
The second myth is the learning curve. If you load something like Corel Draw up for the first time you’ll probably look at it, make the sign of the cross and back out of the room slowly. That would be a pity. Sure there are a lot of tools and buttons to press and they’ll take you a while to learn what they all do but you don’t need to learn them all at once. The program opens up with a piece of blank paper. There is a button for drawing lines and curves and one for drawing rectangles. If you can play with just those two buttons at first and save your work then you’re really half way there already. All the big three come with CDs that teach you how to use the software to draw. Remember, this software is powerful enough to handle what an architect, designer or illustrator can throw at it … but that doesn’t mean you need to learn everything they know to be able to use it to draw or manipulate patterns.
The third myth is that you need to be skilled in mathematics. You need no more mathematical skill to make a pattern on paper than you do on a computer … and the computer has tools that (once you learn how to use them) can do things so much easier … so if anything you need less maths for the computer.
The fourth myth is that you just can’t get the feel of a curve on a computer than you can with a pencil and paper. Having done both forms of pattern making for years I can tell you that’s plain rubbish. Drawing curves in CAD can be an art form … you can constantly modify and tweak your curve over and over again, zoom in and out on it and have it perfectly line up with or square off to other lines instantly. On paper you need to erase the old line or draw over it multiple times … either way it makes a mess and is far less controllable. French curves and flexible rulers aside, I find CAD a much more creative medium than pencil and paper when it comes to curves. All that said, does it really matter whether something feels better or does it matter more that your pattern is accurate and reproducable?
Below are links to the big three products. I personally use and am happy to recommend any or all of them … and I’m not being paid to say that. These simply are the best products for the job.
Recently I’ve also discovered a new program called Inkscape. It is a free open source CAD program similar to CorelDraw that’s well worth the 22mb download. Not only does it appear to do everything the big three do, but it also exports to and from all your favourite formats like PDF! Now you have absolutely no excuse not to try CAD!
CAD has the potential to help even the home sewist work faster. Besides the obvious of just needing a computer with a printer in order to make patterns you get a number of benefits that paper and pencil just don’t offer.
Of course for someone like myself, I am required by industry to provide them with patterns in a digital format that they can use. In most cases that will be the AutoCAD standard of DXF that pretty much every computer based cutting table will import. All the big three can export to DXF. For the home sewist, the equivalent is being able to share patterns with your friends via email or the web. The common PDF format (acrobat reader) while being read by most computers, can’t be written by everyone and certainly cannot be directly imported into CAD and altered. I know a lot of people like PDF as they can easily download and print it, but you simply can’t do much more with it than that.
CAD means never having to store thousands of paper blocks and patterns. If you’re anything like me and you collect everything to do with sewing you’re probably already overwhelmed with piles of fabrics, books and notions. You simply leave your patterns on the computer and once every now and then back them up to CDRom. Whenever you need them you just print them out. This is especially good if you’ve changed shape and want to tweak the pattern a little without destroying the original. Simply save it as a new file and tweak away.
CAD’s main benefits of course are how it works. Drawing perfect lines, curves and angles … cutting and pasting … mirroring … adding seam allowances instantly … not to mention being able to perfectly scale up and down to various graded sizes at the click of a button. Then there are more useful features like being able to accurately measure the length of a curve, rotate pattern sections, measure angles and move darts. All these are jobs which take a long time on paper and usually result in having to retrace the final pattern all over again.
I know there are the die hard paper and pencil people out there but look at it this way … while I love horse riding, I certainly wouldn’t do the grocery shopping on horseback … paper and pencil is a nice change now and then but it’s not something I’d want to do everyday.