This website started out it’s life as a site dedicated to designing swimwear and making stretch patterns (version 1 – 2005). After running out of space on my original webserver I moved it to it’s own domain name and expanded it’s scope (version 2 – 2007). Since then I’ve translated it further to a wordpress blog so people can interact, ask questions or submit their own advice for others (version 3 – 2009). My original intention was for the swimwear site to be a stretch-fit pattern making reference for fashion students because there was a distinct lack of text books on this topic. Eventually I will sit down and write the book but in the mean time you may use this site as a reference.
While the site’s main emphasis is still on stretch-fit pattern making, the scope has expanded to include dancewear methods, limited bra theory and some miscellaneous stretch topics. The scope will, however, be limited to pattern making. I will try not cover sewing or construction of the patterns illustrated as the website’s scope is about ready-to-wear pattern making for fashion students who should already have access to experienced machining instructors.
If home sewists have questions about sewing stretch fabrics then by all means ask them on one of the Sewing Swim & Dancewear pages (menu top right) … I’ll try to check up on it, but others may be able to help you as well!
While common non-stretch pattern making is reasonably well documented, designing for stretch has long been, and still is, a very secretive art. With a distinct lack of technical understanding of the principles, designers and pattern makers have used little more than trial an error to produce a pattern. They might have started with a very generalised ‘block’ given to them at school or have purchased an existing commerial pattern and tried to work backwards. No one could tell them how these blocks and patterns were made … just that they work and a few basics on how, but not why, they should be graded or modified.
Because there is such a poor understanding of the principles, designers have guarded what little they had achieved like it was gold. There was never time or money for the average company to research the principles and the fabrics were changing so quickly that it was almost impossible to develop any standard process. Indeed most designers who claim to understand stretch fabrics base their claim on having enough experience to be able to predict what will work and what won’t. Some very extraordinary and successful designs have been produced by trial and error.
Making patterns for stretch is not something you really want to tackle if you have limited non-stretch pattern making and sewing experience. A good grounding in basic patterns and sewing, while not absolutely essential, will not only make things easier to problem solve but will make the process so much more fun.
I demonstrate using the flat pattern technique. That is to say, I show people how to draft patterns from a series of measurements on a flat sheet of paper or computer CAD program (which then prints out a sheet of paper). I believe this is the only way to acurately and repeatably make patterns for stretch fabrics. Some people utilise what is called ‘draping’, a method in which you wrap a body or dress making dummy in fabric and manipulate that fabric to how you want the garment to look before marking the fabric for tracing and cutting out. Both systems work for non-stretch fabrics, draping does not work sucessfully for stretch fabrics. I believe the flat pattern technique works significantly better for both types of fabric.
Don’t get me wrong, good old fashioned sticky tape and paper is a great traditional method for taking a 3D form off the body before turning it into a flat pattern. I’ve used it for years to help demonstrate to students how the body changes from one person to the next, especially with making bras. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to introduce students to pattern making. But most importantly, you must realise that fabric and paper sit very differently on the body. Using paper to create a draped pattern, especially in bra making, is not going to produce the same pattern as if you’d used the appropriate fabric.
If you have no experience in working with patterns I suggest first visiting your local library or bookseller and searching for one of the titles in my reading list. Perhaps try making a few patterns from my non-stretch clothing section. It’s much easier to get a good grounding in these techniques before you add the complications that stretch factors or specialty fits bring to the cutting table.
Many people will tell you that stretch fabrics are more forgiving and much easier because you don’t have to worry about a few millimeters here or there. True and not true. Certainly you can make something that will vaguely fit, but to make something that fits well means understanding why you are doing what you are.
Sewing stretch fabrics also takes some practice to get right. Most people find it quite daunting at first but with a little practice it isn’t really any harder than other fabrics. You just need to get the hang of how the fabric behaves in each of your machines. Don’t expect perfect results, even tensions and straight seams the first time. Stick with it and a whole new exciting world of sewing will open up for you. Although this text is about pattern making, I’ll add hints and tips here and there to help you through some of the sewing difficulties.
OK, so if all this hasn’t scared you off then we’re ready to start. I strongly recommend starting at the beginning and working your way through this site in order. There is an enormous amount of important technical information in the beginning pages that you really must read before jumping straight to the patterns. Read it thoroughly and you will not have trouble understanding my techniques. Read it twice if you have to.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m big on preparation. That holds true for when you come to making the patterns later. Make sure you have decent sized sample of fabric to play with and a good sewing machine and overlocker (serger for our American friends). A cover stitch machine is very useful but not essential. Clear away a nice big table for working on, and, if you’re doing this from home, do it when the children are at school (they will always find your needles, pins and scissors more exciting than nice soft fabric).
I had thought to provide an introduction to stretch fashion in an historical context, but I’m almost certain you’ve all seen enough old movies to see how items like swimwear have changed with fashion over the years. If not, there are numerous websites that can help. About the only precaution I’d mention is that mainstream media provides a more high fashion weighted impression than what is really happening in popular culture. For example, you’ll see more footage of beautiful girls in the tiniest of bikinis and brazilians on the TV than you ever will at your local beach. This is important because it’s easy to imagine the market for high fashion clothing is larger than it really is. Jeans, t-shirts and surfwear brands sell more clothing than high fashion ever will. I’m not saying I like supermarket clothing better, I’m saying don’t over estimate howmany people are interested in or can afford high end garments. It is and has always been a niche market.
So how are fashion trends started. For much of history the fashion industry itself has controlled the overall direction of fashion. Certain style trends are established each year by industry groups so as to control the fabric colours and accessories manufactured. To the uninitiated this process can seem like cloak and dagger stuff, but really its more to do with economics and practicality. Of course we lap up these trends without even realising it. If big surfwear brand X shows a cute teenage girl saying it’s fasionable then it must be. Oh how strong our desire to be the only one to have the latest style … just like all our friends.
The public’s greater access to mainstream media has, however, significantly lowered the industry’s ability to control fashion trends. Smaller, independant designers can create whatever they desire and gain equal access to the market on media like the internet. This has resulted in the public exercising more control over where their money is spent. Literally, if the public likes a design then the designer will do well and the rest of the industry will reinterpret the design in order to steal back a market share (marketing is more important than originality). The moral then, is listen to your market rather than tell it what to believe. Also remember that creative ideals do not always equte to successful business.
This site will demonstrate how to make patterns for a number of designs; some old fashioned, some current, some way out there on the edge of acceptance. My task is to show you how to convert your designs, whatever they might be, to functional patterns.
This site will work from technical or trade sketches rather than fashion illustrations as that’s predominantly what you’ll be presented with as a pattern maker. Fashion illustrations, while pretty and representative of the designers concept, do not communicate construction method or any sense of accurate proportion. In reverse, pattern makers, sample makers and machinists will not generally work with illustrations so as a designer you should either convert your illustrations to trade sketches when dealing with other industry members or do what most designers do and design your garments directly as trade sketches, rather than illustrations at all. Designers hate this with a passion but eventually come round to reality.
A trade sketch is a proportional drawing of the human body showing exactly where each design line and seam is located. It may even be a series of drawings and close ups. When sent to another industry member it would normally be accompanied by a written description of outer fabrics and linings, each type of seam, thread weights and type, construction method, and any other information that is necessary to make a sample garment. Sometimes you may even be provided with samples of fabrics or print artwork.
I use the template below for my trade sketches. I even use it to work out new designs and concepts. As I generally only design samples for swimwear and underwear, my sketches don’t need arms and legs, just a few regular guide lines to make sketching easier. You may need to add arms and legs to yours if you want to do other areas of fashion.
If you get stuck, don’t feel afraid to send me an email asking for advice. I’m happy to help, but please make sure you’ve read everything first because it may take a few days before I get to my email.