How To Use This Site
An introduction To Stretch Fit Pattern Making & Fashion
Welcome to my pattern making website. I'm going to take you on the journey of learning how to make patterns for stretch fabrics. I'll teach you about negative ease, fabric tension, ripples, stitching, measurements and sizing, demographics and so much more.
I had initially intended to provide an introduction to swimwear in an historical context, but I'm almost certain you've all seen enough old movies to see how swimwear has changed along with fashion over the years. If not, there are numerous fashion 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 TV than you ever will at your local beach. This is important because it's easy to imagine the market for high fashion swimwear is larger than it really is. Surf wear brands sell more bikinis than high fashion brands.
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 it's more to do with economics and practicality. Of course we lap up these trends without even realizing it. If big brand name X says it's fashionable 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, independent 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. The moral then, is listen to your market rather than tell it what to believe. Also remember that creative ideals do not always equate to successful business.
Designing swimwear 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 generalized 'block' given to them at school or have purchased an existing commercial 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 swimwear is not something you really want to tackle if you have limited pattern making and sewing experience. I will need to assume you understand certain jargon and principles in order to demonstrate my techniques. A good grounding in patterns and sewing 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 repeatedly make accurate patterns for stretch fabrics. Some people utilize 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 successfully for stretch fabrics. I believe the flat pattern technique works significantly better for all types of fabric.
The Professor says: If you have no experience in working with patterns or sewing, I suggest first visiting your local library or bookseller and find something on dressmaking. It's much easier to get a good grounding in these techniques before you add the complications that stretch factors 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, sits flat and is stable 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.
Photo by Chris Huzzard
OK, so if all this hasn't scared you off then we're ready to start. All these introductory pages are freely accessible to give you a fair grounding, but after that the pattern making is by a subscription of your choice ... your support helps me keep this site going.
I strongly recommend working your way through every page in this section, in order, before you even start to look at the pattern making process. There is an enormous amount of important technical information in the beginning pages that you really must read before jumping in. Read it thoroughly or you will have trouble understanding my techniques. Read it twice if you have to. I've even put a little "Next Page" button at the end for you .... use it!
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). Sharpen your pencils, find your set square, make sure you have plenty of adhesive tape and a clean eraser .... I'm not going to repeat the 50's Singer adverts of don't sew when you're stressed or anything like that, but you do need to be able to concentrate.
After all the introductory pages, this site will demonstrate how to make all the stretch blocks ... the basic starting components, base blocks or alpha patterns (in the USA blocks are called slopers). Then we continue on to show you how use those blocks 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, from blocks to patterns.
The Professor says: A block is the original starting unit. It's the alpha pattern, so to speak. When we first take measurements we don't create an actual pattern for a particular design, instead we create a basic unit that can be turned into a pattern. For stretch fabrics we have a block for the whole body, the whole arm and the whole leg ... and at different levels of negative ease. What this means is that we only ever have to make that block once for that set of measurements ... then we can make as many different style patterns as we like without having to go through all the measurements all over again.
My website will show you how to make that block to fit any particular customised shape from your own measurements. I also have a shop where you can buy safe/predictable ready to wear blocks. See the illustration below ... in the center red circle is my 8% negative ease one piece block for RTW swim/dancewear ... by following the tutorials on the website you can also learn how to take that block and manipulate it into any number of different patterns. This is how it's done ... this is where individual patterns come from.
In industry, each brand has a set of measurents it allocates to each size. They take one of those sets of measurements and create a block they like and test it over and over, tweaking here and there, until they get the perfect full body fit. They then have a block ... it might be for swim or dance or whatever ... but they know that any pattern they make from it will fit that particular arbitrary ready to wear size perfectly every time.
They might grade up that block in gerber or just grade the patterns individually ... or they make make two sizes of the block and grade between them ... whatever, it doesn't matter. What they start with is a basic stretch block in multiple sizes that they can manipulate into any style or design.
Blocks also have many of the body's landmarks drawn on them ... things like bust point, bust waist and hip lines, quarter/princess lines or any other lines or marks that might typically be used by that brand. A block will NOT (and should not) have any seam allowance added ... seam allowance is the final step in creating a pattern ... adding seam allowance to a block can result in continous and cumulative errors ... don't do it ... ever!
Blocks aren't just a much faster and more efficient method of working, they also guarentee the customer a consistent product, which means more sales ... if you're a size 8 in one style you'll most sure be a size 8 in another of that brand's styles. A set of good fitting blocks is the single most important asset of any brand making ready to wear clothing. Their pattern makers must base any pattern they create on those blocks.
Now that's stretch blocks ... but non-stretch blocks work just the same way. Take for example a blouse block ... how many of you have seen all those online tutorials on how to manipulate the side bust dart to different positions to create many different new styles?? The alpha pattern with the side bust dart is a block ... and each new style they create is a pattern ... just add seam allowance!
Patterns may be the result of many modifications of the original block ... it might not just be moving a dart. They may have a little more or less ease, they might have completely different necklines, parts of the bodice might be rotated to curve differently, leg lines could be higher or lower, the seams might be moved to different positions, etc ... this is why you should NEVER use reverse engineer a pattern to create a block ... you just don't know what changes it's been through. Always create the original block from measurements and thoroughly test it before ever creating patterns from it.
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 designer’s 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.
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.
So strap in and enjoy the journey. I strongly advise you to work your way through each step in order as they tend to build on each other. I can ramble a bit at times and often repeat myself, but I'm only trying to get you to visualize something which can be rather dry at times ... albeit essential to the process.
Photo by Chris Huzzard