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When Think You're A Pattern Maker But You Aren't

/Start Rant

I'd like to talk about a problem that seems to be getting out of hand online. There's a lot of software out there that helps with drafting patterns ... some good, some bad ... all with their little quirks. But really if you understand pattern making then you can pretty much create a successful pattern with any of them. The problem comes when the person using the software doesn't have any formal training or experience in pattern making ... the tool does not make up for a lack of ability .... the tool is only as good as the user. Let me say from the beginning though .... the tool is still OK.

I'm one for encouraging people to go digital, but as a progression from paper. I'm not advocating using software that does the thinking for you, I'm saying you should let it do the hard work for you. I like Corel Draw because it's a simple generic CAD program ... it's the digital equivalent of paper and pencil. Illustrator and Inkscape are similar programs ... they are not fashion specific. Fashion specific programs are things like Clo3D, Style CAD, Seamly, and Gerber .... there's dozens of them. These programs do a lot of the hard work for you (well some do) when it comes to tasks like grading, adding seam allowances, truing seams, plotting cut layouts and such ... but really you still need to understand how to do it yourself first to be able to check you've got what you want. Clo3D is quite an amazing program because you can visualise your design in 3D on a digital mannequin and tweak it live until you get the desired look, walk it around in a few different fabric types ... and then it'll spit out a pattern. How easy is that? Well it's not as easy as you think. When it comes to stretch, Clo3D has some serious issues because it does not show tension correctly, nor show the correct distortion from poorly anchored cut outs and so on ... it's almost as if Clo3D doesn't comprehend tension at all behind showing a coloured contour map of where it believes the tension is. In reality, unstable tension moves around to reduce itself and distorts the garment's shape, placing the remaining tension in places you don't want it ... that's what happens on a real body, but it doesn't happen in Clo3D. What this means is that anything you design in Clo3D will need thoroughly testing and tweaking to make it look the same in real life as the design does on the digital mannequin ... and that's quite ok still ... but if you don't know how tension works and all the other stretch fit principles, then you're going to have problems doing that ... right? Wrong again ... if you don't know how to do that chances are likely you lack the education or experience in pattern making, which means you don't actually know that what Clo3D has given you is not at all what you designed! I'm sounding mean here but I'm not trying to be so bare with me.

Clo3D wasn't designed to be the be all and end all of pattern making ... it's a tool to help a professional designer/pattern maker do the heavy lifting in a more visual way ... and, mostly, it's a great tool. But we've been seeing the results of people who want to be designers and who have no formal training ... they buy patterns from other designers, plug them into Clo3D, change the design a little by pulling here and there on the mannequin until they find something they like, and then get it to spit out a pattern. Cool yeah? You can create your own design with no experience and get a pattern out the other end that you believe is absolutely correct because the computer said so ... but it isn't as we know already. Then without ever testing it, you put out the pattern in PDF format for sale. That's when the problems start.

I regularly get people asking me why they're having trouble with other people's patterns, telling me the original pattern designer wasn't able to help them or never answered their messages. They want me to tell them if they misunderstood the sewing instructions, selected the wrong sizing or if there's a fault in the pattern. Now I can't possibly know what's going on in the mind of another pattern maker and nor is it any of my business to be commenting on their relationship with their client. But when I see things like huge cut outs right through the middle of major tension lines and the accompanying sales images showing no distortion, it's pretty hard to defend the pattern maker ... there is no way the majority of these patterns can produce a garment that looks like, or even similar to, the sales image. Obviously this wasn't Clo3Ds intention and nor are they responsible for what people do with their software, but we're facing a crisis of rubbish patterns flooding the market faster than professionals can make patterns that do fit as intended.

A few days ago I received an email from a "pattern designer" who said they used Illustrator to make their patterns. They were wanting to know why they were having fitting problems and why their sizing seemed to have changed. It was a long series of emails with me trying to identify how they made a pattern without a block, what data they were using for their sizing and so on ... this went on for quite a while with some confusingly evasive answers. They had no blocks and they had only one set of measurements and claimed they just graded up in illustrator without ever saying how. Obviously something wasn't true but that's not my job to accuse ... this was a pattern maker asking where they'd gone wrong when they made their pattern. Looking at the lengths of the seams on each side of a princess line i could see that they'd been trued, but the curves on each side looked wrong ... it was as though they had had the seam allowance added twice even though they were the right length ... now this is something I recognise from Clo3D. If you put in the original outline of your pattern pieces with seam allowance on but you don't know it's on, Clo3D fixes it up for you without removing the seam allowance ... if you have four princess lines and two side seams then that's a big mess up and it should show up in Clo3D, but quite frequently it doesn't ... especially if you don't know what to look for. It took quite a few more subtle emails to get her to admit she'd bought another designer's pattern, plugged it into Clo3D complete with seam allowance, tried tweaking it to get her desired look then exported the pattern back into illustrator, labelled it and sold it in Etsy ... without ever testing it. Then she wanted me to tell her if all the complaints were valid (a problem with the pattern) or if the pattern was really ok and people were just trying to scam her. I told her (knowing full well the pattern was wrong) that perhaps she should test the pattern and see for herself ... her answer left me stunned (and I've seen pretty much everything in this game) ... she told me she didn't have a sewing machine, had never sewn a thing in her life and had no desire to do so ... she just wanted to sell patterns because it was a fast and easy way to make money. Welcome to the digital age!

Now I'm not familiar with changes to Clo3D over the last year or so, so many of these things might be different now, but the problem is still there. And it get's worse ... much worse ... you have to understand that at this point I'm continuing the conversation out of sheer fascination. I wanted to know exactly which starting pattern she'd used and there was no way to guess. She told me the original she was working with was from a good designer but wouldn't say who ... she'd already given me a copy of her pattern so I asked if she could send me the original so I could see if the changes she'd made had caused any issue because no blocks were involved. She sent me the original PDF complete with labels and logos of the other designer. Now this is when I realised there was no hope for our future ... the pattern she'd used as the base for her design were by someone else doing exactly the same as her who based their originals on yet another. At least three generations of completely untested patterns compounding each others mistakes ... you just can't make this stuff up. I'd seen two generations compouded before but this was now three ... God only knows how much worse it is out there. Clo3D apparently never showed a single problem ... something that anyone using a paper block would have seen instantly.

Sigh ...

Kirsty Paterson shared the following link in our moderators chat room today ...

This is an example of something that looks like it was created in Clo3D but I'm not sure. Note this is not related to the issues above but I want to highlight it as an example of digital only design that's pretty out there. If you look at other content from that account they've got some amazing imagery ... but not much in the way of anything real ... pure digital content. In that light, consider the comment accompanying the post I've linked. "This collection does not merely exist within the realm of fashion; it is an artful expression of contemporary culture. It asserts a powerful vision of the urban athletic aesthetic, reframing sportswear within the dynamic narrative of city life. A visionary translation of form, fabric, and function, neo-athletica invites us to perceive athletic attire as not merely clothing, but as a profound, conceptual statement of style." Now that's an awful lot of adjectives even for me ... what were these people smoking when they wrote that? Maybe they had AI write that for them? Am I old school for thinking that the whole point of language was effective communication? Rather than something for selling you an illusion that doesn't actually accompany what you were buying if you could indeed even buy it?

I'm going to completely ignore the fact that the head piece looks like a babies shower cap (

Fashion software is a great tool in the hands of someone properly trained to use it ... in the wrong hands it's devastating the reputation of the industry and scaring people away from sewing at home!


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