I love that sewing and dressmaking is one of those forever-learning skills. There’s always something new to try or learn. But recently I started feeling like I had reached what I could do on my own when it came to drafting patterns. I have ideas in my head and can generally hack my way through a pattern doing this-and-that and eventually end up with what I wanted. But it would take a while and wasn’t the neatest of processes (mentally or practically!) So I decided to invest in myself and my hobby and look for a course. A big motivation was wanting to do something for myself- having been used to be more ‘independent’ and working a full time job, full-time mummy-ing was making me feel like I was losing a bit of my adult self. Knowing I would be heading back to work soon, I thought also it would also be a good excuse to get some time apart from little R and see how she managed without me around for the day. Or that’s what I told myself to convince myself to tear myself away from her!
I first started looking at draping or pattern making courses. I’ve binge watched Project Runway and was total mesmerised by their draping skills. It’s something I’ve dreamt to be able to do but knew pattern making was more ‘practical’ of a skill to learn for me. And after a quick straw poll on Instagram- you all agreed! That helped me narrow down my google search. I was pretty limited by my choices due to childcare etc. so ended up going with the 6 week “Introduction to Womenswear Pattern Cutting” at the London College of Fashion (part of University of the Arts London). It cost £495 which is a little eye watering, I know- but I very rarely spend money on myself like this (read: ‘never’). You can find courses for a lot less, but this one happened to suit my needs perfectly and also- it started the next week, which meant I couldn’t chicken out. And well if you’re gonna do something, might as well dive in!
Introduction to Womenswear Pattern Cutting (£495 for 6 sessions)
Who is it for:
It is advertised as being for beginners: non-sewers/sewers. My group was a mix of home sewers to wanted to broaden their skill set (moi!), non-sewers who wanted to be able to create their own wardrobes, designers who had no sewing background but wanted to have a better understanding of how their designs could be created, and tailors/pattern cutters from abroad who wanted to get some ‘formal’ teaching/refresher. I would say that being a sewer gave us a huge advantage over those who didn’t sew. There’s so much lingo for one thing and we already have an understanding of what pattern pieces are and how garments are constructed. It’s easy to forget that if you’ve never seen a sleeve block before, you would have no idea what it was! Having said that, the tutor (mine was Annie) spends so much time with you that everyone kept up so it really is open to beginners with no experience.
The course was spread over 6 weeks, with one day a week of teaching from 10.00am-4.30pm (mine was on a Sunday). The finish time was flexible depending on how many breaks we took. As a group we chose not to have the morning coffee break and had a shorter lunch break, finishing earlier overall.
They send an equipment list beforehand:
- Stiletto awl
- Metric tape measure
- 3/4 H pencils
- Magic scotch tape
- Glue stick
- Fine pointed tracing wheel
- Fine steel pins
- Fabric shears
- Paper shears
- Felt tip pen (or magic marker) and an eraser
I would say all of those (apart from the glue stick) is essential, and I would add:
- Ruler (I have a steel edged, clear one which Taufiq bought for his Islamic geometry)
- Pattern master (WHY DIDN’T I HAVE ONE OF THESE BEFORE?)
- Exercise book (I like drawing my own notes and diagrams)
My tutor also suggested (but I haven’t bought yet):
- Hole punch tool
What you get
You get a folder of the course materials, 2m of calico for sample making and a print sheet copy of the size 12 block you use. You also get supplied with card to trace around the blocks and of course, paper for all the pattern manipulations. As a bonus our tutor very kindly gave us a copy of her half and quarter blocks, and brought in her personal blocks (ranging from a size 8-22) to trace around and keep copies of.
I’m just gonna give you quick rundowns of what we did each week, but it is tutor dependent. Annie was a fantastic tutor (with incredible experience to bring to the table: designer, pattern cutter, professional seamstress, businesswoman- general Boss with a capital ‘B’ basically), who really made it her own. She taught things in an order she felt more natural than the course booklet, and showed different methods (hers and the ‘course’) so we got a feel of different techniques. She also went way beyond ‘just’ the course materials, asking us what we wanted to cover and giving us extra tasks and patterns to attempt.
Session 1+2: Bodice
Two sessions were spent on the bodice, because you know. Bodice. It’s where most of the magic happens! The first week we mainly learnt about dart manipulation- moving darts around, removing darts etc. She showed us the slash and spread method as well as the pivoting method. That blew my mind! I always found slash and spread a bit messy so this was amaaazing. Also I realised I’d been slashing wrong and making my life harder- you really have to snip right into your pivoting point!
This moved into more unusual darts- asymmetric, angled, curved. We made a particularly funky looking asymmetrical Y dart which made me think- why don’t we see more unusual darts in patterns?? They’re so much more interesting than bust/side darts! I think I have a think for neck darts now too…
The next week we moved onto “darts into seams”, i.e. princess seams- shoulder to waist, arm-whole to waist. Then spent a short time on the back- including yoke making.
Session 3: Necklines & Facings
This was a session that had quite a bit ‘extra’. As well as the standard including V-neck and deeper necklines, we covered sweetheart, sleeveless and wrap. I can’t remember why but we also covered changing the shapes of the bodice block- e.g. into A-line shapes.
The neckline part seamlessly went into facings: covering built in (grown on) facings, all-in-one/separate sewn on facings and button stands. This session finished with us having to create our own pattern for a button placket top. And by pattern, I mean proper pattern: seam allowances included, pattern pieces names, notches, instructions (e.g. cut 2). One thing I really enjoyed learning was the little things that are different in professional pattern cutting/dressmaking. Things like: you never cut on the fold (pattern pieces are whole) and you don’t cut notches out as triangles (which I never do), but cut into the fabric with a snip (which I always do!) Some of these things made me feel like a real ‘home’ sewer- isn’t it funny how there’s always a hierarchy? Professional Vs Home sewer. Homemade Vs Handmade…
Session 4: Collars
This session started with collar stands then moved on to shaped collars including flyaway collars. The example pattern for this is decidedly old fashioned but you can really see the potential in creating a faux notched/fancier collar with some very simple pattern cutting.
Session 5: Sleeves
This is where we learnt a lot of basic pattern drafting methods which are can be applied to all parts of pattern making: creating fullness/gathers/cuffs. An ‘extra’ was Annie showing us how to create a two piece sleeve from the one piece pattern block. We cut our sleeves out of calico and Annie quickly whipped them up so we could take photos of the pattern piece and what they look like made up. Whats funny is that whenever you think you’ve gone ‘extreme’ with some pattern cutting, in real life it always look a lot tamer. Some of these pattern pieces are mad! But make totally reasonable sleeves don’t you think?
Session 6: Skirts
This was kind a review session of what we had learnt before- applying gathering, slash and spread, seam-lines, yokes, kick pleats, to make a plain block more interesting. We also learnt waistbands (faced and normal) and princess seaming. I drafted this curved dart skirt which needed a temporary dart to keep a tapered shape.
Extras in this session were: creating a dress block from the top and skirt blocks, tulip skirt and a wrap over skirt with an underlay (which stops crotch exposure when you take a big stride in a wrap skirts).
I really loved the course- it was everything I wanted and needed from it. It really got me itching to design more. It’s definitely a skill you need to keep working on and building on to get the most out of it. It’s a shame that there isn’t a follow up course to the ‘introduction course’ (they have more follow up for their ‘beginners course’ which goes into ‘intermediate’ and ‘advanced’).
The other thing it taught me to appreciate is the process. Now, as sewers we have a better understanding than most about garment construction and the hours/man power that goes into making clothes. But I have to admit, it wasn’t until now that I really appreciated just how long it takes to create a pattern- all those tiny design details, whether its that tiny dart on the armhole edge for a snugger fit on a sleeveless top, or the subtle curve of a seam. Everything plays a part in the fit and look of a garment, and it takes try after try after try before you even get from paper to fabric. So kudos to you, our wonderful pattern designers, cutters, graders <3
Here are other courses I also though of attending but didn’t due to timings etc:
Morley College: Pattern Cutting for Beginners 11 weeks, £320
The Thrifty Stitcher: Draft your own sewing patterns 5 weeks, £195
I know there’ll be various opinions on this, but Annie suggested the Winifred Aldrich book, Metric Pattern Cutting for Women’s Wear for further reading. So far I’ve found it to be helpful to read. I’ve only made the block so far (which on her advice, I made to the ‘standard size’ and then fit to my body as opposed to making the custom block) and it fits great. I’m planning to use to make more patterns too. It’s a heavy book and her methods aren’t for everyone, but I find it quite simple to follow. It’s very mathematical and it’s almost like a recipe book for clothes- you follow each step- drawing a line here, marking a point there, and you end up with a pattern. One thing I’ve found super helpful for this is having square grid pattern paper. This makes squaring off lines so much easier!
Like I said, I’m hoping this really opens up my sewing skills! I’m yet to really get stuck in (sometimes it’s nice to just follow someone else’s pattern!) but I’m looking forward to it. Another thing that’s changed is my mentality- I’d never really gone on a course that wasn’t medical/job related! It reminded me just how refreshing it can be to sit and learn when you’re excited about the subject matter (sorry medicine…but you’re kinda a bore compared to pattern cutting). So I’m also super excited about joining CL of Sewing Bee genius (@thethriftystitcher) for a draping class in January with my super Bee pals. CL is the ultimate knowledge hub and I can’t wait to pick her brains!