Furthering my addiction: pattern cutting

Kirsty Allsop in her first Handmade Home TV series described machine embroidery as the ‘new crack cocaine for crafters’, I think I have found the equivalent for the home dressmaker.

Enter Pattern Cutting.

Bows to an applauding crowd.
Who else has thought it would be nice to be able to draft their own patterns, and has felt the glee, like me, when making successful adjustments to an existing pattern and drawing them on the actual tissue paper?
The Built by Wendy books are also a great way to extend confidence in altering a pattern basic, changing necklines, flare, sleeve variations and creating garments that work! I’ve been a long supporter and user of these books – love em, and have learnt a lot from them. To be honest, everyone picks things up as they sew and as we read others’ experiences in blogs and following tutorials. And those with non standard shapes will have learnt a lot more about fitting and the adjustments needed to create something that works for you, despite the trauma it might involve, the learning is a lot greater than people who can get away with just about what falls out of the pattern envelope.

But pattern cutting? What is it, how different is it to all that? I wasn’t sure what to expect when I enrolled on a 4 day course (link goes to next courses being offered) as my summer holiday this year. I had anticipated it might involve creating my custom block, but no. Did that matter? Absolutely not! The amount I learnt and the creative doors it has unlocked for me has been huge.  In fact I’d say the potential I see is even greater than having my own custom block.

20130713-090214.jpgEssential kit.

There was a lot we learnt in how to take a basic bodice and change it (including sleeves).  We learnt about dart manipulation. Moving darts around for creative effect, how it works, why it works. Oh, when the lightbulb came on for why it is a useful exercise and how you would use it I changed. Folks, I became an albeit minor league designer.

I’d come to the course prepared with some images of bodices with nice yokes and tie necks.  Look, aren’t they pretty?


People, I can do that already. Remember this yoke I drafted on the Colette violet blouse, & how I moved the buttons to the back? Folks, I started to get serious, challenge time. Think about something I’ve never tried before….
Taking a basic block that starts looking like this

basic bodice
Learn how to slash and spread to move darts around


Get crazy! Go wild!

And all the time we were tutored through by Jo Barnfield, who has many many years of industry experience (designing, making, pattern cutting), blogs at House of Jo (with some cool tutorials) and has published two books. I looked through the Pattern Cutting Primer and it’s  a really useful reference book, in a clean clear presentation style which I like. It’s clearly written with easy to understand diagrams, showing the same methods Jo was teaching us in class. Plus, it is speckled with some swoontastic photographs of existing garments to inspire. Jo was on hand to offer advice, help solve problems and also encourage students to raise their game, to extend their learning- all within a very relaxed environment- if rather hot being our summer heat wave!

After getting to grips with the slash and spread method we graduated onto the pivot method for moving a dart ( no way can a mere mortal like me explain it in the written word, this is definitely something to witness and practice yourself).

She explained as many things as we had questions – even why might we actually need facings ( my question 😉 ). Clearly I know that you need facings for certain fabrics and to add structure, but I’d never even thought that they can be ‘sweat guards’ – easier to replace when dresses/ tops become a bit dreary under the arm, protecting the precious bodice fabric. And those diamond shaped underarm gussets built into vintage dresses? Did you think like me that they were some kind of decorative design feature to perplex the sewster and define your sewing skills if actually able to insert one neatly? Or a way to create added movement in a mobile garment area? Well, think sweat guards again, and how they may have been attached by a few stitches and washed separately, when the dress/ top itself might not have touched the washer. Interesting.

Supplementing our learning we had an array of informative books to look at, including Winifred Aldrich’s Metric Pattern cutting.  This book for me filled me with inspiration, Patternmaking for Fashion Design by Helen Joseph-Armstrong but it’s hugeo expensive. I want it though!!  In fact I want to study fashion design for three years & not have to go to work in an office!

Ahem, grow up Badge.  Ok, so what did I do? Well I created a cowl neck kimono sleeve pattern that now needs to be toiled (or twirled :-). )


And being the innocent I am, set both myself and Jo a challenge in trying to recreate this top, found in the Hobbs website (invitation Audley top).


It’s not jersey, but silk and we are trying a draped bias cut bodice. More to come when I get my experiments sewn.

This has to be one of the best courses I’ve ever done though, and I feel so excited about what I’ve learnt and want to get cracking putting it all into practice. Next formal learning will be to create my own custom block.

I know fellow bloggers have done pattern cutting courses….
Have you ever considered using your holiday to extend your sewing skills/ knowledge? If you’ve done a course like this how have you used it? Where did it take you?

Now I have the weekend to catch up on all the things I didn’t get to in the week, emails, other blogs, the fruit & veg market,  a 14 mile run (oh yes!) and as little domestics I can manage when we’ve a sunfilled weeked & I’ve been inside all week….hurrah!  Happy weekend everyone.

43 thoughts on “Furthering my addiction: pattern cutting

  1. Merche

    I´ve learn a lot reading your post, so I can imagine how much you´ve learnt yourself! I can feel your enthusiasm. Yes, I think you´ve gone to the next level. Can´t wait to see your new creations!

  2. unlabelled clothes

    Thanks for this review Winnie. I have run through the idea of doing a course as a holiday or some kind of sewing retreat. It would be good to spend the time to learn something intensively, or just sew – away from your usual environment. Evening classes can be a bit tiring if you’ve already been at work all day & you’re hungry!

  3. Alessa

    Oh wow, definitely sounds like a seamstress’ s dream. 😀 I have dabbled a bit in pattern drafting and changing stuff like darts, making them into princess seams, a bit of draping… “Make your own dress patterns” by Adele P. Margolis has some good illustrations. I can believe that nothing is better than having it show to you, though!

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      Oh yes, the book by Margolis was mentioned at the class too, I’m sure. It’s a classic.
      So you’ve dabbled with draping too, that’s interesting. We had a small (v small) go in the class, but not enough time to really pursue, but I’ve been shown the principles of that too now – exciting!

  4. CGCouture

    Oh man, I can’t WAIT to see how you do that white blouse, because I want one!! The class sounds super awesome, wish I lived closer so that I could take some of these classes I keep hearing about…

  5. Sam

    What an amazing way to spend your holiday! I want to go on this now, right this minute. One of my next goals is to learn pattern cutting, I might have to start saving my pennies for this course (or something similar).

  6. Amy

    Congratulations on learning these new skills. I definitely agree with using holidays for sewing courses. I’ve done it before and plan to do it again. I get more holiday days than my partner so can have time off with him and time off for myself. Can’t wait to see your experiments!! I’m off to a trouser drafting class in two weeks and you’ve gotten me very excited!

  7. Jenny

    What an awesome way to spend your holiday!! Sounds like you learnt so much and are raring to go! Can’t wait to see your results 🙂

    I’ve done some similar courses & they are so rewarding aren’t they? The possibilities are endless now!

  8. Roobeedoo

    Oh fantastic! I have a couple of pattern-cutting books but haven’t taken the time to work with them. Maybe that’s the project I will take away on holiday with me!
    I would love to do a proper course – thanks for that link and recommendation.

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      I have books too, but somehow never made time to look through them. Now I’ve had some dedicated time learning the basics, I think my books will help take me further. But a great idea to take your books away with you – your very own holiday summer school!

  9. Katy

    Sounds great! By the way, what are you using for pattern tracing paper, and where do you get it? I having a hard time finding a source.

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      I haven’t got a source for pattern paper Katy – this is using college supplies – a massive roll of white paper. That will be anther step – sourcing the materials at a reasonable price

  10. Felicity from Down Under

    When I was made redundant, my idea of what to do with my time before I got another job (knowing it would take a while) was to undertake two dressmaking units with TAFE – that’s Technical and Further Education and I have no idea what your equivalent might be (perhaps some technical college)! I thought it was a wonderful idea. Not entirely upskilling me or updating my employability skills but useful to me. (Alas, no, it didn’t happen.) So, yes, I would certainly use a holiday to undertake something I thought I’d enjoy. And I like that you recognised your own light-bulb moment. 😉

  11. zora read

    congratulations on finding a course which obviously suited you so well and from which you gained so much knowledge and inspiration. One day I keep promising myself that I will do some courses in dressmaking/design even if just for the ideas. I am looking forward to seeing more self drafted badger clothes.

  12. Joy

    Learning pattern drafting sounds like the perfect way to spend a vacation! I’m excited to see what you make. I haven’t taken any classes, but have found Aldrich’s book and Adele Margolis’ Make Your Own Dressmaking (a reissue of an oldie) to be extremely helpful.

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      I do have Winifred Aldrich’s book, which now will help develop some ideas as I get going under my own steam. Love all of her variations & at last have a better chance of working with them now!

  13. Gjeometry

    Fabulous, sounds like a very good course! I am currently taking a pattern-making class which is similar. We are learning to manipulate darts on both skirt and bodice blocks to create designs. I love the top you chose to recreate!

    1. scruffybadgertime Post author

      Now dart manipulation in skirts has also blown me away – just looking at diagrams got my imagination racing!!! Glad that you’re having fun too with pattern making

  14. ClaireE

    Isn’t it amazing to learn these new skills? I’m so pleased you booked yourself on this course as it really does open up a new world of possibilities. I’m definitely going to try this more and more, once I have completed my dress. I can’t wait to see the top you recreate.

  15. LinB

    Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed the course! I spent one whole semester on a proposed master’s degree in theatrical costume design, before I realized that I am not “cut out” to live among theater folk. Our first assignment was to compare our personal measurements to patterns pieces derived from historical garments by Janet Arnold. We had to mathematically work out the ratio between our measurements and her pattern pieces: drafting a sloper/block from scratch was a delicious relief, after that. Learning basic pattern-drafting skills will make you fearless at sewing.

      1. LinB

        Not really — it’s mostly just rectangles, esp. for the ancients. Also for shifts, petticoats, breeches, etc. It’s not until the 19th century that you get to really play with bias and darting and form-fitting garments.

  16. Debbie

    Winnie, the course sounds fascinating nd I can;t wait to see your first creations. I have always wanted to do a pattern cutting course – I do have the Metric Pattern book – it’s brilliant…my mum taught me pattern cutting with it when I was 17! It is on my shelf still. great way to use your holiday. I once did a residential week long drawing course in france…it was a great way to immerse myself in drawing, drawing, drawing and I came home with a folder bulging with work and it was very refreshing! obviously this was a looooooonnnnnng time ago in years bc (before children) xxx

  17. thesecretlifeofseams

    Looks like an inspiring course! Can’t wait to see what you cook up as a result.
    I don’t have anywhere near that level of skill yet. So if I was going to try and make something like that blouse, I’d probably bodge it by folding pleats or darts into a blank piece of paper and then laying that on top of an existing tnt bodice pattern or over a bought item I was trying to recreate and tracing the seamlines.
    I feel like that could be ripe with disaster but would work as a bodge?

  18. Rachel In Red

    Oh, this is a great post! You’ve really made me enthusiast about taking a course like this! It’s fantastic to improve your sewing skills and take yourself to a hugher level. Am really curious at how your top will turn out! Good luck with that!

  19. Barb

    Well, this was all a bit technical for a simple non-sewer but I did very muchly like the idea of reintroducing sweat guards. Absolutely perfect for this (hideous, IMHO) hot weather…have seriously considered sticking a couple of Bodyforms under my pits but I’m sure you would be able to combat ‘lady glow’ in a much more stylish manner!

  20. Marie

    Wow Winnie, I think you’ve found your true calling! I cannot wait to see what you design next, I’m so excited…your sketches are super cute! And I had no idea that facings etc may started off as ‘sweat guards’…fascinating stuff!

  21. Erin

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying your new skills! I’m currently taking a similar class (part of a design & construction certificate course in Seattle) and your reactions are pretty much the same as mine. It’s amazing how simple it is to make some pretty major design changes. I’d definitely try draping too – I’m taking both and it’s amazing how much the ideas in one class click when we go about it in the other class. We used architecture tracing paper that came in long rolls and were told to find in the local university bookstore. In fact a lot of the tools used are what architects use. Check out those sources before art sections/stores and hopefully you’ll find what you need.

  22. missjoiedevivre

    A friend who studied pattern drafting lent me her Helen Joseph Armstrong book and I fell in love with it. Another friend recently came across a copy in a second hand bookstore for peanuts and I was so enraged with jealousy (as she found it about 3 minutes before I looked at the same shelf) I started haunting our local version of eBay and have just, about 3 weeks ago, picked up a copy for me! Still more than she paid but much much less than new. I can’t wait to give it a crack, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with!


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