How can I sew my own clothing designs?If you're like me you love to sew your own clothing, it's a creative outlet that affords you a sense of individuality. There is nothing more satisfying than designing your own clothes, but how do you get started? Many of us shrivel in horror at the thought of pattern drafting. I have read a few books and online discussions on the subject of pattern drafting. At best, I understand you use a sloper and modify it to suit your design needs. There are obviously some mathematics involved, which I also shy away from as I am somewhat dyslexic and abhor math. Many people have the benefit of taking classes on pattern drafting, the only one available here is at a local college. I would love to take it but I'm not terribly interested in returning to post secondary school for another four years, further increasing my student debt. I will continue to scour the internet for pattern drafting tips and tutorials and hopefully one day I will be able to share that information with you, for now I have the second best approach to designing your own clothes.
How to get started...First, it's a good idea to get your design on paper. Even if your drawing skills are not top notch (they don't have to be) this process is very helpful. I often start by sketching my garment from various angles, I will also make notes describing what materials I would like to use. If I'm feeling up to it I might add colour to my sketch. My art is a very therapeutic process for me but I know for others drawing can be a frustrating experience; if you prefer, try writing down a detailed description of your garment instead. Discuss materials, notions, textures and techniques that you wish to employ when creating this garment. When beginning my design process, I enjoy going outside because nature inspires me. I also like to listen to music when I'm sketching. Whatever your muse may be, you just need to get inspired!
After you have drawn or described your garment you can move forward with the design process. So where do you begin? In the pattern stores! It sounds silly doesn't it? How can I teach you to design your own clothing if my answer is to buy patterns anyways? Through my experience I have found it is not terribly difficult to create your own designs from existing patterns. In fact, you can achieve a lot by combining elements of different patterns together. Ask any long time sewists and they will tell you the same thing, hit the pattern catalogs up and look for the garment that closely resembles your design. It will serve as a basis for your project. You will add to and alter this pattern to suit your needs, just like a sloper. If your design is too abstract and different from the patterns in the catalogs, you may need to read up about slopers and pattern drafting. You may dream up some whimsical super architectural design that you've never seen in any book, well you likely won't find a pattern for it! That's not to say it's a lost cause, as I've encouraged readers in previous posts, visit online communities like Pattern Review and ask the many great and knowledgeable sewing enthusiasts for help.
If your garment is simple in design then proceed with looking through catalogs, you're sure to find something. For example, in the future I plan on making a Wednesday Addams dress. Perhaps I don't see any ready made pattern of a dress that features a peter pan collar, instead I'll look for a dress that closely resembles my desired design and draft a peter pan collar from scratch (or borrow it from another pattern like I did recently on another project).
Here's a drawing I completed in my sketchbook. Just for the sake of ease I designed a very simple prom dress. It features a square shaped neckline with a gathered skirt at the waist. I begin by searching the pattern catalogs specifically for dresses. If I can find a complete pattern that shares the same design that's just awesome, but it might not be that simple. If I can't find one or more patterns in the dress category that share my design elements I might have to look in tops or bottoms as well. In this case, because the design is very simple, I managed to find two dress patterns that had the design elements I was looking for. I found two Butterick retro patterns, one that had a similar top to my design and another which featured the gathered skirt I require for my dress.
As you will notice the bodice I selected does not have the same neckline. It's actually not as difficult to change a round neckline to a square one, however, there can be issues if you make a dramatic change to a neckline (like a deep v-neck) so it's always best to seek out a pattern that closely resembles your design. If you want a deep v-neckline then look for patterns that were designed with deep necklines. I should also note that it's important to find patterns that suggest a similar material. Patterns that will require knit or stretchy materials may not translate well into more structured fabrics and vice versa. To make it easy on yourself search for patterns that match your selected material. Remember, I said that this pattern (or patterns) will serve as a basis for your design, because it is something of an experiment it is imperative that you do a muslin first. This way you can work out any fit issues or unforeseen errors in your design. Nobody wants to waste good expensive fabric so buy up some cheap used table cloths or sheets and do some test runs!
If you've selected the correct patterns to support your design then the alterations you make to your pattern(s) should be fairly minimal. In my case I would change the neckline from rounded to square and create a new facing for it. If the pattern featured a side zipper and I wanted it in the back instead I would split the back piece and add a seam allowance to accommodate the zipper in the back. If I wanted the opposite I would remove the back seam allowance, cut the back piece on a fold and put the zipper into the side seam. If the gathered skirt from pattern B is slightly longer than the bodice waistline of pattern A I might shorten it by a few inches to fit correctly. Again, these are not huge alterations and that's how it should be. If you have to make enormous alterations it will be a long and tedious process and might not work out in the end. Try your best to find similar patterns for your design choice(s).
Is this method right for me?You may wonder, what's the difference between this method and learning how to pattern draft with a sloper? I feel that this method is easier. Instead of having to calculate what to add or take away or where to slash and spread a sloper, you have a pattern that's already been tested by the company. For example, if I wanted a simple sweetheart bodice with princess seams it wouldn't be a difficult search, there are some five hundred or so patterns in the world matching that description! Buying a pre-made pattern that features that specific element is easier to use and takes the guess work out of designing your own from scratch. However, if you are really interested in out-of-the-box designs that would grace the finest runways, it sounds like you would benefit from a good pattern drafting class. I only sew for myself and although I admire high fashion I likely won't be designing something that would rival Alexander McQueen's work. I'm more interested in building my wardrobe with simple items. So if you are interested in high fashion, I strongly encourage you to get a good education in fashion design and sewing.
I hope you have found this helpful. I would love to see what amazing things you come up with!
Main image is stock, illustration is mine and the diagrams are from BUTTERICK.