I spent part of last week flat patterning a period vest and coat for a ten year old actor for a new Amazon series based on the book Dangerous Book For Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden.
Let’s get technical
Flat patterning is one of my most favorite things to do. It’s very mathematical and systematic. I find it strangely soothing. Many people are intimidated by flat patterning and don’t think it’s something they would ever be able to do themselves. But, the thing about flat patterning is, if you’re good at following directions, anyone can do it.
Have you ever seen the opening sequence for the movie Tailor of Panama? In it, you see a hand drawing in chalk on a piece of fabric. The hand presumably belongs to the tailor who appears to be free handing the outline of a suit jacket front. Now, that’s something you probably won’t be able to do until you’ve drafted some thousands of suit jacket fronts but, flat patterning onto a piece of brown paper by following the instructions in a flat patterning system book is something you can do.
Take a look – it’s in a book
Every person who starts out flat patterning is following someone else’s directions on how to do so. If you take a flat patterning class you’ll work from whatever book the instructor likes. A flat patterning book provides step by step instructions for drawing specific pieces of clothing – things like draw a line equal to back neck to waist and square off from both ends (a and b).
What this means is you need to know the measurement from the neck to the waist of the person you’re drafting for. You can also use standardized measurement charts (which is how commercial patterns are made). Most flat patterning books include such charts, or you can do a search online for them. The instructions for drawing the pattern will continue with the labeling of points by letters using measurements. Directions will say things like: connect e and f with a curved line or mark a point 3/8″ from g and square out.
The right pattern book for the right job
Each flat patterning will produce slightly different results as they are each based on a system developed by the author. Some systems factor in more ease than others, depending on what period the clothing is. For instance, a book on flat patterning a man’s suit jacket from the 1880s will produce a garment different than one written for patterning contemporary men’s suit jackets.
So, how do you know which book to work from? It honestly doesn’t matter all that much when you’re first starting out. But as you get more comfortable with it, you can try different books to see what end results you like better.
One of my most favorite patterning books is Dress Design: Draping and Flat Patterning Method by Hillhouse and Mansfield. The book, written in 1948, gives instructions for a variety of really cool 1940s dresses and suits. It’s not always useful if I’m making something that isn’t a 1940s garment but it’s a wonderful book to study and try out different techniques.
Some other excellent patterning books that are used often in colleges are Norma R. Hollin’s Pattern Making by the Flat Pattern Method and Designing Apparel through the Flat Pattern by Rolfo, Kopp, Gross, and Zelin.
I also like Metric Pattern Cutting books by Winifred Aldrich, though these do require being able to convert your measurements into the metric system. Some pattern makers believe that the metric system allows for increased accuracy when patterning.
Pattern Making by Tomoko Nakamichi is a creative non-traditional approach to patterning and gives instructions for unique geometric Japanese garments.
A few other tools that are handy to have when you’re flat patterning are a clear see-through ruler, a curved ruler, and an L-shaped ruler.
Most pattern makers use a regular old pencil to draft the initial pattern. If they need to go back and make corrections, they’ll often use a red or blue pencil so they’ll know which line is the new line. I, personally, am a fan of the red pencil for corrections as it’s easier to see than a blue one.
If you’ve been wanting to try your hand at flat patterning but didn’t know where to start now’s the time to get yourself a book and start learning! If you don’t want to purchase a book (some of them can be quite expensive), check out your local library. You can, also, of course find used pattern books on Ebay – just don’t get too caught up in auction frenzy and pay too much.