The design of a blouse or skirt with sewing instructions has caught your fancy, and you would like to get on with making it as soon as possible. You can be very creative in your choice of fabric, but you must take great care in transferring the pattern and cutting it out.
Buying Fabric and Haberdashery
With a printed pattern or in a pattern magazine you will find a list telling you how much fabric to buy and which types of fabric are particularly suitable.
If you stick to the recommendations, you can be sure that the shape and effect of your individual garment will be as close as possible to the illustration in the magazine or on the pattern.
However, if a flowing viscose fabric is suggested for something like wide-legged palazzo pants, the finished trousers will look completely different if you go for gabardine or linen.
Of course, choosing a different type of fabric can sometimes create an intentional change of style. All the same, you need to have a certain amount of dressmaking experience in order to be able to judge what will work. Beginners should follow the instructions for the original version.
In addition to the fabric, you will need sewing thread, plus zips, buttons, press studs, rivets, interfacing, etc., depending on the garment. You will find a large selection in fabric shops or the haberdashery department of a department store.
Preparing Paper Patterns Preparing a Proprietary Pattern
Use the size chart that comes with the pattern to determine your garment size. On the pattern sheet or sheets, you will find the names or miniature drawings of the pieces you will need to make your chosen model. Start by looking at them carefully. Then cut out the pieces along the cutting line for your garment size. If you are combining sizes — e.g. waist size 14 and hip size 16 — make the cutting line run smoothly from one into the other.
Making a Paper Pattern from a Pattern Sheet in a Magazine
If you are transferring the pattern from a fashion magazine with an accompanying pattern sheet, next to the picture of the model it will tell you where in the magazine you can find the sewing instructions for it.
There you will see the various pieces with all the information about grain lines (shown by an arrow), attachment points, placing on the fold, pleats, etc. depicted in miniature. Here you will find out all you need to know in order to prepare your paper pattern — e.g. which pattern sheet you will find it on, what color the lines are, the numbers of the pieces you need and which cutting line matches each garment size.
Example: Red outline Sheet C Pieces 1 to 6 Size 14 (40) Open up pattern sheet C and look for the red numbers 1–6 at the edge. Go vertically up or down from there until you come to the pattern pieces with red outlines numbered 1–6. Follow the outline with your finger, so you get a feel for the shape.
Place the pattern paper under the pattern sheet. Place the dressmaker’s carbon paper in between, with the coated side down. Now trace all around the outline of each pattern piece for your size with a tracing wheel or a pencil. Transfer the interior markings such as darts, grain lines and fold edges as well. Cut each piece out of the pattern paper along the outer cutting lines.
Then write on the paper the name of the piece and the number of times it must be cut out. If applicable, mark the edges that must be placed on a fold. Make sure that you transfer any facings that are drawn inside the pattern piece onto a separate piece of paper and cut them out separately. Make paper patterns for all the pieces.
Transferring Patterns with a Grid to Paper
Some patterns are depicted in a reduced format on a grid. In these cases the size of the grid is always indicated — e.g.: 1 square corresponds to 5 x 5 cm.
If the materials list in the instructions specifies stretch fabric, you absolutely must heed this advice. These patterns are designed without additional room for movement, so if you made this design from a firm fabric it would be far too tight. A transfer is really easy with squared pattern paper, which can be bought in specialist shops.
The squares are 1 x 1 cm, and can, therefore, be adapted to the measurements of all larger squares. If you do not have squared paper, draw your own grid with a medium-thick felt pen on a large sheet of paper (e.g. wrapping paper). Place the squared paper on your work surface underneath the pattern paper. The grid will be visible through the paper.
Now start at one of the straight edges of the pattern piece and count all the squares in one direction until you come to the next corner or curve. Mark this point on your paper. Then count to the next corner or curve. Continue in this way until you have transferred all the marker points.
Join the dots corresponding to the pattern, either with a ruler or with freehand curves, using the squares of the grid to help you see where it should go. Lastly, draw in all the interior markings and cut out around the edge of the pattern.
Making Paper Patterns Using Rectangular Dimensioning
Some models are also provided with dimensioning within a circumscribed rectangle. Draw the rectangle with all the external measurements on your pattern paper and transfer the measurements of the original onto the outline of your rectangle with small dashes. Then use the outer measurements to help you transfer the interior corner points of the pattern piece. Join the marked points using a ruler, or freehand for curves. Draw all the interior outlines and markings on the sheet as well, before cutting around the outlines of the piece.
With the instructions for each pattern, you will always find a cutting layout showing the best way to arrange the pattern pieces on the fabric. If the fabric is double the width — i.e. at least 140 cm wide — it is usually folded with the right sides together on the inside.
This fold is called the straight grain of the fabric. If the fabric is only 70 cm or 90 cm wide, so it is not double when you spread it out, you should lay it right side upwards. Exceptions to these rules are explicitly mentioned in the cutting layout.
Spread out the fabric and arrange the pattern pieces on it according to the layout. With pieces that have the grainline — which always runs parallel to the selvage — marked on them, make sure that you always observe the marking.
You should also bear in mind that with single layers of fabric, many pieces will have to be cut out twice as mirror images — i.e. once with the paper pattern turned around the other way. If the fabric is double this will happen automatically. When you have found the best arrangement for the pattern pieces, with sufficient distance between them for the seam and hem allowances given in the instructions, pin each piece firmly to the fabric all the way around. Now draw the seam allowances around the pattern pieces on the fabric with tailor’s chalk and a hand gauge or small ruler.
You can also transfer the seam allowances to the fabric using a double tracing wheel and dressmaker’s carbon paper, by placing the carbon paper under the fabric and then running the tracing wheel around the outline of the pattern piece. This means you have transferred the sewing line at the same time and you can simply cut along the edge of the seam or hem allowance.
If you do not have a double tracing wheel, transfer the sewing line after cutting out the pattern pieces along the seam and hem allowances as follows. Place the carbon paper on the table, coated side up and, on top of that, place the cut-out pieces of double fabric with the paper pattern pinned to them. The paper pattern should be on top. Now run the single tracing wheel around the edges of the paper pattern.
Repeat this for the mirror-image piece of fabric, by removing the paper pattern and pinning it to the other side of the double fabric pieces.
To transfer interior lines, place the dressmaker’s carbon paper between the fabric and the paper pattern, with the coated side on the fabric. Then run the tracing wheel over the markings. More experienced dressmakers are content just to mark the beginning and end of a seam line and then connect the points parallel to the seam allowances.
However, this only works if all the seam allowances are straight and exactly the same width. Experienced dressmakers mark the tips of darts by sticking a pin vertically through the paper pattern and the fabric. They then mark this point on both sides of the fabric pieces with tailor’s chalk or a pin.
Professional Tips for Cutting out
Pins leave holes in leather or lacquer fabrics. Use strips of the adhesive tape instead of pins for these. Extra-long pins are better for thick fabrics such as fleece or knits. To prevent very smooth, thin fabrics such as silk or viscose from slipping, attach them to the cutting table with adhesive tape or spread a tablecloth out underneath them. To find the bias grain, take one corner of a length of fabric and place it on the opposite selvedge so that the cut edge lies on top of the selvedge.
Press the resulting diagonal line or mark it with tailor’s chalk. For fabrics with a nap such as velvet or velour, you must have all the pieces the same way round — e.g. with all the hems pointing in the same direction. With conspicuous patterns such as checks or stripes, it is essential to pay attention to the pattern repeat.
Hi, there! I am Hannah Nelson, your host on this website. I started this blog to teach my lovely readers how to master the art of sewing effortlessly and how to turn this hobby into an income generating business.