EHC – pattern drafting introduction.

October update! Just finished gathering into one single location a heap of original hand drafted patterns, that I created over the past 35 years from before and during my involvement with the school, of wedding gowns, various types of suits, costumes, and other furnishings. They were all hastily stuffed into drawers after the fact, but I did keep most of them for reference someday. Which made me think how fortunate I was to have learned how to draft original patterns from an expert and brought to light my need for a better filing system.

This is true of all materials storage as well. Taking a break from teaching this year my time has been focused on a major sort out here at the school, keeping the most useful of materials for our courses, storing the fabrics more logically, our equipment, and notions is now done. But a major still to-do-job ahead is a cataloguing project.

We have a rough estimate of 200 items to assess and catalogue in the collection of creations by Elfriede Holtkamp. What will be kept, and what then will be de-accessioned must also be factored into the project.  This, I’m guessing will take some time to complete. It is an important component of our school’s history and foundation, and I’m very fortunate to have access to a professional in the field of collections to help me.

Ecole Holt Couture School of Couture Sewing was not created on just an idea to share knowledge and skills regarding ‘couture’ sewing techniques and methods, but has 60 plus years of working history backing it up. Elfriede started at a young age sewing for fun at first, then for family. Then for clients, but not without formal education learning the craft. She too went through the mistakes and trials, agonies of disappointments, and experienced the victories in learning her trade. One advantage that she did have was talent. As I understand it, talent is a gift which cannot be taught, but a skill certainly can. So, whether we end up having excellent skills in our craft and trade, doesn’t just depend on our effort alone. It requires talent, effort, and good information and guidance.

However, for some fortunate individuals a gifted talent will take them far beyond what the rest of us can ever achieve in terms of excellence, and comprehensive diversity of skills. Elfriede is one of those gifted few whose creativity, thirst for learning, experimenting, and diverse experience resulted in a body of work of excellence. Elfriede excelled in dressmaking, tailoring, and in embroidery, beading, knitting, and crocheting. Drawing, carving, singing and other creative interests have kept her occupied all her life including raising a family. I don’t know how she managed to do it all so well while maintaining healthy relationships too.

Back to dressmaking and tailoring as a profession. Those who have the upper edge in the trade will also have pattern making skills, or said another way are ‘pattern engineers.’  Of course, there are businesses that specializes in pattern making for a multitude of end products, and one such business [N-] explains the importance of pattern making rather well. Although it may be long winded, it totally gets to the crux of pattern making:

“Pattern Makers and Technical Designers usually follow a block or sketch Design Drawing to create their technical drawings. These complex drawings contain the complete technical details and instructions that are used to convey with precision the design idea into a workable product. Since many companies outsource their production to outside factories, making sure that the Technical Package is complete and well illustrated is crucial.

Technical drawings can be created manually or on a 2D/3D CAD system. There are pros and cons in both drafting techniques. The quality of the pattern ultimately lays on the abilities of the pattern maker. A CAD system is just a tool like a pen and a scissor. Talent and skill are what is behind good patterns. Some good pattern makers work well with software technologies and others work better with manual tools. Whether it is done manually or digitally, knowledge of basic geometry is a must for technical designers since pattern making is based on logic and mathematical calculations. For companies creating manual patterns, digitalization is an important step in production. It allows users to save a digital file of their paper patterns and modify/grade the templates virtually as needed.

Technical pattern designers are the mediators between designers and the production staff. Today their responsibilities and skills vary, but in general, they are involved in almost every phase of product development including patternmaking, specs, fit, and production…” N-Hega Technologies

Pattern drafting in dressmaking, tailoring and especially in haute couture [or high-end dressmaking] is the important link between an idea and a product. We teach pattern drafting at Ecole Holt Couture as an integral part of the curriculum for that reason. It begins with a sketch of the first project which happens to be a casual day dress that for reasons of complexity is simple in design.

But if I were to step outside of our curriculum for a moment, I would recommend to someone who wants to test-the-waters of pattern drafting, by attempting to draft a simple skirt. I would encourage them to observe the human body form from at least three sides from the waist downward to the knees for a skirt. Front, side and back. This doesn’t depend on whether a male or female form, although they are different by nature.

Notice the ratios between the waist circumference and the hip circumference. Try to define what and where the waistline is located exactly. Note that the hip level is not as evident as you first imagine, and that there are at least two hip levels to make note of, an upper and lower level. Notice the shape of the derrière on either female or male forms. And then the shape of the belly, where it begins and ends to curve, if at all. How do the thighs relate to the hips. Where is the most appealing level to end the drop of the skirt in relation to the knees, called the hemline. By this time, you will become aware that no two similar bodies are identical in shape or proportion, and each dimension affects the outcome of the design in relation to the body shape.

A Skirt is a very common garment defined as a ‘garment fastened around the waist and hanging down around the legs, worn by women and girls’ [and men]. The simplest shaped skirt to draft, a rectangle gathered into a skirt not withstanding, is an ‘A’ line skirt with a seam running vertically on each side and with or without a back centre vertical seam. It requires a waistband and an opening and closure method. There may be some debate whether an ‘A’ line or ¼ circle skirt would be the simplest to draft as a first attempt. Which is a good comparison, however, any ‘successful’’ circle skirt requires a bit more foundational understanding to create ‘successfully.’ But more about that at another time.

An ‘A’ line skirt is a basic specific silhouette for skirts, out of several to choose from. What defines an ‘A’ line skirt is a skirt that is fitted at the hips and gradually widens towards the hem, giving the impression of the shape of a capital letter A.  Naturally it is also supported from the waistline. Of interest, is that no ‘A’ line skirt silhouette will appear to be the same between varying body shapes.  

The final product will necessarily go through several stages from drafting to preparation of assembly and construction, fitting and adjustments, sewing and through to finishing ending before it can characterized as successful.

To create the pattern, you will need to decide on the waistline level, hip line levels and hemline level, and have the sketch of the skirt on paper for reference. Then take the appropriate measurements using a soft tape measure with either centimetres or inches and use only one system or the other, not both. There are measurements required for both horizontal and vertical levels to record all the ratios for and between the Waist, Hips and the Hemline. Once you have recorded those measurements, then you have the information to begin the pattern draft.

You will need paper large enough to plot all the measurements for 1/4 the size of the skirt, a pencil, measuring tape, a straight edge like a yard stick, and a 90/45/45 drafting triangle. And you will need a surface to layout the paper large enough to support all four edges at once. If you have these simple items and a suitable worktop, then you are ready to draft your first skirt. You can try it out by watching my one-time-only-Free instruction video on YouTube next time, date to be announced.

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