BEHIND THE SCENES: PREPARING NEW PATTERNS
For a long while, I didn’t think of myself as a designer. Before I started sewing, I didn’t even think of myself as particularly creative! But sewing, like many creative hobbies, has really shown me new sides to myself. In a sense, we sewists are all designers – because every time we sit down to a new project, the outcome derives from various design decisions WE make. The choice of pattern, fabric, print placement, fastening, pattern alterations, and even internal support mechanisms such as interfacings, all require you to create your own vision of the end garment. And for me, designing sewing patterns became a natural extension of all that thinking.
As I write this I have sketches and specs for five new patterns almost ready to go to my patternmaker, and I thought it would be nice to share some of the process behind releasing my sewing patterns.
I have a croquis notebook in which I tend to do a lot of rough sketches of garments I might like to make either for myself or to release as patterns. As you may know, the focus of my sewing is business wear, and so a lot of the time I think about what I’d like to have in my own working wardrobe. Prior to 2020, I would have a long and crowded commute into the City of London, and you’d be amazed how often I’d see a really nice outfit or a really cute detail on a garment, and having my notebook in my handbag meant I could usually try and capture a reminder with a quick sketch for later.
Every now and then, I’ll sit down with my notebook and open a double spread page, which has six croquis on it, and give myself a theme. The theme might be ‘shift dresses’ or ‘trousers’ or ‘button down shirts’ and I’ll try to sketch several different ideas. Not all of them are great, and I don’t expect them to be, but for me it helps me to get the ideas out of my head and start to whittle down the options. I’ll then take my favourite sketches and start to develop them further, paying more attention to proportions and design details. For example, this is where I’ll umm and ahh over how long the short sleeves should be on a summer dress (in my opinion, just long enough to combat the chill of the office air conditioning but short enough that you can bask in the sunshine when you pop out to get lunch) – or try to decide proportionally what midi skirt length looks best.
I should note that I’m no artist – not at all! – but with the dotted outline of a croquis I can usually put down something that looks good to me and communicates the details and proportions I have in mind.
Then I’ll look at all the more developed sketches and try to come to a decision as to which ones work well together and could be released together, if that’s my objective. Depending on what my capacity looks like for the relevant time period, I may decide on a standalone release of a single pattern or release a group of patterns together. I’d love to say I have a more artistic process around ‘collections’, but as I say I generally tend to think about what I think makes a good work wardrobe staple and which pieces might work well together.
At this point I’ll start to make a few samples for myself to test out the designs. I haven’t been to fashion school; my sewing and my pattern-making is mostly self taught from books and online courses over the years, but I can usually work out the pattern pieces I have in mind, at least enough to make rough samples to help me assess some of the details – how wide should this collar be or how loose-fitting should that shirt dress be? This helps when, at the next stage, I need to discuss the pattern with my pattern-maker.
But I’ll leave that for another post!