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How to start using a pattern


We have recently had various requests regarding commencing a career in pattern making or how to make your own patterns. There seems to be a general shortage in the industry of good strong pattern makers and many designers are now exploring the trade and developing their own pattern making skills as a way of reducing costs when creating their own collections.

Pattern Cutting


We have been asked to provide an overview of how to start your own patterns so we have spoken to our trusty specialist Mel and here are some handy hints straight form the expert herself!


1) Keep it simple.

Find the simplest pattern to start off with – I always recommend the Simplicity range as they cater for beginners.

2) Understand the fabric widths!

When you get the pattern it arrives in an envelope and it gives you some information about fabric on the back of it…the most important part here is to understand the fabric widths which normally come in 90cm or 145 cm widths. You have to make sure you have the right cloth for the pattern and you also have to make sure that you have the right pattern for you too.

Pattern Cutting

3) Your size

Before you buy the pattern just make sure that the core measurements on the hips, waist and bust are correct for you're and your silhouette. You then need to buy the right amount of fabric for you size so check out the size on the back of the envelope and the suggested fabric usage required. I always advise that you buy a little bit extra just to make sure you don't run out or that if there is flaw in the fabric you can cut this out and still have enough fabric. Remember fabric is in dye batches too so make sure you buy fabric from the same roll or if you need more fabric from different rolls then the dye batches are the same. You do not want shading on the piece.

4) Bits and Bobs…


The envelope will also tell you want you need – different patterns call this different things such as extras, trims or notions but they are the bits and bobs that you need to make the garment e.g. zips, buttons and ribbons. There are also the tools of the pattern cutters trade too such as the tracing wheel, chalk etc. There are lots of different accessories that can be used here including spot and cross paper, hooks and eyes, linings, petersham, interlining etc.

5) Study the pattern.

When you cut out a piece of a pattern take a good luck at it and review the  solid line running along the outside of the pattern  and a broken line.

The solid line is the line that you will use to cut the fabric after you have placed the pattern piece on the material. You must always always cut on the solid line. In contrast the broken line is the line where you will sew your pattern and you must start and finish at the right point of the broken line. If you go past the broken line or if you don't go to the end of the broken line then you run the risk of the garment just not fitting you correctly.

Be gentle with the pattern as they are printed on lightweight tissue paper. It is easy to tear the pattern when you take it out of the envelope. If you do this just use sellotape and repair it; it will still be fine but it's fiddly.

Have another look at the pattern again now…can you see the arrows on the pattern? This shows you the way the material is going to run before you cut it. It is the grain of the fabric and usually this arrow runs up and down the dress pattern lengthwise.

Pattern Cutting

6) Patterns on fabric and start to cut

There are a set of instructions in the envelope so now look at these and then layout the fabric for your garment. The arrows must run straight on the fabric and you must keep the arrows and fabric flat. The fabric has to be all matched and each pattern and arrow the correct way. Once I made a dress in velvet and cut out one pattern piece which was in a different direction on the pile. When I started to stitch the dress together there was one whole panel where the pile was lying in a different direction so I had shading…the whole dress was ruined

Pin each pattern piece on to the fabric and make sure your pins face upwards so that the fabric does not move when you start cutting. Then take your cutting scissors and carefully follow the bold line. Some people use pinking sheers which are scissor with pyramid teeth on so that the material does not fray.

7) Darts and tracing wheel.

Some people use coloured tracing paper at this point but others use plain or even the spot and cross when marking out the darts. You fold the paper and place it between the two pieces of garment coloured side down where the darts are. Now take your tracing wheel and run it along the printed darts on the pattern piece. When you are finished, you should have coloured lines on your fabric that have marked where the darts will be on your dress. This makes it easier to follow. If the fabric is plain you will then see the wheels anyway and you won't need coloured tracing paper.

8) Zips and buttons

Do the same with the zips, buttons and button holes too.


Pattern Cutting

Ok now you are ready to start sewing…



It gets easier the more you do patterns and you learn the properties of fabrics too – there are some fabrics that do not have elastine in but they have mechanical stretch so look out for this.

Pattern making is a real art and eventually you will learn short cuts and what works for you. You will naturally make mistakes but  just remember to learn from them and when you first start off buy cheap fabric first! You can progress to silks later when you know what you are doing!.


Good luck and it will take time – Rome was not built in a day!


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