November 26, 2013


Can I interest you in a bit of rant? Or maybe a bit of a lecture?

It's about something I learned while teaching at iFabrica: the teaching of pattern making (here in the Netherlands at least).
My students-for-two-days were both interested in pattern making but where they lived, they could only learn it as a part of a three year course intended for the wannabe professional dress maker. Not an attractive prospect for a hobby seamstress who just wants to make well fitting clothes to her own design for herself.
And one of the ladies who worked at iFabrica had actually done that particular course but told me she didn't feel confident drafting patterns at all. And she had never been taught to make her own designs.
I was surprised at all that. When I wanted to learn pattern making, I found M, here in The Hague. An experienced designer and pattern maker who also taught drafting to small groups of interested amateurs.

My earliest training in drafting patterns was about making slopers to my measurements and then coming up with designs based on those. Of course, I was a very enthusiastic student and got in loads of practice over a relatively short time. The whole thing gave me what I would consider a well-informed can-do attitude towards both designing my own clothes and drafting the patterns for them.

Now, it seems like I've just been very lucky. Most people looking for pattern making lessons are confronted with extensive education programs involving thick books with separate slopers for all kinds of garments (which I don't think you need…). Education focussed on teaching rules rather than on developing insight and building skill. And not targeted at those who just want to expand their options when sewing for themselves.
Apparently, pattern making courses are like that all over the country. 
I kind of knew there were a couple of institutions teaching sewing and pattern making, I didn't know they were so dominant. 
They're like the arcane sisterhood of the Dutch sewing world…
As a heretic savant, I'm wondering if there's anything I could or should do... 

P.S. Of course, I know there's a wealth of information on pattern making to be found both online and in books. However, and I am speaking from personal experience here as well, a bit of real-life teaching makes it much easier to get started.


  1. Ik had dat probleem inderdaad ook in Arnhem, ik wilde heel graag leren patronen aan te passen en zelf te maken, maar dat kon inderdaad alleen als onderdeel van een 3 jarige opleiding coupeuse voor een paar duizend euro! Hopelijk kan ik hier in Engeland wel iets vinden.

  2. Wel, I have learned the pattern making at shool - I followed the techincal school in Poland. I am surprised as well there are not so many courses in simple pattern making and pattern manipulations - which is basis if you want to be a designer. This knowledge is very helpful even when working with ready-to-sew patterns.
    I am actually thinking of starting giving courses in simple patternmaking - probably starting from simple skirt. I fully agree that there are a lot of people who just want to gain this knowledge without having to follow heavy educational programme.
    It would be great to exchange more thought on this topic with you...

  3. I would love it if you would teach others your methods so they can then pass this onto other keen sewers who want their skills more without being bound by rules.

  4. The college in NZ where I am studying patternmaking and construction offers short courses in just pattern drafting. Our teacher is incredible and I have learned so much from her this year. It is so valuable to have someone there to ask questions of.

    1. I live in Auckland, New Zealand, which college do you study at? I have been looking around for short pattern courses but haven't had much luck.

  5. In the UK you can sign up for City & Guilds courses to learn pattern cutting. Places that offer the course are few & far between though, but I can recommend the Inkberrow Design Centre in the Midlands.

    1. Now, if only I still lived down in the midlands. :)

  6. I think there may be something wrong with the way these institutions present themselves. I have had pattern drafting lessons with a teacher affiliated with one of these institutions (ensaid, for those who care) and her classes were for everyone: people wanting to do the exams, people who had never sewn before, people who came to learn drafting just for the sake of making their own well-fitted clothing.. And I know many other teachers offer this combination as well.

    However, I think I was extremely lucky with my teacher in the way she was able to see the different abilities people have. I am good at math and she quickly recognized that. Others were way more creative than me, or meticulous, more or less confident, and she reacted to them in the right ways as well. I know not all teachers (in any profession) are as well able to do that.

    That being said; the books (not big at all) consisted of stupid rules instead of understanding what was behind it, obviously made by and for women who either are afraid of or were never taught any maths (there were, for example, different formulas for a full, three-quarter and half circle skirt). When I said something about that, my teacher said that it was all right when drafting for my own sake to hold on to the real math, but when having an oral exam, I should know the rules as they were in the books in order fr the examinator to understand me. That made me kind of sad..

  7. I have had this exact experience! I have been wanting to do a course in pattern drafting, and have not been able to find one. I'm in the UK, and when I enquired about the City and Gulds "Fashion" course, I was told I'd have to start as a beginner, which for me would be pointless, I have an A level in needlework and dress, and have been making my own clothes for many years, and the beginner course would cover a lot of old ground re construction, so would be a costly way of going over everything I already know, only to learn the very basics of pattern drafting, which I have mostly managed to teach myself anyway.
    I have recently discovered a local designer who teaches sewing, and am currently trying to pursuade her to offer pattern drafting classes.

  8. The arcane sisterhood of the Dutch sewing world! You must have the Snijschool (Rttdam) in mind, right? I'm actually following their pattern drafting course there, I'm into the second year and it's, well ... interesting. On one side I'm learning a lot about pattern drafting, really I am, but there are also a lot frustrating moments. I could rant for hours, but I hear ya, that's all I'm saying.