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What is Pattern Making?

By J. Nelson
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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Pattern making involves the design and creation of templates from which clothing and craft items can be sewn. Patterns are made of pieces of paper shapes that are traced onto the fabric to be cut, with each individual pattern piece serving as a form for an individual part of the garment or item to be sewn. Pattern making can be done at home by more experienced sewers, or pre-made patterns can be purchased for home sewing projects.

A common way to make a pattern at home is to replicate a garment that one already owns. For example, if one has a particular clothing item that is worn out or aging and a replacement is desired, a pattern can be cut from that garment. This often involves taking apart the garment by ripping out the seams and dismantling the item into individual pieces.

The pieces of the old garment then can be traced onto fabric that will be used to create the new garment. This method will result in a pattern that can be used to create a new garment, but there will be no directions provided. This method of pattern making therefore is most often used by experienced sewers who know how to reconstruct the garment from the pattern without having details such as seams, cuff placement and button holes explained.

There also are computer software programs designed for both industrial and home use that can be used for pattern making. Computer-aided design (CAD) software can be purchased and loaded onto one’s home computer in order to help design new patterns or modify existing ones. These programs allow the user to resize and alter patterns for a more custom fit or to modify patterns according to one’s preference or need. The CAD will draw, adjust and calculate measurements for the pattern. The sewer then prints, cuts out and uses the pattern for his or her project.

Before the development of CAD software, pattern making had a long history, though sewing patterns were used almost exclusively to create garments for aristocrats or the very wealthy. Prior to the 19th century, it was rare for most people to have clothes that were tailored to their fit and figure. In 1869, Ebenezer Butterick pre-printed tissue paper patterns that were tailored for individual sizes and then sold. About the same time in industrialized countries, sewing machines became increasingly affordable. These two events gave rise to the pattern-making industry, with many companies mass-producing patterns for sale and many people owning sewing machines and being able to buy and use the patterns at home.

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Discussion Comments

By KaBoom — On Apr 29, 2012

@Monika - I'm not sure about sewing, but I know there are a few different kinds of pattern making software out there for knitters. I'm pretty sure a lot of professional pattern designers take advantage of the software too. It probably takes way less time than designing the entire pattern off the top of your head.

That's just speculation though, I just knit patterns, I don't design them. I have thought about investing in some pattern designing software though, because I'm interested in designing my own knitwear, and I think that would be a good place to start.

By Monika — On Apr 29, 2012

@JessicaLynn - Yeah, the average person definitely doesn't have clothes pattern making skills. I've dabbled in sewing a little bit, and I know there is absolutely no way I would be able to make my own pattern.

However, I might be able to do it with the help of a computer program! I'm actually very interested in this. I've heard of CAD software before, but only in the context of architecture! I imagine the computer-aided design software that you would use for a sewing pattern is different than the kind architects use.

By JessicaLynn — On Apr 28, 2012

My mom is really into sewing. In fact, she actually worked as a tailor for a little while before I was born! Anyway, she's been sewing as a hobby for forever, and I've witnessed her do some fashion pattern making.

The last time she made her own pattern, she used an existing dress, but heavily modified the pattern. From what I saw, it was pretty easy for her, although it was time consuming. However, she's been sewing since she was about 10! I don't think just making a pattern would be very easy for the average person.

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