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The Making of a Dress, Part 2: Patternmaking & Grading

by Emily DeLong

31 May 2016

This is the second part of our series on what goes on behind the scenes to turn an idea of a dress into a finished product. If you missed it, check out Part 1 here.

Once I have roughly planned out all the pieces in a collection, it’s time to move on to the next step in the dressmaking process: patternmaking.

What is patternmaking? It’s essentially making a blueprint for a garment. It’s where I create flat paper templates of all the pieces of a garment before they’re sewn together. Once I’ve made all my pattern pieces, I can then transfer the pattern to fabric, cut out the fabric, and I’m ready to start sewing.

The process is a bit more involved than just that, though, so let’s back up.

I wear a size medium, so all the patterns I create first are a size medium. I will start with base pattern pieces (aka “slopers”) of the simplest possible top/skirt/dress/etc. that I know already fit perfectly. Below is a basic sloper for a sleeveless bodice I created:

How did I get the slopers to fit perfectly in the first place? A very haphazard combination of pre-made slopers, inspiration from commercial patterns, and some intense drafting from scratch. It was an imperfect process.

To turn a basic bodice sloper into, say, the bodice of the Daisy Dress requires some work. I wanted to turn the front of the bodice, what was originally one piece, into three total pieces with diagonal princess seams meeting at the center, so I cut into the sloper where I wanted the diagonal seams to be, did a bit of technical manipulation, changed up the neckline, and voila! The bodice of the Daisy. (I would add pictures of this process, but they look like a garbled confusing mess full of scissors and tape and scribbles, and you probably don’t want to see that.) After repeating that process several times, I was done with drafting Margu’s SS16 collection.

At this point, however, all I had were patterns for size medium. And as you probably know, we don’t just offer size medium (that would be weird!). I still had to make patterns for sizes extra small, small, large, and x-large, a process called grading.

Since I already had the size medium pattern, all I needed to do was expand and contract it in key places to fit all the other sizes in the collection. Waistband? That needed to decrease by 2 inches to make a small. Bust? That needed to increase by 5.5 inches to make an extra-large. Pockets? Those stayed the same.

The process takes a lot of arithmetic and a lot of different colored pencils. It’s a lot of fun, in a very technical, math-y kind of way.

Once I had finished patternmaking and grading, I was ready to move on to the next step, featured in Part 3 of this series: samplemaking and adjustments.