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Topic: Using a Commercial Sewing Pattern  (Read 34745 times)
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Aislynn
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« on: August 06, 2010 10:45:07 PM »

I first started sewing because my body (like most!) doesn't fit regular old dress sizes.  Shopping is a nightmare if I want a dress!  It used to be separates all the way.  So three summers ago, my husband got me a machine, and I picked up a bunch of patterns on sale, got some fabric, and proceeded to get frustrated to tears by the pattern instructions!  Since then, I've learned by trial and error, through the wonderful folks here at Craftster, and a couple other online resources, how to sew, and how to read and use patterns.  Since summer is the best time to sew up a couple of sundresses, I thought others could use a tutorial on using patterns.  I used a Simplicity pattern for a fairly modest sundress.

How to use a Commercial Sewing Pattern


This tutorial assumes you know how to use your sewing machine, and understand basic sewing terms.  If you need help with this, check out this thread, right here!   http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=246210.0
This tutorial, though it uses a dress pattern as an example, can be used with any commercial sewing pattern.  

Step 1.  (For clothing only)  Take your measurements (or those of the person the garment is intended for).  Measure over your undergarments.  Measure at the fullest part of the bust, the smallest part of the waist, and the fullest part of the hips.  Write these down and keep them with you while pattern shopping.

Lets take a minute to talk about sizing.  Ready to wear sizing, or RTW, is the standard sizing that commercial clothing manufacturers use.  Your RTW size is probably going to be very different from your pattern size.  There is, as far as I can tell, no real relationship between those two sizes.  Typically, your pattern size will be anywhere from one to three sizes higher than your RTW size.  If youre a size 2, and you go to the fabric store and see that the smallest pattern size is a 6, dont worry!  A RTW size 2 is about a pattern size 6.  If youre a RTW size 0, you may need to take in your garment a little bit, but a commercial pattern should still be perfectly usable.

However, and this is a big however, pattern sizes have ease built in.  EASE includes both wearing ease, that is, the extra space you need inside your clothes in order to move around comfortably, and design ease, which is the extra room needed to make a garment drape the way the designer intended.  A corset may have no ease, or negative ease, which is to say, the finished garment will be smaller than your body, because you get laced into it.  On the other hand, a sweatshirt will probably have a bit of ease to it, as they tend to be a bit baggy.  A fitted garment should have 1-2 of ease, total.  So say your bust measurement is 36.  Your finished garment should measure 37-38 at the bust.

The cruel trick of pattern companies is that your pattern size will probably have more ease than you really need to get the right fit, so you need to go down a size or so.  But theres a solution!  Most patterns have the finished garment measurements printed somewhere at the bottom of the envelope, or on the pattern pieces themselves.  Youll want to compare these with the pattern sizing, as well as your measurements, to pick a size to cut.  It sounds really intimidating, and convoluted.  It is convoluted.  But after you try it once or twice, it becomes second nature.


Step 2.  The fun stuff!  Lets go shopping.  Pick a fabric store.  Make sure its a fabric store, or at least, a store which sells fabric and sewing materials.  Somewhere in the store should be a long table or desk with pattern books and a bunch of filing cabinets.  The books are most likely to be for McCalls, Simplicity, Butterick, Vogue, and Burda.  There may be a few others as well.  The books organize the patterns by type (formalwear, casual dresses, pants/skirts, tops, costumes, and crafts/accessories, or something similar).  If you know what you want to sew, find that section in each of the companys books, and see what your options are.  If you just want something basic to learn on, look for a skirt or pajama pants or an apron.  Most of the books will rate their patterns from Easy to Advanced.  If youre new to all this, pick something rated at the beginning end of the scale.  Once you pick a pattern, write down the pattern number.

Step 3.  Check out those filing cabinets.  The patterns are stored in them, in numerical order.  (The numbers correspond to when the pattern was released, not to what order they appear in the book.)  For each clothing pattern, there are most usually at least two different envelope options, each one with a different size range.  Now is when we look at that pattern sizing nonsense.  Find your pattern envelope and flip it over.  On the back (if its McCalls, itll be on the flap) theres a sizing chart.  Find your measurements on the chart, and see what pattern size you are.  If your measurements arent the same proportion as the pattern, pick the largest, to make sure you have enough fabric.  Make sure the envelope youve got has the right size range for you.

Step 4.  More fun stuff!  Also on the back of the pattern, there should be a section labeled Recommended Fabrics.  This will tell you what type of fabric will suit your project best.  Fabric stores arrange their fabric by type, so look for the section(s) that apply to you.  Dont be afraid to ask for help!  Pick one you like and check out the end of your roll of fabric (called a bolt).  You should see a sticker with lots of information.  It will tell you the fabric content, the fabric name, possibly the manufacturer or designer, as well as washing instructions.  Itll also tell you the width.  It should be in the neighborhood of either 45 or 60 (usually 43-48 and 54-62) and may be written in the following manner:  043in.  This is important!


Step 5.  Look at the back of your pattern again.  Near the sizing scale you ought to see another grid, one that lists the different pattern views along with two lines for each, one labeled 45 and one labeled 60.  There may also be a line for interfacing or lining.  Pick your pattern view and look at the amount of fabric required for your size (or the largest size your measurements fall into).  The fabric is given in yards and fractions of yards.  When you purchase fabric, you purchase the length, by whatever the given width is.  Make sure youre looking at the right width.  If you need lining, follow the same procedure.  Interfacing is sold either by the yard, or pre-packaged.  If you need heavy weight, craft weight, or sew-in interfacing, itll most likely be on a bolt.  Light and medium weight fusible can be purchased pre-packaged, or by the yard.

A note on muslins, toiles, and mock-ups:  99% of seamstresses will recommend doing whats called a muslin, toile, or a mock-up of your clothing pattern, before cutting into your good fabric.  This process involves using a cheap, scrap, or re-purposed (why, hello, old sheets!) fabric to make up the pattern, with no finishing, to check the fit.  If its a basic pattern, you may be able to just pin everything together at the seam allowances, to see how its going to fit.  If youre unsure, though, just use a simple straight stitch and do a dry-run through your construction.  At the very least, mock-up any areas that are fitted, or which have an important shape to them.  A gathered skirt doesnt need to be mocked up.  A fitted tulip skirt does.  Most important, this will help you figure out exactly which size you really need.  So always try to make sure you have enough trash fabric at home to do your mock-ups (it doesnt have to be pretty!) or watch the sales.  You can always try to make a usable mock-up, and turn the pieces into your lining, or a second garment.  This step isnt absolutely critical, but it can save a whole lot of frustrations.

Step 6.  Notions.  Look at the back of that pattern envelope once more.  In the neighborhood of the fabric recommendations, youll see another section labeled Notions.  This is all the rest of the stuff you need to make your project complete.  Thread, elastic, zippers, buttons, snaps, all of that will be listed here, and organized by pattern view.  Get everything all at once, if you can, so you dont forget anything, and it all matches.

Step 7.  Go home!  Or to the Laundromat.  You need to wash your fabric before you cut into it.  This is very important.  Most fabrics shrink when washed, and you want to make sure that happens before you sew it up.  Wash the fabric per the instructions, or as you intend to wash the finished garment.  Wash the lining, too!  If its dry clean only fabric, its your call.  It should be washed beforehand, thats all Im saying.  Your cut ends will fray a little bit when you wash, thats normal, and its okay.  You can trim the threads off later, if it bothers you.  If you think its going to shrink and/or fray a lot, you can always purchase 1/8-1/4 of a yard more than the pattern calls for, when you buy your fabric.

Step 8.  While your fabrics washing, take out your pattern.  Before you cut, read through all the instructions, thoroughly.  See what it wants you to do with each piece, and in what order.  Make sure it makes sense.  It may not the first time around, especially if youre new to sewing.  Look up any terms or techniques youre unfamiliar with.  For my pattern, this was my first time doing pockets, so I read that section over three or four times, to make sure I really understood all the steps.

Step 9.  Check out the first page of instructions.  You should see a line drawing of all of the pattern views, and all of the pattern pieces, which are numbered and labeled.  The labels will tell you which pieces are for which view.  

You only have to cut those out, unless you want to make multiple views.  Open up your pattern paper, and find the pieces you need.  The paper is thin and flimsy, but as long as you go carefully, itll stand up to a bit of abuse.  

Make sure you use scissors meant for paper, and not fabric.  Fabric scissors will dull if used on paper, and wont cut fabric as well.  Cut out the pieces you need, then re-fold the paper (you can iron, and make your own folds, or follow the original folds.  It can be tricky!) and put it back in the envelope.  You may want to iron your cut pieces if theyre badly wrinkled.

Step 10.  Retrieve your washed and dried fabric.  Iron it if its really wrinkly.  Trust me, this helps a ton, especially if youre using cotton!

Step 11.  Look at the pattern instructions.  There are more line drawings which show how to lay the pattern pieces out on the fabric.  You should see a big rectangle, representing the fabric, and notes saying selvages (or sels) and fold.  The selvages are the factory finished edges of your fabric that run widthwise to the bolt.  

Fold your fabric as shown, so that the fold and the selvages are in the right orientation.  Most commonly youll fold it in half length-wise, with the selvages touching.  Sometimes youll fold it width-wise, and sometimes youll have two folds, so that the selvages touch in the middle.  Lay out your pattern pieces as shown.  

Theyll have arrows on them showing how to line them up with the grain of the fabric.  Once theyre all on there, and theyre pointing in the right directions, pin them down.  You may have to fold, cut a few pieces, and then re-fold to cut others.  Some pattern pieces are cut two at a time, where the fabric is folded over, and some are meant to be cut on the fold itself.  If you have a piece that has a line running parallel to one edge, with two arrows pointing to that edge, and the word FOLD, place that edge directly on the fold of your fabric.  Cut around the rest of the edges, leaving the fold intact.  When youre done, youll have one big piece.  This often happens on skirt fronts, bodice fronts, and some stuffies.

Pattern markings:  Youll notice notches, circles, and lines drawn onto your pattern pieces.  When youre cutting, notch your fabric where shown, but instead of cutting a V into the seam allowance, cut it out, away from the pattern piece.  

These are used to line up seams.  Use pins or chalk or a quilting pen to copy other marks like pleat lines, circles, and squares.




Step 12.  Time to sew!  When you pin edges together, pin close to the edge, and so that the pins are perpendicular to the edge.  This keeps the fabric from slipping around.  Follow all of your directions, and dont skip any!  The little details like understitching, interfacing, and pressing make all the difference in the completed look of your project.

Step 13.  Photograph your project and post it on Craftster, so everyone can see how much you rock!


« Last Edit: August 08, 2010 12:52:30 PM by Aislynn » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #1 on: August 06, 2010 10:46:49 PM »

A basic sewing glossary:

Baste A long, straight stitch done either by hand or machine.  These stitches are usually temporary, and are meant to be easily removed.

Backstitch When sewing by machine, to start and end a line of stitching, you sew a few stitches, put the machine in reverse, sew back over those first few stitches, then go forward again.  This locks the line of stitching in place, so it wont pull loose.  Do not backstitch when basting or gathering.

Hem This is finished edge of a garment.  You have hems at the bottoms of skirts and pants, most sleeves, and sometimes necklines.  There are a couple of different types of hems, and they can be done by hand or machine.  Your commercial pattern will often tell you which type of hem to use, but its not set in stone.  Research hem types, and see what you like, and what works best with your material.

Seam This is the line where two pieces of fabric are sewn together.  The most basic seam involves putting your two edges together, right sides facing each other, and sewing with a straight stitch 5/8 away from the raw edges.  5/8 is the standard seam allowance included in most commercial patterns.  Youll usually see a note somewhere on the pattern or in the instructions indicating if this is not the case.

Seam finishing Most commercial patterns include a small section of seam finishing techniques.  Basically, if you just sew the seam once, and do nothing else, your fabric may fray.  Depending on the fabric, it may fray to a point where it damages the garment.  Again, research different types of seam finishes, and see which ones are right for you and your fabric and garment.  It wont always be the same.  The simplest finish is to trim the seam allowance with pinking shears.  Serging is a common seam finish, which requires a separate machine.  Most commercial clothing is finished with a serger.

Understitching  This one may sound a little complicated if youve never done it.  But when you line or face a garment, youre often asked to understitch, which is to say, after sewing your facing or lining piece, you then sew the resulting seam allowance to the lining or facing.  Youll have an exposed line of stitching at the facing or lining, and itll help keep both of those things in place.

Shaping Shaping isnt a term that youll see in most patterns, but its what makes a pattern conform, or stand away from, the body.  Its the means by which two dimensional fabric becomes a three dimensional form.  Seams, pleats, gathering, darts, tucks, and princess seams are all forms of shaping.  Your pattern should give you instructions on how to finish all types of shaping in your project.

Staystitching Stitch away from the edge of curved lines, when instructed.  This stitching stays in, and helps keep the curve from stretching out.  Like this:

« Last Edit: August 06, 2010 10:48:07 PM by Aislynn » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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« Reply #2 on: August 06, 2010 11:14:38 PM »

I kiss you on the cheeks....Thank you for posting this...it helps soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much!!!!!!!!!
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« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2010 06:19:38 AM »

This is an awesome, awesom, awesome tutorial!   Thank you for taking the time to create it, it will be so helpful in the future when I start making clothes!

Did I mention that this is AWESOME!!!   Grin
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« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2010 06:31:58 AM »

Aislynn I love you this is amazing! I still have a really hard time with patterns, this will be so helpful!
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ViolaOdorata
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2010 06:40:25 AM »

Great How-to!

Just a little note: For some brands of patterns (like most Burda patters) you have to add your own seams and need to draw a line about an inch around the patterns edge before you cut the fabric.
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« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2010 07:59:52 AM »

You mentioned that you wouldn't cut the pattern if you wanted multiple "views." What does that mean??
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« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2010 08:08:17 AM »

thankyou!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2010 02:16:43 PM »

You mentioned that you wouldn't cut the pattern if you wanted multiple "views." What does that mean??

Hi, there!  you can trace out the size you want by using a tracing wheel and special paper.  I cheat, and cut out the largest size, and then just fold down to the size I need.  That doesn't work on super curvy pieces, though.

And thanks everyone!  I'm glad it's helpful!  And I have never used a Burda pattern, so I didn't know about the seam allowance thing, I'm glad you said that!
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« Reply #9 on: August 08, 2010 02:10:28 AM »

Tutes like these are a real asset to Craftster. Thanks for sharing!
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« Reply #10 on: August 08, 2010 07:36:50 AM »

Fantastic tutorial! Thank you so much for sharing this. I'm going to direct my friends to this whenever they have a hard time using patterns and need help! Cheesy
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« Reply #11 on: August 09, 2010 01:16:54 PM »

This is an EXCELLENT tutorial! I took creative fashion design in college but commercial patterns still baffle me, I usually cheat (which doesn't always work Tongue). Thanks very much for this! I'll certainly be passing it along.

One note: When I do use a commercial pattern I don't actually cut it out. This is an extra step but well worth it; I trace the pieces onto drafting paper (purchase on the roll, it's slightly see-through) transfering all pattern details and cut that out. It has been exceptionally helpful more than once, like when I cut out the wrong size Tongue but also when I've wanted to make the garment for someone else who was a different size. Just be sure to label all the pieces and put them together into an envelop with details and a picture drawn on it.

Cheers!
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« Reply #12 on: August 09, 2010 01:48:15 PM »

Thanks, craftylittlemonkey!

It's not hosted on Craftster, but I have quite successfully used this tutorial to re-size patterns that I've cut to a smaller size:  http://indietutes.blogspot.com/2008/09/resizing-pattern.html  I don't even usually draw it out, I just pin my original pattern down, and eyeball it, and it works every time!  I've gone as much as four sizes up.  With this, though, I never skip the muslin.  One of these days, I will un-lazy, and start tracing my patterns on interfacing, to keep.
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« Reply #13 on: August 09, 2010 02:05:20 PM »

Thank you this is very useful information and you may want to tag your tute for the cloud. Cool
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« Reply #14 on: August 09, 2010 05:40:53 PM »

I was planning on giving up trying to sew clothes but I think this tutorial will really help me, thank you so much!
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« Reply #15 on: August 09, 2010 07:25:44 PM »

I was planning on giving up trying to sew clothes but I think this tutorial will really help me, thank you so much!

Aw, yay!  Check out the brand-spanking-new tutorials list in the clothing section, too!  When I literally cried in frustration over my first couple of patterns, it was tutorials from here that kept me going, and taught me the basics of making clothes out of flat fabric.  Here are dresses:  http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=355326.0  and skirts:  http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=355741.0  After one or two of these, I was ten times more confident in my sewing!
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« Reply #16 on: August 17, 2010 06:21:03 AM »

Thank you so much for doing this! I have had a sewing machine for years but have yet to spend the time to really figure it out (Despite my STRONG desire to start sewing items!). This has motivated me to try it again. Thank you!!
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« Reply #17 on: August 17, 2010 07:46:55 PM »

Wow! Grin What a great tutorial! I love how in-depth you went into every step.

I do have one question though - I've just started sewing clothes from patterns recently and I've noticed that I'm one size in the bust measurement, but a totally different size in hip/waist. Any advice for how to kind of combine two sizes to get something that fits well? Thanks!
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« Reply #18 on: August 17, 2010 08:43:57 PM »

I've been sewing for over 35 years and consider myself pretty much an expert by now, but it took YEARS to learn to love it.  How much easier it would've been if I'd had tutorials like this!  It's people like YOU who will help novice sewers (that spelling just looks bad, I know, but I don't like 'seamstresses') learn to love it sooner!  BRAVO!!!

MoonChyld3, most patterns include adjustment lines and instructions if you're more than one size overall.  The sizing instructions may be printed directly on a pattern piece or tucked in between pieces, and there should be additional notes on the intruction sheet itself, on how to fold the pattern piece to shorten or cut it apart to lengthen or even redraw a curve for bust dart changes.  Don't be afraid to take a pattern out and look at it before you buy it!  And Aislynn brilliantly suggests making a mock-up or "sloper" in cheap fabric similar to your final garment fabric (check the fabric store's discount flat-fold tables if you're out of old bed sheets) and noting the changes you make, then remaking it in a fabric you love so it'll fit great.  High-end designers do this, so you'll be in good company!  And don't be afraid to make mistakes and have to rip out.  I'm always tearing out and adjusting for better fit.  (Or because I got in a hurry and sewed two 'front' pant legs together at the inseam...yep, we ALL do it!)  As you progress, mistakes will be quicker to fix, too, and they won't be quite so heartbreaking.

And I always cut my patterns, rather than trace them.  I live by those wisest of words from Craftster's own banner:  "Measure twice, cut once.  Meh -- just start cutting!"  Once you've had some practice and some successes and GREAT TUTES LIKE THIS ONE, you'll be fearless!
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« Reply #19 on: August 17, 2010 09:28:15 PM »

Wow!! This tute is definitely going in my bookmarks folder. Thank you so much for taking the time to make it for people like me who are totally confused by commercial patterns.
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« Reply #20 on: August 18, 2010 05:42:18 AM »

Wow! Grin What a great tutorial! I love how in-depth you went into every step.

I do have one question though - I've just started sewing clothes from patterns recently and I've noticed that I'm one size in the bust measurement, but a totally different size in hip/waist. Any advice for how to kind of combine two sizes to get something that fits well? Thanks!
I actually have that same problem!  You literally cut the bust for the size you are, and cut the hips for the size you are, and blend the two at the waist (or wherever you change size).  Multi-size patterns are phenomenal for this.
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« Reply #21 on: August 18, 2010 10:33:30 PM »

Yes, Thanks for this tutorial.  I will definitely have to put it to use someday.  I have used a pattern a bunch of times, but every time, it was with someone else who knew how to sew well, and explained everything step by step and had me only do that hands on stuff since it was my project.  I knew enough to set up my sister-in-law's brand new out of the box sewing machine (she didn't know how to do ANYTHING with it) and sew a piece of embellishment ribbon on a tshirt for a 2 year old.  But patterns seem so complicated!

My mom has a great sewing machine she has never even got beyond opening, and I would love to play with it, and I even HAVE easy patterns (!!) but still haven't done anything with them.  Hopefully this will help get me on my feet!  Grin
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« Reply #22 on: August 22, 2010 11:25:10 AM »

wow. awesome tutorial!
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« Reply #23 on: August 24, 2010 10:50:08 AM »

Thank you so, so, SO much for taking the time to put this together for others!!! I have a couple of patterns that I have bought, and never done anything with - I opened them up and immediately put them back into the envelope because looking them over I had no idea what I was doing! Reading this has given me the confidence to try again!
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« Reply #24 on: August 26, 2010 03:25:50 PM »

Thank you for this amazing tutorial, i needed it bad. i have a bunch of patterns i've been wanting to try but wasn't every and figuring out how to use them. Will have to give them another shot now Smiley
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« Reply #25 on: August 27, 2010 07:49:29 AM »

Thank you..Thank you!!! I am a novice sewer and the information you posted is beyond amazing.  I will make sure to send all my fellow new sewers to this link!!
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Aislynn
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« Reply #26 on: August 27, 2010 08:20:46 AM »

Aw, I'm so glad this appeals to so many people!  I hope you all post back after you've given patterns a shot!
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lyly2760
« Reply #27 on: August 27, 2010 09:56:53 AM »

I know it's too late to vote, but THANK YOU!!!!!! I am a beginner and I am actually printing this so that I can refer to it as needed!
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absolutnia
« Reply #28 on: August 31, 2010 10:00:40 AM »

very helpful, thank you!
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« Reply #29 on: September 02, 2010 05:55:08 AM »

Oh, I just found this. Amazing! I'm entirly intimidated by commerical patterns. I've used one, once (kind of), and I generally just stick to things that don't need to FIT (I make bags!)

I'm bookmarking thise and hoping to face my fears!
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« Reply #30 on: September 02, 2010 09:55:44 PM »

This is the most AWESOME sewing tutorial I've seen.  You should be published.  Paid.  I will be using this A LOT.
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lilix
« Reply #31 on: January 19, 2011 09:18:51 PM »

I know so many people have already said this, but it needs to be said.

Thank you, so very very much! Can you believe I had no idea what the 45'' and 60'' on the pattern backing meant until today? I always assumed it meant the height or something! I know, completely newbie of me, but, since I've only completed a costumed robe so far, I guess I'm lucky I know how to alter? Haha.

But seriously, thank you. This is getting printed out and memorized STAT.
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MyImage
« Reply #32 on: January 23, 2011 04:12:19 PM »

Wow!
Thank you for this great tutorial! It will help beginning crafsters very much.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2011 07:21:45 PM by Aislynn - Reason: Edited to comply with Craftster rules. » THIS ROCKS   Logged

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swinginmartinis
« Reply #33 on: March 07, 2011 12:39:37 PM »

Holy Canole!
Good job!
I wish I had this information about two years ago!
And great job on the tutorial! You win!
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« Reply #34 on: March 27, 2011 08:29:19 AM »

amazing! thank you so much... *bookmarked*
i actually bought 2 petterns yesterday but havent had the courage to even open them
having an understanding is half the battle and now i feel i can try more then just buying patterns with pretty pictures lol
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gottasew
« Reply #35 on: April 30, 2011 04:49:05 PM »

Nicely done Aislynn.  From the folks I've talked to over the years, there's a lot of frustration involved with the way home patterns are made.  As you pointed out, few peoples bodies actually match up to a pattern.  I've had the luxury of working in apparel manufacturing for over 30 years.  I've been a mechanic, a plant manager, an engineer, cutter..pretty much everything.  I learned how to sew on industrial machines and long ago I remember buying some patterns.  I was surprised at how different they are from what we use in the factories and wondered how anyone makes them fit...I really enjoyed reading through your tutorial.  Hopefully it has encouraged the discouraged to pull the machine and fabric back out and have another go at it. Smiley

Regards, Eric
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« Reply #36 on: May 01, 2011 09:56:10 AM »

Aw, thanks Eric!  That means a lot coming from someone with so much experience.
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gabbagabbahey
« Reply #37 on: June 05, 2011 08:05:08 AM »

Just a tip - I like hitting up the thrift store for random fabrics and bed sheets.  You can pick up a ton, for next to nothing, then you always have different types of fabric that you can use for actual projects or for making mock ups of patterns. 
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nialew
« Reply #38 on: June 07, 2011 08:06:06 PM »

 Smiley
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« Reply #39 on: July 29, 2014 02:59:34 AM »

So very helpful and anyone starting out can use this. Thank you for sharing. Smiley
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