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Topic: Patternless sewing - share your tips!  (Read 5902 times)
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« on: January 20, 2011 07:29:27 AM »

There may have already been a post about this, but I couldn't find one...so...

I absolutely hate using a pattern when I am sewing.  I hate cutting out all of the little pieces of paper and pinning them down, and I hate trying to decipher the usually cryptic instructions, on top of which that I almost never find a pattern that I actually like.  Of course, sewing without a pattern does lead to quite a lot of mishaps and some wasted fabric, but I figure that this is probably the sacrifice I have to pay for my own impatience.

I thought it might be useful to start a topic for like-minded people to swap ideas and tips on the best way to sew without using a patten.

I'll kick off the ball with my own strategy:
  • I normally start out by drawing a sketch of my idea, with lots of detail drawings and arrows for what I want (e.g. "pockets here", "lots o' pleats").
  • I then draw a diagram showing all the flat shapes of what I think the pieces for the garment will look like.  I use my body and existing clothing to fill in the key measurements.
  • Next comes a rummage in the fabric stash, after which I pull out whatever I think will produce all of the pieces I need.
  • Moment of truth: I cut out and sew together the pieces for the main body, using very little shaping.  I usually mark the measurements with pins or lay an existing garment down for reference, then freehand around it.  If I'm making a lining I cut this out and sew it at the same time.
  • I then try on what I have so far and then make shaping adjustments (taking fabric off the seams, adding darts)
  • I just keep going like this until I have a finished garment!
I suppose this is roughly the idea behind draping, although I'm entirely self-taught and have never done any proper draping (when I moved to a different country, my dressform got left behind).

I found some no-pattern links which seemed kind of useful:

So...any other pattern haters out there?  Share your thoughts here!

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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2011 03:36:52 PM »

I hate patterns too. I don't always go completely without them though, but I usually use them just to get the basic shapes (sort of like you use existing clothes) and don't follow the instructions at all. When I do use a pattern the way I'm supposed to, it ends in more wasted fabric than if I didn't use one at all hah!
something I like to do: make the lining first and baste it together so I can try it on and do all the alterations, then take it apart and use it as a pattern to make the outside. I have to put the lining together twice, but this way I don't have to alter the visible portion of the garment at all, which can be an issue with some fabrics.
« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2011 06:29:21 PM »

I don't pin down tissue paper patterns anymore.  I have a bunch of smooth river rocks I use to weight down the paper onto the fabric.  Nothing puckers or rips and it's much better for silky fabrics.

You should try to make yourself a sloper.  I took a class to make one and got a lot of fitting and tinkering help from the instructor.  Otherwise, there are a good number of tutorials and such out there for it.  From my class I got a book called Patternmaking Made Easy by Connie Amaden-Crawford.  It's stupid expensive ($80-$90) but once I figured out how to use it it's been fantastic.  She steps through making a sloper off your measurements, how to fit it, and then getting the final sloper.  The rest of the book is how to take the sloper and alter it for most types of seaming and designs you can think of.  Oh, and you have to get past the awesome eighties styling and designs - the basics are all in there.

I have to date made top, two skirts, and a pair of pants from my own patterns.  Of course, I took the class recently and haven't posted any of this stuff up yet.  I swear it's nice.  Smiley  I'm getting to it.

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« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2011 07:12:29 AM »

I have never hated patterns, but at one point they intimidated and frustrated me to no end, so I didn't use them.  I taught myself from tutorials found on here and instructables and such.  Then I bit the bullet and learned how to use patterns.  Now, it's so terrific, because I can do both!  Learning from patterns taught me how to do more complex things, how to shape flat fabric so that I can sew it together in 3 dimensions and make something more complicated.  This is especially true for pleats.  But doing stuff without patterns lets me take parts of patterns that I like and add my own stuff.  I love doing this with dresses.  It's so easy to take a pretty pattern bodice that's got a boring or badly shaped (for my figure) skirt, and swap it for a skirt that I like, and can draft on my own.

The biggest tip I have for patternless sewing is to brush up on your geometry skills, and to figure out how things are going to drape before cutting into your fabric.  For instance, through trial and error, I know how to get just about any drape on a skirt possible, whether through gathering, pleating, or curving the waist at different radii.  There are lots and lots of tutorials out there on drafting patterns from scratch which can teach you a lot.  And while I say "drafting" for simpler things you can really do everything directly on the fabric, with chalk and a measuring tape and stick, without drawing out a pattern on paper first.

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« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2011 04:23:49 AM »

N30Nb100d - That's a great idea about fitting and then using the lining as the pattern!  I usually like to get all my cutting done in one go, but I might try doing it this way for next time.

marieC - I never thought about using a sloper...I will have to investigate this further.

One of my favourite books is by Vivienne Colle...it's a book from the sixties or seventies with instructions on how to make clothing without using patterns.  She offers simple diagrams which you then mark onto the fabric with pins and cut out (the technique I normally use).

I don't think I'll ever really enjoy using patterns (although I have been tempted by the recent stuff from Colette).  I have a make-your-own pattern book and a large sewing reference, and I use those to understand the shape of more complicated pieces (e.g. for piecing or lots of gathers).

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« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2011 01:33:43 PM »

On the brushing up your geometry and working with a fitting shell front, there's a book some people might find helpful, Make Your Own Dress Patterns by Adele P. Margolis. It's an inexpensive Dover reprint of an older book. It doesn't actually tell you how to make patterns from scratch, but instead shows how to take a fitting shell or any basic pattern that fits you and alter it to make something more complicated. She includes quarter-scale patterns to play with. You trace them onto flexible paper (I used actual tracing paper) and use scissors and tape to work through a lot of exercises showing you how different darts create the same ultimate shape and how you can create more or less fullness in different places. It's interesting even if you don't sew much. A geometry teacher could probably come up with some fun classroom activities to illustrate the mathematical principles involved, but you don't have to be good at math yourself to use it; between the clear writing, the drawings, and the paper exercises, I think anyone could learn from this book.

A book called Pattern-Free Fashions by Mary Lee Trees Cole first got me thinking about different ways to control fullness. This is a simpler book in scope than the one above. In essence, it starts with the idea that you have some nice fabric and you want to make something not too fussy or complicated now, not after you look for a pattern. The "patterns" are pretty much just rectangles chalked on fabric, with advice for shaping and embellishing. If you can find this in your public library or thriftstore, there's some good bits buried under the '90s-tastic look.

Sorry I don't have any actual patternless sewing advice of my own. Except maybe that the "bog coat" so beloved of quilters and art-to-wear creators makes a great bathrobe (better than most of the coats made with it). There's several tutorials online.

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« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2012 01:06:31 PM »

I hate all the little pieces required in most commercial patterns! One of the reasons I choose patterns without them for the most part. Like most I use a sloper, I took an intensive sewing class and I read A LOT of pattern drafting stuff.

Draping is a great start for this and making your own sewing dummy double is such an awesome idea for this, that I would suck if I didn't mention it. For dresses and tops that are fitted, it's a must. Otherwise, I use current fitting RTW garments to trace a shape for stretch materials or lo                                                      ose articles. Batwing blouses, very simple shift dresses, T resizing recons, etc.

Otherwise, I basically use rectangles and squares and trapezoids for basic pieces and add darts/tucks/gathers appropriately according to my sloper. I've made umpteen gathered/ruffled skirts with both yoke waistbands and elastic waistbands this way.

Cuffs, collars, waistbands and plackets were pattern drafting skills that I would say are essential to study and practice since they're the little pieces of sewing patterns that get frustrating! Learning how to draft these in a simple measurement and curve technique saves so much frustration.

Most frustrating to me were sleeves. Drafting sleeves with proper ease at the top, without being too tight in front and/or back was SO frustrating! I found an AMAZING guide for drafting your own sleeves from your measurements here: http://www.craftstylish.com/item/7864/create-a-custom-sleeve-pattern/page/all. Easy sleeves are cap sleeves and  very poofy sleeves.

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