Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How I Do What I Do

Have you ever wondered how a pattern is created? Here's how I do it.

First, I do market research. This is a very formal term for what is often a very informal process. In the case of my first 3 patterns, the Elizabethan Lady’s Wardrobe Ensemble, my market research consisted of doing Faire and SCA for many years, and hearing and participating in bitching about why there were no good patterns and speculating on what they should contain.

I have a list of future projects that will keep me busy for at least five years. so now my market research is aimed at finding out exactly what pieces people want in a package. I do this by asking questions on Internet lists and at events. “So if I were to produce a Ruritarian pattern, what would you want it to include?"

Then it’s time for historical research. I had been doing research on the Elizabethan period for over 20 years when I started the company. At 51 years old, I don’t have time to do that with every project! So I’m working with consultants. The consultants are people who are experts in their own historical period. I contract with them to give me the information I need.

Once I know the basic shapes of the garment pieces needed, I start drafting the patterns. I do this using a CAD drafting program called Symmetry, from Wild Ginger Software. Symmetry is no longer available, but they have a wide variety of new products. If you’re interested, check them out at

To draft the patterns, I start with slopers or blocks, which are basic bodice, sleeve, skirt, and pants patterns.

Most blocks used in the garment industry are size ten. Since I have such a large size range, it makes more sense to start in the middle, so I draft in size 16.

I manipulate the slopers to give them the correct lines, using techniques such as changing non period darts to shaping seam lines or rotating them into areas that will later be removed, slashing and spreading to create fullness, and drawing in the correct necklines and other details. This creates the master patterns.

After the master patterns are created, I add seam allowances and match points such as notches.

I check the patterns to make sure they line up properly, and that the garment looks and fits the way it should. Some of this can be done by computer, and some by sewing a mockup, also called a muslin or a toile, of the garment.

The next step is grading, the process of creating larger and smaller sizes from each pattern. Till now, I’ve done the grading myself with the Symmettry program, but for my latest patterns, I’m using a professional grading service. The patterns are graded into multisized “nests”.

I “style” the pattern by changing the lines to solid, dashed, or dotted, as needed, and making the lines thicker so they’ll be more visible.I add the sewing markings, such as notches, circles, grain lines, and size numbers, and assign each pattern piece an alphanumeric label and label them with the pattern name and number and the piece name.

The final step in pattern creation is to arrange them the way they’ll be printed. Getting all the pieces to fit on the designated size sheet can be a tricky challenge! My partner Doug does this part.

Then we create a PDF of each sheet. The PDF’s are emailed to the printer. We contract our printing through McCall or Simplicity, the only tissue pattern printers in the US.
The printers make a printing plate, and ship a paper copy to us. We then go over it one last time to make sure everything is in place. We always have a minor moment when we’re convinced that they’ve printed the sheet in the wrong scale. After months of staring at it on a computer screen, it looks so big! But careful measurement proves it’s correct, and we tell the printers to go ahead.

After I’ve finished creating the pattern, I take my family out for pizza, buy myself a good book, and take a day or two to lie around reading and doing nothing. Sometimes I get really carried away and clean my house, too. Then it’s time to turn my attention to creating the manuals.


  1. You sound a lot like me with your projects, Margo. It will take at least that just to get thru some of my sewing projects and I am always adding more. If I live to get them all done, I should be 120.

    Isn't it wonderful! Your work is beautiful and you have been so much help

    Warm regards,

    Katy Hestand

  2. Wow, such great information. Had no idea you had a blog.

  3. I am helping a friend source a pattern maker/printer. I just came across this post and thought I'd ask if this is something you.

    Fran Romeo