Dressmaking Basics : Part 1 – The Pattern & Cutting

With so much dressmaking in full flow at GillyMac Designs, I thought it would be an ideal time to share with you some tips on how to work your way around a dressmaking pattern.

  1. UNDERSTANDING THE PATTERN: Unless you are using a modern pattern, you will find that patterns are often written in a strange form of English. We all struggle with this (it’s not just you), but getting to grips with your pattern, and all the information it contains, is critical to making your perfect garment. Take time to understand it. Read it carefully and not quickly. This is all part of the process of dressmaking that you will come to love.

  2. THE PATTERN SLEEVE -The pattern sleeve contains a huge amount of information. Before you buy a pattern read the sleeve carefully. It will tell you about the sizes the pattern caters for, the size of the garments produced (there is a difference between the body size, for a size 10 and the eventual garment size for a size 10, so check out both). It will tell you about the amount of material needed for the garment as well as any other haberdashery (often called ‘notions’) needed. It will often also tell you about the complexity of the pattern and the required skill level needed to make it. If that isn’t included, the number of pieces is often an indication of sewing easiness! Finally, and very importantly, it will also tell you the type of fabric the pattern is suitable for.

  3. PATTERN TRACING: Most commercial patterns are printed on dressmaking tissue paper and have cutting marks for more than one size, and often the pieces for different versions of the garment as well. This tissue paper is very thin and will tear easily. Use Swedish Tracing Paper to trace off the size and pattern pieces that you want to use. Make sure you transfer all the marking and labelling to your traced pieces. your traced copy will be much more hard wearing and you will be able to alter it to record the adjustments you make to the basic pattern as you develop the fit for your body one you start sewing. Note: Modern patterns are often more expensive, however, they are printed on higher quality paper which will last much longer and is more durable to repeated tracing. Furthermore, the instructions in modern patterns are infinitely better than in the older style of patterns.. so although more expensive, it is money well spent.

  4. FABRIC PREPARATION: Wash, dry and press your fabric before you start cutting it. This minimises the risk of fabric shrinkage when the garment is complete. Don’t miss out this step.

  5. PATTERN PREPARATION: If your pattern is creased from folding and storing, then iron your pattern before using it for cutting. A crinkle in a pattern can make the sizing completely different. Ironing a pattern is easy, just use a pressing cloth and a cool iron setting.

  6. CUTTING AREA READINESS: When laying fabric out for cutting, make sure that you have a big enough space to work in. This can be tricky at home. The floor is fine if you dont have a big enough table. If using the floor is not an option, but space is limited, then use a cleared table and work only on the fabric that is on the table, then roll the piece up and work on the next part and so on.

  7. CUTTING DIAGRAMS: Patterns come with a cutting or layout diagrams. This would normally show where the fold is and where the selvedges are. The selvedges are the slightly bound edges of the fabric that run top and bottom along its length. The fold required for cutting is typically along the length of the fabric with the selvedges running parallel to it. Take time to look at your cutting diagram to make sure you are folding your fabric correctly. All the information you need will be there, just in pictorial form, so a long hard look is all that is normally required to get this step right. THere may be different cutting diagrams depending on the size you have selected to make, the width of your fabric or if you have directional fabric or your fabric has a nap (eg. like velvet or velour, it looks different when rubbed one way rather than the other).  Note: Read the guidelines in your instructions, some patterns call for the fabric to be folded right sides together before cutting, and others for it to be folded wrong sides together.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  8. GRAIN: A piece of fabric has three grainlines, one that runs along the length of the fabric, parallel to the selvedges. This is called the lengthwise grain. The second runs across the fabric, from selvedge to selvedge and is called the crosswise grain. The third is called the bias grain and it runs diagonally across the fabric at 45′ to the selvedge. Your pattern pieces will come with a grainline marked on them. Unless it states otherwise, this will be the line of the lengthwise grain. That is the grain that runs along the fabric parallel to the selvedges. It is important to get your pattern piece arrows exactly on the lengthwise grain. A good tip is to measure the distance the pattern grainline from the selvedges at one end of the grainline and then again at the other end of the lin to make sure they are exactly the same distance … hence your piece will be running correctly along the lengthwise grain.

  9. CUTTING: Place your pattern pieces right side up on the fabric. You may be required to place some pattern pieces wrong side facing up, just check the cutting diagram key – this is normally shown as a shaded pattern piece. Some pieces may be required to be cut on the fold, other pieces not. Check your pieces and cutting diagrams carefully to get this right. Remember to align your piece on the grainline, then pin and cut. You may be required to fold the fabric again to cut different pieces. Use only sharp dressmaking scissors to cut fabric successfully.

  10. INTERFACING & FACINGS: Interfacing is a separate material, which is either sewn or ironed onto fabric to make it stiffer. In dressmaking, this will often be for collars and waistbands. Facings are made from the same material as your garment and are set just inside the neck or armband or in places you may get flashes of the inside of your garment and you wish the right side of the fabric to be displayed even if it is on the inside.


Voila! I hope you have found this helpful. In coming weeks I will cover pattern marking, common sewing techniques and fabric types…. :-). Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Instagram for the latest news and classes from the Studio, as well as tip and tricks to make your sewing go smoothly. If you want to join a class and it is full or you don’t see exactly what you need, call Gill on 07818 551232.

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Defining Your Own Colour Story

It is very easy to buy a bundle of fabrics, all from the same range, because the colour combination (often called a colour story) will have been worked out for you. In the Tula Pink Tabby Road Collection, the ‘Strawberry Fields’ colourway has red grouped with pink, aqua, green and cream and it looks fantastic. I’m not sure, if faced with a blank page, I would have come up with this group, but actually, I should probably have more faith my understanding of colour,  because the basics aren’t so hard. First, you need some inspiration, like a fabric, or colour or pattern. Then you need to find fabrics and check the colour value or tone to get a good mix. So in three steps, you have it cracked? Yeah … well … maybe there is more to it …. but really, not a lot more. Let’s go through the steps.

Inspiration

You need a starting point. That is your inspiration… as I said, it could be anything as simple as a fabric you like, or a picture you want to create a quilt around, it could be the favourite colour of the person you are going to give the quilt to, it could be seasonal colours – it could be anything.

Colour Combination

Once you have a colour to start with, then you need to understand the colour wheel.

In the colour wheel above, the solid triangle is pointing to the Primary Colours of yellow, red and blue. Those are the colours which are used to create all the others on the wheel. The dashed triangle is pointing to the secondary colours. Those are the colours that are created by mixing the primary ones. For example, red and blue create purple and so on. The colours not touched by either triangle are the Tertiary Colours – these are created by mixing primary and secondary colours. There are many shades of tertiary colours. These colours around the wheel are often referred to hues of colour.

Next to learn is how to combine colours successfully.  Colours opposite each other on the colour wheel are complementary. So, referring to the colour wheel above, yellow’s complementary colours are plum, purple and violet, and red’s complementary colours are green, turquoise and lime. Colours that are close to each other on the colour wheel are referred to as analogous and can be clearly seen to co-ordinate. Finally, the colours from yellow, clockwise around the wheel, finishing with plum are known as ‘warm colours’ and those from purple around to lime are know as ‘cold colours’.

Tone and Value

The first step is all about understanding what colour tone (sometimes called value) actually is. It is not complicated to understand this, so let’s take an example. If we take green – any green – then there isn’t just one tone of the colour, there are many. Think about a paint colour card. In the diagram below various amounts of whites and blacks (shades of grey) are added to the green base colour to create this range of tones. Often you will see a colour wheel with the colours around the outside and the tones of those colours merging inwards toward the centre. So if you decided to use a green – first pick the right hue of green (for example a lime green or a moss green or an olive green etc)  and then pick the right tone for your project.  When people talk about colour value, this is all they mean. What we call ‘rich’ colours have a  deep tone (high value) and pastel colours have a low tone (light value).

If you want to check the relative value of a group of fabrics. Lay the fabrics out together and take a picture of them – then turn the picture to black and white. In this way, you can immediately see the values. Try and aim for a mix of values in the quilts you make.

In Summary

So that is it – now you are ready to create your own colour story using your inspiration for the starting point, the colour wheel to get the right base colours and then a good mix of tones/values to create interest in your piece.   Don’t forget to give your colour story a great name,  like “Strawberry Fields”, or “Marmalade” which Tula used in her Tabby Road Collection!

In saying this, the most important thing in picking the colours and fabrics for your quilts is that you like them – so treat all this as a guide and not a rule!

Should you want to go on and create your own colour wheel, then Tula Pink’s free pattern “Moxie” could easily be used to do so by replacing the recommended fabrics with solid colours in the right tones.

Good Luck and please feel free to share your work with me @gillymacdesigns on Instagram or GillyMac Designs on facebook.

Good textile-focused colour wheels can be purchased from Lady Sew and Sew and Plush Addict  I haven’t found a good one yet on Amazon!

 

 

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