Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Pattern cutting books


Last Friday afternoon a review copy of Dennic Chunman Lo's Pattern Cutting landed on my doormat. In the early hours of Saturday morning I could be found sitting under a blanket, highlighter pen in my hand, brain (possibly visibly) whirring, devouring its pages while the rest of the house had already slept soundly for several hours. I finally decided it was time to go to bed at 3.30am. Some books are like that.

From Dennic Lo's Pattern Cutting
'Pattern Cutting' is essentially a text book concerning the drafting of patterns. But it artfully bridges the gap between being a dry dusty tome of a text book and one that is so commercial that it's left with little of substance to impart for fear of alienating its potential readership. It breaths visible air and life into the subject of pattern cutting with its pages of fresh, minimalist photographs, clear diagrams and occasional catwalk images from the recent seasons' collections to illustrate a point.


From Dennic Lo's Pattern Cutting
Chunman teaches at London College of Fashion (as well as having his own fashion label, Lo & Cabon) and his expertise and authority flow calmly through the pages, leaving you feeling well-guided and inspired. He hands out welcome opinion tit-bits in amongst in depth technicalities. For example, when he talks you through the options open to you when it comes to drafting tools, he also shares his own preferences (because you really want someone to explain how a Pattern Master works, but also to tell you that a grading ruler is still probably a simpler and more accurate way of adding in seam allowances, even on a curve). The pages aren't overstuffed, so even on the most technical-heavy pages, you are left with lots of clear space around the diagrams and plenty of room to think. There wasn't a single page that I turned to and felt overwhelmed by on first sight - this is something that feels really important when trying to learn something new.

From Dennic Lo's Pattern Cutting
Much of the book concerns the drafting of the basic blocks which you will use as a basis for your own designs. The basic blocks consists of a bodice, sleeve, skirt, dress and trouser. The theory is that once you have a block for each that fits perfectly, you should then be able to go on to manipulate the relevant block(s) into whatever design you might be imagining, by moving darts, taking them away, adding them in or introducing design features such as pleats, tucks and gathers. This section is so well explained that by the end of it I felt utterly enlightened about so many things that had previously puzzled me. Throughout the book you are reminded to think about and understand the way that the body moves and how this impacts on the clothing being worn. Consequently you  begin to see the purpose for so many of the pattern cutting decisions that Chunman is suggesting you make.

From Dennic Lo's Pattern Cutting
My only complaint would be that each block is constructed around the measurements of a standard manufacturing size 12. My guess is that it was demonstrated in this way to be most useful to college students who will be designing for a mannequin or generic size, rather than themselves. However, as a home dressmaker, my preference would always be for the block construction examples to be illustrated with the expectation that you will be using your own custom measurements in which case the formula would be laid out with letters that you can easily impose your own number onto (ie. A+B=C). Instead, you're left trying to impose your numbers over those relating to a size 12 through all the different block making exercises and the whole thing becomes more complicated. While it's not at all impossible to unpick the formula for drafting these blocks using your own measurements, it's not as instantly achievable.


This book might not cover the subject as comprehensively as some of the drier, weightier past tomes, but its modern feel makes it seem as though much of what Chunman has to say will be relevant to today's pattern cutting aspirations. For those just diving into the subject, unguided by a college course, sometimes it can feel overwhelming to try and ascertain what's really relevant when the gems of information are hidden in amongst pages of fashions circa 1980, so this fresh, crisp book is very welcome indeed. It seems the perfect follow-on reading material to Cal Patch's much-loved Design-It-Yourself Clothes.

From Hilary Campbell's 'Designing Patterns'
I should say that this review is couched from a place of having recently ordered two of the more traditional texts on the subject from Amazon.  The first was Designing Patterns - A Fresh Approach to Pattern Cutting (Hilary Campbell, 1980). This book is really a series of largely unannotated diagrams. It's hugely useful in being able to see the shapes involved in manipulating the basic blocks into a multitude of different sleeve, collar and bodice designs. I don't just mean a little useful, I mean really useful. If you've ever pondered over the initial pattern piece needed to create a cowl neck or some other feature then you'll find the answer here). The stripped down graphics really appeal to my very visual way of learning. However, while this book might help me design different styles of garment, and comprehend what must be done to achieve the outcome I want, it offers little explanation as to the reasons for doing things (so while Hilary Campbell's book leaves me clear on how I'd change a rather unfashionable shoulder dart into a back yoke feature, it's Dennic Lo's book that leaves me understanding why when I eliminate a dart I may choose to add a seam in its place and create a yoke). So Hilary Campbell's book is a perfect reference tool that will be keeping a place on my bookshelf, but it's not an ideal stand alone book for me.

From Shoben & Ward's  Pattern Cutting and Making Up
The second book on my little Amazon spree was Pattern Cutting and Making Up: The Professional Approach (Shoben & Ward, 1987). It's had fantastic reviews at various different places and I chose it because I like the premis of one book combining thinking about how the finished garment will be made up with cutting the actual pattern. However, it's not a book that sings to me (I may be making an error expecting that all text books should sing to me, but I think that when it's concerning a subject that you're truly interested in this should be a possibility...and if it doesn't sing it should at least hum a tune).

From Shoben & Ward's Pattern Cutting and Making Up
It may only be those similarly interested in cutting their own patterns that have made it through this far, but I know that so many of you bought Cal Patch's wonderful book - which has opened up an exciting new world of pattern design for many a home dressmaker - and to me, Chunman's book, Pattern Cutting, seems the perfect follow-on to this as it delves into the subject further, but keeps the same friendly, accessible tone throughout. It's a book that I'll be dipping into many times over. It's published in October by Laurence King and, if you're interested, you can pre-order a copy here).

I'd love to know which book you turn to for reference.
.
Florence x

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for such a great post - I don't make my own clothes (haven't made a skirt in years!) but I'm always fascinated by drafting patterns, etc. and am constantly wondering how clothes I see in the shops are made - I'm the one looking at the darts and seams and trying to work out how they got that neckline or that collar!!

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  2. Wow Florence!! This was such an interesting post! I've made so many things for my girls but am still so hesitant to make clothing fo myself. I just need to jump in with both feet! Thank you for getting me thinking and excited about it again! :)

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  3. I have the Hilary Campbell from pattern cutting days in the past, it is an accessible guide to pattern shapes and alternations. Another way is to use a dress form adjust to your size and drape/pin the fabric e.g. sheet. From this you cut a pattern and then you make it with your best fabric! Daring but liberating, hard to do with distractions

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  4. Thanks for the review Florence, I've never drafted a pattern before, I've made clothes from shop-bought patterns and also made simple garments that didn't need a pattern, but I'm in awe of anyone who can draft a pattern! x

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  5. Thanks for this review, it came at just the right time for me as I've recently started a pattern cutting course and the book recommended to us is Winifred Aldrich's 'Metric Pattern Cutting for Womenswear'. I'm not sure how good it is but it seems to be one of the best selling books on amazon about pattern cutting! Tabatha x

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  6. It all seems so complicated! I always wonder how they managed in Little House on the Prairie when Ma just cut out a pattern from thin air.

    I am so glad this stuff is out there now. I'm not sure I would have been able to work it out as it does indeed seem akin to rocket science. I think the days when I might have got seriously involved have passed for me - I haven't got the space for cutting for one. I would have loved to have known more though and even now I still would. It is such a shame that so many of the things I like for their artistry - sewing and knitting, fall back so heavily on maths. I have no maths ability at all and simply can't see how flat shapes become 3D. So even if I have design ideas the likeliness of being able to execute them well from scratch, is I would have thought, zero. I always used my ideas on top of other patterns.

    Nothing like these books could be found a few years ago, you would have had to order them but you wouldn't know they existed! Thanks to the Internet we do now.

    You used to be a bit nervous of dress making I recall, well I think you are over that now - you seem to be making amazing headway into the mysterious world of patterns as well as the sewing (which is all most of us do.)

    Anyway, it was very interesting. Thank you.

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  7. this is a nice interesting read!!
    I still use the Winifred Aldrich pattern cutting book which we used in college, it's a good book well laid out but not too modern/inspirational in the way of altering blocks in too patterns, but a good all rounder for those new too pattern cutting, but I will defiantly be checking out the books you reviewed as I feel I want to step up from the Winifred Aldrich book. thanks for the review :)

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  8. Just passing through and thought id say hello. Richard from Amish Stories.

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  9. Such a thoughtful and helpful review, Florence. Thank you.

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  10. What a fascinating and inspiring post Florence. I think one of your books will find its way onto my Christmas Wish List. I did a pattern making course way back when I was in my late teens, but I really learned so much more from my mother who was a professional dressmaker - and so patient with me.

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  11. Thanks for such an in depth and balanced review - it'[s so great to read a proper, thought out review. I'd love to do some pattern drafting, but at the moment speedy sewing to clothe everyone occupies my time. One day, that book is going on my shopping list though...

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  12. Is it metric or imperial measurements? Or both? I bought the Patternmaking for fashion design as well as the Cal Patch book both great though the audience is clearly different. However I miss the metric measurements on both.

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  13. I loved Cals book- I respond well to that kind of clear simplified instruction. You don't need to know how to grind flour to make bread. So this book sounds very intriguing. I haven't finished with Cals book yet, I really wanted to attempt everything in it, but when I have I'll definitely check it out. It's heartening to see fashion and home sewing is being refreshed and embraced by modern publishers.

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  14. Kerry, I'd love to do that...but I'm thinking that may be one for a proper course (she said wimpily).

    Tabatha & Sarah - Thank you -Winnie has been much recommended to me...I was put off by the fact that it's metric, but then so is this one, so I may have to accept that I can't work in inches when it comes to clothing...

    Anonymous - you're right about the Little House on the Prairie! Perhaps it's just overcomplicating everything when you look at it like that!

    Sewing Princess - Metric...

    Thank you so much for your comments and I'm so pleased you enjoyed the review. x

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  15. This is something I'm just becoming interested in, so your reviews were very welcome. The Winifred Aldrich books had been recommended to me but I'll check these out now.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x