Lifehack logo

The art of pattern making

by CJ Flores 2 years ago in clothing
Report Story

the ins and outs of a working pattern.

Before and after learning the importance of working patterns.

Pattern making is hard. Before I started school, I made a decision to start learning to make my own patterns. That decision was a catalyst to where I am now. There were countless mistakes I made when I was making working patterns. The biggest, and probably most crucial, mistake was my lack of knowledge of half scale vs full scale. All the measurements in the book I was studying was for half scale. I disregarded this knowledge about the measurements and forged ahead making each pattern the size I thought would fit the dress form, but using the half scale measurements.

I remember wondering why nothing was working. It was frustrating and disheartening to see everything I thought I was doing right end up being so wrong. But I kept going. Because I kept going, it gave me a deeper understanding of my dress form and its measurements. The lack of knowledge forced me to look at the pattern paper more abstractly. I still had a ways to go before I would feel confident about my skills, but it was my starting point.

Finally when I enrolled in school, I realized that the knowledge I obtained was invaluable. If I had not tried over and over again making my own patterns, I would have been another lost soul in the classroom. Fashion design school honed my craft. It made me realize why things had to be the way they were in order to get specific outcomes. Specifically how to use a working pattern properly, and why they were important to the design. With a working pattern, it saved time on new designs.

Even after the semester ended, there were still so many things I did not know. So many unanswered questions. It was only after I went through the 800 page book of pattern drafting that my knowledge of pattern making became exceptional.

Pattern making is an art form. As a designer, with pattern making, we become engineers of clothing. We can create anything from nothing. From a working pattern, we can create any design we can think of. It's a beautiful thing.

Of all the fashion design disciplines. Pattern making is the most precise. Without precision, no pattern can be properly made. A 1/16 inch difference in a pattern will mess up a whole design. I will teach you everything I know about pattern making. We will start with a working pattern and why they are important. In later lessons, I will give you the knowledge you need to make a sloper, or working pattern, for yourself. Further down the line, I will give you knowledge of making a working pattern that is custom fit to your body.

Working patterns

There are 5 basic working patterns. The single dart front and back bodice, the front and back skirt, and the sleeve working pattern. There are variations that we will discuss in the future, but today we will discuss the basic 5. A working pattern holds all the measurements of the bodice or skirt. If we were to do a working pattern for a size 6 client we could do one of two things. We could do a generic size 6 working pattern. It would fit as close as it could without measuring the actual client. Or we could take the measurements from the client and from those measurements we could make a custom working pattern.

Either one works. But the goal is to get the design fitted to the client as best as possible. A sloper, or working pattern, typically does not have seam allowance. It is usually added on the fabric when we are making the first mock up. The working pattern has specific information that must always be written on it:

  • The style
  • The size
  • The front or back
  • How many need to be cut
  • The bust point (if we are referring to the front bodice)
  • Grain line
  • Center front or center back
  • Cut on fold (if this is applicable to front or back pattern)
  • Notches
  • Seam allowance (if you choose to add it or not, it must be indicated)

These are the universal truths of any pattern or working pattern. They must always be included. In school I used to get marked down for missing one or some of these. It was only when I finally finished the pattern making book that I realized how important all of these markings are. If you have multiple clients or you are working for someone as their pattern maker. These specific markings indicate to the fabric cutter how to cut the fabric and the constructionist how to construct the garment. Without these markings your pattern becomes just another piece of scrap paper.

The anatomy of a basic single dart front bodice.

The single dart front bodice is a simple design. The working pattern will be half of the design. It will finish in the center front. It will usually indicate cut-on-fold. It will have a grain line of how the working pattern will be cut (bias, cross grain, straight of grain). It fits close to the neckline. The dart will finish at ⅝ inch down from the bust point. It will have 1 notch towards the center of the armhole. Somewhere on the pattern, it will indicate the style front, the size, how many to cut and the seam allowance if it is included or not.

The anatomy of a basic back bodice.

The basic back bodice is different from the front in several different ways. It will be half the size as the front, it will have the grain line. It will indicate the style back, the size, how many to cut, and the seam allowance if it is included or not. The basic back bodice will have two darts. One in the center of the shoulder seam, and the other at the waistline. The back will also have two notches towards the center of the armhole. It will also have a H.B.L. (horizontal balance line) around the shoulder blades. Above the notches and below the shoulder dart.

With woven fabrics, there usually must be an extension added to the center back. This can be reversed and be added to the front. But there must always be one, or else the design will not work since woven fabrics do not stretch. It will be impossible to get the garment on and off without stretching and tearing. In this example we will be adding the extension on the back. We will add a 1 inch extension on the back of the design. This can also vary, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The anatomy of a basic skirt front

The basic front skirt has two darts at the waistline. Typically equal in size, but there is an alternative to this which is one being smaller than the other. That's a variation that I have never used, but it is an option. There will be another H.B.L (horizontal balance line) at hip level. It will also indicate the style front, size, seam allowance if included or not, and how many to cut. It will have a grain line and it will have a cut-on-fold at center line.

The anatomy of a basic skirt back

The basic skirt back is almost identical to the skirt front, except the darts at the waistline are larger. It will have a H.B.L at hip level. It will include the style back, size, seam allowance if included or not, and how many to cut. As for the center back bodice, there will be a 1 inch extension included or the skirt cannot be fitted and adjusted.

The anatomy of a basic sleeve

Of the five working patterns, this one is drafted last, after the first mock up and the adjustments to the top bodice are made. It has a center line running from the sleeve cap down to the cuff. It will have a line at bicep level. There will be a dart at elbow level. And four notches, one at the top of the sleeve cap, one notch in the middle of the front sleeve cap, and two at the back sleeve cap. It will indicate the style sleeve, the size, if seam allowance was added or not, and how many to cut. It will also indicate the grain line.


We have mentioned darts several times without getting too in depth on the subject. Mostly because darts are a lesson all on their own. However, I will give a brief overview of darts. Darts are what shape the garment. They help mold the fabric over the three dimensional form of the body. Darts also help with pattern manipulation. We can move darts, add fullness with darts, remove them all together, and so much more. They are an important part of a design, and can drastically change the outcome of it.

This was an overview of working patterns, what they look like and why they are important to the design process. A precise working pattern is crucial to the outcome of a design. Without having a proper working pattern, any design that is made from that pattern will need extensive work that ultimately can be avoided if the working pattern was properly made. Next week or the following week, we will make a proper working pattern for a size 6 bodice.


About the author

CJ Flores

Hello, my name is CJ D and I am writer. I love to garden, travel, and explore the world

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2022 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.