When you are dressmaking, you really need to have a pattern to work from. Unless you’ve made many hundreds of dresses and feel confident in your freehand design skills, get a pattern to base your work upon. In addition to the basis for form and function, dressmaking patterns usually include recommendations about material – how much and what sort of fabric to consider.
No one doubts the fact that you shouldn’t get a pattern before you’ve really thought about the sort of garment that you wish to make. To do otherwise is to put the cart before the horse! If you insist on trying a project without a pattern, you might do well to consider something in the home furnishings realm, as a pillow-cover or curtain relies less on an exact fit in order to be considered a success. I’m sure an interior designer might disagree, but truly, who’s ever felt embarrassed by the poor draping on their throw pillows?
Where to look for dressmaking patterns
Obviously, the final garment will depend as much on what sort of garment you’re making as on who will wear the garment. Never fear – dressmaking and sewing is a vibrant and popular hobby – you should have little trouble finding the patterns you need. You can find appropriate patterns in many different places, in an selection that will make your head spin!
Craft stores, specialty stores, and even big box stores like Wal-Mart are excellent places to start out your dressmaking experience. The reason for this is twofold – first, the folks working in these places typically know a thing or two about sewing, and can help you out personally if you get stuck in making a choice. Second, in addition to patterns, you can buy all of the tools, fabric, and supplies that you’ll need for your project right there in the same place. Who doesn’t like one-stop shopping? Another option, offering a much greater selection is the internet. If it’s out there, you can buy it online and often at a less expensive price. Finally, sewing and dressmaking magazines often include some free dressmaking patterns to work from.
The standard measurements taken when making a garment for a person have remained constant for hundreds of years, at least. Most pattern and sewing books will go into some detail on taking measurements, and you can get some specific guidance here; Taking Measurements for Dressmaking, too.
You want to make sure that you get the most accurate measurements possible, meaning measuring your model or client wearing as little clothing as possible. Most experts recommend finding a tautness for your measuring tape that’s not too tight and not too loose, then using these universally-taken measurements for all garments, adjusting them for fit after the fact. This works well, when you remember to do it. For me, it’s easier to write notes about fit right on the measurement chart, and tighten my tape for fitted areas, while loosening it in spots where I want the garments to flow. I think this works for me because I rarely make more than one garment for the same person, so my measurements are intended for a specific piece.
It may seem like I’m beating a dead horse, here, but the first time you ruin $300 worth of fabric and supplies, the importance of measurements will be brought home for you. A couple of tricks that many like to use are to either take all of the measurements twice, once at the beginning of the session and once at the end, and comparing the two for major discrepancies. If you’ve made an error, the measurements will be vastly different, and you’ll have saved yourself some heartache. A further step to this strategy is to actually have different people take each set of measurements, in case the technique or knowledge of one person is lacking. The important part is to make sure you get accurate measurements, however you do it.
If you’re serious about the craft, don’t be shy when taking measurements! You’re making a garment that needs to fit in a particular way across the bust or crotch – you may need to get a little cozy with the person being measured. You can reduce the awkwardness of the process by clearly explaining your intent before laying hands on them, and letting them know when you need to get a bit cheeky!
With measurements in hand, and dressmaking patterns purchased, it’s time to get going with the dressmaking! I suggest stowing a spare copy of the measurements somewhere secure and consistent, but that’s because I’m less organized than some. Another strategy to hang onto them is to post them prominently in your workshop, or even transcribe them in big letters onto a white board that you can see from your workspace. Yet another possibility is to keep a notebook of all of your projects, and log the measurements in there as soon as they are taken.
Recommended Read; Pattern Magic 2