There are basically two different approaches to making patterns for clothes – flat pattern cutting and draping. When I recently posted some pictures of skirt-spiration, Jay mentioned that she thought some of the designs lent themselves to draping and some to flat pattern cutting.
Flat pattern cutting
It is called “flat” pattern cutting because (although clothes are for bodies in three dimensions) the patterns are cut on a flat surface in two dimensions, where virtually all the lines you create are either at right angles (to resemble the grain of the fabric) or curved to fit the curves of the body. So flat pattern cutting – using a set square, paper and pencil to create first blocks then patterns is what I know best. However I have always been intrigued to know more about draping, or modelling, on the stand (a mannequin), as I felt it might be fun. Also I like shapes, asymmetry and handling fabric. Also with paper you need to make up a toile in fabric to get a sense of whether an idea might work.
The second approach is very different and is much more about what the fabric wants to do, or what the fabric will allow you to do. This approach is known as “drape” or “working on the stand” whereby a designer or pattern maker will begin by draping basic fabric, such as calico, onto a mannequin or dress making dummy (such as those being hugged by Alber in the image above) and working much more like a sculptor the fabric is smoothed, creased, spliced and pinned until the desired shape is achieved. Once the garment is roughly the right shape, the fabric can then be marked with pen lines and notch marks and annotations of what piece is which, so that it can then be removed from the mannequin and flattened out without later confusion. It is from this drape that a first pattern can then be traced and the lines and measurements smoothed and checked, before a new first toile is sewn and ready for a fitting on a fit model.
In order to try to investigate Jay’s approach I tried making two skirts with the draping method, and with the flat pattern cutting method.
Experimenting with the two approaches – the Westwood pleated side seam skirt
Basically I have made the same skirt twice. The flat pattern cut skirt is superior in terms of length, fit, waist line and hem circumference . The draped skirt is pattern matched at both sides which is more pleasing. But I couldn’t have made the purple one without having made the green one first, and some of the advantages are due to making a second attempt and learning from the first one.
Pros and cons of draping
- It is freeing – for example a skirt can become a dress, you can change the placing of the side seam relatively easily etc
- it helps aid creativity and improvisation
- you can much more easily visulise the effect you are planning
- you can start draping without a design in mind
- you can drape a garment in your fashion fabric – great for fancy dress or something to wear this evening
- it might save a lot of time in terms of seeing how a garment looks in 3D right at the start
- It is hard to get a symmetric result, but lends itself to asymmetric looks
- It is not good for fitting – unless your stand is exactly the same size and shape as you are (ie custom made)
- It can be hard to replicate a design – it is not easy to transfer a design to paper
- it can be expensive in terms of equipment and fabric (compared to paper and set squares)
- you can create a garment from a specific piece of fabric, thus reducing waste
- although grain lines are marked with either a drawn line or thread traced it is likely that you will be working with a non-straight grain. This can be more challenging when constructing a garment.
Pros and cons of flat pattern cutting
- If you make a pattern from your own or a standard block you will have the right size that will fit
- You still may need to make a toile to “see” what the design looks like, but you will be confident of the overall dimensions
- For me FPC is closer to the construction process and easier to control things like symmetry, grain,
- with draping the pins can be very deceptive – holding a garment to the stand for example, whereas in real life it will droop
- you need a sketch (real or imaginary) of what you are trying to achieve
- you can be very accurate with your measurements
- you can create balance and symmetry relatively easily
- bias cutting tends to be used for specific features eg collar, waist-band, with everything else being very much on the correct grain.
I am still a beginner with draping on the stand. I have had about 100 hours of tuition (30 of them of the nearly 30 years ago), and I have made up about ten garments. I still prefer flat pattern cutting as it is more predictable, and I come back to it each time in order to “capture” what I have done. I have tackled so many new projects and ideas and I have created several outfits I wouldn’t have conceived before. Also, and I suspect this may be the reality with many designers, I am finding myself moving from draping to flat and back again as I develop an idea. I am planning to do a further term on draped bodices, and a short course on bias drape. There is a class on draping jersey which I may try too.
Any other views?