Review of Burda Digital Pattern drafting course

posted in: Pattern cutting | 8

I want to go digital! I want to take all my self-drafted patterns and make them into neat little computer files. Then I can trash all those bits of paper, folded into recycled brown envelops, stuffed into magazine holders. (With a rough sketch on the outside to remind myself what I was thinking, dated, with measurements). I want to be able to take my pattern and make it smaller for my daughter, or bigger for a friend. Having tried the pattern I want to make alterations quickly and accurately to all adjoining parts. I want to be able to send a pattern to a friend in Melbourne or Toronto without having to buy stamps.

When I learnt to pattern cut (in the 1970s and 1980s) I used paper, pencil and a set square. I still do. I like working with paper and scissors and feel safe with these tools of my trade. I have a set of curved rulers and other useful equipment to make my patterns professional. And yet – the lure of digital kept badgering me.

“Imagine! You too could join the internet age. Look at all the young women, world-wide, expressing themselves through pattern design,” Temptation suggested.

“I already have a blog. Isn’t that enough?”

“Maybe your pattern cutting skills are more developed,” Pride whispered in my ear.

“But their IT skills are far more advanced,” I countered.

Encouragement smiled sympathetically “Maybe one day you could learn how to do it!”

“My brain is old and I can barely use Photoshop” I warned.

“Make a commitment. Find a friend and collaborate” Wisdom replied.

Digital Pattern Cutting Course

Maybe the same thoughts have occurred to you.  I looked for evening courses where I could learn digital pattern cutting with an experienced teacher, but was disappointed.  The London College of Fashion runs such a course, but only as part of three-year undergraduate degree. I thought of employing an expert to give me individual lessons. I talked it through with my friend Suzie of Huckleberry. Suzie is a talented designer who makes fabric, screen prints tea towels, and aspires to her own clothing range. She is very experienced in using Illustrator and related packages but she is a novice at pattern cutting. So she suggested we sign up for an online course and support each other to develop our skills. Great idea Suzie.

Suzie Kemner
Suzie Kemner

So in June she and I both signed up for Burda’s Digital Pattern Drafting with Lauren Dhal. Lauren is based in Utah (“No, we are not Mormons!”) and gives her classes by pre-recorded Video once a week for eight weeks. An experienced Illustrator user, and commercial pattern designer, she offers courses in her own name, as well as through Burda. Lauren is an enthusiast and we enjoyed her cheery approach.

Lauren Dhal
Lauren Dhal

It cost around £90, provides 8 lessons lasting between 30 minutes and two hours, weekly assignments which are checked by Lauren, and a message board so you can communicate with 100 or so other students across the globe. As a concept it was pretty wonderful, and we both started with high hopes. To support our learning, and each other, we agreed to meet up each Monday evening to work through the material together. And to eat pizza. The material is only available for 12 weeks – after that it disappears, so if you haven’t got it by then, tough. However Lauren will mark you work even if its late, so that is good. And she offers to answer any questions you may have.

The strength and weakness of an on-line course

Of course correspondence courses and distance learning have been around for a hundred years. Especially for sewing as many women could not go to classes due to family responsibilities or living in the sticks. And the internet has really replaced these courses with many techniques being explained patiently by gifted amateurs with home made videos and photo story formats. In fact until recently Lauren provided alot of this information free on her own website so you could see if it was for you, in advance. Learn at home!

Learn at home! is the platform Burda use to deliver the content and it is not bad. It enables anyone to upload a course and provides for assignments, chat rooms, and support for the delivery. Chirpy music comes on, then you see Lauren’s little face in the corner and a big computer screen, just like yours at home. As she clicks on various drop down menus in Illustrator (really quickly) you can watch and see what happens. You can then replicate the actions to get the outcomes. I found myself having to stop the video every few seconds to catch what she was doing, but by the end I could basically use Illustrator. My take on this is that it is quite a reasonable approach but alot depends on the content.

Would I recommend the course?

Perhaps. I personally found the pace far too fast for me. Whereas Suzie has 15 years of experience with Illustrator, I was completely new to it. I found it pretty challenging and certainly Lauren’s introductory lesson was really hard going, trying to learn all the functions that we would need on Illustrator. I especially struggled with pen tool, despite finding some exercises on-line and getting extra help and encouragement from my colleague Nicholas Mawley at Notting Hill Housing. Lauren sometimes fails to spell out every step and I spent a whole Saturday trying to move my work around without being able to work out how she did it. She is not always 100 per cent accurate – the breezy style begins to grate when she slips over details that you need to know.

Nicholas Mawley
Nicholas Mawley

Bottom line – Illustrator is an amazing and very powerful tool. It allows you to create virtually any diagram, drawing, logo or pattern, but it is not easy to master. To learn the basics in one week is a pretty tall order especially when you haven’t got a one to one teacher. Sweet Suzie was very patient and helped me produce a skirt block on Illustrator which I submitted for my home work. This was the meat of the course. Lauren uses Winifred Aldrich (“Is he a man or a women, I dunno!”) and although I own this book she relies on a later edition so that didn’t help. For me I needed much more time and one to one support to get to grips with Illustrator. Really it was a heroic assumption that one might learn digital pattern cutting in 8 weeks. I am not sure how many of the 150 students dropped out, but I did.

Suzie really had the opposite problem. She more or less knew everything there is to know about Illustrator and was disappointed that Lauren just went through the book – something she could do herself.

Some of the course was brilliant – a Google spread sheet (which I easily converted to Excel) that automatically does all the calculations for you. And just seeing how Lauren does slash and spread, adds seam allowances and  tiles her patterns were creative and useful classes. Here is the schedule, in case you are interested.

  • Adobe Illustrator Essentials
  • Preparing Measurements for Block Creation
  • Creating Blocks in Illustrator
  • Adding/Subtracting Seam Allowances
  • Tiling Patterns for At-Home Printing
  • Modifying Blocks to Create Unique Styles
  • Grading Your Pattern
  • Pattern Markup

Specific proposals for improvements

If I were Burda I would sort out the many small, irritating features that stop this course being as good as it could be:

  • Lauren makes quite a few errors – for example she gets the angle of the darts wrong on the skirt block. She admits this after a number of students complain, but doesn’t go back and correct the lesson
  • there are mistakes in each lesson that really require re-recording
  • get the order of the classes sorted out and label them correctly
  • release the lessons at the same time every week, giving students in each time zone the release time
  • sort out the glitches in how you receive files from students. The failure to upload assignments was a constant problem
  • Lauren’s mistakes would be acceptable in real life, and if one were already very familiar with both pattern cutting and Illustrator it wouldn’t matter so much. But if you are just about following this can be disheartening. It is a bit unprofessional too.
  • Lauren insists on swapping from metric to imperial measures throughout which is really irritating. Use metric and then tell people they can convert it at the end if they want.
  • specifically warn students that this course is not really suitable for people who have no Illustrator or Pattern Cutting experience. It is best for people with a good knowledge of both.

The future

These skills are worth knowing and there are tremendous advantages in making digital patterns. The main one is accuracy. A pencil and set square can never be as exact as a programme which is accurate to the millimetre, and it is just great being able to square off your pattern automatically. You can line up your pattern pieces and check they will sew up easily. You can accurately measure curved lines (rather than using the side of your tape measure). If you already have made patterns up it would be relatively easy to digitise them, but I wonder what it is like to go from a drawing of a garment to a pattern. I can’t quite envisage that yet. I suppose you soon get used to it, and of course you still would have to try out the garment as a toile, in any event.

Over time we will surely find a better way. Maybe technology already exists that converts a drawing into pattern pieces? Maybe it is possible to put your measurements in and a pattern comes out? Using Illustrator seems to be a really laborious way of using technology to do what we have always done. With the apparell industry being such a huge market there has got to be work going on, on moving from idea to garment in a more elegant way.

In the meantime I am sure people would like a course teaching these skills face to face in London, or other major cities. As far as I know nearly every real life pattern course available today teaches the pencil and paper method which has been current for a century. Opportunity, anyone?



8 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Wow. I learned a lot from this post. Definitely food for thought. Even a paper pattern drafting course is not available in my city, as they cancelled the fashion design program at the local college. From the technical side of things though, I would think it would be very simple to design a program into which one could enter one’s measurements and the shape of garment desired and the program would create a preliminary pattern that could then be manipulated as the user wished. I’ve never worked with Illustrator so I have no idea as to its capabilities, but it seems improbable that something more practical for garment drafting doesn’t already exist.

    I’ve always wanted to pick up a software for drawing out knitting patterns, as I am very sloppy with the patterns that I create and I end up losing them eventually anyhow. Even when I put notes in a book I tend to have to reinvent the wheel when I go back to reknitting because I’ve failed to write down the collar decreases, for example. Technology is great for improving such processes, and especially for sharing, as you note, although knitting is simpler given that one is creating the fabric from scratch.

    • Stephanie

      PS Thanks for including so much detail in your review – it might encourage me to take it someday, just the same. I don’t now how you find the time to write such detailed, informative posts. Brava!

  2. sew2pro

    Great and thorough review, thank you Kate. Though you’re not entirely positive, I do regret not having had the time or energy to have taken the plunge with you. The idea of liberating myself of all that paper clutter is very attractive.

    Presumably, you need to have Adobe Illustrator to begin with?

    Hopefully, Lauren will take your suggestions on board and offer a more fool-proof, polished product in the future. Maybe in the meantime I can do a basic Illustrator course (along with that German course I’m supposed to be chasing up!)

    • fabrickated

      You did need to have Adobe Illustrator. I bought the whole “suite” last year when I was registered for an MA. There is a big discount for students. I will send the feedback to them and also I will investigate CAD. Thank you everyone for your helpful suggestions.

  3. amaryllislog

    Yikes, thats quite an undertaking. I actually wonder if a CAD program would work better…? I’m a big fan of Illustrator and kind of understand why Lauren went that direction but not really.

    I feel disappointment for your experience and I’m not sure Burda really gave you a class that was with any type of success rating. I’m sure you are right, many people dropped out, what a shame (that is on Burda for not being more thoughtful about what they were offering).

    The class sounds a bit unprofessional. I really appreciate you giving such a clear review. I believe I will skip this one and just work around paper for now.

  4. Esme

    I agree, a CAD programme might offer you a more reliable and simpler way to achieve the patterns you want. Have a chat with your architect mates! Also, I hope you have sent this feedback to Burda/Lauren as it seems the course is not quite fit for purpose!

  5. Joyce

    Wow, the things I don’t know!!
    there is so much to learn…what an exciting time we live in.
    I have yet to make any patterns from scratch. I only alter at this point. .. but someday I would like to. Baby steps in my case. My computer skills are lacking…and that’s an understatement.
    You are one exciting lady……never a dull moment. I don’t doubt for a minute you will conquer this mission of yours.
    I’m sure Lauren will appreciate your feed back (they should be so lucky!)

  6. Doris

    Thank you!!! I was thinking of taking a Burda Style online course!

    I saw that their FAQ says, “How long can I access the content in the course? You will have access to the course with the instructor for the length of the live course. After the course is no longer live, you will have read-only access to all of the videos, additional resources and the record of the discussion board indefinitely. Some restrictions do apply.”
    So it’s disappointing to hear that you didn’t have access when the course ended, unless this is a recent change in policy.
    I’m also disappointed that I can’t reach anyone at Burda with questions about the course. When I click on “Contact us” it just brings me to the FAQ page. When I replied to their newsletter, my email was returned to me as undeliverable. Does not bode well.

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