Thursday, 29 May 2014

Introduction to Pattern Cutting - The Fashion and Textile Museum

There are some great courses at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London and this one 'jumped out' at me as I've always been interested in the mysteries of pattern cutting.  I have a couple of books on the subject but there's nothing like a practical session to understand the complexities.

This course was taught by Michelle Lewis, who is Zandra Rhodes' pattern cutter.  She has worked for other top designers such as Erdem and Thierry Mugler and told us that she was also working on dresses for the Cannes Film Festival. Michelle is extremely knowledgeable and more than happy to pass on all her expert training and experience.  There is plenty of one to one tuition as well as group demonstrations and Michelle is conscious of dividing her time equally amongst course participants.

We began by taking our own measurements and then selecting a corresponding set of pattern blocks from the 'nest' of patterns available. (I noticed they were made from card with Zandra Rhodes prints on the reverse ... gleaned from the print room?)  We could also work to the industry standard of size 10 or 8 if we wanted. I won't tell you my exact size at the moment .... but I should say I am happy with it! Too thin doesn't suit me at all ...  We traced the blocks onto pattern making card and Michelle showed us how to make adaptations for an individual fit, by adding extra width at the sides or by re-drawing darts.

Pattern blocks and a Zandra Rhodes print!

We used a 'mushroom' and 'notch cutters' to make pattern markings and notches.  A 'Pattern Master' - I must get one, it's like a set of French curves all in one - was used to make curves and re-draw lines that had been altered.

All of the pattern pieces were then transferred onto 'dot and cross' pattern paper, where we could include seam allowances.  Michelle also demonstrated how to make the allowances correct around corners.

We were then shown how to manipulate the bodice darts - a 'eureka' moment for me - it was fascinating to see how they could be closed out in one area, only to be opened out in another - in the sleeve area for example, or underarm, or in the neckline.  We could also invent our own necklines - boat neck, V, round etc ...

Sleeves could be made short, elbow length or longer and we were shown the correct way to make a sleeve hem.  Then came skirts and I particularly enjoyed seeing how a basic pencil skirt shape could be flared, or made 'A' line, just by slashing the shape and splaying it, or adding in extra space.

The pattern pieces were then arranged into a lay plan, to ensure the best use of fabric.

Michelle then sewed the garment according to an order of construction.  That was the end of our session unfortunately!  What a great time, it all just flew by!

Michelle teaching
The overall cost of the course is negligable when compared to shop bought clothes these days. The price, held over two whole Saturdays, also included a length of quality soft calico which we could use to make a toile with.  Our class took it home, as we preferred to use up our time on the pattern cutting rather than sewing.  We also had worksheets to take away, containing all the instructions for everything we'd covered.  You could also have free entry to the exhibition showing at the time too - I saw the 'Artist's Textiles' exhibition 4 times - a post coming soon.

I ended up making a pattern for a boat neck dress with elbow length sleeves and a flared skirt - it's all cut out and ready to be sewn with some of my Goldhawk Road fabric ...  I also have the made to measure pattern block from which I can make a multitude of different styles. I need never buy another dress pattern again!

Oh how I wish I had more time at the moment!  I am hoping to have this all sewn up in a couple of weeks' time when I have a week off work.  I keep saying 'watch this space' but I really mean it this time!

There's also another post to come entitled 'Pattern Cutting, Next Steps' - yes, I went back for more!


  1. Wow, this looks like a brilliant course (you've got me looking at the courses now and itching to try one). I can't wait to see the finished dress :)

    1. You won't be disappointed Rachel ... you get free entry into whichever exhibition is showing at the time too!

  2. Oh what fun the class looks.. I know it was great , learning all these new things.. So happy for you.. Can't wait to see your dress. Hope you have a good week off, and a fun sewing time.

    1. It was great Judy - such a treat! I can't wait to get my dress sewn up.

  3. Michelle sounds like a thoroughly inspiring and effective teacher. Worth her weight in gold. I can't wait to see the results of your labours.

  4. She was! I'm looking forward to getting on with my dress ...

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