An article written for UTELIER.
What is a Fashion Designer?…a Pattern Cutter
What is a Pattern Cutter?…a Designer
I think you may have guessed by now, that I’m a bit of a pattern cutting geek. As a fashion student in the distant past, I really looked forward to the mandatory, weekly, pattern cutting lessons. These valuable sessions really peaked my interest, and enabled me to create some technically challenging garments for my course work. It might sound harsh but, in my opinion, you cannot really call yourself a designer if you don’t have some knowledge of pattern cutting
Consider Jeanne Lanvin. During her tenure at the helm of her fashion house in the 30’s, she was often called a dressmaker or seamstress, as most designers were during that period. In reality she was a master pattern cutter, with an in-depth understanding of the 3-dimensional form of the human body. With this knowledge she was able to drape and form fabric around her mannequins, creating unique garments that were masterful in their execution. No wonder she’s one of my favourite designers.
The distinctive visual style of the famous fashion houses is based on the cutting techniques that have been honed by their pattern cutters. It’s easy to embellish, or to add a print to a simple dress, but it’s another story to drape fabric seductively across a mannequin and to turn it into a wearable piece of clothing.
Oddly enough, within the industry the roles of designer and pattern cutter are mutually exclusive – designers are heralded as demi-gods, while the pattern cutting minion trails in their wake. And don’t even get me started on the idea of ‘celebrity designers’. Being let loose in the atelier of a fashion house to cast an ‘expert’ eye over a garment that has been developed by a talented pattern cutter does not give anyone the right to call themselves a designer. It does the industry a great disservice.
From my experience in the fashion universe, design and pattern-cutting go hand-in-hand. As a designer with a slight obsession and love of pattern cutting, I feel I’m in a unique position. My ability to create the blueprint for a complicated design, without seeking out the services of a Pattern Cutter means that I can, literally, cut out the middle man (or woman). I bet a vast amount of money is wasted in fashion houses around the world, simply because a designer lacks pattern-cutting skills. A Pattern Cutter is always needed to put together the pieces, and engineer the design into a functioning pattern.
This lack of knowledge may actually stem from how designers are trained. I was fortunate; my University really understood the importance of nurturing this essential skill, but I know of a particularly famous fashion school that focuses more on research and design. However, in my opinion, this absence of technical ‘nous’ leaves the students at a distinct disadvantage. In fact, I’ve been privately teaching students from the top fashion schools, pattern cutting, for a number of years. They have such limited training in this fundamental skill set that they’re unable to translate their incredibly detailed designs into workable patterns. How ridiculous!
What’s the solution? First let me define the three methods of cutting that Pattern Cutters use, either individually or combined. This gives you a great starting point if you want to brush up (or develop) your pattern cutting skills. Then I’ll point out some useful alternatives, perfect if you want to design and create a collection but don’t have any pattern-cutting skills.
TYPES OF PATTERN CUTTING
DRAPING, also referred to as creative pattern cutting.
This is my favourite type of pattern cutting as it allows one to be more creative. It’s more challenging and serendipitous, and works well when your designs are draped and bias cut. The process itself is rather lengthy, but the results are so satisfying that it’s worth the effort.
The origins of draping can be found in 3500 BCE. It’s a process that was originally used to transform a flat clothing design into a 3-dimensional form. Through the ages, garments were classified as either ‘draped’ or ‘fitted’. However, in the fashion world of today the draping process can be applied to both loose and fitted garments.
Madame Grés, ‘Queen of drapery” was the originator of the draping method. She applied the technique to her Grecian–inspired silk jersey dresses, these consumed 70 yards of fabric each.
In the 30’s Madeleine Vionnet, ‘the architect among dressmakers’, mastered the art of the “bias cut” dress, through the application of the draping method. She was the creator of some of the most sensual dresses of the era and continues to inspire contemporary designers to this day.
Fabric that is cut on the bias is best for this technique. ‘Bias-cut’ means the cloth is cut diagonally to the grain of the fabric, enabling it to cling to the body while stretching and moving with the wearer.
First, draw a centre front line, along the bias, and through the centre of the cloth. Attach the cloth onto a mannequin. Pin, semi-loosely, into place through the centre front line, at the shoulders and side seams. Pin the bust and waist darts are into place, to create shape and form. Folds and tucks can also be incorporated within the design. Next draw the design lines, neckline and armhole onto the fabric. Now. Finally, the fabric is removed from the mannequin and the outline, bust and waist dart markings transferred to paper.
FLAT PATTERN CUTTING, also referred to as creative pattern cutting.
This more contemporary method of pattern cutting is used in fashion companies that produce larger volumes of clothing with a simpler, less technical cut. It’s a more precise method and much faster than draping, but it’s possible to combine both pattern cutting methods in one garment. For instance, jacket collars can be created successfully with the draping method.
You need a pattern Block – a custom fitted, basic pattern from which patterns for many different styles can be developed. This is used to create patterns on the flat. Blocks can be made in many different styles such as fitted jackets, casual jackets, trousers, skirts, dresses and coats. All the important features, such as waistline, bust point, armhole placement and hip line placement, are marked onto the Blocks. From these Blocks you’re able to manipulate dart placement as well as to add design lines, change hemlines and even widen trouser legs. Blocks are available, pre-bought or can be made by the pattern cutter. The Winifred Aldrich pattern cutting books are a great resource, and guide the novice pattern cutter in easy to follow steps.
This method of pattern cutting is very quick and accurate. Simply select the relevant pattern Block and trace it onto pattern cutting paper.
Now make changes to the new Block by following the designer’ instructions on their flat drawing. This will include their unique design ideas which will depict collar styles, pocket placement, fastening details and design lines. As you change your Block you will be incorporating these ideas into your new pattern, but the original Block will remain unchanged, and can be used again.
COMPUTERISED PATTERN CUTTING Also referred to as the CAD or Gerber methods.
The construction procedure for computerised pattern cutting is very similar to the creative method. A set of measurements will be developed based on the specific design. These measurements are then input into the computer.
Here are just a few examples of computerised pattern making programs:
Fashion Cad They describe themselves as an integrated suite of accurate pattern-making software for perfect fitting garments – including pattern design, grading, detailing, marker layout and CAD drafting.
e-Telestia Advanced tools to create and modify designs. This unique system combines a set of easy to learn CAD tools and functions, with sound pattern-cutting knowledge. You will be able to create your own blocks and styles, build up your own style library, modify and adjust existing blocks, and create fully professional collections.
Gemini Pattern Editor A very comprehensive piece of software which offers quick and accurate pattern design, using basic design tools and advanced geometrical procedures. Includes: advanced model design and make-up with simulation for darts and folds; automatic and manual pattern grading; pattern checking and verifying; a measurement table; a real time watcher; pattern digitizing; support for fast access digitizing functions; and vocal confirmation.
Gerber Accumark With AccuMark you can quickly create new patterns or modify existing ones and use powerful shortcuts to automatically apply common pattern changes. You can also perform even the most complicated grading calculations instantly, according to the rules you specify.
We’ve ascertained that pattern cutting is to fashion design what a brush is to an artist. It’s so easy to employ someone to realise your designs and turn them into the blueprint of your vision. However, if you’re passionate about this creative endeavoyr, then do yourself a favour and learn to pattern cut. It will enrich your design signature and allow you to understand the essentials. You’ll develop a good eye for the aesthetics of the garment, an ability to place and size things such as collars, pocket’s and lapels. You’ll also have a lot of fun turning your flats into form.