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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pattern Making

Project Notes for Alysa's Awesome Apron
When I first started teaching sewing, I struggled to find patterns that were well-written and that captured what I wanted my sewing friends to learn. After some feedback and requests, I started writing and designing my own patterns. I've always loved technical writing and design, so it was a natural fit for me.

A lot goes into designing a project then writing up patterns - probably more than what you think. I get really frustrated when I hear people (NOT those who I sew with) talk about photocopying patterns - because they thought they cost too much or because they simply didn't want to pay for it. Every pattern that is copied is money taken away from someone who has dedicated a considerable amount of time and energy to help all of us make wonderful things. And it is stealing; and it hurts the exact people we should be supporting.

So the next time you are tempted to copy a pattern, think about what goes into making it. Here is my process for making a pattern:
My first go-around.
1. Project Idea: First I have to come up with a project; my goal is to find something that hasn't been done before or wasn't done how I would do it. I pride myself on finding and/or creating techniques that make the process a whole lot easier. So this stage involves a lot of thinking and brainstorming with my sewing sisters. They have some awesome ideas! 

2. Test the Idea: The next thing I do is make the project. While I do this, I take careful notes and snap some detailed pictures. I've made A LOT of things, so my sewing experience comes into play here. I also sketch things out - I'm no artist, but it gives me a tangible view of what's in my head. All the time I'm doing this, I'm talking (sometimes out loud) through the process. Being able to articulate in simple terms is key. If I can't say what I mean, no one will understand it. This has gotten a lot easier - because of my full-time job (college professor), I spend a lot of time writing and speaking. I've also gotten really good at taking foggy ideas and clarifying them (that comes with practice - I listen to about 200 speeches a year, so part of my job is to help my students communicate their ideas). It also helps that I love words. I dig for some gems on  

3. Write the Pattern: Depending on the complexity of the project, writing the pattern can take a few hours to a day or so. I use MS Publisher to create my patterns - I love Publisher and have been using it since the mid-1990s. This is where my sketches come into play - I have to take what's on paper and in my head and translate it to a computer screen; Publisher isn't really designed for this but I've found ways to make it work. I love the challenge! Once the pattern is done, I print it and do a quick review. Then I put it on my Project Board; the next day, I get it out and read it. I change what doesn't make sense.  

4. Making the Final Sample: Once I have the test project done and the pattern written, I make a final sample using my pattern. I follow it exactly. All the time I'm doing this, I try to put myself in the shoes of a novice. I hear my sewing sisters asking questions, think about problems they've had in the past, and examine anything that could be confusing. 

5. Take Pictures: At this point,  I take pictures of the final product. This is my weak point. I'm no photographer! Plus I'm usually alone and deep-in-thought, so I'm the photographer-model. Not easy.

6. Make Final Changes: Once I feel confident in the pattern, I print a final copy. 

7. Hold a Pattern Sample Class: At this point I post pictures on the Sew You Can Facebook page. My goal is to get some of my sewing students interested in taking a class. The test class is usually four to six of my regulars - I trust that they'll be open and honest with me. And they are really great at asking questions and following the pattern. I take their feedback and make any final changes.

8. Finalize Pattern and Post It: I make any changes to the pattern then post it online.

When I price a pattern, I think about the work I've put into it and the complexity of the pattern. I try to make what I've done affordable while rewarding myself for all that time and energy. And even after I'm done with the class/pattern, I still seek feedback and make changes. My biggest thrill is when my sewing sisters make the project at home and have no problems following my pattern!

This eight-step process usually takes a few weeks to a month. So when you see a pattern and the price, remember how time-consuming it is and the skill involved! 

Check out other patterns by indie designers along with my patterns in my Craftsy Pattern Store!


  1. Thank you for sharing this window into the world of creation that produces sew mant wonderful things we all enjoy! I assume that I am not the only one who easily overlooks the amount of work, skill, time and self that one puts into this prior to our ever seeing it and can quite easily take for granted this amount of energy you spend without having had a true appreciation for it. After reading this post I WILL havve a new and appreciative prospective! Thank you again evver sew much!!!

    1. Thanks for the kind words. There is a lot of work that goes into it. I think we often overlook it because the people designing the patterns make it look so easy!

  2. Hi,
    I was doing a search on how to sketch patterns using MS Publisher and yours came up! Do you have any examples? I just discovered the curve feature in Publisher that I didn't even know was there. Love it.
    Barbra Ann

    1. Hi Barbra,
      I've been using Publisher since the early 1990s, so I'm very familiar with it. Getting things to look 3-d can be a bit tricky, but it's all about layering. Here's a link to a basic pattern that I made using Publisher. I created the figures and saved them as pictures -


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