So you want to design PDF sewing patterns? Part 1: It’s technical!

books to design pdf sewing patterns with sewmccool

When I decided to design PDF sewing patterns for clothing, I studied like I was pursuing another college degree.

…videos, books, tutorials, more books….

…I studied pattern design and style like it was, well, going out of style.

And then one day…

…I caught my husband reading my books on grading.

(For those who don’t know, “grading” is how patterns are created in different sizes.)

See, my husband is an engineer.

And learning how to design PDF patterns takes a lot of brainiac math work….stuff he likes to do. :)

Even though pattern design uses the creative side of the brain (the one I admittedly prefer using), it also uses up a lot of that “left” side of the brain…the side that helps us use numbers to make sure all of the pieces fit together well.

“I could help you with the grading,” my husband said.

Help me? With my sewing patterns?

...knock me over with a feather!

Did I finally find that common ground between creativity, and, *gasp,* math?

So…I want to ask you a question now.

Are you thinking you might want to learn how to design PDF sewing patterns?

If you’re envisioning hours upon hours spent cutting and draping and sewing and “making it work” at the machine while Tim Gunn gently mentors you…..(I hope he hasn’t officially registered that as a trademark yet, has he?)’s not all that.

Jen of Tie Dye Diva sewing patterns (an affiliate, and I’ve been a fan for years!) says that drafting and grading are by far the most time-consuming parts of her job.

“I have put years of work into developing a some basic ‘blocks’ (simple patterns) that I know have a good tried-and-true fit, verified by testing, and I can work off them,” she says. “It does NOT mean that drafting is all done though! Every new neckline, collar, sleeve, etc. means more drafting and more grading.

“I spend so much time at the computer!”

Yes….indeed. Love Thy Computer and treat it well.

Carla Crim, of Scientific Seamstress, said that when she started 8 years ago, she really only knew how to make patterns for dolls based on draping – and trial and error.

“Customers started asking for kids’ patterns, so I had to learn drafting on my own,” she said.  “I started out very simple, and increased my knowledge base as I went along.”

Her business name is a play on her first career…this gal has a PhD in plant physiology and molecular biology.

…there’s that left brain again…

(she’s also just published a book on drafting patterns for children! I link to it below.)

I managed to harness the power of my math-side of the brain with my first children’s clothing patterns, but I’ll admit that I had to work a lot harder than I do when I’m “just” sewing.

I got excited when I successfully used Pi to figure out the curve of the skirt for my Lakeshore Halter Dress:

Lakeshore halter twirl sewmccool and Birdsong

…I actually sent a text to my husband afterward that said, “numbers are my friend after all!”

My husband hasn’t picked up my books in awhile…was he sad that I didn’t need his help after all? I don’t know, but I think he was a little proud of me for conquering the technical aspects of design.

And if you decide to try….I’m sure you can do it, too!

Here are a few books to get you started if you want to learn how to design pdf sewing patterns, all from my Amazon affiliate:

* Pattern Making for Kids’ Clothes: All You Need to Know About Designing, Adapting, and Customizing Sewing Patterns for Children’s Clothing (by Carla Crim!)

* Patternmaking for Fashion Design (5th Edition)

* Metric Pattern Cutting for Children’s Wear and Babywear

* Concepts of Pattern Grading 2nd Edition: Techniques for Manual and Computer Grading

Stay tuned throughout this month for more stories about the joys and trials of being a PDF pattern designer! I’ll be chatting with designers – and customers – all month about many different aspects of the business, so you can decide if this career path is one you’d like to follow, too! If you’d like to know more about my journey, you can read that here.

To make sure you don’t miss a post in this series, please follow SewMcCool by e-mail (the link is at the top of the right-hand column) or join me on BlogLovin’ – the button is just below the e-mail feed box! :)



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  1. says

    Great information and resources in this post! I have the Aldrich books and a pattern making textbook, too. It is just so overwhelming to actually get started! I’m going to take the Pattern Workshop course that is releasing next month. I think videos will be much easier for me to follow than the textbooks. Contact me for the affiliate link if anyone is interested!

    • Deanna McCool says

      Thanks Tasha! This was marked as Spam b/c of the link – sorry! I’ve retrieved it though and changed it so people can contact you with more info if they’re interested. :)

  2. Christine Ousley says

    I have actually already ordered Carla’s new book and it should arrive any day now. I’m as interested in the creations of the patterns but in the actual grading of them. I think I could help people grade their patterns who are not so into the math part. I’ve taken a couple courses but none really helped with grading for children which is very different then grading adult patterns. I’m looking forward to more of your posts on this subject!

    Love your blog!

    • Deanna McCool says

      Thanks Christine! You’re totally right – there’s just not very much information out there about grading childrens’ patterns. One time I looked into classes at Parsons…for fun…since I live in Indiana…and thought, wow, I would totally love to take some of those childrens’ design courses. I will sadly have to save that dream for retirement or something though (when I’m old enough to freak out the college-age kids, haha!)

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