A Review of Sewing Patterns I’ve Traced

Last week, I wrote about tracing patterns (see “Tips on Tracing Sewing Patterns“). In that post I was going to include some of my thoughts on the sewing patterns I’ve traced over the past few months but it got too long. So here’s my brief review, which covers patterns from three books: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin; Shape Shape: Sewing Clothing Patterns to Wear Multiple Ways by Natsuno Hiraiwa; and BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern by Jamie Lau as well as a PDF, the Sassy Librarian Blouse by Christine Hayes from her Craftsy class. Here’s the rundown:

Alabama Studio Sewing + DesignI really liked the clothes in Alabama Studio Sewing + Design so I bought it last fall. (See “Book Review: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.”) This was my first experience with patterns that you had to trace, not cut out. The patterns were printed on both sides of the paper and some of them overlapped each other. Granted this saves paper and space but I was used to buying traditional patterns printed on tissue paper that you cut out. But I was game – this was a chance for me to use that Swedish tracing paper that had been sitting around for a couple years. (For more on the book seeBook Review: Alabama Studio Sewing + Design.”)

Alabama Studio Sewing + Design - pattern
Patterns from the book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin

The patterns were very easy to trace because each size has very distinct lines and seam allowances are included. So all you needed to do was trace and cut (no darts!). I just traced these patterns freehand. All the garments use jersey fabric and are rather fitted because you’re using fabric that stretches.

I made a hand-sewn tunic, skirt, and bolero jacket from this book as well as an embroidered wrap, which I’ve posted about a few months ago (see “The Embroidered Wrap“). I haven’t written about the outfit yet but here’s a preview.

hand sewn tunic, skirt and bolero all made from Alabama Studio Sewing + Design patterns (photo by Emily Loftis).

Shape Shape by Natsuno HiraiwaAbout a month after I bought Alabama Studio Sewing + Design, I ordered a copy of Shape Shape: Sewing Clothing Patterns to Wear Multiple Ways by Natsuno Hiraiwa, a graphic designer turned fashion designer. This was a bit of an impulse purchase. I liked the photos of the garments, lots of asymmetric cuts and of course, interesting shapes.

The patterns in this book are also printed on both sides but they are not that easy to trace – not only do many pattern lines overlap but the lines are all of the same skinny weight. It’s difficult to be sure you’re following the correct line for a particular piece and there is no differentiation among the pattern lines designated for each size. This means that the line is exactly the same for size small, medium and large. (Note: This pattern doesn’t include seam allowances so you must add them.)

The lines in the Shape Shape patterns are hard to trace - see all that overlapping? And no differentiation between the different sizes!
The lines in the Shape Shape patterns are hard to trace – see all that overlapping of pattern pieces? And no differentiation between the lines for different sizes either!

I made one garment from the book (the Free-Style Curved Stole) but it was a little small (and I didn’t forget to add the seam allowance either!). I think I’ll give it to one my sisters who’s about 4 inches shorter. The garments in the book are sized for petite Japanese women, which means that at 5 feet 7 inches I’m a giantess for these clothes. There are only three sizes (S, M, and L) but I must be an XL or larger – something to bear in mind if you make anything from this book. (Of course, if I had read the reviews on Amazon, I would have realized that the sizes run pretty small, large is more like a medium.)

If you want to see what some of the clothes from the book look like, check out the review of Shape Shape by Handmade by Carolyn. She’s made some of the clothes from the book.

BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern book coverFor my next adventure in pattern tracing, I turned to the dresses in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern. With this book, I got more serious about tracing and finally bought a few French curves. (See my post “Tips on Tracing Sewing Patterns” for more on the tools I use.)

The patterns in this book are very easy to trace — even when many pattern pieces overlap — because some pieces are printed in black ink and others in red, plus the lines for different sizes are very clear. Seam allowances are not included, which makes it easier to adjust and/or modify the patterns. For many of the garments in the book, you need to take one of the base patterns and modify it to create a new pattern.

Let me tell you, after Shape Shape, it was a relief to trace patterns from this book!

If you want to see the dress I made from this book, check out my post “My First Fashion Photo Shoot for a Dress” or see the dress posted on my BurdaStyle page “Tea-Length 1950s Dress – BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern.” It was a finalist in BurdaStyle’s sewing contest earlier this year.

Patterns in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern are printed in red and black ink.
Patterns in BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern are printed in red and black ink.

Sassy Librarian BlouseLast but not least, is the pattern I traced from a PDF. I few months ago, I bought Christine Haynes Sassy Librarian Blouse on Craftsy, which uses a PDF pattern that you download and print on letter-sized paper. The pattern uses more than 35 pieces of paper, which you then need to tape together, overlapping the edges to match the lines. By the time you’re done taping all the pieces together, the pattern is a bit bulky in some areas.

So I decided not to cut the PDF pattern and instead, trace my size on to pattern tracing paper. I’m used to those tissue-weight patterns. Seam allowances are included in this pattern. None of the pattern pieces overlap (yay!) and the sizes are clearly delineated.

Taped together PDF pattern for the Sassy Librarian Blouse by Christine Haynes
Taped together PDF pattern for the Sassy Librarian Blouse by Christine Haynes

I’m still working on this top. I traced the pattern pieces and cut the fabric and my woven interfacing. When I finish it, I’ll be sure to post about it! What have been your experiences tracing patterns?

Tips on Tracing Sewing Patterns

Pattern Tracing Tools

Over the past several months I’ve traced a few patterns for various garments I’ve made so I thought it would be a good time to share a few of my experiences. I’ve mostly been tracing sewing patterns from books but in once instance, I traced a PDF pattern.

I’ve mostly been using a 60″ wide roll of pattern tracing paper (10 yards for $22)  from Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics in Berkeley (love this store!). But I also used a few yards of Swedish tracing paper that I bought online a couple years ago but never got around to using it until last year. This tracing paper is sort of like interfacing and can be sewn. However it’s more expensive than paper. I’ve also read that the paper rolls used in doctor’s exam rooms could be used as pattern paper. You can buy it medical supply stores – and it’s fairly inexpensive. I”ll have to look into that when I’m done with the roll I’m using.

I like using a drawing pencil to trace. I’ve been using a Derwent sketch pencil from an art supply store — grade HB. Drawing pencils are graded by H (hardness) and B (blackness) — 9H is the hardest and 9B the darkest.  An HB is right in the middle of the range.

If you use a pencil that is too soft, your line will likely smudge and your pencil would get dull pretty quickly. You need a precise line for pattern tracing. For example, if you used a 5B pencil, you’d have a nice dark line but you’d have to sharpen it constantly.

You could use a 1H or harder pencil but I personally don’t like the feel of H pencils. B pencils are great for drawing, the higher the number the blacker the pencil.

My favorite eraser is this white Mars plastic eraser by Staedtler. It erases very cleanly and gently. You don’t have to worry about leaving ugly smudges or tearing anything when you use this eraser. The company also makes a great metal pencil sharpener – the blade never seems to dull. It’s just the sharpener – it doesn’t come with a container to catch the shavings.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Before you begin tracing, be sure to find out whether a seam allowance is included. Some patterns don’t include a seam allowance so you must remember to add that a 1/2″ or 5/8″ to your pattern or you’ll end up with a garment that’s too small. (After you trace out the pattern, use a ruler to measure out and mark the seam allowance. I pencil in little dashes every inch or 1/2 inch so and then draw the cutting line.)
  • Pay attention to the lines for your size. Look closely at the pattern piece before you put your pattern paper on top to trace it. Though you can see through your pattern paper, sometimes it can get a little tricky on those multi-sized patterns, especially on curving lines. I usually end up counting out the number of lines to get to my size (for example, if a pattern is sized from 0 to 18 and you’re a size 12, then you count four lines over (18, 16, 14, 12) from the largest size to get to size 12).
  • When you’re tracing the lines, it’s very handy to use a transparent ruler with a grid and a french curve, which makes it easier to trace hip and armhole curves. You could trace pattern lines freehand but you might not be as accurate unless you’re one of those people who can effortlessly draw a straight line without a ruler.
  • When you’re done tracing the pattern piece (be sure to include darts and other markings) don’t forget to draw a line indicating the grainline. This is critically important. I forgot to do this on an asymmetrical pattern piece and there was no way I could approximate where it would go. So I had to take out the original pattern, lay my traced pattern on top, line it up, and then draw in the grainline (so annoying).
  • When you’re done with the tracing, copy the words listed on the pattern piece. For example, write the name of the pattern – or your shorthand nickname for it – on each pattern piece (for example, “Cool Cape”) and then identify the piece, such as Front Facing, Sleeve, Skirt Front, etc. Also, write down the cutting instructions, such as Cut 2 of Fabric, Cut 1 of Interfacing. Then if your pattern pieces get mixed up with others, you’ll know which pattern it belongs to.

Soon I’ll be writing another post on the different patterns I’ve traced. I was going to include that here but it was getting too long so I decided to break it up.

In the meantime, please share what your favorite pattern tracing tools are.

Making a Dress from the Book: BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern

Construction Details A
Clockwise from top left: Muslin of bodice, pinning darts in fashion fabric and lining, pinning fashion fabric and lining at neckline, attaching neck and armhole facings to lining

In December I bought the book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern at a sewing event at Britex Fabrics and I had also interviewed the author, Jamie Lau. Naturally, I had to make something from the book! And when BurdaStyle announced a sewing contest using a pattern from the book, I had some incentive to get going. But first I had to think about what to make and wrote here about my initial criteria and what I was considering. After I looked over the fabric in my stash, I knew that making a dress from the book would be my best option.

At first I thought I would use the pattern for the Jamie Shift Dress because I had some great wool crepe that I could color block. But it would have taken me a lot more time (and muslins!) to adjust the pattern so it would be more flattering to my curvy figure.

So I finally decided to use the master pattern for the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress. It’s from the chapter that features fashions from the 1950s, an era when dresses had full skirts and women wore crinolines.

Audrey Hepburn in the 1957 film Funny Face

This pattern has a square neckline but I decided to give it more of a boat neck, which is a style I really like. That neckline always makes me think of Audrey Hepburn and the dress she wore in the 1957 film Funny Face, which also stars Fred Astaire who plays a fashion photographer.

To change the neckline of the Elizabeth Gathered-Waist Dress, I traced the neckline of the Jamie Shift Dress but made it wider at the shoulders.

I made one muslin of the bodice but once I tried it on I realized I made it too wide. It didn’t look right and my bra straps showed. So I traced out another pattern but only made it about an inch wider than the Jamie neckline — much better!

My other adjustment to the bodice was that I decided to line it. The pattern uses facings. So using my muslin, I cut out the bodice twice – once from my fashion fabric, which I got from Discount Fabrics in San Francisco, and a second time from my lining fabric (a lovely Bemberg rayon lining from Britex).

I pinned and sewed the front and back darts on all the pieces and then I pinned the neck and armhole facings to my lining front and back. My fashion fabric has a soft hand and I wanted it to give it a little more stiffness around the sleeves. I used a very lightweight interfacing on the facings.

Next I attached front and back at the shoulders of the lining version and the fashion fabric. To put the two pieces together, I followed the clear instructions in the tutorial “How to Line a Sleeveless Dress,” which I found on the blog Blithe Stitches. Though my dress wasn’t exactly sleeveless and it also had a side zipper, the directions still worked for me.

Tomorrow I’ll be writing more about how I finished lining the bodice, dealing with the side invisible zipper, and additional construction details.

In the meantime, you can see more photos of the dress on my BurdaStyle project page and you can vote for my dress here. My  dress is one of 20 finalists in the contest! So please check out the contest entries and if you’re a member you can cast your vote. It’s free to join!

 

Q&A with Jamie Lau, author of BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern

Jamie Lau at Britex Fabrics for book launch party (photo by Sarah Deragon)
Jamie Lau at Britex Fabrics for book launch party (photo by Sarah Deragon)

Fashion designer, sewing instructor, and BurdaStyle editorial and e-commerce manager, Jamie Lau is also the author of the new book BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern: Mastering Iconic Looks from the 1920s to 1980s (Potter Craft). The book includes five master patterns from which you can create 19 different garments – including several dresses, tops, and two pairs of pants – that evoke the various styles of the decades. There are even a couple patterns for men.

From what I’ve flipped through so far, the book has very clear step-by-step instructions and plenty of nice technical illustrations to go along with nearly every step. After I’ve spent more time with it and made at least one garment, I’ll write about it in a separate post. BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern book cover

Jamie, who’s based in Brooklyn, was in San Francisco last month for the Renegade Craft Fair and to attend the book launch party for Sewing Vintage Modern at Britex Fabrics (she also visited her family). While she was in town, she graciously agreed to meet with me at a cafe to discuss her book and her sewing experience. We chatted for nearly an hour so I’m breaking up the interview into two parts. This article will focus on the book and next week’s post will reveal how Jamie went from working full-time as a senior research analyst for the judicial branch in California to her fashion career in New York. —Chuleenan Svetvilas

Chuleenan Svetvilas: I noticed that you wore many hats for this book – co-author, lead designer, technical writer, art director –

Jamie Lau: Photo shoot producer. [Laughs]

CS: So can you tell me a little about each of those roles as you were putting the book together, how that worked out?

JL: Sure – starting with project manager, it was kind of like assembling your crew. We didn’t have a very large budget to work with, so a lot of my previous job experience came in handy. I had experience doing contract negotiations, understanding contracts and business, how to hire people, how to interview people and build a project management chart for a timeline and goals…

I was doing everything from finding a fashion illustrator, a technical illustrator, to handling the budget. It was like, “OK, this is how much we have left in the budget so let’s find a fabric partner to work with. B&J Fabrics, which is also very amazing just like Britex [Fabrics], was the primary fabric sponsor we worked with.

Jamie at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
Jamie at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

Sure – starting with project manager, it was kind of like assembling your crew. We didn’t have a very large budget to work with, so a lot of my previous job experience came in handy. I had experience doing contract negotiations, understanding contracts and business, how to hire people, how to interview people and build a project management chart for a timeline and goals…

I was doing everything from finding a fashion illustrator, a technical illustrator, to handling the budget. It was like, “OK, this is how much we have left in the budget so let’s find a fabric partner to work with. B&J Fabrics, which is also very amazing just like Britex [Fabrics], was the primary fabric sponsor we worked with.

As lead designer, a lot of my job was doing the research on what styles to include, so I spent a lot of time at the public library looking at image archives. They have stuff on everything including pets, airplanes and transportation, and then there are costumes. The costumes are broken into different time periods. What I liked best about it was that the collection didn’t only include couture fashions. There were actually a lot of clippings from old magazines and catalogs, so it gave a more realistic view of what people wore on a day-to-day basis. It wasn’t just editorial, it was also everyday wear.

I also looked at old patterns. Most vintage patterns featured fashion illustrations on the cover – no photography – and they mainly included flats, so you could really see the garment details. A lot of my design process was spent gathering information and editing what looks would fill up this book and what was the best of the best from these different time periods.

From there I then had to consider what would be the five patterns that come with the book. What five garments can give us another garment? That was the major challenge because we can want all these things like a cool asymmetrical blazer dress for the ‘80s. But you also have to think about which pattern will it come from and how much work will the reader have to do to change that from point A to point B.

CS: That’s how you eliminated some designs as well, right?

'50s dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern on display at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
’50s dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern at the book launch party at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

JL: Yes. And I did a survey [of BurdaStyle members] for this book to find out what time periods people were most interested in and what garment types people were most likely to sew. Dresses and tops were the top two answers. Then we also asked, “Are you interested in men’s projects?” because we have male sewers on the site, too. We also have women who sew men’s garments, so we didn’t want to exclude that population.

The first BurdaStyle book [The BurdaStyle Sewing Handbook] didn’t have any men’s projects. It had a unisex bag. So the results from the survey also informed the final decision. I also looked at member projects because there’s new content every day that’s posted on BurdaStyle. I looked at what patterns people were buying, too. Dresses, of course, are super popular.

Then it was on to level of difficulty and having a good range of things. A shift dress is great. I use a lot of shift dresses in my collection. I think it’s comfortable and easy to sew and you can wear it all year round in different fabric ways. So I was looking at different [skill] levels, but I also didn’t want to alienate people who are experienced sewers with excellent tailoring skills who may want a challenge.

CS: Did you pick all the fabrics of all the garments?

JL: Yes. David Leon Morgan assisted with some of the male designs, too. He used to be BurdaStyle’s community manager. I primarily worked on the looks from the ’20s to the ’60s and ‘80s and focused a lot on the dresses. This was the fun part. And then there was the photo shoot, and I held model castings with many different agencies.

We looked for diversity in body types and were looking for “real” people. We also had a girl who was a fuller model. Model casting took a really long time in order to get the look we were going for. We also wanted to find someone who had a good personality to work with.

Jackie Dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
Jackie Dress from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

CS: And then you had to make the clothes to fit the models.

JL: Right. We had a sample maker help us who had worked with BurdaStyle before. She’s an experienced seamstress who’s very talented. Getting the fabric and sample garments done was the fun part about working on the book and I really wanted to have a good photo shoot. And then came the writing of the book…

I had already drafted some of the sewing and patternmaking instructions by the time of the photo shoot, but there was so much emphasis on getting the photo shoot done by deadline that it was really hard to do all of these tasks at the same time. Once the shoot was finished, I was finally able to focus on the instructions again. And I’m very detailed oriented, so I was checking everything down to what direction people needed to press.

Our technical illustrator, Rachel Rymar, is amazing. She and I worked very closely together and she was with me until the very end. The writing of the instructions was extremely laborious, and there were certain points in the process where I just felt so alone. We checked everything together closely, like if an illustration had to be serged because the garment was already serged in a previous step. There had to be consistency and I had a lot of project management experience from other jobs and was accustomed to being detailed and analytical, so I was noticing everything.

I decided to add more technical illustrations compared to the first book because a beginner, for instance, may not even know what a certain term is when reading the written description. I think it’s important not to intimidate the reader. So I wanted more pictures, more visuals.

We also had a fashion illustrator, Sarah Jung. We were brainstorming some initial ideas around the time of the photo shoot. I made a lot of mood boards in the beginning, too, as part of the lead designer role. I wanted to give her a feel for the mood of the book so we could really nail down the right illustration style.

CS: So what was the biggest challenge in putting the book together?

A spread from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)
A spread from BurdaStyle Sewing Vintage Modern (photo by Chuleenan Svetvilas)

JL: I held all the responsibilities and oftentimes felt like I was being tugged in multiple directions for various tasks though I’m only one person. I honestly think the hardest part was writing the instructions. The creative fun stuff happened early on in the process (picking the fabric, selecting the designs, and producing the photo shoot). But no one can make a project unless there’s a good set of instructions. It was getting that part down and perfect and making sure that things were consistent throughout the book. For instance, if I’m saying you sew a zipper one way that it’s the same in another chapter.

CS: Do you think that this book would be good for people who have never drafted a pattern themselves? You’re giving people a basic set of patterns and then you’re telling them where to make adjustments in the shoulders or whether to adjust the patterns for different designs.

JL: Absolutely. I’ve looked through many patternmaking books before, obviously, and sometimes I just want to give up when I get lost and wish there were more pictures. Sometimes you don’t have another visual until five steps later, and you couldn’t even complete the previous steps to get you to that point.

This book is so visual and a lot of the adjustments are pretty subtle, such as changing a neckline, lengthening or shortening a hem, or adding a button placket.

I think the pattern manipulations are pretty easy for some of the projects while others may be a little more challenging, like the tuxedo shirt for men because there’s a lot of stuff going on such as the ruffled layers. The geometric top is easy to adjust because you’re just adding style lines on the bodice. You’re basically making a big X to color block!

CS: What would be your advice to somebody who wants to start designing their own patterns?

JL: Well, definitely have a dedicated workspace for yourself and try to be as organized as possible. Ergonomics are very important especially when you’re drafting and sewing. Also, do a little research and look into what your personal style is. Think about who you are dressing.

A lot of people say, “I can’t draw, I can’t sketch.” I was one of those people. You don’t have to be a fantastic illustrator necessarily. You can also collage images together. You can compose mood boards and gather fabric swatches. Do little naive sketches so you can at least document what your idea was.

Fashion inspiration for me isn’t just in clothing or literal fashion objects.  I really like color photography like William Eggleston, for instance. The bold colors in his work really inspire me. When I’m planning a photo shoot, I’m not just thinking about the garment but also the mood I want to convey.

Visit C Sews next week for more of my interview with Jamie Lau.

Fabric at the East Bay Depot

The East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse in Oakland, California, sells all sorts of things, including art supplies, fabric, notions, and sewing patterns. All items are donated to this cool nonprofit organization whose goal is to “divert waste materials from landfills” and to increase awareness about the benefits of reusing materials. Teachers get a discount for things they buy for their classes (paint, paper, etc.).

Toward the back is the section where you’ll find all sorts of fabric in varying lengths that people have donated. I’ve seen wool, cotton, brocade, knits, velvet, and vinyl rolled up in the cubby holes here. And sometimes rolls of fabric are donated. The price per yard? $3/yard for fabric on the bolt, $2/yard for fabric in bundles, regardless of the type of fabric. I’ve also spotted leather scraps and belt buckles here at one time or another.

Fabric section at the East Bay Depot

Sometimes the fabric selection isn’t so great but you never know when something new will turn up, such as a collection of home dec fabric donated by a furniture upholsterer.

And if you have too many fabric scraps and remnants, it’s an excellent place to donate some of your stash. Someone will put them to good use.

The Depot sells notions and patterns as well. They aren’t particularly well organized but if you’re willing to spend the time to hunt through the bins, you could be rewarded with something unique. I’ve found vintage patterns, zippers of all kinds, a vintage fabric belt kit, and buttons. Patterns are just 25 cents. Loose buttons are sold by weight – about $8/pound, which isn’t very much when you’re only getting a handful.

Happy hunting!

Notions at the East Bay Depot

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buttons are sold by weight
Patterns for sale at the Depo