Many think that learning how to make clothes will be expensive, but this is not necessarily the case. Even though the amateur will make many mistakes, certain techniques makes the financial cost of these errors minimal. And the time you spend messing up and the correcting your mistakes will make you a superior designer.
The approach I take to learning how to make clothes is called the flat pattern method, and is the easiest and most fundamental of the three basic methods. Drafting (the first alternative) is highly technical, and draping is the more fluid and creative route. Draping is how dresses that are gathered and rippled like a Greek goddess are made, but knowledge of the use of patterns makes the transition to draping much easier. Check out this page from my blog for more information about different techniques.
The flat pattern method is based on the manipulation to the cuts and folds (called darts) needed to make a flat pattern curve and conform to a three dimensional body. I won’t go into the details of darts and pattern manipulation here, just the material setup one might use to cheaply and effectively implement designs.
What you will need
So, you will need a sewing machine. You will also need a pattern. You can buy a pattern from a store or scale it up from a book. At first you won’t even need fabric, just a roll of thin (tissue) paper large enough to trace your pattern onto.
What to do
The pattern can be traced onto this thin paper and then cut out. Rather than cutting the darts out, as one would do to a final garment, they can be simply folded for right now. This way, a model can wear your tissue paper mock up, the seams temporarily held by pins, and you can make adjustments. When a final design is reached, the darts on the paper mock up are marked and the new pattern is cut out of thin cardboard (not the type used for boxes, but the type resembling thick paper). This is called a sloper.
Why a sloper?
This way, you have a copy of a pattern you know to work well that will last for a long time. Also, a sloper is used to generate new patterns in the future. Check out this page of my blog about using a sloper.
And then came the fabric
Then, the beginner (and the experienced designer alike) will want to make a trial out of cloth, which will fit differently than tissue paper. I suggest using old sheets, which can usually be found around the house or bought cheaply. Even discounted new sheets are often cheaper than new fabric.
Cut the pattern out of the sheets. Make sure to leave excess for the seams! You can pin it up on a model again and see if any changes need to be made, and then sew it. I’ve actually seen many beautiful sun dresses that were made from recycled sheets, so you may consider this your final product. Though, you still have a sloper from which to make many more designs with the same fit.
Finally, you can safely move on to using a fabric bought from a store (or the internet). Embroider, face the edges, silk screen, add pockets and buttons, do whatever you like. Your clothes will fit you or your friends or children or clients like only custom clothing can.
I think this process is part of a wonderfully affordable way to learn how to make clothes, and what you can create may surprise you.
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