Pattern Philosophy and Practice

Posted on March 10, 2013 by Sandy Ericson

Since my patterns focus on a more organic way of design, let me explain how they are different.  For many years I taught fashion and pattern design and studied the methods of Madeleine Vionnet, always waiting until I had the time to develop my own patterns using her concepts.  When working this way the focus is on simplicity -- using very few but perfectly placed cuts, very few pattern pieces, a narrow range of fabrics that work on the bias and require little sewing, under support or hardware.  Plus, the bias does not ravel, so no edge finishes!  This is entirely different from the commercial straight grain patterns which work well with standard size charts and have the conventional front, back and sleeves.  The fit and size of CFPD patterns are greatly affected by the customer's own choice of fabrics, the bias grain and the elimination of seams and darts to create a fewer pattern pieces that will drape over more areas of the body with greater comfort.  Therefore, giving people confidence that every design will fit a certain standard size is not feasible.  It is one reason why Vionnet's work did not adapt well for commercial production. 

My philosophy is based upon the very old maxim that the more work the fabric does, the less you do.  So I design patterns that are fairly simple to cut and sew yet require fine fabrics, usually in natural fibers, in order to make the garment look and perform beautifully.  That way, you will love making them (less frustration), you will love wearing them and want to make them again. 

On the question of what fabric works well to make a bias toile (dry run), rayon challis is great.  Rayon has the highest specific density of available fabrics and so it will drape heavier and more fluidly than cottons. Use a solid color so you can concentrate on the shape and fit. When I show a design on the mannequin, which is an 8, it is fitting slightly loose because I make everything to fit myself and I am a 10/12 - med. It is difficult to find an affordable larger size display mannequin and I'm not going to make lots of small wonderful clothes only to look at them! I wear everything I make. Plus, clothes shown on dress forms, with no arms, do not look well.  I know we can't be all things to all people so I focus on what thrills me and that means I will love to make patterns for a long time.

Recently I have decided to print general size measurements right on each future design and they will appear in the product information section too.  Because of the nature of the patterns (fast to make and few pieces, often just one), it is easy to make a dry run out of muslin or an old sheet adding extra wide seam allowances and then make length or width adjustments on the body. 

For many of the one pattern piece designs, they can be enlarged by simply adding any amount to all the outer edges prior to cutting, keeping the neck the same -- basically enlarging the pattern equally all around.  Make it in muslin first.  Baste it up, try it on, adjust fit and then cut off the sleeve or body hems for the best length. In a fabric that works on the bias well, it looks best if it is large enough to drape softly, skimming the body, since the bias keeps it from looking too bulky.  To look best, it should fit like the photo on the pattern cover and be in a similar fabric. 

One bit of explanation about skill levels --my thinking is that since I cannot be sure that beginners understand the fabric/bias/cut issues, fabric behavior, specific edge finishes or more couture patterning, I reason that it doesn't make a lot of sense to spend hours writing detailed instructions from scratch for every pattern. Therefore, I am almost required to say they are not for beginners.
Hopefully, the more advanced people who find they need some help on a technique, have a good sewing book handy. I do spend more words on anything really tricky.  While I make patterns for more advanced skills and unfortunately lack the time or patience to write long directions, I have taught very basic beginners for over 30 years and still do -- hence the reason for many of my direct, hands-on classes in which I can fully explain all the nuances. Learning why and how for the first time is so much better in person!

I hope I have helped everyone understand the sizing and skill level issues and that people will learn that in return for making a muslin once and working in just a few good fabrics on the bias, it's possible to make the design very quickly over and over and it will always look elegant and interesting.

About the choice of designs, I choose designs that I think make women look interesting, alluring,  graceful and beautiful for themselves rather than what they are wearing. So I emphasize timeless elegance, closer to the body fit but a minimum tight fit and creasing when worn and I try to bring out the most fascinating behavior of the fabrics.  I, like many people who have been at it for awhile, take all my sample yardage from my collection so, luckily or not, I'm not too concerned with the yardage required.  I just concentrate on style and I make sure to use all the scraps for scarves, etc. -- I even cover shoes.  Sustainability is important.

Since we all must wear clothes, I would like all people to truly understand the kinetic human body and how fabric best works on it in order to make the person look beautiful.

Posted in March 2013

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