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What I Have Learned About the Pattern Design Process - Pattern Writing

Michelle Burke

This is the second post in this series in which I am sharing what I have learned about the pattern design process from the perspective of a fairly new pattern designer. Today, I am going to share with you the approach I take to turn my idea for a bag into an actual pattern for a bag.  

Once I have my idea and I have sketched it out, I start getting more detailed with different aspects of the design like size of the bag, placement of different components of the bag, and the steps needed to make the bag. I handwrite a VERY rough draft that doesn't include details for construction, it is just a set of notes to get me started and keep me organized through the process of making the design for the first time.  I then pick out some fabric that I don't mind throwing away if it comes to that, and it sometimes does, and I begin making the bag.  The first time I make a bag it is slow because I stop to write down more details that I will need to add to the directions to make it understandable for others.  I also like to include notes to indicate where a picture of the process would be helpful. Once I am happy with the end result of making the bag, I sit down at the computer with all my notes and start typing the directions. I then follow my directions to make another bag, this time with fabric that I love and that I think will showcase the style of the bag well. I use nice fabric at this point because I will take pictures of each step as I follow the pattern.  I usually take more pictures than I end up using, but I don't want to miss any steps.  I also make corrections and add any notes to my directions that I need as I work through them. Finally, I am ready to sit down at the computer again to combine the directions and the pictures to make the pattern.

When I wrote my first pattern, one thing I struggled with was how much detail to add to the directions and whether to add photographs or line drawings to illustrate the steps. I know that some people like patterns with a lot of detail and others don't; I know that some like line drawings while others like photographs. There is no right or wrong with these options, it is all personal preference. I thought about the patterns that I most like to use from my favorite designers and decided to include in my pattern those elements that I felt made their patterns high in quality, as well as fun and easy to follow.  I personally like a pattern that is very detailed and has a lot of good-quality pictures. There are a few elements that I feel are important to add to a pattern, once again this is personal preference. They are: a title page and description, finished size, seam allowance, a list of materials needed, a list of fabric cuts, directions, and pattern pieces. I also like to add pictures of the finished product that specifically show the front, back, inside, and any other important elements of the bag. This is a good reference for people to look at if they are trying to understand how a component of the bag fits into the final product.

A few pages of one of my patterns!

A few pages of one of my patterns!

The final point that I want to touch on involving pattern writing is which computer program to use. I say "touch on" because it seems that if you ask ten different people what computer software they use to produce their patterns, you are likely to get ten different answers. I can only tell you about what I have used and how it works for me.  I use Microsoft Publisher, partially because it is already on my computer (I didn't spend any extra money on it), and partially because I know how to use it to combine text with pictures. I think it is good to use a program you are familiar with, or at least one that you can easily learn as you go when writing your first pattern. Some of the other programs that I have heard others have success with are Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, and Photoshop, to name a very few. Once I have my pattern written I save it as a pdf file, but then in order to make it small enough to distribute to customers via email or through Etsy, I use a program that compresses the file into a smaller pdf file. There are free programs on the internet for this and it is very simple to do with one of these free programs. I have used smallpdf.com and it works well. Once you have your pattern ready for distribution there is still one more (I feel) very important step to take before putting it out there for sale; having it tested. I will talk about pattern testing in my next post!


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