These past two weeks I have been incredibly lucky to have been able to attend the short course ‘Introduction to Customised Pattern Cutting and Fitting’ with the London College of Fashion, UAL.  I have dabbled with pattern adjustments to overcome fit issues before, with varying results, but always felt that at some point in my sewing journey I would need some proper guidance on how to really get the perfect fit for my body. But the perfect fit means being able to understand my natural proportions and how they fit into the pattern cutting process; to be able to compare my own measurements to a commercial pattern and see where adjustments would be needed. What better place to learn than to immerse myself into student life at the UK’s only dedicated fashion college.

Introduction to Customised Pattern Cutting and Fitting

This customised pattern cutting course will provide you with a chance to study the core skills involved in pattern cutting for womenswear, using your own body measurements. This method is used for couture and bespoke garments, usually designed and produced for individual clients.

You'll study the basics of personalised block making, creating a personalised bodice and one-piece sleeve block. Working at your own pace, you’ll then make your pattern into a toile, and then fit the toile to the body, adapting the pattern accordingly. You'll leave us with a personalised bodice and sleeve block, an accurate pattern and a fitted toile.

The course was set over four days, a Friday and Saturday of two consecutive weeks, and was taught by the marvellous Sally Pittman at the Mare Street campus in Hackney. Sal really knows her stuff; she is patient, meticulous in detail and has a wealth of resources stored in her head. Every dressmaker needs a Sal!

There were just seven of us enrolled on the course, half of the usual fourteen attendees, which worked to our favour as it meant there was more time for questions and learning techniques. Each of us had different reasons for being there; to improve dressmaking skills for personal use, to help advance business ideas, to build on previous education with the intent of working in the fashion industry. We were all at different stages of our sewing journeys but all eager to learn, it was nice to meet such an interesting and mixed group. 

Over the first two days we were introduced to the basics of pattern cutting and how to create a bodice block customised to our own body measurements. Sal ran us through pattern cutting tools and how to use them effectively; how to locate the correct points on a human body to measure; then how to transfer these measurements through a series of calculations to draft a 2d facsimile of ourselves. It’s a long but methodical process that relies heavily on accuracy, particularly for the drafting process. As my day job involves AutoCAD drafting I thought this would be the easy bit, but after years of drawing everything on a computer returning to hand drawing was NOT easy. In CAD you can be precise to fractions of millimetres – with a pencil and a ruler you are limited to the width of the lead and how closely you place your mark!

By the end of the second day we had traced off our first bodice pattern from the master pattern and were starting to sew up our calico toiles on the industrial sewing machines - those bad boys are lively! They are fast and aggressive but sew absolutely beautifully. The industrial irons are also a dream, creating paper flat fabrics with the crispest darts and seams you have ever seen!  

I left that week feeling incredibly motivated and inspired, but completely exhausted! A 5am airport run, Central Line tube strike and a 2.5 hour commute each way did nothing to help. But for the second week Mr Distracted and I were spending a few days staying with family in the East of London (so we could drop in on the BFI London Film Festival) and my commute became much more manageable. I was a temporary Londoner!

We began day three by finishing up our personal calico toiles, and then (after unpicking and resewing the same dart three times!) it was time to proof the pudding!  The seven of us took it in turns to don our makes while the group collectively judged the fit and suggested where the toile might need altering. It was interesting to see that across the different shapes and sizes the same fit issues seemed to reoccur – minor adjustments to the size of the darts, shoulder points etc.

With each toile it was impressive so see that through a series of measurements and calculations we had all produced a paper plan of ourselves that when made up in calico followed the body’s contours beautifully. It seemed too simple.

My main toile adjustments included decreasing the shoulder slope by 0.5cm and moving the seam forward by 1cm to accommodate a longer curve to the shoulder (the reason it always feels like tops are being dragged backwards!), adding more to the shoulder bust dart to increase the suppression across the chest and removing 1cm of fabric vertically from the back to bring it in without moving the side seams which were in the correct place. Once our toiles were pinned and marked, the adjustments were transferred over to our master pattern.

On the final day we all finished drafting our adjusted bodice blocks from our master, played around with half scale blocks to understand dart manipulation techniques before learning how to draft a personalised sleeve block. Sal took us through the basics of how to manipulate the position of the bodice darts to create different styles, how to take the block and create a shirt yoke, or a fit and flare top; the possibilities are endless! I hadn’t really considered creating clothing patterns from scratch, thinking I would use my new-found knowledge to adjust existing patterns, but seeing how easily Sal could create simple designs from the block has really inspired me and I can’t wait to put these techniques into practice. 

I left that day with a 2d card version of myself tucked under my arm, feeling like we could take over the world…