On reviewing pattern books

I am trying to write a review of Patternmaking Made Easy by Connie Crawford. The book is hardcover spiral bound with 437 pages ($95.00). The long and short of it is that I prefer this book to Armstrong’s and Connie has generously offered a 20% discount to all of my visitors so be sure to use my name to get the discount ($19.00). You can mail, fax or telephone your order. I do not earn a commission on sales.

Anyway, in writing the review, I realized I had to list the things I look for as a point of comparison because I judge these books differently from most people. Then I realized I also had to write up what most (if not all) books are lacking. Accordingly, as you read this, my views are written in the context of applicability in a commercial environment. For the most part, I also think home sewers should weigh these opinions more heavily (as appropriate). The review of Crawford’s book as compared to Armstrong (which seems to be the favorite) will follow these points.

Beyond spot checking for obvious and basic concepts such as dart manipulation, slashing and spreading, adding fullness with tucks and darts, I really don’t look at those sections, much less test them out. Most -and I do mean most- pattern books get all of the basic concepts right. If you just want the basics, nearly any book will do. In those cases I weigh book quality according to the design of the instruction. Are the pages clear and concise? Are the concepts well illustrated? Is there a lot of copy? The more illustrations, the better. What does the book cost (what value does it represent)? Some people like a book just because the illustrations and the styles depicted are prettier but that’s a goofy ruler to use to measure a book’s quality.

Now, a strength of Crawford’s book is the instructional layout. The pages are laid out well. Continuity between frames is clear. In the basic skills section, each concept has it’s own page. You can see it all on one page so you don’t need to flip pages. The instruction is succinct yet complete. In other words, she hasn’t sacrificed detail at the expense of instruction. I don’t like many of the drafts in the Armstrong book, I can’t figure out what she’s doing. You shouldn’t have to read it to figure it out. The instruction should be visually apparent. You’re in drafting mode not reading mode and it should readily translate as you work, reflecting the example in front of you. That’s a strength. Crawford’s book is a hardcover spiral bound book. Just looking at it, you’ll intuitively know this was the most expensive binding to be had. It was worth it. It’s easier to use and lies flat. It also has a complete index (Armstrong doesn’t).

In summary, if you wanted a basic book for pattern drafting, Crawford’s is a good choice considering the binding and instructional design. As I said, most books get the basic concepts right so these two factors may weigh the most heavily for the average user. That’s not to say those are the only benefits to the book. She did have a section I’ve never seen in a drafting book, that of designing patterns for older people. As I’ve said repeatedly, manufacturers will have to start designing styles for mature figures. Baby boomers are aging so the pull of this market will increasingly demand appropriately fitted apparel.

Rather than testing the instruction of basic concepts since everybody gets that right, I spot check to see how detailed the book is (how many levels deep). The post from the other day is a good example. If a book flat out says your button stand is 1″ but doesn’t explain why, that’s a bad sign, too narrow. A better book would explain the width of the stand is commensurate to the button size (both Crawford and Armstrong do this).

Some things I check for:
I usually don’t check the drafts for sportswear because it is so basic that CAD systems can spit those out readily. I tend to look at the more complicated products like sportcoats that require higher level skills. If they get that stuff right, the lower level stuff is usually okay too. When I check a sportcoat, the first thing I look at is the collar. Does the book explain the correct way to draft collars, specifically the top and undercollars? Has the book included instruction regarding the concept of “turn of cloth” or bend allowance? Most books get these last two things wrong. They do the old add an 1/8th to the outside edge of the top collar (blending to zero at the ends) thing. I have never seen that done in a commercial environment; it doesn’t work well, we do it another way that the books don’t show. None of the books say anything about adding extra for turn of cloth.

The biggest issue with sportcoat collars though is how are they shaped? In most pattern books -and I do mean most, particularly the newer ones- the collar shape for a sportcoat is off by a lot. I tried for years to get my collars to fit the shapes of the ones you see in books. Here is an example from the Armstrong book, the collar is too straight and it will never lay right:

Below is a collar from the Crawford book. This is much closer to what real sportcoat collars look like. In real life, these pieces are curvier, not straight, although the undercollar should be in two pieces, not one, split at the CB neck.

Another thing I look at is the making of interfacing pattern pieces. Many books also get this wrong and it’s just so irritating. Maybe they give it a fast pass because it’s boring (and it is) but in a commercial environment, this is something you’ll be doing everyday so you should learn to do it right. For example, most of the pattern books get the interfacing of hems wrong. Either they show the interfacing ending right on the fold line (!) or they don’t interface the hem at all. Listen up folks, the inside hem of a jacket needs fusible. That hem will get a lot more wear because it’s rubbing against the body all day long. It needs to be fused. Below is a scan of the interfacing pieces from Armstrong (look at the body, off to the left). Note that the hems are not fused:

For comparison, here’s a scan of the interfaced hems of the Crawford book:

Another thing I don’t like about drafting books (in general) is that they don’t provide any sewing instruction. Or, very little. The Crawford book shows some of that with regard to the sportcoat and what she shows is mostly sound although she shows a work around for that facing, hem and lining juncture that I showed how to correct in the nameless tutorial series. I think pattern books should show more sewing.

Speaking of things I don’t like about pattern books, the first thing can’t be helped, it’s nobody’s fault or oversight. Instructional design necessarily reflects the basics but it doesn’t go beyond that to address the needs of more advanced students or commercial users. For one thing, all the instruction is shown using slopers (patterns without seam allowance). We don’t make patterns like this in real life (we do it like this). Nobody uses slopers, we use blocks (enthusiasts have co-opted the term to mean a basic fitting shell). It’s hard to illustrate drafting with the seam allowance in place so for the sake of expediency, they show you without allowance but this practice really changes the nature of the beast. You need to learn pattern manipulation skills from patterns that already have seam allowance. It’s a more advanced skill but you need to learn it that way because you’ll rarely make patterns any other way. Likewise, if you do any draping at all, it’ll be the occasional flounce or collar. We rarely drape either. We rarely use dress forms too. Very few companies have decent custom made dress forms that are shaped like people so we don’t use them because the styles don’t look the same using the standard dress form. Any respectable manufacturer will fit test styles on a live model rather than a dress form. Most patterns -in real life- are made via flat pattern making skills using patterns with seam allowance. I realize these books are used for first year students and it’s good that everyone is oriented to basic practices but in real life, these methods are often unwieldy and time consuming. My complaint is that pattern books don’t place enough weight on production pattern skills for advanced students (those intending to become pattern makers rather than designers) so it’s very hard to recommend a book appropriate for commercial users because books are not designed for them.

Here are things the books usually get wrong (for the purposes of a commercial environment), or omit entirely:

  • Sleeve cap ease
  • Ease over the bust in the side front princess panel
  • Linings for sportcoats and coats
  • Welt pockets
  • Many if not most plackets
  • Interfacing pattern pieces
  • Notches
  • Zippers
  • Guides and jigs
  • Collars (top collar outside edge).
  • Any treatment, seam or feature that will be rendered with automated equipment (standard seam classes and specifications)
  • Pattern room and style management standards
  • Explain professional practices, expectations and standards of competency.

Some things -like notches- amount to pet peeves in the workplace. Beginning pattern makers put too many notches on things, breeding them like some kind of a communicable disease or something. Or maybe warts. Armstrong loves notches. If your pieces are made correctly, they don’t need that many notches. If the patterns are crappy, sure, you’ll need to ease them in from notch to notch.

None of them say one word about guides, what they are, why you need them and how to make them.

I have never seen a book that got designing patterns for zipper closures correctly. Armstrong doesn’t mention zippers at all. Nobody ever mentions the facings must be cut shorter on the zipper side either. Perhaps you’ll now understand why I did a whole tutorial on the topic.

Very few books even mention walking your pattern to make sure all the pieces match. This is a mandatory practice! This is something you’ll do every single day. It’s amazing to me that book writers spend a lot of paper and ink explaining things you’ll rarely if ever do but spend no page count explaining the things you’ll need to do daily. Bizarre. Crawford’s book does a nice illustration of walking a sleeve but this is one thing that is generally ignored in most books.

Some people judge the quality of a pattern book based on the sizing tables assuming that the book is “better” if the measurements for the sizes listed match either their preference (judgment can be very subjective) or is the most current standard. This is silly. The book quality does not depend on modern sizing charts. If that were true, that would mean that most of the vintage pattern books would be judged inadequate and that’s just not true. Some of the older books are better regardless of the reflected sizing. Sizing evolves, the book isn’t bad just because it’s basic size does not fit you personally.

Another pet peeve is teaching students to draft the basic fitting shells from measurements. I guarantee that in real life, you’ll never need to draft a basic bodice from measurements. Once you leave school, you’ll never do it again. I almost suspect that the practice of teaching students to draft the bodice from scratch is a rite of passage. Or, it could be that authors include it because all of the pattern books always contain the instruction, so they should too but it’s largely useless. You won’t ever do it again in a commercial environment.

Another omission from pattern making books is the topic of pattern room management. What are style numbers? What are PN numbers? How do you use them properly? What is a direction card/pattern record card/cutter’s must and why do you need to make them? Where is the tracking and paper work that follows a style in the process from sketch to approved sample? Another thing I don’t like is that books usually wave off a lot of stuff saying the “production pattern maker will do it” but honey, in most companies -and I do mean most- there is no such thing as a first pattern maker. One pattern maker does it all, first through production. There’s no genie in the wings waiting to catch your goofs. A company only wants a pattern maker who can do it all start to finish and they never tell you this in books.

Regarding the widespread use of standardized classes of seams, books fail to mention you’ll need to make patterns specific to automated equipment. Books don’t provide the parameters nor seam classes nor specifications. If this stuff is in apparel management books, it darn well should be in the pattern books too. How else can you draft for it?

On an unrelated note, Connie and I had a long discussion about the “experts” in the home sewing side of things. Neither of us understand how they can continue to perpetuate the myths they do. It’s got to be a personality thing or a marketing thing. In manufacturing, we’ve never heard of these people. None of them. There is no such thing as a sewing expert in the apparel industry. Every plant has their own sewing expert on staff. They’re called “pattern makers”. I just wish pattern making books did a better job of educating them from the outset.

Lastly, if you’re shopping on price, Handford’s drafting book is an incredible value (less than $40 new). It’s not pretty, it’s not fancy, it’s not popular but it is solid. You could spend three times as much and not get nearly as much in recompense. I rarely use a pattern book, maybe once a year. If I do, this is the first book I check and I’ve spent thousands of dollars on pattern books.

How we make patterns in real life

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