Review: Patternmaking by Dennic Chunman Lo

patternmaking_dennic_coverToday’s review is another recently published book called Patternmaking by Dennic Chunman Lo ($26). Be sure to read through to the end because I’m giving away a free copy of this book to one lucky visitor! Also, the publisher is promoting a significant holiday discount on all titles in their catalog for UK buyers. US buyers already get the discount courtesy of Amazon.

This introductory text is an excellent tool for designers, and oddly enough, particularly for those who don’t intend to make their own patterns. I think there is a big hole in the market for a book that fills that gap. The reason being, many designers want a better understanding of the relationship of shapes and how these are incorporated into the body of a garment. See this example that shows the outline of pattern pieces on the body so one can understand construction relationships.

patternmaking_quarterscale_drape_vs_real_lifeFor designers who do want to learn a few skills, this is a nice introduction with solid exercises so you can feel like you’re accomplishing something. While it does closely reflect a school environment, there are some delightful surprises. For example, I love page 24. Reason being, there are a lot of people who are convinced that draping on a quarter scale form is the ticket because Vionnet did it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t, it’s a dandy way to save on fabric but you need to be aware of performance variances in smaller scale.

patternmaking_dennic_form_vs_bodyAbove right is a photograph comparing a neckline flounce created in quarter scale and one created full scale. The full scale version, being heavier, drapes prettier than the smaller one. Of course if you liked the smaller version you’d have to do something to create the effect full scale (underline with organza maybe?). What is more likely is that you’d see the small version, think it looked like a V-neck clown ruffle and abandon the style without sampling it in full size.

The other pitfall common to school learning versus real life are the differences of modeling on a form as compared to a human body. In this photo (right), Chunman Lo shows the same garment on a form and on a body. The form is compliant and accommodating. The human, not so much. The shoulders slide down on a human. The lesson being that while you may create a style via draping on a form and give it to a pattern maker to make up for you, it is best to presume a sample on a human will not match the expectations you developed based on the dress form sample.

There are a lot of neat things about this book, things it never would have occurred to me to mention. Here’s one tiny detail; the matter of needing to twist seam allowances (below).


On the other hand, the text doesn’t mention one should clip the allowance at the point it changes direction but in the author’s defense, you can’t do that with all fabric types. Materials that don’t fray easily are a given.

There were a few things I found useful. On pages 81-89 were a series of draft conversions. Say, combining separate bodice and skirt blocks to create a basic dress block. I wouldn’t say this is not in any other book (I don’t know) only that I’ve always done it by hook or crook so this is something to look over the next time I have a related project. In the same section was instruction on how to create a dress block if you only had the bodice portion, cobbling on with measures from a body or form. Like I said, useful.

Minuses could be summarized as a mis-match between expectations and needs. This is not a production pattern making book and it does not claim to be such either. Meaning, there will be differences between the text and work practices. For example, production patterns shouldn’t be marked as illustrated in this book but more like the section on production pattern making in my book (pp. 176-180).

Call it a philosophical difference, but I don’t agree that patterns should be made as quickly as possible by sacrificing standard procedures to include seam walking etc (pg 104, third paragraph). I have seen too many instances in which rough patterns are elevated to production status simply because someone managed to sew one up somewhat successfully with however many workarounds. As with the leather book I recently reviewed, there were quite a few variations in how I work versus the book’s instruction. Be that as it may, I still think this is a great option for designers who want a friendly introduction to patternmaking if only to make their product development processes go more smoothly. With a careful reading, you shouldn’t flounder as much or be as intimidated by it as you may have been. I don’t need to worry about promoting this to dyed in the wool pattern makers because they’ll buy it anyway. Even if they only get one thing out of it, it’s easily worth the $26.

Errata: Keeping in mind that it is very difficult to monitor every detail in a project like this, there are bound to be errors. For example, on page 110 begins a section on of obligatory notches but the illustrated sample sleeve pattern does not have a shoulder notch on the sleeve’s cap. I know it is a genuine oversight because shoulder notches are evident in many other places. My point being, as useful and friendly as you find the text, resist the temptation of using it as the rule or final word in production pattern making.

Another thing you should be aware of is that this book was written by a professor in the UK so there are regional differences. For example, the standards for color coding are different. Additionally, the one review written on Amazon mentions that the drafts were created in metric and converted to imperial measures. The reviewer says that not all the measures were converted accurately so to stave off  frustration or discouragement, you might consider drafting in metric. In case you wonder, I haven’t drafted any styles from the book, that’s not how I review them.

Patternmaking by Dennic Chunman Lo
240pp, 8.5 x 11 $26 Amazon US, $40 list
Full color photographs and many illustrations.

Hark! A discount! The publisher is offering a 35% discount on all titles sold from their UK site from now until December 31st. The discount code is LKPXMAS11. I realize this is a disappointment to US buyers but look at it this way; the Amazon US price is discounted exactly 35% so this way, UK buyers can enjoy the same benefit you do.

And of course, a contest giveaway! The publisher’s US representative was kind enough to send me a copy of the book for review. What neither of us knew was that one of you (Jessica Owen, thank you!) had sent me one too. So, I have an extra copy to give away. [The real hold up on writing this review was trying to figure out how to do it.] I have decided to do what Poppy Gall recently did and treat every comment posted to the site for one week as one entry for the contest. That means, if you post seven comments in a week, that amounts to seven entries for you. Etc. I thought it was a great way to do it. But I would. I won her contest, yay me! I have never won anything before.

Based on comments, I’m amending this entry. Again, the contest is not based on the number of comments to this post. Every comment on ANY post on this site is a separate entry. Meaning, to optimize your chances, find other posts to comment on. The archives post will be going up soon, you could probably find something interesting that’s worth reading and commenting on.

Speaking of Poppy, yesterday she posted how to make your own color palettes like she does it. Being ill versed with Photoshop, I had no idea it could be so simple.

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  1. Mary in FL says:

    Great review! I think this would be a good way to round out my sewing book collection, as I think Armstrong is my only pattern drafting reference so far. At that price, if I don’t win it, I will probably buy it.

  2. Connie says:

    I love this site and all your great advice. I will probably never draft patterns for anyone but myself and family, but I love to learn. Thanks for the book review too. It helps to have a fair review because I can not afford to spend money on useless books.

  3. This sounds EXACTLY like the book I need. I will probably just go buy it and I’ll have time to spend with it after I finish sewing my samples for my rep this week (and how I wish I had had this book when I was desiging those samples).


  4. celeste says:

    Good to know armstrong shouldn’t be our only reference.

    I do agree about having more then one book on a subject (but I do tend to get a little carried way sometimes). It’s good to have different refrence points!

  5. Another Kate says:

    I did look at the link about how you review pattern books, but I’m afraid I don’t really understand what you’re saying. If you are saying that you don’t examine the blocks that an author is going at great lengths to describe because there are enough standard blocks floating around in the industry, doesn’t that undermine the review? After all, a lot of students (future designers in industry) are going to look at a book like this which is targetted at them (the publishers categorise this book under the heading “Portfolio Skills” clearly confident that the fashion colleges will buy multiple copies for their libraries). And some of these students will think “mmm… I wonder if these blocks produce produce a fit than the poorly- cut standard size 12 that was taught to me by the college to use for my degree collection”.

    As I say, I think this is one of the best books produced recently, and certainly a great improvement on Aldrich (which Fashion Colleges in the UK seem to love). It’s just a shame that in using measurements for anatomical details that other pattern cutting books don’t use at all, it is difficult for me to decide how well his blocks really work. It helps to understand his theories by testing them out – drafting his blocks to different sizes with the help of a comprehensive measurement chart.

  6. Kathleen says:

    If you are saying that you don’t examine the blocks that an author is going at great lengths to describe because there are enough standard blocks floating around in the industry, doesn’t that undermine the review?

    No to standard blocks floating around and no to undermining the review.

    I just looked at that entry again (cleaned up some broken links too). I did make it clear that I don’t even look at the blocks much less try them out -because that’s not how we draft patterns in real life. Perhaps you could follow some of those links there too (block, sloper, how we make patterns in real life etc). The only people who draft fitting shells are students. You’ll do it once -in school but that’s not real life.

    I can understand if you don’t like how I review because that’s probably not what you need right now. I don’t pretend to be competent to review a book from the context of someone who teaches it. I can only review from the context of someone who has made their living making patterns for 3 decades. There’s tons of stuff out there for students, this is the only space I know of with information for commercial parties. And we need that. How else will designers make a living?

    After all, a lot of students (future designers in industry) are going to look at a book like this which is targetted at them […] And some of these students will think “mmm… I wonder if these blocks produce produce a fit than the poorly- cut standard size 12 that was taught to me by the college to use for my degree collection”.

    There are two fallacies here:
    1. That designers make patterns in real life. Some do, really small operations but that is not the norm. Like I’ve said many times, I can count on one hand, the number of designers I know of personally who can cut a production ready pattern. This offends a lot of people, mostly students, homesewers or aspirants but they’re missing the point. Which is, pattern cutting is not the designer’s job in real life. Just because they teach you that in school, or magazines dramatize a designer’s contribution to the design process doesn’t mean it’s true. Designers have a very difficult and challenging job -so much so that they don’t have time to do pattern cutting (I’d take my job over theirs any day, they work very hard and get blamed if anything goes wrong, even things over which they have no control). In real life, most of the designers I know can’t make patterns at all much less make production quality ones.

    2. I object to the idea that the quality and caliber of a pattern book can be summarized by the dimensions of a supplied fitting shell draft. Sizing evolves just like people do (how many times have I said this?). To suggest the quality of a book can be summarized by the fitting shell would mean that some very very lovely vintage pattern books are wrong or useless because those are based on a body from the 1800’s through 1950’s. These older books with drafts that won’t fit anyone today are some of my most prized possessions (Hillhouse & Mansfield, Erwin etc).

    You’re welcome to judge the quality of a book based on how well a fitting shell can be made from it that meets the approval of your instructor but my view is much more long term than this. How many times will you need to draft a fitting shell? If you plan to be making a lot of patterns, you need the other stuff -like how to turn collars, draft linings etc. You know, the boring stuff. As for me, I don’t draft a fitting shell, if I have a new form, it is faster to drape it and make the fitting shell from the drape. Then I keep the shell for subsequent iterations. Why reinvent the wheel constantly?

    Again, I do not deny the book is marketed to students but I’m not qualified to review it in that context. I still say the text has perhaps unintended commercial value that transcends the brief period in a designer’s schooling in which they are inculcated that they will be required to draft patterns once they gain employment. Call it self serving but I think it is very important that there exists other viewpoints.

    If the quality of a book is determined by the results of a fitting shell draft, imo, the author doesn’t have much going for him or herself when the most expeditious way is to drape a block because a book’s instructions cannot possibly contrive to cover the gamut of every possible fitting configuration there is.

  7. AZ Barbara says:

    I love pattermaking and scoop up every book that I can afford. Each one has a perspective and style all it’s own which often translates into a new understanding of a process or draft.

  8. nat.laurel says:

    Kathleen, thank you for the review. I am not a designer now will I ever become one. I’ve entered the industry through a different door, and I wouldn’t be able to make a couple of stitches to save my life. Perhaps that is exactly the reason why I keep an eye on books about sewing, pattern making, etc.. I just bought the book from Amazon based on your review, pictures that you chose to insert and comment on, and because of this: “This introductory text is an excellent tool for designers, and oddly enough, particularly for those who don’t intend to make their own patterns. I think there is a big hole in the market for a book that fills that gap.” Sounds like a good book for me. Thanks again.

  9. Breeyn says:

    As a self-trained designer, I read your blog regularly and learn a lot of important things from it. I could definitely benefit from this book in my artillery.

  10. laura says:

    It is highly unlikely that I will ever become a professional pattern maker like you however, this book looks like the missing link for someone like me.

  11. Colleen says:

    I encourage inter-library loans to check out the book and, also, how disciplined one is in reading/working from it. I did this with Kathleen’s book – found it worthwhile – and later bought my own copy (after reading the library version in full). Worth every penny!

  12. Cary Pragdin says:

    Hmmm; I’m getting inspired to visit the library for the first time in over a decade, and see what treasures may be reposing on their shelves. Of course, winning a copy of the abovementioned book for my personal library would be great too! Random question; is there such a thing as a baby-sized dressmaker’s dummy on the market? I’m currently using a child’s doll that I have named Sipho, but he’s a bit out of proportion. Also, Kathleen recommends employing a fit model in her book, and I couldn’t agree more, but the problem is to find a regular supply of babies that happen to be the correct size. Any suggestions? Sipho is good at holding still for adjustments, but not so good at seeing how the garment performs during movement.

  13. Cary Pragdin says:

    Some ideas that I had included getting a wax model like you find at Madame Tussaud’s, or one of those reborn babies in a size 3-6M (Medium as per text), but I don’t know how well they would stand up to regular use (or even where I would get them…)

  14. Kathleen says:

    Yes, there are commercial dress forms for babies and toddlers. I am smitten with the Alvanon child forms so I haven’t looked at any others. Whatever you do, be sure to get a form with a head. I plan on getting one of the Alva child forms soon.

  15. ginevra says:

    BTW, I’d really love to win this book – I flicked through it in the bookshop attached to my local Uni (interesting – AUD46.95 – our prices are finally nearing US list prices). It looks well set out, easy to read … obviously I can’t discern more on a quick flip through ;)

  16. “If you plan to be a pattern maker, you need to begin a life long habit of allocating a portion of your budget to buy nice books in the interests of your personal development.”

    This is the key line from the whole discussion … there is not always a right or wrong way to do something, nor does every book contain every detail or method. Every author proclaims the best fitting method so all but one of them must be wrong. The methods are simply different.

    I have bought soooooo many pattern making books in my life and continue to do so. I have actually recently bought this one … not because I needed it but because it existed as a pattern making book I dont yet have … crazy? not really, I love my art. This book does fill a little gap, but I’d put it in the category of a supplementary school text that covers some things a school text generally doesn’t … put this together with a good college fashion teacher and it’s a valuable book … in and of itself I find it somewhat lacking. For people like my daughter who have watched me work it’s a great introduction to pattern making.

  17. caroline says:

    I’m sure by now the book has been awarded. Bravo K for your generosity.
    I had the occasion to look over the book at the museum shop and let me tell you…..very interesting (as a home sewer trying to emulate ready to wear garments). I was particularly intrigued by the Bias Tube page/chapter and how it explained the concept in adapting to existing patterns.I had never seen this published ..this the price of admission….
    That said, the winner of this contemporary tome,( or perhaps you Kathleen), please be sure to pass on your good fortune and send me only the copy of the two or three pages explaining this.
    I would thank you to the heavans!

  18. I had never seen this published ..this the price of admission….

    Well, you’re in luck. I actually wrote a post on how to do this -before I got the book. Also see pt.2.

    That said, the winner of this contemporary tome,( or perhaps you Kathleen), please be sure to pass on your good fortune and send me only the copy of the two or three pages explaining this.

    The long term consequences if everyone were to do this are dreadful because independent smaller publishers like this one would cease publishing. Meaning, we would be bereft of who knows how much information. $26 for a book is nothing, I can’t tell you how many books I’ve bought and paid much more for them, that had that *one* good bit of information. If I hadn’t been exposed to a wide ranging source of material, I wouldn’t know anything and my posts would be pretty boring, the same old rehash of Armstrong, Kopp etc. and as a consequence, nobody would find my work of interest either much less send me books to review and give away… In the end, I invest a lot of money in this site (and myself) that a lot of people may not realize. For those that do, I post premium material in the forum -specifically with respect to the spiral dress there is content in the forum I did not post in public. One to thank my site supporters and two, I don’t enjoy seeing my content rehashed elsewhere with someone else’s name on it as is so often the case.

  19. Ayisha says:

    Hi Kathleen, thanks for the great review on this book, I’ve had my eye on it since earlier this year. Actually, I was wondering if there was another book out there that taught some of the great designers’ pattern making techniques. If you know of any and could share the title(s) I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks and have a wonderful day,


  20. Ayisha says:

    Thanks Kathleen, I know not to keep looking for a while then, hopefully though, in a few years someone will publish a new book with this kind of information. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

  21. Neera says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    I just bought this book this year. I think it is a great book! However i was quite confused with the measurement they were using. In page 43 they ask to refer size 12 on pages 12 & 13. But i found that the measurements was a bit different. Like for example the bust they were using was 35 1/2 in while on pages 12 & 13 the bust is 34 in. Why is that? Can you explain to me? It would be much helpful! Thanks!


  22. Kathleen Fasanella

    Hi Neera
    It could be that I have a different edition but I understand your confusion.

    On pg 43 of my copy, the author says to refer to the chart on page 45. Comparing the charts on pg 45 and 12 & 13, I see what you mean (even if our editions are ever so slightly different).

    In my book, page 13 is titled “College size charts”. The chart on that page is labeled “Womenswear main size chart at London College of Fashion 2010”.

    Page 12 has two other charts, listing dress form sizes in the UK and USA.

    The author is trying to provide a service by including a (very small) survey of sizing information from different sources (3) because -shocking as you may find this- not everyone agrees that x measurements equal x size. When he gets to the drafting portion starting on page 45, he chooses to use the size 8 dress form measurements from page 12 rather than the form measures from London College on pg 13.

  23. Neera says:

    Thanks Kathleen for your kind reply! Yea i think we have the same edition, the chart is in page 45. Just in page 43 it mentioned to refer to page 12 & 13. Hmm i guess i’ll just follow my own measurement, and just add the tolerence suggested by dennic. By the way I read your review on lucia mors’s book too! Looking forward to buy hers soon. :)

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