Secoli pattern making method

The University of Delaware Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies publishes an online magazine called Fiber. Ongoing themes are sustainability and technological innovation. This current issue focuses on all things Italy. Buried in an article called Beyond Talent [I firmly believe talent and creativity are over rated], I find mention of a pattern making process called the Secoli Method based in Milan.

First of all, a theory was developed that put measurements of height and circumference as fundamental. From these measurements you can proportionately obtain all other measurements of the human body. Then, once the basics are developed, patterns are drafted based on them.

The Secoli method sounds identical to a system long used world wide. In the US, it was called “drafting to scale”. The Library of Congress is filled with books describing the process, complete with author created rules. Once the method was universal, Fairgate developed their L-square ruler to facilitate drafting to scale. Scale was so pervasive, it was the basis of sizing numbers at retail until meaning was wrested from technicians and into the hands of consumers. Previously I wrote

…old sizes were based on [an] arcane principle related to pattern making and sizes were designated based on something known as “scale”. Scale was a pattern maker’s reference to use that given number on the back side of an L-square (a scale of aliquot parts) to generate the proportionate measures appropriate to that size so these numbers were not arbitrary.

In the interests of modernity, instruction of the proportionates of drafting to scale was largely dropped from drafting books in the 1960’s, Aldrich being an exception. I’m a bit obsessed with scale only it doesn’t work as well now since most people aren’t height and weight proportionate. It works fabulously for people who are.

Returning to the topic, comprehensive instruction which comprises the Secoli process is available at the Secoli Institute in Milan. It’s a two year intensive program in drafting and design. Sadly, it would seem few students come from the US and Canada. It almost makes me wish I were much younger, wealthier and had picked better parents.
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Note to she who shall not be named: Citing your source material is an imperative of intellectual integrity and transparency.

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11 comments

  1. Sandra B says:

    Not sure if it’s been mentioned before, but http://www.archive.com has many out-of-copyright patterncutting texts available. Search “garment cutting”. I’ve been having a lovely time downloading a bunch, and have found some useful stuff and some wonderfully bizarre “facts”. Apparently, one “Scientific” sewer has worked out that the key to a good fit is shoulder slope, which can be determined by seeing which is longer, the first or second toe. Sigh, even my toes tell lies about me.

  2. Mary Lombard says:

    Man, I would so go to that school! I love scale patternmaking, it’s like being a scientist. I have a book, “Modern Garment Design and Grading” copyright 1955 that’s so fun to make patterns with. I had no idea that’s what that L square was for. I always thought it was for making right angles!

  3. anne hand says:

    I am sorry that you feel that talent and creativity are overrated. I think both are essential. As an instructor in a fashion design program we have students who are technically adept, but when it comes to designing they are unable to develop a point of view (creativity?). We do have students that are facile in both areas, but that is the exception rather than the rule. I firmly believe that some people are “blessed” with this ability just as there are natural born athletes and musicians.

    I am very familiar with this form of pattern drafting; very useful for tailored garments, but when it comes to draping on the bias in the manner of Vionnet it falls short. I would think that the method used to create the pattern depends on the nature of the design.

  4. Kathleen says:

    There’s no need to feel sorry for me Anne :). It would be helpful to get the full context of my remark by following its hyperlink -and then, following the hyperlinks from that entry to supporting material. As unpopular as it makes me -and in the context I’ve defined– I stand by that statement.

    I get what you’re saying tho but I still have to say that one can have all the creativity in the world but not get anywhere without execution (again, see the context). At least if one has appreciable technical skills, they can get a job but you can’t say that of the legions who think creativity, solely, will save them. My central beef is how creativity is defined and valued by society. I’m not someone who excels at coming up with new dress designs but believe me, I’m nothing if not creative. It seems that lately, technical acumen is given short shrift when compared to creativity as it is increasingly defined socially.

    And yes, no one suggested drafting to scale -a 2 dimensional process- is the same thing as a 3 dimensional process like draping. I agree the method used should be appropriate to the desired design and the skills and technical acumen of the person involved. Again, we’ve had previous discussion about draping vs drafting. Not everyone needs to drape. Some of us can draft a vionnet or bias type design and get there faster than with draping.

  5. anne says:

    I have always heard that a good patten maker is worth their weight in gold. Each supports the other. If you don’t have “ideas” it doesn’t matter how great the patterns are unless you
    are working for Land’s End or the Gap.
    As for Vionnet…she was the master / mistress of bias. I think we all have to respect her technique, and her respect for her workers. They had health insurance :) and a day that celebrated seamstresses.

  6. Kathleen says:

    Points taken Anne but we’re stepping into some grey areas. That gap btwn social expectations vs practical application. Yes, pattern makers are great and yes, we most definitely need designers too. Most of a designer’s job in real life is project management. A tiny portion of it is coming up with ideas. The issue being truly, there are tons of great ideas out there, few of which ever bear fruition. Thus, the issue becomes execution (project management on the part of the designer and pattern maker who actualizes it).

    Another grey area is the perception of what constitutes “good ideas” because it steps perilously close to becoming a value judgment, returning to Paul Graham’s idea that taste is not a matter of opinion, we just say that to reduce conflict. It also deprecates the efforts of a whole class of people in the industry, namely sewn products that are functions based rather than design per se. Sewn products are 55% of the industry so we really cannot limit definitions so restrictively.

    As a design student, I found the whole matter of what was a “good idea” to be perplexing at best. It was judgmental. Other than basic precepts governing proportion and color, the process was too arbitrary and whimsical. It was one instructor’s idea of “good” and mirrored their personal preferences. It tends to create silo-ing. You make what will score you points with the powers that be rather than what inspires one personally and through which one would grow.

    In the end, with so many ideas circulating, their ubiquity reduces their value and in part again, owing to the aforementioned personal preference, amount to commodities. Don’t believe me? Visit any number of design forums frequented by designer hopefuls, you’ll find sketches to blur the imagination. With so much of it -manifested as illustrations but not a physical sample- it amounts to a commodity. I intend no insult but I don’t know another word for it.

    It is at this stage we could discuss what is a good design. I have a definitive answer for that but I don’t think you’re going to like it. Considering execution and response from the market place, a good design is one that sells profitably. I have a whole section on what is good design in my book but I don’t know what the page numbers are. While we personally may not like an idea or product, who are we to say it is not good if tons of people think it is good enough to buy? All we can say is it is not good for us.

    Returning to the opening of our topic, inspiration is helpful but it alone will not save us. Without execution -skills- it will never come to pass. A successful fashion designer is not successful so much because their ideas are marvelous but because their execution is. Execution relies less on the whimsy of art (remember, ideas are commodity) than application. I firmly believe creativity is by turns over lauded but underappreciated in that problem solving is rarely assigned the same degree of respect.

  7. Amy says:

    About 10 years ago I took a class from a home-sewing pattern system called Lutterloh. I didn’t end up using it for anything, but I was curious about it (I had more time on my hands then!). It used it’s own golden mean ruler to draft to scale. Is this the same concept?

    This tailoring blog also has an entry on drafting to scale with an explanation of the Fairgate ruler.

  8. Babette says:

    I have a men’s tailoring book from approx 1915 with the accompanying ruler. I’ve always been tempted to give it a go. There are separate drafting scales for garments with standard fit and for a fit more appropriate to gentlemen who have an “affluent bearing” read large belly.

  9. Emily says:

    Kathleen,
    I knew a costumer that drafted patterns based on just a height and waist measurement that were amazingly accurate. I can only assume she was using scale to some degree or another. She said it was ——– method, but the name has completely left my mind. Could it have been the Secoli method? I’m trying to find what it was. There was a dvd she said I should watch, and she had a book of formulas that she used, kind of a “take — measurement, multiply by x, add 0.xx and divide by x.x” type stuff.

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