How to walk a pattern pt.2

I decided to create a separate entry rather than respond to the first entry in comments because some people don’t read those. If that describes you, half the valuable content on this site is in comments.

Louise asks:

I have been measuring each seam – carefully! – notch to notch, with a tape measure on its side. Why do you recommend walking the seams rather than measuring? What have I been missing out on by doing it this way?

When we say to “walk a pattern” we mean to check it. It doesn’t exactly mean walking pattern piece seam lines together but is a combination of various methods. In fact, I don’t walk patterns in CAD at all, I measure the lines and compare the lengths. There is no reason you can’t measure seam lines if you’re checking manually. One caveat; tape measures aren’t the best tool for this. I recommend a 2×18 B-95 ruler instead. Tapes can stretch so calibrating them is required. There is also a section of this video where I show how to walk with a ruler so I’ll have to dig that out too.

Mia mentions a long standing problem, that of oak tag pattern paper curling so much you need to iron it. This is surely annoying. The way I deal with it is as Sarah_H says: when I get a new roll, I cut it into >48″ long sheets and store them flat and covered. You can also buy flat sheets but the cost is prohibitive, on the order of three to five times more than rolls.

Ann K asks:

why a 3/8″ seam allowance rather than 1/2″? Would side and armscye seams also be 3/8″ then?

The type of material, desired seam type and seam location governs seam allowance width. Since this seam was a single needle butterflied (SSa-1), and on the interior of the garment, it takes 3/8″.

To the second part of your question, the shoulder seam doesn’t rely on another seam’s width, each seam is determined independently. If the other seams are sewn just like the shoulder, they would be the same (3/8″). However, if the side seam is safety-stitched, it would be 1/2″. If the armhole didn’t have a sleeve at all but just a facing and was single needled, it would only be 1/4″. The allowances of the side seam and armhole have nothing to do with the shoulder seam of this style. See The rules on seam allowances and pt.2 for more.

Oriole asks:

What happens to the seam allowance after this point? I was my understanding that the seam allowance had to match so that cut pieces matched exactly. How do you handle that? I usually end up making a new front pattern so I can add half the back seam allowane that is too big to the front and cut half of the excess off the back.

I’m not sure I understand your question so please clarify. As I interpret this, it doesn’t hold that the two cut fabric edges should match in length. If they did, you couldn’t sew convex and concave curves together. The only thing that matters is that the seam line lengths match. The way seam allowances should match is explained in the production pattern making section of my book.

Lisa Blank said:

It was interesting to me to see that you took the difference off the back rather than splitting the difference between front and back.

You saw the shortcut. It doesn’t necessarily mean you would always shorten one side as I did in this video, favoring the shorter side. It really depends on the seam shaping. You need to overlap the pieces so you can see the neckline shape (as in this case) to see if the back should be shortened, the front lengthened or divvied up between the two. What isn’t obvious in this video is that I deliberately created errors in the pattern beforehand so I knew which ones to correct. I designed errors to make examples of the most common kinds of changes that people need to make.

Susan said:

I always walk my patterns instead of measuring. When I walk, I imagine what the seamstress will be doing, in the correct sewing order. I check notches, pattern shapes when they are connected, to be sure that they are accurate for the seamstress. Measuring will not achieve the same result that walking off does. Talk to a seamstress. She will tell you.

A hallmark of a well designed pattern is keeping sewing order in mind. That said, one can only control for so much due to various types of handling between operators. I think it is better to hit a point of exact lengths (however it is you get there) and use that as the litmus test and have individual operators adjust to it than vice versa. The alternative just isn’t possible; you can’t make patterns for individual stitchers. If an operator is missing the mark, they probably need more training with respect to handling. The other reason I think this is important is because one’s machine may be mis-feeding and needs adjusting.

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  1. Louise says:

    Thanks for answering my question! I use a ruler for straight lines, but it’s a bit more tricky to go round curves. I’d be really interested to see how you do that.

    Since I started measuring my seam lengths prior to sewing, my enjoyment of the actual sewing process is immeasurably greater. I used to dread the sewing part of a project because it always felt like a bodge – problem solving on the fly, all the time, and the results intermittent. I’m a total convert to doing the hard work at the pattern making stage. Where do I sign to join the fan club? :)

  2. Louise,

    You can buy the book! See the button to the right of the post. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur. I’m not, but it supports the site and it means I get to join the forum, which is fabulous.

    You used to be able to make donations, but I don’t see that option any more. Also Kathleen has a wishlist up on Amazon but last time when I asked her if it was up to date I didn’t hear back.

  3. Louise says:

    Hi Alison, I have the book! I’ve read all of it, even the bits that don’t apply to me, all the blog posts (yes, all of them), and lots of the forum…

    I also made a donation and bought Kathleen a CD off her wishlist :)

  4. Sandy Peterson says:

    Alison, I have had a hard time finding the “donation” button also, but if you click on the “Home” page, it’s right under Kathleen’s “About Fashion Incubator”.

  5. Susan says:

    I absolutely agree with you that seamstresses have to handle and feed fabric appropriately. The pattern controls the seamstress and does not change from operator to operator. Before grading, the production patternmaker works with the seamstress to establish a walked-off pattern that will work in a factory for mass production. The production seamstress gives feedback and together they work as a team to ensure the pattern is accurate. Walking off by hand accurately seam by seam to check notch position and seamlines is critical for efficient factory use. Once the seamstress and patternmakerengineer the pattern, it establishes the standard for all operators. The operator has to follow the standard so that all garments that come off the floor measure and fit the same. Whether you measure your patterns or walk off by hand, the accurate pattern for factory production is critical for companies to be financially successful!

  6. Kathleen says:

    Yes Susan, thank you, I’m aware of that. In addition to 30+ years experience as a patternmaker and trainer of production stitchers and workers, I wrote a book and several hundred blog entries about it. Check out the pattern and quality category when you get a chance

  7. Dara says:

    I wish you would do a post on misfeeding adjustments or tell me a good place to learn more about correcting misfeeding. I know some corrections, but it would be nice to hear an expert with a real list. You wouldn’t believe what I’ve heard from some sewing repair men.

  8. Lisa Blank says:

    Dara, I’ve got a feeding issue on my single needle machine. I consider it to be minor, but I’d like to solve it. I’m hoping to post about it in the forum this weekend. I’ll be interested to read your feedback.

  9. Mary says:

    I have a question that I hope you’ll consider answering.

    Sometimes the seam lengths aren’t supposed to match right? For example, it’s my understanding that a good pants pattern will have inseams of different length above the knees and the longer is supposed to be eased into the shorter.

    My question is how are we supposed to know when that’s the case? The pattern instructions don’t seem to clue us in on the need for the easing that I just described even when the pattern was drafted that way!!

  10. Kathleen says:

    Dara/Lisa, I know you all already know about this but mention it for others who don’t. See solving problems by testing your machines for more information. Stu’s comments at close are aligned to my approach as well. At some point I’ll dig out earlier entries on this topic, but for now will say that solutions often seem serendipitous. To reduce ambiguity, troubleshooting in a logical sequence is better.

    Mary: Sometimes seam lengths aren’t supposed to match but there remains a lot of confusion and disagreement about it. Easing two disparate lengths together should be rare rather than the norm. See Lazy pattern making and Where is ease permissible? and pt.2.

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