Leather pattern making and sewing class

Here’s my report of the production leather pattern making and industrial sewing class I did last Thursday through Sunday. I had two students, Colette (left) and Jane (right):

Colette lives on a cattle ranch in Washington. Currently, she makes one-off equestrian show jackets. She wanted to improve her skills with an eye toward developing and manufacturing a specialty line. Jane is new to sewing (neither had the years of experience many of you have) but she’d managed to teach herself an impressive amount over the past two years by lurking on sewing sites. Her goal is to produce colorful and fun leather motorcycle jackets for women. Jane retired from the export/import business and lives on eleven acres in rural Wisconsin. By the way, she mentions that there is no way she’ll manufacture abroad, too much liability. I plan on interviewing her for a blog post to find out more about importing and exporting later.

Day one:
Prior to their arrival, Colette had sent a copy of a pattern she’d been using. I took this pattern, put it on hardboard and corrected it. This sounds easy but it was a full two day job which is why I wasn’t posting last week. The first day, their job was to copy this corrected version to use as their block pattern. The lessons for the day were learning to mark, measure and cut. Mastery of these three things would continue to haunt them the entire four days. We also covered color coding (also), making a pattern card (cutter’s must), walking a pattern, standards for notching (system standards), proper use of tools and materials. How grain lines are marked (please, don’t put arrows on both ends of your grainlines!). I explained standard seam allowances and practices. All of these items are explained in much greater depth in the book. They also had to learn how to check a pattern. Regarding materials, they’d never worked with pattern paper (oak tag) before and I suspect they probably thought the use of it was overkill until later on. The last thing they learned was how to make lining and fusible patterns. This is going to sound self-serving but my book was really handy. I don’t look it over often so I’d forgotten that most of the stuff I was teaching them was in there.

Day Two:
On Friday, their assignment was to design a new jacket style. Once the design was determined (they used some artwork from my personal pattern stash), they each had to make a completed pattern of it using the block they made on the first day. This was taxing as evidenced by Colette’s remark, “why is it that designers get all the credit? Designing is easy; it’s the pattern makers who do the hard part.” I laughed but forgot to tell her that designers can keep the credit as long as they pay me. Still, because they had a block, they didn’t need to make duplicate linings or fusibles for pieces unaffected by the design changes making the job faster. They learned how to fill out a direction card to indicated shared pieces between styles and how to mark the pattern pieces themselves. We also discussed pattern numbers and how to design (and how not to design) a pattern numbering system (different from style numbering). Lastly, we went over grade rule libraries, why a company will have several rule libraries depending on garment styling. Not all grades are created equal.

Day Three:
We spent Saturday cutting. First was learning the proper way to lay out a pattern on leather and suedes which necessitated a description of nap directions on leather -there are two, actually three but one is mirrored- as well as which points to avoid on the hide for given pieces and why (you have to avoid the axillaries on the hide for certain pieces). Then we cut linings, fusibles and contrasts. It was during cutting that they fell in love with the pattern paper. Jane had already decided she liked it and ordered some online the night before but the cutting process is what really convinced them. The ease and facility of using oak tag to trace the pieces, mark and cut them just doesn’t compare to tissue or flimsy paper. Poster board won’t work either; the edges are too thick and they rumple without a hard edge. Actually, it was about day three when they decided they really liked the tools. Nice tools just make the job so much easier. Continuing on, once cut, the pieces were fused, marked and bundled into sewing order. This entailed a description of sewing order processes. I don’t think they believed me at the time but I’ve always considered a jacket to be mostly completed by the time it’s cut, fused, marked and sorted. The sewing part is all down hill.

Here’s how my time usually breaks down (assuming conditions are optimal):

  • Pattern work -for the sorts of products I make- takes a given period of time.
  • Cutting, marking, fusing takes half the amount of time that the pattern took to make.
  • Sewing time is half the cutting, marking and fusing time.

The sewing time listed is optimal, assuming you have no machine, thread or needle malfunctions and that you have all materials on hand. We had a batch of bad needles and broke every single one inside of an hour and had to send Eric to buy more.

Day Four:
Sunday we spent sewing. In my opinion, this is the easy part. Colette was nervous about never having made a welt pocket before and most definitely didn’t want her first try ever to be on the jacket but I assured her the method was full proof and she ended up doing a fabulous job. It was perfect, looking just like a machine would have done. Jane cheated -I strongly encourage cheating- she’d used the tutorials on the blog to do them already so she wasn’t nervous about it at all. The only sewing problems (non machine related, my industrials didn’t like their thread) we had were attributable to lines not being cut away. Lines not being cut away were a constant problem as the job progressed. Time after time the concept was reiterated as seams were off a pencil width (or two for duplicates). I realize many of you don’t consider that an issue but exact precision is required or those yokes aren’t going to line up. If everyone in the process didn’t cut the lines away, you’d be off by a lot more than 1/32nd of an inch. Try an 1/8th or 1/4″! You may even think the latter two aren’t bad but as an example, there’s no way your welt pockets are going to come out right or your yokes to match across the fronts (see below).

Here are some photos of their projects. I post these with the caveats that these are not top stitched or pressed! Believe me, those front zips will be perfect once top stitched. You can’t see that the overlap on the zips will cover the teeth when finished. Those contrasting pieces line up just perfectly. I’m so pleased with the work they did.

First Colette’s jacket front and back: (we realize her purples aren’t an exact match; I told her she didn’t need grade A stuff to practice with).

Now Jane’s:

As you can see, these jackets aren’t exactly beginner projects but rather advanced. It’s just as easy/hard to do an easy design as it is a hard one -with oversight- so one may as well do a difficult project because you learn more from it.

Neither Jane or Colette are wild about writing but they have promised to write up a paragraph or two about their experience in the event you’d be interested in signing up for a future class. I also should mention that I know more of you were interested in taking this class but I have to limit participation. While I have what could be considered a lot of space (a twenty foot cutting table and 2,000 sq ft shop), I like for people to spread out and be comfortable. I don’t like to be cramped when I’m working. Also, since students will be in close contact and in many instances, be -literally- working for each other, I had to select people that I felt personality-wise, would work well together. I thought Colette and Jane were a good team and they seemed to enjoy each other.

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  1. Hi!
    Has read this article and has thought:

    My program Cutter 1.44 lite can seem to you interesting. It is completely free! Size of ZIP archive is 533kb.

    The link for download: http://dmitriy-prog.ru/programs/CutterLite.zip

    The description:
    ” Cutter v1.44 lite ” enables you to make the basic patterns of shoulders garments (those you wear half), namely skirts, divided skirt, men’s and lady’s pants and jeans, men’s loose-fitting pants according to custom measurements. The calculation method is based on more 40 years experience.

    I shall be grateful for any remarks. Especially on quality of the English text:)

    Yours faithfully,
    Dmitry Pavlov

    [note from Kathleen: don’t let the .ru url extension fool you. This is a legitimate site altho I haven’t tried the program personally.]

  2. Amy says:

    Very cool…I like how much emphasis is put on the order and PROCESS of tasks during your instruction Kathleen – as opposed to ONLY technical information. Sounds as if theses ladies learned oodles in a relatively short amount of time! I’m a bit envious!

  3. Lisa Bloodgood says:

    Oooh! I really like the shapes of the contrasting pieces. Are they sewn in like regular yokes?
    I think I’d get more done if I got over myself not liking to cut stuff out. :-)

  4. Colette says:

    Over our 4 days of class, we were given a steady stream of professional information. Kathleen was really great at keeping us focused, while allowing us to always have a very informal Q&A throughout the training(which was sometimes off the current subject of instruction). As you have already read the 4 days were broken down cover pattern making and then drafting our own lining pattern, creating an additional pattern, cutting, and assembly. The process each day was great, all the ‘method to the madness’ was my favorite part. All the color coding, percision measuring and drawing a simple line(a bit tricky for us newbies), cutting AWAY the line(I lost count of how many times I had to ask to reconfirm for my insecurities…..poor Kathleen), all the availabilty to professional tools(WOW what a difference). I am sad to say that I simply really had no idea so many tools are available and what they are used for. I am super greatful that I was able to take the class with Kathleen and Jane. The amount of good and useable information that was presented, and more importantly for me, the hands on training are truely irreplacable. I will use this knowledge that I gained to better my skills as well as my end products. I had a wonderful experience.

  5. jill says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    If you ever offer this class again, please let me know I would be really interested. Sewing/Drafting with leather is something I really want to get better at.

  6. Ms. Olson says:

    Kathleen, Thank you for your style of intelligence in the leather/suede and sewing world. Will take your info and “work with it”.
    Colette and Jane! Wow, how fantastic. Definately a market for those! I am just learning too. Can you guess I am jealous?! LOL
    Good luck gals – you will go far with your talents!

  7. Gabrielle Lewis says:

    Dear Kathleen,

    My name is Gabrielle Lewis and i was wondering if you could give me a recommendation on a good, long-lasting leather sewing machine. I’m new to sewing leather but I’m looking towards working with it a lot in the future. I’ve been leaning towards a Singer industrial machine but if there is anything better that you recommend then I’ll be grateful for your advice. Thank you.


  8. Barbara Jessup says:

    I would love to learn more about leather sewing/pattern making. Please let me know if this is still available- the class seems awesome and the finished products are very eyecatching-well done! I am not a newbie to sewing fabric. Never made a “real” pattern, just stuff I made up. Please let me know anything you may deem useful. I’d love to deal more with you on this matter. Again, well done on this class!

  9. Sajid Ali says:

    Hi dear , i am a pattern master specialist for leather garments , please send me a contact id of yours , i want business with you.
    Best Regards
    Sajid Ali

  10. Andrea Romero says:

    Hello Dear,

    I studied fashion design, and would like to learn to. Create leather garments. Where did this course took place? And will there be another course?

    Best Regards,
    Andrea Romero.

  11. Kathleen says:

    Hi Andrea

    This course took place in Las Cruces New Mexico, USA in 2007. I moved my business to Albuquerque in 2010 -which is where all classes take place now.

    All classes are held by customer request. If you’d be interested in one, contact me at your earliest convenience at 505-877-1713. Se habla espanol.

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