Adjusting for my elongated torso...
March 27, 2013 9:30 AM   Subscribe

Tell me everything you know about sewing patterning software, especially the kind for dummies...

After sewing one too many patterns straight from the envelope that would be perfect EXCEPT for the way it is too tight here, or too short there, I've decided I want to both adjust commercial patterns and create my own patterns. I assume one does this by using software, and entering in one's measurements? And printing out the patterns? This would be so awesome.

I've asked my older lady sewing friends for help in adjusting patterns, and their response is "just eyeball it." Having precise software would work better for me, and it would help me learn why something has to be adjusted here or there. (Yes, the elongated torso, for both pants and tops, seem to be the main issue, but there are other things.)

And since I'm not a high-couture freak and just like to wear simple things that hang nicely, it would be great if the software had some basic patterns and allowed you to build on those to design something unique. I assume that software can do that?

I've tried searching online, and there are a gazillion confusing options to choose from. Perhaps you sewing mefites can walk me through the process, and suggest a good brand (cheap is always better, of course). Thanks, all!
posted by Melismata to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I've never used a cad program, my advice would be to try out any that have a demo version(like this one).
The real solution to your problem is to begin making muslins before cutting into the good fabric. This is how every fashion designer (even if they are designing everything on a computer) works. Get some cheap cotton (muslin) and sew up a copy of the garment(only seams, no finishing) to try on. Then pin, cut, tape sometimes, and mark up the fabric until it fits well. Transfer the changes to your pattern and sew with confidence that it will fit. There's a nice guide to doing this here. I always find something I want to change when doing this- even if the measurements are completely correct, every garment will have different proportions, and you will find the most flattering fit might have to do with lengthening a hem or moving a neckline. Good luck!
posted by velebita at 10:39 AM on March 27, 2013

Your assumption sounds reasonable but this is not, in my experience, what anybody actually does. The only person I know who uses pattern-drafting software does so professionally - she works for a large outdoors-clothing company - while everyone else either makes paper patterns or just eyeballs it. Typically they will make a mockup out of cheap muslin at first, adjust the size of pieces until the prototype garment fits, then use the muslin itself as the pattern for the finished garment.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:41 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually it's mainly done by hand, and indeed it's not that difficult once you get the hang of it. Of course, the question is then how to get the hang of it. I also have a longer torso than normal: 3" longer, which is pretty huge. At 5'11" most of my height is there and not in my legs. For that, as an example, all you really need to do is locate the place in the pattern where parallel lines are marked with a note worded something like "adjust here", use a good ruler and add whatever extra's in your torso to it. (You are tracing your patterns on pattern paper and not cutting them out straight on their tissue paper, right? It's much better to trace your own paper pieces, since your body changes over time, or you might want to sew something differently another time, and so forth. Also, you don't need expensive tracing paper; I use the waxy paper normally meant for cooking pies, since it's dirt cheap in supermarkets.) Bust adjustments can be more complex though.

I'm not affiliated with Craftsy in any way, am an experienced home seamstress (all the women in my family sewed, so I grew up with it), and have loved two of their classes in particular that could interest you:
- first, since you already know how to sew and use commercial patterns, would be Susan Khalje's "The Couture Dress". Her daughter also happens to have an elongated torso, and she uses her daughter as her model for the course, so it's pretty much ideal for that. She also teaches, very clearly, how to adjust for other individual particularities. I seriously cannot say enough good about this class. As I mentioned, I grew up with seamstresses, and my mother was quasi-professional (she did do a few things on order, but long story short her mental illness kept her from following her heart in spite of her abilities). I grew up with loads of how-to-sew and pattern drafting books. This course was so much clearer and easier to understand than those. (One exception I would make would be for Claire Shaeffer's couture sewing book, but it's much more advanced than what you're asking for here.)

- second, Paul Gallo's "Fashion Draping". The description there is entirely accurate: "Create a fitting muslin and a sloper pattern that can be used to design unlimited pattern variations of a classic piece."

 OMG I love this one too. It is chock-full of little things that make sewing so much more pleasant, fun, and accurate. It is a bit more advanced, but you won't want for much after this one. And it's a direct answer to your question, in that computer programs aren't where the magic happens; it's with fabric (muslin at first) and a body. You'll get a basic pattern from it that you can build on, just like it says.

Both Khalje and Gallo are couture professionals and really wonderful instructors in these.
posted by fraula at 10:43 AM on March 27, 2013

Thanks, all!

Thank you for the encouragement. I had a suspicion that it's really not that hard, but my older friends have made me feel that it's hard by being lousy teachers and dismissive of my questions...
posted by Melismata at 10:58 AM on March 27, 2013

The blog at Colette patterns has come good tutorials on pattern adjustments (mostly, naturally, adjusting their patterns), but practice, confidence, and a cheap muslin to alter are the best ways to do it.

I usually cut my muslins with extra seam allowance and sew them with the longest stitch on my machine so I can adjust the fit on them easily. I draw right on the muslins with pens and use a sewing gauge for transferring the changes.

I also trace all my patterns onto pattern tracing paper, so I can make adjustments easily. The pattern paper drapes reasonably well and holds pins without shredding, so you can sometimes try on the pattern itself (depending on how complex the pattern is). Also when you've traced the pattern, instead of cutting the original tissue, you can combine sizes, easily cut a different size, all kinds of fun things.

I'm just a beginner, really, but it's not as hard as it seems. Sewing a muslin and playing around with how it fits really makes it less intimidating.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:11 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make a Duct Tape dress form! (Google Search Results)

As many have said, doing it by hand is easiest, you can add the length you need. I am a beginner/intermediate sewer/crafter and this is an idea I would love to do. You may need help, but you wear a big t-shirt and wrap yourself in duct tape, cut the back, tape it back up, and stuff it and stick it on a stand! That way you can adjust your patter to where you want it to hit your hips. You can also add colored tape lines for the top of your hips (where you want shirts to sit) and so on!

Hope it helps!
posted by Crystalinne at 11:26 AM on March 27, 2013

I have a book that with pretty introductory-level instructions for how to alter the basic pattern pieces for custom fit. I bought it on someone else's recommendation, but haven't had a chance to do more than just read through it yet. Might be useful for you? Fit for Real People.
posted by periscope at 11:32 AM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've used a couple of different examples of retail pattern making software, where you input measurements and select options and then print out a zillion pieces of paper and carefully scotch tape them together and the results were unimpressive at best, completely unsewable at worst. I mean, literally, unsewable -- pants patterns that had no division between the side seem and the waistline and just sort of curved from one to the other, for example.

And they don't do what you want, which is to make adjustments to patterns you've already chosen.

I've also taken a ton of classes on pattern fitting, and the results -- even when I radically upsize and adjust commercial patterns -- has pretty much always been better and easier. Not necessarily great, but better.

It's possible that pattern making software has seriously improved in the last 5 or 6 years, though -- my experience is somewhat out of date.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:47 PM on March 27, 2013

What brands did you use, jacquilynne?
posted by Melismata at 12:52 PM on March 27, 2013

The one I used most was PatternMaster Boutique by WildGinger software. I don't remember the name of the other program I used, sorry, it's been awhile.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:09 PM on March 27, 2013

Fit for Real People is awesome especially if you can take a class from one of their instructors. There is a pants and a jacket book too.

I've taken both the regular fit class (from Marta Alto, who wrote FFRP) and the pants class from another instructor. Both were really well done and worth taking the time and spending the money (although I think the class was only $100 for four classes.)
posted by vespabelle at 3:48 PM on March 27, 2013

Came in to say "Fit for Real People."
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:35 PM on March 27, 2013

Garment Designer is pretty nice. Some years back, Threads magazine did a comparison of several pattern-creation programs, and IIRC they liked Garment Designer best overall.

That said, whatever program you use, you'll want and need to adjust the patterns to fit you perfectly. Having a dress form helps a lot, and the duct tape kind work great.
posted by Lexica at 7:56 PM on March 27, 2013

Not much to add, but one of my employees is a pattern maker on the side, and the process of scaling and adjusting patterns is called "Grading", if that helps your search.
posted by xedrik at 11:07 PM on March 27, 2013

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