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Pattern drafting is most often associated with apparel. It is a form of drafting used to produce, through a series of stages, a graded paper pattern for sewing. Using body measurements, a pattern maker converts individual specifics into a series of straight lines and curves on template paper known as oak tag. During subsequent stages, those lines and curves determine how the garment is broken down into sections, cut and tested for fit, and ultimately converted to a reusable pattern. Specific methods and stages of pattern drafting vary from pattern maker to pattern maker, depending on each professional's chosen approach, any software used, and if the pattern is intended for eventual mass production.
A typical pattern drafter starts with a sketch, drawing, or photographic image of a particular article of clothing. From there, the drafter measures a form or an individual person to facilitate breaking the garment into sections. Trained pattern makers create an initial template, known as a block or slope, by first drawing straight lines relevant to specific body measurements and then shaping the template using curved lines and further measurements. Fabric is cut from the block to form a mock-up. Mock-ups, also known as muslins in the United States or toiles in Europe, are created from these test pieces and allow for perfecting the pattern template.
Once a pattern template is completed, the grading process begins. Grading involves transferring the perfected pattern template to thin pattern paper, adding a series of lines to denote smaller and larger sizes. For mass produced patterns, such as those made by the largest pattern companies, pattern modifications are also included on paper patterns. Such modifications allow for customized features such as crew or turtle necks, long or short sleeves, shorts or pants, long or short skirts, and other options.
Colleges and universities that offer fashion industry training typically offer pattern drafting as an advanced sewing and design course. Student drafters are taught the initial concepts of drafting patterns through hand drafting. As studies progress, computerized pattern drafting applications are incorporated to help students learn how industrial or mass-produced patterns are created. Home and hobby sewers learn hand pattern-drafting techniques from workshops, blogs, and other sewers, although computerized drafting software and tutorials are also available.
Before the advent of computers, all pattern drafting was done by hand. Today, software helps pattern makers in both industrial applications and in the home sewing industry through automating computations and providing 3-D computer models. Unlike traditional hand pattern drafting, computerized programs allow users to input raw measurements, create blocks, and test muslins in a virtual environment before printing and cutting actual pattern templates. For many sewing professionals, tactile and creative involvement with a particular garment is not as satisfying when computerized programs are used, thus helping to perpetuate the popularity of hand pattern drafting as part of the creative process.
Couture clothing designers benefit from the widely held belief that there are creative drawbacks associated with computer-drafted design patterns.
A couture garment costs more not only because it is hand sewn using rare or high-quality materials, but because the garment is often one-of-a-kind.
In addition, these garments are custom made to fit the customer's exact measurements and style changes.
This helps to ensure that no two garments from the designer are ever exactly the same and are unique to each customer.