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Designing garments

Laurie41654 | Posted in General Discussion on

I’m here for the first time and am not sure as to how this all works, but my question is concerning getting information on designing garments and if there is anything available besides the really expensive schools on learning more about it. At this time, everything I do is totally experimental and a whole lot of hit and miss. I’d like to (if it is possible) learn what I need to learn to get more hits than misses. Different fabrics do not intimidate me, so I’ve experimented with just about everything as far as fabrics go. Maybe, there is no place that can help me out because I’ve written to alot of places already and no one bothers to answer. If there is anyone who can steer me in the direction, I’d really appreciate it. (And I can’t afford the software for the computer-designed patterns)


  1. Crish | | #1

    Have you tried the adult edcation programs in your local school district or local independent fabric stores education programs?  They frequently offer draping and pattern drafting classes.  Much less expensive than the big fashion design schools - not as comprehensive but enough to get you going and help you determine where to go next. 

    I work for a fine independent fabric shop and we are always asking our customers what they would like to have included in our class schedule.  Pattern drafting takes more time than our general offerings so it is not offered as often but we keep a list of interested people and when the list is adequate to guarantee enough to fill the class we notify them and proceed.

    1. Laurie41654 | | #3

      Thank-you for the suggestion. Unfortunately the adult-ed classes very seldom have anything in sewing classes at all and the fabric stores only seem to be interested in craft classes or machine embroidery. I've asked and some just outright tell me no or never answer me. Guess I'll have to continue experimenting...........

      Thanks again for answering

      1. Crish | | #5

        This is my reaction to the other message you replied to this a.m.

        Are you wanting to design for yourself or production?  Designing for yourself, you can do whatever makes you happy/pleased.  If for production, there may be some limitations because of cost of manufacturing and having it done at a marketable price.  Look at what is being done in the couture houses - they certainly don't have limits until it comes to making the design for real people.

        Get yourself a dress form, some cheap muslin and a box of pins.  Start draping and cutting.  baste it together.  Can you move?  Is it looking like the image in your mind?  If not, rework (as long as it is still fun) until you match your image.  Make notes along the way - what works; what doesn't.  Then take your muslin apart and you have your pattern.

        You don't say what type clothing you want to create.  If you are thinking of well constructed things, hang out at quality resale shops.  Examine the clothing from the inside to see what was done to create the outer look.  Clair Schaeffer's Couture book has excellent illustrations of internal construction/external results.

        Is there a costume collection in/near where you live?  Try library, historic museum, community theatre, art department of local school.  Volunteer to help maintain the collection and while you're there keep looking inside the stuff you're sorting.

        Haunt used/remainder book sales.  There are lots of "coffee table" books focussing on single or groups of designers with excellent photgraphs of their work.  Original prices are often pretty extreme but if you're willing to dig you can find some treasures.  Last Xmas I found a design diary of LaCroix for $4.99, pub price $75.  Once found at Borders on their damaged book table a book of couture history - incredible photos for $10, pub price $100.  The cover was put on upside down!  The current Vionnet book has great illustraions of piece shaping that explains how she was able to attain her incredible draping.

        Keep your eyes open - you may be the next great designer!

        1. Laurie41654 | | #6

          Thank-you again for the input. I'll keep my eyes open. Mostly I want for myself anything that is different. I refuse to go anywhere (except Home Depot) with something on that everyone else has the same. (It's okay - everyone thinks I'm a snob about it!) Then ofcourse, if I can make some money at it, that would be great, too. I guess I just don't like the idea of things that don't work out, so they have to be thrown away. I am getting better, but there still are things that don't end up the way they started out! (I also have a problem because I can't draw anything out. I've never had any art classes. So if I get an idea for something unusual, I have to just "work it" as best I can. There is no picture for me to refer to - except in my head. And they often get lost in everyday stuff like kids, bills, and work. Thanks again for the ideas. I'll keep an eye out for anything that might help.


          1. sanderson | | #7

            I also have a problem because I can't draw anything out.

            Who says you can't? 

          2. ClaireDuffy | | #8

            Hi, Iv'e just read through the conversations re designing. A basic patternmaking course is invaluable. If you are able to visualise a garment and you can then mentally pull it apart into its components it makes it a much more successful process when constructing it. I am self taught and along the way I have done a patternmaking course. I also sew for others. This means they bring me their dreams and I have to figure out how to construct it. More often than not they bring pictures from magazines so I don't need to draw anything. I've also done a life drawing class many moons ago. Not a bad investment. It all depends if you have to bring a design to the page or not.

             I have a dress form, lots of muslin, an industrial straight sewer and a good quality overlocker and a few tools like good scissors and snips, a good iron,a square rule, tape measure, calculater, rouleaux turner and a few other bits and pieces. 

            The best way to get better is try, try, and try again. There is of lot of written material on dressmaking and you have to try techniques out to know when to apply them.

            Would love to here more

            Claire from Oz

          3. Laurie41654 | | #10

            HI! I'm not sure if it's okay for me to reply to you since you wrote to someone else, but here I am. (I wish I could figure out how to get all the messages concerning designing in one shot, but I haven't been able to do that yet - slightly computer illiterate, too) I do have one question yet: You said to have lots of muslin and I understand that, but how do you transfer that to a stretch fabric? I am well aware that the fabric will react totally different, or do I have to find a stretch "muslin". I've tried that, too, but lots of times when you get to the fabric you want to use, the stretch-abilities are totally different and it looks alot different. I have taken patternmaking classes and used to work with designers, where they drew the pictures and I made the patterns, so I know how to do that. I guess the draping scares me a little. All I see is yards and yards of fabric being all chopped up.

            I guess I was hoping for some sort of a "quick-fix" rather than the try and try again method.

            Thank-you for your input.........


          4. julieb00lie | | #11

            Because there are so many variants of knit fabrics, instead of using a muslin, which is a woven, you should actually use a knit. Now, it is typically difficult to find a very cheap knit that contains the same structure as your true fashion fabric that will be used for the garment. I usually buy several yards of the fabric. I make my sample from the same fabric, so I can measure exactly how the real garment is going to work. I know this sounds a little pricier than we want, but if you are a perfectionist like me, it is really the only way to go. Even when I work with wovens I may do the same thing. If I sew something from chiffon, I buy a cheap color of chiffon to make the sample of. I want to see exactly how the garment will hang and fit.  Same with Stretch twills and other fabrics.

            Like I said, with all the different weights and knit structures of stretch fabrics, there is no way they could produce a cheap "muslin-type" fabric for each. Hope this clears a little up.

          5. Laurie41654 | | #12

            Thanks for the input. That's basically what I've been doing, but, again, I was hoping that there might be an easier or less expensive way of doing it. I also try to work from a "basic" that I know fits me the way I want and then do "design changes" from that. The only problem with that is the different properties on the different knits. But sometimes I can allow for that before I start.

            Thanks anyway, and if you have any more ideas, let me know(please).

            Do you make your own patterns? And, if so, do you copy things you see in catalogs or magazines? Or are you able to come up with all sorts of new and totally different designs? (Just curious because I have trouble with the creative end of this. If I am given an idea or picture, I can go with it, but I don't always have the ideas)

            Thanks again,


          6. julieb00lie | | #13

            Yea, I make my own patterns. Sometimes I use clothes that I have bought in the store and do a knock-off. Then I manipulate the pattern to make any special changes. Sometimes I just create a pattern from scratch, sometimes I drape my design on my form and then transfer it to pattern paper, and sometimes I do a combination. I like to come up with my own design ideas, to create unique pieces that are still wearable.  Of course I make mistakes, sometimes I have to make three samples before I get everything the way I want it. It does take time, and it is more costly, but if you focus on your trial and error, you will learn alot. Designing and sewing has definitely taught me patience.

            Good luck to ya!


          7. Laurie41654 | | #14

            Thank-you again for the information. It's good for me to hear that other people make mistakes with the designs, too. I always feel like the total failure when things don't turn out. I have been learning more on how to salvage a mistake, so it isn't a total loss. The whole draping thing is new for me (I had heard of it, but never actually did it) so that's a whole new experiment I've been trying.

            If it's not out of line for me to ask, could you tell me what sort of garments you design? Or do you do whatever happens to pop into your head? Also, are you more self-taught, or did you attend a design school? It's just interesting to me to find out about different people. If you don't want to answer, that's cool.

            I'll go for now - busy and long day tomorrow.....

            Thanks again,


          8. julieb00lie | | #15

            I design all sorts of stuff. I have alot of experience with cut and sew knits. I am trying to work with more wovens though. It's hard to put a finger on what exactly my style is. Since I've only been doing this for five years, I guess I don't really have a specific style, still experimenting. I can tell you some pieces I've been working on:

            1)Loose fit Black slip on halter hoodie made from knit jersey

            2)Fitted black and white faux fur halter hoodie vest with two way zipper

            3)Fitted wine colored poplin collared shirt with tribal cutouts on sleeve and black decorative stitching. (working on it as we speak - or chat).

            So, I'm pretty young spirited. Trying to keep it funky, deep, and sweet. I don't really like to sew something that I've seen right out of a catalog. I may get inspired or I may notice a technique, and then apply it into my own creation.I went to a two year collage, made the most of it, got a job designing, and moved on to a bigger company doing tech packages.

            It's cool that you are interested in design. If you are really serious about it, but don't want to go to school, you should invest in some books. They are all over the web. I learned a good bit at school in 2 years, but I learned alot more in five years of real world experience - doing it yourself. So I would say that I am self taught. School gave me a little insight on subjects, but it was up to me to investigate it more.

            I don't mind answering your questions. I too find others that are involved in design and ask them questions too. It's good to discuss your ideas and thoughts.

          9. Laurie41654 | | #16

            Thank-you for the information........ I went to a tech-school for one year and got a ton of garment construction information, and since the class consisted of only about 6 people (not much interest in that area) the teacher sorta pushed the ones who wanted to know more. We didn't do alot of designing - more into techniques - but then I got a job working with designers and learned a whole lot there. I think my biggest problem is that I'm always afraid to try something different. (I was brought up really conservative and had strict rules as to right and wrong and what you were allowed to do and not do) Also I sometimes think that maybe I'm too old for this sort of thing. I should just be a grandma like alot of people my age and just stick to doing "crafts" (YUK!)

            I have to get going for now because I'm going to be gone for two weeks and I really should get something made for a special occasion during that time. I'm leaving tomorrow and can't yet decide what to make (Thank god for sergers!)

            Bye and thanks again....


          10. ClaireDuffy | | #17

            I"ve just been reading through your discussions re design and it seems to me you are having trouble fitting yourself inside a narrow confine called 'A DESIGNER'.

            You sound like you already are a designer and you don't know it. When you start doing anything which wasn't made up by someone else then you just became the designer of that idea, garment, meal, or whatever.

            If you're uncomfortable with the idea of draping I suggest you start with an inspiring piece of fabric and 'play' with it. Let the fabric tell you what it can do.Don't have a fixed design in your head. Then when you come up with an idea it won't be 'wrong' because there was no picture to begin with.

            Another great idea is to read about famous designers and the techniques they used. You'll find they were all different and they were all true to themselves. When you think something is a failury ask youself 'In whose eyes is this a failure? Mine? or what I think other will think?'

            Who are you designing for? Do you only need to please yourself or are you trying to sell to the public?

            Just some thoughts.

            CLAIRE from Oz 

          11. mommydionne | | #18

            I like claire's description of a designer,  we all have a closet full of mistakes and lots of wonderful successes,  the trick is to keep trying and make what you like,  that is the joy of sewing and designing,  hours can be spent with a dress form and some pins. 

             Personally sewing for me is not something to save money (and this is what all non-sewers say to me) but what keeps me sane as something to let my artistic nature shine (cause I can't draw either) and take me away from work, kids etc.  keep experimenting and enjoy,  also if you know any quilters they'd love to take your fabric leftovers for crazy quilts etc!!

          12. Laurie41654 | | #19

            Thank-you for the message. I guess I consider something a "failure" if it didn't come out exactly the way I had originally thought it out in my head, or if it doesn't look "absolutely fabulous" on me. I've always done this for myself or years ago for the kids, but it would be nice to make some money doing it too. I just don't really think that anyone else would want something that I dreamed up - much less pay for it! I'll keep in mind what you said though and keep plugging away at it.

            Thanks again,


          13. CJoens | | #20

            Hi Laurie,

            do you speak any other languages because I know, that here in Germany, theres a course availble that comes to you by mail. The lessons are delieverd to you and you have to do your schedule at home and send them back so they can check if you're improving. You learn how to paint a picture of your ideas too!

            Maybe there's anything like that in the states too?



          14. MOMPEA1 | | #22

            Hi Claire, I'm sort of jumping in on this discussion. I also have had difficulties with finding classes for adding that professional touch and making a garment drape and fit as I'd like. I'm in a wheelchair with MS and you'd be surprised-or maybe you wouldn't-at the places that are inaccessible to me because of my chair. Anyway, about the dress form.....do you have the adjustable metal w/slight padding type form, a non-changeable padded form, a metal-mesh type.....?? Which do you have and what type would you recommend and why? I'm thinking since I can alter clothing for anyone, other than myself, to a quality level I'm satisfied with a form would be a good investment. But before I invest in purchasing a form I'm looking for recommendations. Thanks in advance to anyone that answers this question. Jackie aka mompea

          15. ClaireDuffy | | #23

            I have to say I don't have the dress form I would like to have and that is the Fabulous Fit one. http://www.fabulousfit.com It looks practical for the different shapes of person I would deal with.

            I have a second hand Singer 150 which is cloth and thin foam over a hard plastic. I can adjust the size but it is not the best. I find I have to use the person to fit on as I go.

            Trial and error are also good friends of mine and experience also keeps me company. I keep a notebook handy to record new ideas close to hand. Theres nothing worse than knowing you read the solution to the current problem and not remembering where you read it.Invariably you can't find it until it's way to late and you've thought a less than best way to solve the problem.

            I hope this helps.

            CLAIRE in Oz

          16. Laurie41654 | | #9

            It's pretty easy to figure out that there is no drawing talent when what you draw out looks nothing like what you have in your head! I took several drawing and sketching classes and really bombed out! So I have to be able to work out a design from my head to the fabric in one shot. (That's kinda tough because there isn't always time to spend on one idea) I guess from what I've been reading, it's just a matter of trying over and over until you can get it right.

            I'll just keep at it whenever I can...............


  2. snivsl | | #2

    I am a graduate of FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in NYC.  You can find many books by Fairchild Publications (they are on the web) which are published by many professors at FIT and other well known design schools. Many of the books explain draping and patternmaking in detail.  Someone with knowledge of sewing should be able to follow these books although a local school would be more helpful.  These books themselves are, however, costly.

    1. Laurie41654 | | #4

      Thank-you for the input. I'll check out that web site right away. Can I ask you one quick question? When it comes to designing clothes, are there any "rules" or is it more of an anything goes sort of thing? The reason I ask is because I know that at one time I was told (by a designer from New York) that I "couldn't do that" in reference to a garment. Now I look at things and I can't really find any rules except for what "everyone is wearing this season".

      Thanks again for your answer

  3. jinkawho1 | | #21

    The best way to learn is to sew!!!!!  You can cogitate and dream all day but it won't really inform you the way a cut and sewn garment will.  .

    Give yourself permission to cut out and experiment on cheap fabric.  Draping is fun.

    If you look at women's better ready to wear  "bridge" or designer wear you'll get a chance to peek inside garments and look at shapes.  Its also a good way to see how designers use fabrics.  Many times a garment will be simple but perfectly executed in a fabulous fabric.

    Look at pattern pieces of garments. Finally go to the library and look for some books or curl up in a chair at the local bookstore and study.  There is a textbook by Helen Armstrong that really expalins it all.

     Unless you understand basic patternmaking principles, a computer program will only be like playing with paperdolls.  Once you get whats going on with patternmaking  the program just speeds up the process and does some of the calculatiing for you. Also some programs are geared to designing and some are geared toward fit. 

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