I have a soft spot for out of print, vintage, and even antique sewing patterns. Kwik Sew is especially dear to me, since it was founded in 1967 by Kerstin Martensson under the name Sew Knit & Stretch in Minneapolis. She changed the name to Kwik Sew in 1974.
Kerstin was a fascinating woman. Born in Sweden in 1938, Kerstin worked in the ready-to-wear industry before becoming a pattern maker for the Viking Sewing Machine Company. In a great example of technology leading to new creativity for home sewers, Viking wanted to expand the market for its new “reverse cycle machines,” sewing machines that could create stretch stitches. Kerstin developed sewing patterns and also travelled to the US to demonstrate new techniques. Her work led to her branching out and forming her own company.
If you see any of Kerstin’s books for sale, grab them! I particularly love the Kwik Sew Method for Sewing Lingerie (1978), which comes with patterns for some of the garments explained in the book and some pattern-free sewing projects in the back of the book. Take care when purchasing online – the patterns are often missing or lost.
Kwik Sew patterns were beloved for many reasons: They typically included a wide range of sizes, they printed patterns on heavy paper, and their instructions were clear enough for just about any skill level. Designs tended to be solid basics and accessories that could become tried and true patterns. In my own sewing history, one of my favorite bra patterns is Kwik Sew 3594.
Her son, Eric McMaster, took over as President and CEO of Kwik Sew in 2001. Kerstin passed away the next year. In 2006, she was inducted posthumously into the Sewing Hall of Fame.
The McCall’s Pattern Company purchased Kwik Sew in 2011 and announced a merger in 2012. At the time, McCall’s website claimed that there were more than 800 Kwik Sew patterns, including fashion and craft, and that Kwik Sew “offers the largest selection of patterns for children, men, lingerie, swimwear, active wear, and fleece.”
I haven’t gone back and checked to try to figure out when it happened, but, at some point, the paper used for Kwik Sew patterns moved to the tissue-weight paper of just about every other commercial pattern. If that’s important to you, stick to patterns that were issued before 2012.
SomethingDelightful.com stopped selling Kwik Sew patterns online in 2021. It appears that at least some of the Kwik Sew patterns were reissued with Simplicity pattern numbers, but I’m not sure how many were transitioned over.
Well. Now you have a bodice sloper that fits. Good for you! Slopers are not very interesting on their own. You want to design your own garments! But how do you get there?
There are a lot of repeat resources in this section, because many of the concepts that help you draft and adjust a sloper also help you design flat patterns. I don’t generally touch on size inclusivity here, because it’s assumed you are working with a sloper or base pattern that’s already fitted to your size and proportions.
These are not ranked as they all approach designing differently. If you’re just starting out, I recommend you decide what style of clothes you want to make and get the resources that work for those styles. Drafting is a skill and you’ll practice it more if you want to use the patterns you create.
Kenneth D. King’s Very Comprehensive Array of Self-Published Pattern Making Books
Author: Kenneth D. King
TItle: Various. There are currently 17 titles available
If you’ve been reading this series, you know I love Kenneth D. King’s books. They filled in a huge gap in my (sparse) sewing education and have made other drafting books easier to understand by providing a practical, foundational understanding.
I own all of his books, except for the notes on Patternmaking 1 and 2. They’re my first go-to when I want to draft or design something, even though I often consult other sources. The books are very complete and detailed, taking advantage of the digital format to offer many diagrams and photographs. For example, his book on dress drafts (all dresses without a waistline seam) lavishes 110 pages on 6 styles of dresses. All of his designing books also include some fitting notes and construction tips. Overall, these are great books for beginners and those who might be shaky on how to draft a particular style.
I especially love how Kenneth’s books include photos of a muslin of the finished garment. Many drafting/ design books have only a flat drawing or a cartoon-style summary of the design. Photos of muslins that are fitted onto a dress form help me understand what a style might look like when sewn up.
While Kenneth’s books should help you draft most styles you can imagine, I appreciate his detailed drafts of vintage-inspired style lines and details. In theory, I could figure out how to draft a sweet little petal collar that overlaps itself in the back neckline, such as I spied in the first season of The Crown worn by Princess Margaret. I remember noticing that detail on a blouse of hers and thinking…ugh I wish I would bother to draft that, it’s so cute. Guess what? It’s on page 25-28 of his Collars book.
General Principles of Flat Pattern Design
Author: Sara Alm
Title: Designing Clothes with the Flat Pattern Method
Ms. Alm introduces flat patterning methods to design from a sloper in deep detail, starting with narrow skirts and moving on to bodices, collars, sleeves and pants.
This book is a nice introduction into flat patterning principles, and will help you develop your own styles using general rules, rather than achieve specific designs.
I especially appreciate the detailed discussion of moving darts, converting darts to ease, and converting darts into a seam. These are techniques that many books gloss over and this book uses step-by-step photographs to lead the reader.
There are a few pages outlining the overall techniques for drafting facings, hems, linings, vents, and buttoned closures.
The pictures and diagrams are clear and easy to understand.
One major drawback to this book is the lack of an index.
You Want to Go Into the Way Back Machine
Author: Elizabeth Friendship
Title: Creating Historical Clothes
Most resources on sewing 17th/18th/19th Century-style western clothes focus on documenting extant garments or explaining how to drape and construct garments as they were worn in the time period. This book departs from that, by demonstrating how to draft basic patterns, then apply flat pattern cutting to a selection of antique English and European women’s styles from the 1530’s to about 1900.
There are brief but clear instructions on several types of sleeve blocks, trouser blocks, bodices, and skirts (including the necessary underpinnings).
You could use this book by itself, as it begins with taking measurements and leads all the way through drafting, with some notes on construction order and antique sewing techniques like the mantua-maker’s stitch and cartridge pleating.
There is a good overview of some basics of pattern making in general: adding volume and ease to patterns, calculating the sleeve width when you have depth already and vice versa, and drafting bodices for large busts.
The description of moving darts into seams is especially good, and I appreciate the way the author shows how to adjust a bodice block to fit over a later-Victorian corset.
Each section includes a page describing the garments of the period very generally, and giving references and a glossary for specialized fashion terms.
I would especially recommend this book for people interested in “history bounding” because it departs from historic methods but approximates shapes well and gives visual references for the designs, usually paintings and drawings of people wearing clothes, rather than original garments.
The most basic, untailored linens, such as shirts and shifts, are not covered in this book. If you want to build historic styles from the skin out, you’ll want to combine this book with resources relevant to the time period of interest.
You Want to Party like it’s 1924
Author: The Women’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences
Title: Drafting and Pattern Designing
I introduced this book in Post 1 with the Picken Square. While I love my reproduction square, I think you could use this book with standard rulers especially if you already have your slopers drafted.
This book has some designs that have become timeless, but it also has some delightful pieces that are really atmospheric for the 1920’s and earlier such as corset covers, fancy aprons, and knickerbocker trousers.
The drafting and flat patterning instructions are scant, but they’re understandable if you have a little experience drafting and flat designing.
Miss Haslam’s system doesn’t require that you use her slopers: I have used her style lines with my moulage-generated sloper with no problem.
The main advantage of the Haslam Dresscutting books is that they are readily available, primary sources for the latest fashions of specific years and seasons in the 1930’s-1960’s. You can often find original books on the secondary market or electronically as PDFs.
The instructions are scanty, as they assumed relatively experienced seamstresses were using them. There’s never any discussion of facings and interior finishing, or even openings. You have to know how to do that yourself. The draft instructions will give you the shell and the secondary pieces that show such as collars, cuffs, and patch pockets.
I wouldn’t use these booklets as stand-alone references, but they will help you nail a specific vintage style. If you want to use Haslam books to make garments, I recommend you pair the books with a how-to-sew resource such as the Vogue Sewing Book and find an online community to join for help.
The fashion illustrations are adorable and give a sense of colors and prints that would be appropriate for a specific year.
You Prefer Videos and the ability to ask questions
Lately, when I see a vintage dress detail in a movie or a book, I search Charlotta’s patreon posts before I check any other resource. Sometimes I have to look at the Vogue Sewing Book or Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing to be sure I have the best description of what I want to understand how to design.
As of July, 2021, Charlotta’s Patreon videos include more than 50 drafting tutorials for everything from a basic yoke skirt to recreating Vionnet-inspired designs to fit you. She adds 2 or 3 new video tutorials per month.
Patrons get to vote on the styles she analyses and drafts.
Charlotta’s instructions are clear and her warm personality makes the tutorials approachable, even for novice drafters.
I introduced this book in post 1, and it provides a whirlwind tour of adding ease to a sloper to develop bodice, blouse, and dress designs.
Basic pattern manipulation is covered: shifting darts, manipulating darts into a yoke, or adding gathers.
A variety of classic and contemporary designs are presented, each with about a page of text and a page of diagrams.
If you want a brief overview (not a step-by-step) on women’s clothing design, this book will give you a solid start on cutting skirts, bodices, shirts, and dresses.
Moving a Dart Does Not Require Legislation
Author: Adele Margolis
Title: Make Your Own Dress Patterns
This was one of Adele’s last books, first published in 1985 but back in print as of 2006. Many of the fashion drawings bear the mark of the 1980’s Career Woman look, but the advice and the general principles described are timeless.
Adele does not explain how to draft a bodice sloper. She assumes you are working with a sloper you bought or adjusted. The book does provide little quarter-sized slopers for you to trace or copy and manipulate for practice.
This book really has it all as far as learning flat pattern manipulation: darts, matching your seams, moving and dividing darts, shaping with seams (alone or with darts), fullness, drawing a hip-length sloper from a bodice sloper, adding ease, necklines, openings (including rules for developing a buttoned opening), pockets, collars, the main types of sleeves, sleeve finishes, and a very general overview on making muslins.
This book discusses drawing facings and linings more than many flat pattern design books.
Fashions Change, but the Principles of Cutting the Flat Pattern Do Not
Author: Natalie Bray
Title: Dress Pattern Designing: The Basic Principles of Cut and Fit
– Natalie Bray was born in 1897 and worked at the Katinka Court Dressmakers of Knightsbridget, London in the 1920’s. She taught classes in dressmaking and developed her own flat-cutting methods in the mid 1930’s. Her books, first published in the 1950’s, were extensions of her correspondence classes.
– Following the section on drawing blocks, this book provides a brief introduction to: circular patterns, simple pattern designing, yokes, dart manipulation, sleeves, collars and necklines, skirts, and a one-piece dress foundation.
– Drafts for bodice blocks of dartless bodices, loose fitting shirts, jackets, cut-on sleeves, and raglan blocks are included.
– Many style lines and design elements are presented as line drawings, with clear labels. The styles presented are “classic” and would suit many eras and contemporary designs.
Final Thoughts on Flat Design:
Remember to do a muslin of your actual design after you flat-pattern from your sloper. Moving seams around and playing with design elements can create distortions and have unintended downstream consequences, especially as you are learning how to do this.
Fitting is a very big topic with a lot of resources. To narrow the scope of this piece, I wanted to focus on the resources I have found most helpful for fitting bodices, in the order I prefer to use them.
Beyond “Just Follow the Wrinkles”
Author: Kenneth D King
Title: Kenneth D. King’s Smart Fitting Solutions: Foolproof Techniques to Fit Any Figure
If you only want to make sure your sloper fits, Kenneth’s “Moulage” book has extensive notes on fitting your moulage muslin, so that will be the ticket.
If you want to get even deeper into fitting techniques for any project, you’ll want to check out Smart Fitting Solutions. This is my go-to for checking and fixing the fit of a muslin.
This book promises, “Fit Any Figure, Solve Any Fitting Challenge.” I have to say it delivers. This is a slim volume, but it’s packed with information and useful instructions.
Professor King takes on fitting for several different shapes/ bodies with comprehensive, clear photographs. He doesn’t get bogged down on naming specific “figure problems”, but instead teaches how to look for how the clothes hang, hug, and/ or gap on the figure and train the eye to proportions.
The book uses 6 different models who “are short or tall, slim or plus-size, busty or not, and have different shaped derrieres and curvy or straight figures.” These models are all shown wearing clothes from their own wardrobes as well as muslins in-progress. I love the pictures towards the end of the models smiling happily in their fitted and corrected muslins.
He shows how to take muslin changes back to flat paper in great detail using several techniques, from the standard “slash and spread” and moving seam allowances techniques to his innovative, “net loss” technique. I like how he uses photographs that are not-too-close and not-too-far, so you can really see what the problems are and what he does to fix them.
This book includes very brief but essential appendixes on measuring points in the figure (it’s 11AM, do you know where your bust point is?*) and mapping them back to a flat pattern, how much wearing and design ease you need, how to make a full bust adjustment, rotating a dart, and fitting a sleeve.
*My beleaguered spouse has been pressed into service as my measurer during the pandemic. We’ve been together for more than 23 years. Despite this, we can’t agree about where my bust point is, which seems like something we would both understand by now. The diagrams in this book have helped me teach him what I want him to measure.
Not “Fit for a Mannequin”
Author: Pati Palmer and Marta Alto
Title: Fit for Real People
The Palmer/ Pletsch fitting method has been taught and written about for more than 30 years. It’s a classic for a reason: the methods they teach are accessible and this book has a nice range of figures to help the reader see how different adjustments can be made.
The preferred fitting method in this book requires a sturdy but transparent paper pattern to work quickly, although some discussion of using muslin (and especially gingham) is included. If you draft your own patterns or are working with patterns on heavy stock paper, the tissue-fitting method won’t work well for you without the extra step of preparing thin pattern pieces in full scale.
I love how they use models of all shapes/ sizes and ages. It’s very refreshing to see many figure types represented and to include discussion of sizing up patterns.
Adele Margolis Recommends a Girdle (but we forgive her)
Author: Adele Margolis
Title: How to Make Clothes That Fit and Flatter: Step-by-Step Instructions for Women Who Like to Sew
This book was originally published in 1969, but was reprinted in 2018 with a new cover and the same text/illustrations. My copy is a little shopworn and tattered, as it was a vintage find that I stumbled across in 2017. It begins with the philosophy, “To be well dressed one needs more than a dazzling design and a lovely fabric; the key to that fashion-plate look is proper fit.”
Adele was born in 1909 and began her career teaching fashion when she was in her 40’s. She published her first book on fashion design in her 50’s! Her author “voice” is warm, charming, and funny, if somewhat dated at times. I wrote a little note to my daughter (it says, “outdated advice”) and stuck it in the book where she exhorts the reader to lose weight and wear a girdle for goodness’ sake.
This was the first book I ever found that really explained how darts work rather than taking for granted that I understood the underlying theory.
I refer to her description of grainline so often when teaching that I have a bookmark on page 133 of this book.
The fit-standard explanations and illustrations include 11 pages on “rescuing” a garment that is already cut out and how to alter the pattern afterwards to ensure the next garment fits well.
While I always encourage students to cut/ fit a muslin before they get into their “real” fabric, this is a really good discussion to have and I can think of a few friends who could save themselves some tears with this information.
Many home sewists work in woven fabric after wearing knits most of our lives. Fit standards for things like “where a shoulder seam should sit on the body” and “where is your waistline” are really helpful for amateurs.
She includes a suggested sequence for fitting and addresses both dress patterns and pants patterns, even showing the reader how to draft culottes from a fitted pant pattern.
Fitting with a Minnesota Accent, “This Method is Different, Doncha Know”
This book briefly explains how to draft slopers and basic styles but focuses on adjusting commercial patterns.
This is only available as a new book digitally through the Sewing and Design School. I bought mine and got it printed and spiral bound locally, because I stare at screens too much as it is.
There are pages and pages of worksheets and very specific body measurement and shape directions. If you want to learn how to draw a you-specific hip block, this is the reference for you.
Jan gives very practical, no-nonsense instructions for making pattern changes, constructing a muslin, testing the fit of the muslin, and taking marked changes back to the pattern.
The ‘wrinkle charts’ in this book span 28 pages and are shown with clear illustrations to help the student see where fit changes are worth trying based on how the muslin sits on the figure.
There is a lengthy section on applying lessons learned from your basic block to commercial patterns, called a “fit code.”
A lot of effort is put into building the reader’s understanding of posture and body shape, including putting names to specific variations.
A Comprehensive Classic on Wrinkles To Improve Your Fit
Authors: Elizabeth G. Liechty, Della N. Pottberg, and Judith A. Rasband
Title: Fitting and Pattern Alteration, A Multi-Method Approach
This is the only book that Susan Khalje recommends, and honestly that’s why I took the trouble to find it. I found mine second hand because a new copy was out of my price range (given that I already had a favorite fitting book). There’s no shame in buying a book secondhand!
To review this book, I actually read the sections on evaluating the figure that I skipped when I first bought it. Honestly, the “ideal weights” in the book are based on a measure of elbow breadth compared to height I have never seen before and suggests that people were fairly slim in 1983.
This book assumes you are adjusting paper patterns and includes a nice discussion of fitting standards and making/ fitting a muslin that spans more than 40 pages.
The 23 pages on alteration methods cover the standard ways most flat patterns are adjusted: slash, seam, and pivot.
The real meat of this book is the 200+ pages with clear illustrations showing how fitting issues look on a muslin when worn on the body and how to use the slash or pivot method to correct the flat pattern (I have a bookmark in page 204).
That’s it for my favorite fitting resources. Next up: Now you have a bodice sloper that fits. Good for you! Now you want to design your own garments! But how do you get there? I will discuss 8 resources that I have found handy for designing my own garments from a flat sloper.
My in-laws like to speak fondly of my husband’s grandmother’s talent as a home dressmaker. She lived in New York, and used to window shop at the finest designers then go home and make up her own designs using her favorite elements just from looking at the garments! When I picked up sewing as an adult, I remember sighing over these stories, wishing I had the talent and skill that Muriel displayed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. I had no idea how to get those skills. I won’t say I have them completely, yet, but I can see them on the horizon. What’s changed? I learned how to draft pattern blocks and manipulate them into garment patterns.
I’m excited to see those of you who will be joining me for class in about a month. (It’s not too late to sign up!) A big part of any sewing project is just getting ready to sew it! I thought it might help everyone if I broke down what I’m going to do to get ready for class. My plan is to prep both test pieces for class and what I need to actually make my jacket at the same time. You may choose to do almost none of this, or all of it!
Step 1: Prep your pattern
Choose your size. Assemble, if needed, and trace or cut out your pattern pieces. Consider adding a matching notch to the back yoke.
Step 2: Mise en place
This is chef-talk for “make sure you have all of your stuff.” It’s not such a horrible thing to have to order zippers halfway through a project, but it is annoying! If you’re prepping for both class and actually sewing your jacket at the same time, you’ll need:
Two (or three) plastic standard (not invisible-style) zippers, at least 6 inches long (If you are like me, you’ll want three of these, two for your jacket and one just to try the techniques.)
A zipper foot that is compatible with your machine
Ball-point and/or stretch sewing machine needles
Wash away wonder tape or stitch witchery
Scraps of lightweight stretch knit fabric, such as athletic mesh or tricot, large enough to cut four or six pocket pieces
One (or two) separating (jacket) zipper, 24 inches long, #5 weight is recommended (Again, I hate tearing things out, even for a test. If you’re like me, just get two zippers and use one for testing and one for your jacket.)
Fabric for your project, prewashed
Optional, but a big help: a walking foot that is compatible with your machine
Optional, but also a big help: fusible tricot interfacing
Optional: If you’re not using a serger, consider getting fold over elastic, hem tape, or other trim to add to the inner edge of your hem facing. I tested finishing that edge with a zigzag stitch and I wasn’t happy with the results.
Optional: A print out of your instructions. We’ll be skimming over them in class, but you may want them handy to take notes or just keep from getting lost.
Step 3: Cut your fabric and prep your interfacing
Cut your pattern pieces according to the pattern, but also cut the following to use in class:
Four strips of knit fabric, at least 2 inches wide and 24 inches long, cut with the greatest amount of stretch along the narrow edge
Three front pocket pieces and three back pocket pieces. One set is to test in class and the other two sets are to actually make your jacket.
If possible, keep your pattern pieces with the fabric pieces after you cut. Some of the pieces in this jacket are similar in size and shape, and it would be easy to get them mixed up.
Consider using a fusible knit interfacing in the following areas: bottom hem facings, collar, zipper facing, the front edge of the jacket, and at the bottom sleeve hems if you don’t want to use a cuff.
Test the interfacing on a scrap of your fabric before you do anything else with it. Always use a press cloth. I like to use tissue paper as a press cloth for fusibles. If you’re sewing along in class, you’ll want to interface two of your 2-inch-wide fabric strips with 1-inch strips of interfacing, so you can use those as your test. Place the interfacing along one long edge of each piece, not down the center of the strip.
Interfacing for the bottom hem facings could be cut separately or block fuse interfacing to your fabric before cutting those pattern pieces. My fabric is kind of squishy and springy, so interfacing before cutting could help keep the hem facing pieces’ size and shape more consistent. I’ll demonstrate block fusing in class.
Cut interfacing for the collar using the collar pattern piece, but don’t fuse it, yet. There’s a trick to making the inside of your collar neater that I want to show you in class.
For the front edge of the jacket, apply 1-inch strips of interfacing just before step 35. You can’t really do it at the cutting-out stage because it extends past the collar/hood seam. Your edge may have stretched out as you worked, so make sure your interfacing strips are the same length as your zipper, then use that to pull your front edge to size as you fuse.
I like a 2-inch-wide strip of interfacing for a 1-inch sleeve hem.
Step 4: Prep your equipment
Put a new needle in your sewing machine and wind two bobbins of thread. Using a scrap, test your stitch settings for seams and topstitching. On my machine, I liked a 10 sts/inch (2.5 mm) long and 1.5 mm wide for construction and 8 sts/inch (3 mm) long for topstitching. For hems, I liked 10 sts/inch (2.5 mm) long and the narrowest possible zigzag on my machine.
If you use a serger, you’ll still need a sewing machine for the side seam if you want pockets and to sew your zipper facing, zipper applications and for basting tricky seams (the back yoke, the front princess seams and the sleeves).
On my serger, double knits perform best using the four-thread ultra-stretch mock safety stitch. (Boy, does that trip off the tongue!) It’s a two-needle, four-thread stitch. I think it’s also called just a four-thread overlock or a 3/4 stitch. Make sure you test stitch a seam that’s across the fabric’s grain as well as along the grain, to check for stretching. Don’t forget to put new needles in your serger, too!