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Aug 5, 2013

Changing My Mind or "Ix-nay on the ants-pay"



Readers, do you ever wonder if you wouldn't be better off drafting your own patterns?

I get that women's wear is extremely varied and it might take a lot of experience to draft something as complicated as, say, a Vogue designer pattern (or not).  But most menswear is oh, so basic: shirts and pants, pants and shirts.  A coat is usually cut extremely similar to a long shirt.  Underwear, shorts, and swimsuits are basically short pants.

So why do I still bother with commercial patterns?

Two reasons: 1) I really like trying out patterns; it's how I learned to sew and I'm still very invested in it, especially because 2) I'm a relatively easy fit.  Especially with vintage patterns, a men's 36 shirt will generally fit right out of the envelope, even if a few tweaks here and there might improve things somewhat.  Plus, it's more fun writing (and reading) about making something somebody else could conceivably make too, don't you think?

But I'm probably coming to the end of my commercial pattern period -- except for the vintage patterns I make for Cathy, of course!

Sometimes I read about sewing bloggers struggling for hours on end, muslin after muslin, to make a commercial pattern fit right (I'm talking a basic skirt or blouse), and I'm thinking, buy a patternmaking book, invest a few days to draft a basic sloper from your measurements, and make it yourself.  But I get that part of the fun is trying patterns other people recommend and seeing how you look in them.

I shifted gears today.  I was going to make a pair of cotton twill pants using Kwik Sew 3504.  This must be the most boring pattern ever and my fabric (already covered in dog hair) isn't much better.





So instead, I decided to try a vintage shirt pattern from my large stash of men's patterns.  I chose Butterick 4575 from the early Seventies.  I bought this pattern for the princess seamed version (View C in rust) but I'm making the plain version, which should still be very fitted.





As I've done in the past, I've added a covered placket similar to Vogue 8889.  I'm using the cocoa-colored cotton I bought last week for Cathy's Twenties pajamas.  Please don't tell Cathy but I'm on the fence about that project, at least for today.



This shirt will probably have long sleeves, a band collar, and some sort of matched front pockets.  I am going for an elegant-looking shirt I can wear this fall and beyond.



In other news, after four years of constantly cutting fabric (and commercial patterns) on my knees (I work on the floor), I have developed what I suspect is mild bursitis in my left knee.  This, combined with my deteriorating close vision, is yet another sacrifice I have made to the sewing gods.  Let's hope there isn't worse to come!

In closing, readers, have you had it with commercial patterns that are so much more similar than they are different from each other? Are you tired of all the time you waste making the same alterations and adjustments to pattern paper and/or muslins?

What is the allure of commercial patterns other than convenience (which isn't always all that convenient) and the opportunity to share your sewing adventures on Pattern Review?   

Shall 2014 be the year of draft-and-drape?

Have a great day, everybody!

55 comments:

  1. Oh no, your knees and your back from cutting on the floor! I am also a bit old for that (I spent a while sitting on the floor taping together a downloaded pattern today... and my back is feeling it), so I've finally gotten a raised height cutting table. Have you looked into a folding one so that you can store it when you're not cutting things out?

    On the pattern making front... I should do more of that. I own tons of pattern drafting books, and I've done a bit of it, but I always get sucked in by commercial patterns anyway.

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  2. Ugh, I hope you weren't referring to the muslins of my simple vintage top that I want to throw out. ;)

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  3. I used to cut sitting on the floor. I way too creaky now. I have one of those white laminate rolling cutting tables with the two fold-down leafs. I love mine.

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  4. Drape your blocks. It's a lot easier. Especially if you work on the floor. Have you ever considered one of those cardboard cutting tables. I myself use a 72" x36" cardboard mat I balance ontop of a smaller table

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  5. I gave up cutting on the floor years ago! I have a fold down table that is fabulous!

    I have a number of basic patterns that are already fitted. I use them as base patterns and draft new patterns from them. Something along the lines of a sloper but with ease. So if something doesn't fit I've either drafted the details wrong or it's a bad fabric choice. Luckily it doesn't happen very often.

    I'd rather spend time making a garment that I know is going to fit than trying to fit a new pattern any day!

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  6. Drafting/draping intricate details to match your mind's eye is a lot harder than it seems and you'd still need to make "muslins" to test. Even great designers don't get it right the first try. ;-) Granted, women's styles have so many more of those details, all varied depending on trends, seasons, etc. But you're a basics kind of guy (as are most) so I get why this makes sense for you. I also love my TNTs (making one right now) but I still am very easily tempted by new patterns. Even some I know I'll never make ... just to look at them and read the instructions.

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  7. I think that patterns have an allure because we would all like to look as well as some of those pattern pictures, even though we might be tipping the scales at quite a few pounds more than those waspish pattern models. I haven't made anything for myself in a long time that looks as good on me as it does on those models. (Disregarding those "Name that Pattern" lovelies.)

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  8. Couturiers knee! I have that too, also kneeling to pin hems and things on the dummy make it worse!

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  9. Those 'Twenties pajamas are the cat's pajamas. Get off the fence and get down on your couturier's knee and start cutting. Cathy isn't the only one out there who'd be disappointed if you didn't bring these back from a long forgotten past. Besides, you only have one cousin... I think.

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  10. I so agree with you. I am old enough not to care about how I appear to others. I just want to wear the lovely fabrics I have piled up over the years. So I have been sewing what I would call my uniform, a getup that suits me and the climate. The patterns are self-drafted and taken from a ready to wear top I liked. I have yet to perfect a shirt pattern, but I am getting close.

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  11. I'm addicted to patterns! I've bought zillions I'll never use, but I'm getting to the point where I buy a standard type garment pattern, make it fit perfectly, and then mess with it from there. New necklines and different sleeves and additional pockets. Besides, boobs are tricky, my friend! I don't want to have to draft for the girls from scratch!

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  12. I think you should get hold of a tailor's method of drafting patterns, using a tailor's square that has the 1/2's and 1/3's on it. I learned that in fashion school and every pair of men's pants I drafted from measurements, using those instructions, came out perfect the first time, no matter what kind of foibles of body conformation were involved. Good luck.

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  13. I never ever do a muslin on a commercial pattern. Never. I only learned about people making them earlier this year.
    I do how ever muslin self drafted patterns for women (ocasionaly even menswear)

    I guess it's becuase I know what shapes look the best on me and how to make a commercial pattern fit before I even cut it out or copy it from one of my many Burdas.

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  14. I started drafting my own patterns (I do womenswear) very early, because buying commercial patterns where I live is very expensive and time consuming so making my own patterns proved to be the best choice. It is not hard, the trick is to find instruction with good blocks (e.x. basic pants) it can be hard sometimes depending on what you make but it is more rewarding when you finished. Also please don't cut on the floor it is not good for you the best option is to take over a table(I use our kitchen table and it has help me a lot.)

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  15. I have no time for commercial patterns except, ironically, for menswear, as it is far more likely to work! That means I mainly free hand cut (40 years experience makes this pretty simple). The downside of this is that one's blog has less in it for others to relate to. I know this because the difference between my uualy traffic and the traffic I got from posting a make on patternreview the rare time I used one is AMAZING.
    J'adore 70's mens shirt patterns though! Currently Simplicity 5325 has my heart. The envelope art is sooo swoonworthy :)

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  16. I draft a lot of my own patterns, or have a couple of tnt patterns that I then modify. Skirt patterns especially- why fork out money for something so easy to do yourself? The purchased patterns I do use are mostly vintage, though there is the occasional modern one that catches my eye. My modern pattern buying is down to maybe two or three a year, whereas I can easily buy several vintage ones in a month (funds permitting). Because I like vintage styles, drafting my own means I don't have to spend £30 on that rare 1940s pattern I fall in love with that's no-where near my size anyway- I can just copy it to fit me!

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  17. I went through a period of drafting my own patterns. It was a great way to learn about how patterns work. (I think the most valuable lesson I learned is that some patternmaking textbooks make it seem way more complicated than necessary. And while I'm ranting, I'll add that I feel the same way about certain fitting books.)

    In the end, I decided that commercial patterns were more convenient (especially since I'd demystified the fitting process through my patternmaking adventures).

    I don't sew much these days, but the thing that most appeals to me lately is the idea of making patterns from finished clothes.

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  18. The more I think about sewing and fitting, the more I think it is a cultural thing . . . or maybe just something in our minds. Let me explain. When you go shopping, if something doesn't fit, you either put it back on the rack or buy it and deal with it. But when you make something, I think the mind set is that it has to look like a second skin otherwise we fear it will appear homemade. Sewing skills aside, I think that when we make something at home, while we as sewists are proud to announce it, the last thing we want is a wonky looking product and fitting issues herald that like no other. The finest sewn garment can look seriously homemade if the fit is off.

    Am I on to something or is this a "thank you, madam obvious" moment?

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  19. There's a particular indie pants pattern that I have seen sewing bloggers do multiple muslins for, and I've thought, "Geez, it's way less effort to draft your own pants!" But for you, it might be best to take your best-fitting commercial patterns and use them ti create pattern blocks....tracing them onto oaktag (the thick brown paper), so you don't have to reinvent the wheel completely everytime you want to make a new pair.

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  20. Give those knees a rest. If you can't fit a table, then get gardener's knee pads for floor work!

    I can't give up the pattern habit. There's just too much fun frippery in women's patterns. The style parameters in men's patterns is narrower, so much so that I understand your growing disenchantment.

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    Replies
    1. I heartily second this solution. I was going to mention if urbanite hadn't beat me to it.

      I use the gardener's knee pads for pattern lay out and in quilting and they have really saved the day.

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  21. Peter, try googling knee bursitis and trigger points. A tennis ball could work wonders for you!

    At the moment I'm getting myself fighting fit to get back sewing again....it's been too long since I've been able to. I've been sewing vicariously through you, thank you.

    I've been plagued with back problems for years and was recently told that the chiropractor could do no more for me. So I researched trigger points (turns out I have 78 of them!) and have been massaging myself back to non-ache since. The mother trigger point was in my right calf, and was a major contributor to my lower back pain.

    And of course, cutting out patterns on the floor is probably something you should reconsider :)

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    1. We were really into the Thera Cane for a while -- maybe I should revisit that. (We have the trigger point book too.)

      Delete
  22. Oh, Peter. I feel like this post is aimed squarely at me. I spent last weekend fighting with a muslin and by the end was thinking "why the BLEEPING BLEEEP aren't I just drafting this myself!?!?!?" Maybe its time.

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  23. Oh yes, I've considered drafting my own patterns from scratch due to all the modifications I need (that's probably a good part of why I get so little sewn). But I know that it's not as easy as others make it seem. And trying to get the armscye and sleeve cap right seems to be an entire specialty itself.

    Regarding the knees - get a table (or heavy duty knee pads) sooner than later. It's not just the knees, when they hurt, you start walking differently, then your back/hips/ankles start to complain too. Are you wondering where to put a cutting table when it's open, or where to store it? Or both? I know NY apartments aren't exactly known for being spacious. Are you allowed to mount things on the walls?

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    1. Have you ever considered trying the sure-fit system of pattern drafting? There is excellent support from the company, it's easy and I've found that at least with pants, the fit is excellent.

      Delete
  24. This gate leg table could work for you. http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/20104718/

    It's a bit short, but you could put it up on blocks. I almost got this one, then my awesome friends make me a custom one that was a bit taller.

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  25. For me, time is a factor. I already know how to adjust commercial patterns to fit me. I can draft a basic skirt, but the thought of learning to draft a shaped blouse or trousers to fit my curves makes my head hurt. I'd have a lot of studying and trial and error to go through before that became an efficient process for me.

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  26. One of the best-fitting garments I own is the pair of boxer shorts I self-drafted for the MPB sew-along.

    But I have a lot of fitting issues, which is one reason I don’t sew more than I do (the other, bigger factor is time!). I can deal with adjusting hips or waist, but armholes, shoulders, bust and back width? Drafting/adjusting these is not so easy for me.

    While I don’t have the skill, time or patience to draft, I like the idea of taking a well-fitting garment (do I have any of those?) and creating a sloper. That way I could overlay a commercial pattern and adjust to fit my particular issues.

    Commercial patterns are the stuff that dreams are made of – at least for women’s wear and especially for vintage patterns. We visualize ourselves looking like the models on the pattern envelope and having the (apparently) wonderful lives they have.

    For me, it’s a lot like I used to be with exercise videos. With each new tape that came out, I thought that THIS is the one that is going to make me fit and gorgeous.

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  27. I've thought about this a lot lately myself -- I've been reading about drafting and playing around with using my basic patterns and changing them (as others have mentioned). I have that McCalls skirt pattern that fits perfectly so why not mix it up a bit.

    Oh, Peter, get one of those fold down cutting tables! They don't take up much room and you'll find it useful for so many things. I'm always pulling up a leaf to work on -- this morning I organized the back to school stuff on it. I cut things on it, pin on it, trace and draw out patterns on it -- so much more. Of all the things I inherited from my mother's sewing room this has been the most useful (even more than her sewing machine!)

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    1. I don't have the wall space to fold a table like that down FROM! ;)

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    2. Peter, you are storing over 12 machines....maybe it is time to re-prioritize?

      I was taught to cut out on the floor, but gave it up immediately because my floor always had pet hair on it and then I would have dirty fabric after cutting. If you buy the cardboard thing, you can put it on your bed and because the cardboard is lightweight you can turn it as you cut. HTH!

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  28. That Kwik Sew 3504 pattern isn't the best IMO - I had a few issues with it but it might be okay if you are size Medium or Large instead of Small like I am. The most important change I'd recommend is to make the front pockets deeper than the pattern indicates. Maybe I did something wrong, but the front pockets are smaller than I'm used to (I'm actually wearing those jeans today).

    Personally I have started studying how to make my own patterns even though I am still a beginner at sewing techniques. It just seems so inefficient to have to resize every commercial pattern to fit me - I might as well just make my own. This will also force me to learn more about sewing rather than just blindly following the instructions from patterns. This is good because I want to improve.

    If fit isn't that important to you then just using commercial patterns might be easier. But if you are a perfectionist or want to someday do this more than just as a hobby, it seems to me that learning how to make patterns is a good idea.

    I am using the book "How to Make Sewing Patterns" by Donald McCunn and it is really easy to follow and understand so far (I'm still reading it).

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    1. I have that one too but if truth be told I haven't looked at it in years.

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  29. I'm definitely in favor of doing the patternmaking yourself.

    I learned to sew as an adjunct to taking a pattern design night class at the local art school, so all the stuff I sewed in the first year was from patterns I made anyway. After that it just seemed wrong to use commercial patterns. Once I helped a friend sew a dress from a commercial pattern and the experience left me cold; tissue paper with zillions of lines on it, cryptic instructions, etc. I did like using Jennie Chancie's (sensibility.com) pattern for a girl's Regency dress.

    I feel like I really enjoy the drafting part. Could be because I am an engineer. Making calculations and laying out lines with dots on a big piece of paper is fun for me!

    Sometimes I suspect that I would get more done and it would be less work overall if I used commercial patterns, but I think I would feel like a wuss, or said another way it would bring me less satisfaction even it it turned out well. Plus shopping for patterns that you like seems like a pain. I want to be more in control of the process.

    I will say I still spend a lot of time making and adjusting muslins, even though I draft my own patterns. Possibly it is because I still lack experience, and I really suck at fitting.

    I wouldn't approach the idea of patternmaking with the idea that its going to be super easy. Instead think of it as a way for you to dive deeper and experience the craft more fully, as a way to build your skills and ability, and as a way for you to gain more control and flexibility.

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  30. I buy pattern magazines, like Patron and Burda, and then don't make them because I am intimidated by all those lines. None of our local fabric stores carry patterns at the moment. One used to but stopped, they were all out of date and very cheap like 99c $2.99 USD.

    Another chain had a fling with a system where you put in your measurements and it drafted a custom pattern for you! I think it was too expensive an option for the average home sewer here.

    Most of the professional tailors and seamstresses tend to take a pattern off something already made or alter purchased cardboard slopers (these are majorly cheap and come in a range of sizes)

    These days I either draft, copy an extant garment or download a e-pattern. I don't drape much, but should do more of it.

    regards,
    Theresa

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  31. Peter, can you stack a door onto some chair-backs (or better, sawhorses, but no space for those, I imagine) for cutting? I mean, ouch!

    Regarding drafting one's own, I can imagine that muslins would still be needed, especially for complex styles and/or most women's wear.

    By the way, my blog posts on Welt Pockets and on fly-front zippers share some of your same doubts and fears you had, back in the day: visit me at www.tina-rathbone.blogspot.com.

    Finally, what did you end up naming your latest female dressform (partner of Roy)?

    Hugs, Tina from Artelicious

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  32. "But most menswear is oh, so basic: shirts and pants, pants and shirts. A coat is usually cut extremely similar to a long shirt."

    In Menswear, fit is EVERYTHING and arriving at a perfect fit for an individual is not easy. On Savile Row, there are people who only cut jackets, others only do trousers, smaller details like buttonholes are left to other people to finish.

    "[I]nvest a few days to draft a basic sloper from your measurements, and make it yourself."

    Great idea, but it probably will take more than a few days, and you will need a professional or a very skilled amateur to fit you. You cannot fit yourself.

    If it takes Savile Row tailors, who typically have nine years of training when they start apprenticing, two or three fittings on a client, how long do you think it will take you, assuming you want a great result? Do it, but be realistic.

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    1. The need for fitting is there whether the pattern came out of an envelope or you drafted it. You would think a pattern drafted from your measurements would cut down on the amount of fitting needed. That has not always been my experience.

      As you point out, its hard to fit yourself. If you don't have anyone else though, it beats NOT fitting yourself. I for one am 100% sure a tailor can do a much better job of fitting me than I can. But I don't actually know of any (real) tailors in the area, and anyway this is just as much about me making stuff as it is about having well-fitted clothes. I'd love to spend some time training with a tailor, but at this point in my life that is just not going to happen.

      I agree that no one should think drafting is going to solve all fitting problems in a snap, and that fitting is difficult. But I don't agree that it should be left to professionals. We've got to do the best we can with the resources we have available, right?

      Delete
  33. You might try going over to www.cutterandtailor.com and looking for the basic drafts(pattern making instructions) posted. You will have to start with a shirt or trousers. You can't post about jackets until they're persuaded you know how to draft and sew. You will see that many members post their photos and are given help.

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  34. Peter, have you seen those little neoprene knee-pads designed for gardeners who kneel a lot? Check them out. They might work for you. Or you could invest in a decent sewing/cutting surface at long last - because you're worth it. You won't know yourself. ;-)

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  35. Holly Gates:

    Obviously one has to deal with the available resources, but I've asked professional tailors if they fit themselves (hoping one would say he did) but they always say they have to be fitted by someone else. I'm a rank amateur, but from my experience with custom drafted block patterns, I need help, for all kinds of reasons, including the fact that it is much better not to face oneself in a mirror until the draft is very far along. The tendency to adjust one's posture to look more attractive is hard to resist.

    There's too much work involved in drafting slopers and blocks, or in general, making clothes, not to try to achieve the best possible fit. Especially if you're not a kid. If you're 15 and sewed something anything you finished and is vaguely wearable is wonderful.


    I think Peter is extremely talented, and obviously passionate and hard-working, but having seen a lot of talented full-time menswear students work on projects, I know that menswear is very time-consuming. I also read the blog of the Savile Row firm Anderson and Sheppard, which discusses the progress of its apprentices. It's called "The Notebook."

    http://www.anderson-sheppard.co.uk/thenotebook/

    It doesn't help home sewers or the image of professionals in the field to suggest it's easier than it is.

    The Cutter and Tailor forum, www.cutterandtailor.com, is very helpful. I will never be able to get full use out of it because no way am I ever going to post photos of myself. :-)

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    1. Look, knowledge is a great thing, but we should never let our knowledge of how difficult things are (according to experts) discourage us from trying to do things for ourselves.

      Otherwise we verge into "learned helplessness" territory.

      Delete
    2. Never give up, never surrender.

      Delete
    3. Thanks for the great information Anon. You are right there is much to learn in order to tailor at the
      Saville Row level. My husband had his suits tailor made in London at one time (not on Savile Row,however). Now it is business casual in his workplace. He mostly wears pleated trousers due to his shape - big legs. Our fashion advisors...err daughters, have suggested he needs an update, but flat fronts never fit him right. Maybe it is time for me to dust off my skills and make him a pair of flat fronts. I have several lengths of lightweight worsted wool, which I picked up for a song on Fabric.com. I like the idea of being able to steam and shrink and properly tailor with wool.

      Usually for trousers I like to start with making a pattern from a pair which fits well; this gets the basic shape right and I can diddle the details from there. My daughters have each left me a favorite pair of worn out, well-fitting pants which I can take apart for future projects. Other than when making pants, I am a complete pattern addict! Do you have David Coffin's Pants book? It's excellent.

      Delete
  36. I grew unhappy with commercial sewing patterns about five years ago, learned pattern making and never looked back.
    As a woman, I don't worry about the endless amount of different style available for women. By now, I can draft pretty much everything I want from my trusty slopers. Yes, creating a complicated pattern takes time, but I find it more rewarding to spend that time in that way than it would be to spend it on endless alterations to make a commercial pattern fit properly. And I enjoy the creative freedom of being able to make whatever I want.
    I also sew for the man in my life. I've drafted slopers for him: shirt, trousers, casual jacket, waistcoat and blazer (the latter two haven't been used more than once and could do with some more tweaking). He is not very easy to fit for commercial patterns, and has grown addicted to the fit of the clothes I make him.
    As a blogger, I sometimes think it would be nice to sew from patterns. I occasionally get comments along that line. But I get comments to the contrary as well and no matter what, I will continue to sew what I like.

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  37. I think the answer to this question probably comes from what you enjoy doing! You're very curious and seem to love the learning process, so I bet you would get some enjoyment out of learning to draft and drape. For me, right now, I would rather put more energy towards actually working with fabric than drafting. But I also don't go crazy with fitting commercial patterns, either-- I may occasionally set aside a pattern if the muslin really doesn't go well...

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  38. I am so over commercial patterns, especially, as you say, for men's clothes. It's so much more satisfying to put time into sewing something if you have a reasonable belief that it will fit.

    The only thing I still turn to commercial patterns for is really weird constructions (like some satisfyingly challenging issay miyake vogue), or if I'm making one-off styles that need minimal fitting (like a sweatshirt for instance--I made one a couple years ago which was, thank the goddess, long enough in both sleeves and torso, but I didn't bother with drafting it, just added the length and sewed it up).

    I am 100% sure my results aren't as good as Anderson and Sheppard, but they're a damn sight better than what I can get off the rack!

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  39. I have used a lot of indie patterns that I LOVE, and also discovered that sometimes a certain company just won't work for me (at least without a lot of changes). I have to admit that part of the appeal for me is the pretty packaging, some of them do such a beautiful job presenting their patterns. Also I like the sense of community online with everyone making different versions of a pattern and seeing how each person interprets it differently. That being said, I have recently purchased a couple of pattern making books, and am currently drafting a simple knit dress myself...and I find it very satisfying. So I hope to do more drafting, but I doubt I will give up my pretty patterns :)

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