[*Little Black Jacket sometimes referred to as the LFJ or Little French Jacket]
Now that I’ve created a toile – fitting muslin – for my little black jacket project, I know that it’s time to cut it apart. But I’ve grown quite fond of the ugly white cotton jacket that hangs on my mannequin. I know that the next step toward making that pattern I’ll need for cutting into my actual jacket fabric can only result from me taking scissors to my creation, so I’ll have to do it, and I’m happy to learn to create a patterns since it’s something I’ve never done before. Until I did some research, I hadn’t considered the history of modern sewing patterns that those of us who are interested in sewing take for granted. According to Joy Emery’s very interesting book A History of the Paper Pattern Industry: The Home Dressmaking Fashion Revolution, the first known work that contained small pattern diagrams drawn to scale was published in the sixteenth century! She says, “The book’s purpose was to instruct tailors on methods of cutting out pattern pieces so as to get the most garment from the least amount of fabric.” It’s funny, isn’t it, that we still try to do that today. Fabric was expensive in the sixteenth century and it is ever thus in the twenty-first century!
Anyway, for the next couple of centuries more and more manuals of this sort were published in Europe and eventually in North America. The first companies that produced actual patterns in the US for home sewers appeared in the mid-1800’s and were Demorest and Butterick. (Although to be clear, there were full-sized patterns in Europe long before this according to my research.) But what an invention! Full-sized patterns that home sewers could use and adapt! Ever since that time, we’ve been buying and using commercially-produced patterns, while the more daring among us have simply created their own. In my view, creating a made-to-measure pattern from a commercial one is a bit of an adventure in itself for those of us who have more or less stuck slavishly to the pattern for years. I’m a bit excited about entering into the pattern-making realm!
So I take the toile from the mannequin and begin to cut it apart. I have to cut accurately along the stitching lines that I did in bright blue thread so that they would be visible. I’m very happy that I did this following the advice of my online video instructor Lorna Knight [see the Craftsy class on the Iconic Tweed Jacket].
After each piece is cut out (one front, one back one back side etc. – you get the picture since I’ll be using a double layer of each piece although I’ll be cutting them out single layer – more about that when I get to actually cutting out the fabric – later), I remove any seam allowances, such as around the neckline and down the front, as well as the hems so that what is left is the piece as it will be sized finished. Now I’ll have to make up a paper pattern piece for each one that includes seam allowances and hems.
There is such a thing as proper pattern-making paper, and Lorna Knight uses one called cross-and-dot paper which has printed crosses and dots presumably to assist with straight layouts. Some people buy rolls of paper medical offices use for covering their examining tables, while others use rolls of craft paper. I’m using sheets of packing paper left over from our recent move. I had this in mind when I rolled them up and put them in the back of my closet.
I work with each piece individually and create each pattern piece one at a time. I start by laying the muslin piece on the paper and putting in a couple of pins to hold it down to the paper. Then I have to begin to add the seam allowances and the hems.
It seems that on couture garments, large seam allowances are de rigeur for purposes of fitting and because in the case of a Chanel-style jacket, the boucle fabric that I’ll be using frays easily and wide seam allowances ensure that you have enough fabric. So, I use a seam guide and mark full 1-inch seam allowances all around and a one-and-a-half-inch hem. My research tells me that deeper hems are also a hallmark of better garments (and the pattern calls for this anyway!).
I use a pen to make dots all around and then join them. I then get out the original tissue-paper pattern and use it to guide my markings. I’m going to need to mark the straight grain, notches, dots and any other marks that will assist with ensuring accuracy in sewing. Of course I need to write on each piece precisely what it is a piece for: front, back, side front upper sleeve etc. The instructor in the Craftsy course I’m following also recommends writing the date on each piece. After all, I might want to use this again and I’ll presumably be able to remember what size I was when I did this – I hope the same one I’ll be in the future!
All that’s now left of my pattern-making is to cut out each pattern piece. So, now I have a pattern. May I choose my real fashion fabric yet? Next time.
 Joy Emery. 2014. The history of the paper pattern industry: The home dressmaking fashion revolution. London, Blomsbury, p. 5.