Making a sewing pattern from scratch

the cover of a sewing manual

Caroline’s university instruction manual served as our guide.

I HAVE been sewing since the age of 11, my first creation having been a short white tennis dress with 4 seams (two side seams and two shoulder seams) and a roll-up hemline and decorated with some green piping down the middle. I felt very sporty-chic and had seriously caught the sewing bug.

From there I moved on to patterns of ever-increasing difficulty: blouses, dresses, skirts, housecoats, overcoats, and also soft home furnishings.

Once in a while I attempted a pair of slacks, but with some hesitation because it involved melding two pattern sizes — a smaller one for my waist and the next size up for the hips. It wasn’t guaranteed that the final product would look tailored and sit well on my precocious curves.

Buying slacks was the option, but in my teenage years I wasn’t as keen on elasticised waists as I had been in my Tweenies. So it usually involved the time-consuming task of taking in the back or both side seams by opening up the waistband and then having to reassemble it all. I just didn’t have the patience.

By adding my own measurements, say for A-C, the length from waist to knee, I could build my own bespoke pattern.

So when my husband gifted me five one-hour sewing lessons with professional seamstress Caroline Miles in nearby Mies, my goal was to learn something new and useful: to create my own pattern for slim, cropped trousers suitable for either casual or evening wear.

Side zip, no pockets, semi-high wasted so I could wear a short top without having to worry about my midriff popping through — I’m no longer 30 and in any case, exposing my belly button was never my thing.

Working with the essential straight ruler on good quality tracing paper laid out on a large, height-adjustable sewing table.

We started by taking every conceivable body measurement: not just the main ones — bust, waist (tip: always add the thickness of two fingers to the waist measurement), hips, back, neck, but everything in between as well, standing up and sitting down

I now have a complete set of measurements that I can use to build or adjust any pattern – shirt, dress, skirt, shorts, slacks. Good motivation for not gaining weight and adding unwanted inches.

Being a whiz at math isn’t required but definitely comes in handy. Have a calculator at hand, too.

We spent a good 2.5 hours adding every one of my measurements to a large sheet of tracing paper in accordance with the guide’s placement instructions.

At times it felt like we were designing the layout of a new house — it cannot be that far removed from what an architect does. Seriously.

Sometimes drawing by hand is the best way to go. Judging by Caroline’s expertise, practice makes perfect.
With darts taken in on the paper, Caroline confirms the waste measurement.

By the end of our first lesson, we had constructed from my measurements a very exact drawing of a pair of slacks. Caroline instructed me to place a fresh piece of paper over the original and trace out the main outline minus all the numbers.

My homework was to take the paper home, add 5/8″ seams all around (except at the waist), cut out the pattern pieces (two pieces, one for two fronts and one for two backs) and from this make a muslin. I found muslin fabric at Alja (2, rue de Grenus) near Manor in downtown Geneva.

A curved ruler also comes in very handy.
The finished muslin minus the waistband and with a side opening for a future zip.

As Caroline predicted, the slacks were not an exact fit (they were slightly large and low) and the darts and leg lengths were a little bit off, but it was exciting to see how from my basic measurements, something very close to my figure was taking shape.

I’m now looking forward to lesson two when we’ll adjust my original pattern and from there retrace the finished pattern, which I intend to use to make a pair of dark wool dress pants.

Hopefully, I’ll never have to take in another back seam (or wear an elasticised waist either).

Caroline Miles Atelier de Couture
Route de Saint-Cergue 7
1295 Mies
Tel: 079.588.92.46

The Caroline Miles Couture Workshop in Mies offers sewing lessons for all levels in English or French. A private lesson is CHF80/hour for 1-2 persons in the studio or in your home.

Group lessons (minimum 4 and maximum 8 participants) are on Tues. and Thurs. from 18h30 to 20h00 in the studio. Six adult lessons of 1h30 each cost CHF230. Children under 13 accompanied by an adult: six lessons of 1h30 each cost CHF120.

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