Fabric & Garment Design Techniques

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever tried to customize an item of clothing? How do you make something like a shirt or jacket? In this lesson, explore fabric and garment design techniques and learn important steps in the process.

What Is Garment Design?

A trip to a fabric store can reveal beautiful colors and textures. It might inspire you to try new things, like making clothes. This creative process takes a variety of materials and involves many steps. We can't cover them all in detail, but let's review some important ones.

Garment design is the process of creating ideas for clothing and then translating those ideas into making clothes items. If you're trying it for the first time, you might want to begin with a pattern, a set of written instructions and paper templates. The pattern shows you which pieces you'll need, how to cut them, and how to assemble them to make clothing.

Making clothes involves using a paper pattern

Patterns come in many sizes and designs. While patterns are customizable, be sure to read through any chosen pattern carefully. It will tell you how much fabric you'll need and what kinds of fabric might work best.

Working with Patterns

First, on a large, flat and uncluttered workspace, take the pattern pieces from the envelope and unfold them, sorting out the ones you'll use. Review the pattern instructions to make sure you understand them.

Perhaps you want to change the pattern. This process is called pattern alteration. When you alter a pattern, you revise the drawing you'll use to cut the fabric. To alter patterns, you can redraw seam lines or darts. Darts are folds or tucks built into a garment to give it shape.

Alterations are often done as changes to the paper pattern before cutting fabric
Pattern with details

Other alterations include making certain dimensions larger or smaller, for example shortening a skirt. If you add alternations, make sure to mark the changes on all relevant seams, and mark equal amounts of change for things like sleeves and cuffs. Make sure changes to multiple curved seams maintain identical curving lines. You don't want one half a neckline curving more deeply than the other.

Fabric Preparation

Now prepare your fabric by washing and prepping it. Flat, wrinkle-free fabric will allow more accuracy when you cut the pattern.

The instructions will show various ways to lay out pattern pieces on the fabric. The instructions might include multiple diagrams, because they're used for different sizes and related garment styles. To avoid confusion, circle the diagram or guide for your project.

For instance, the diagram might tell you to place the pattern so it follows the fabric grain. Fabric grain refers to the way the threads run in the fabric, often interlaced in vertical and horizontal lines due to the weaving process. These threads are called warp and weft threads. The warp runs vertically and the weft is perpendicular to it.

Another term to know is selvage. Selvage is the self-finished edges of a fabric, and it runs parallel to the warp threads. It's tightly woven to keep fabric from unraveling and difficult to sew through. Often, the selvage includes printed information, so it's easy to identify. When laying out your pattern, stay away from the selvage.

Selvage is the tightly woven edge of fabric, often with written information on it

The pattern might tell you to cut fabric on the bias. The bias is a 45-degree angle across the surface. You can determine it by folding a corner of fabric across to the opposite edge. The resulting fold lies along the bias. Cuts along the bias are stretchier because they don't follow warp or weft threads.

This might sound like lots of technical jargon, but understanding selvage, fabric grain and bias is important. It will help you to cut fabric pieces the right way. They'll be easier to assemble and will maintain the desired shape in your finished garment.

Fabric Layout and Marking

The next step is placing the pattern pieces on the fabric. Review the pattern to properly fold the fabric. Folds might need to be made lengthwise, crosswise, or it might specify a combination of both. It will also tell you if you need to cut the pattern on a single or double thickness. Fold the fabric as your layout shows, placing the larger pattern pieces first.

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