Monday, 30 May 2011

May Book Analysis - "How to Use, Adapt and Design Sewing Patterns" by Lee Hollahan

This month I dwelled deep into one of the first books I bought. "How to Use, Adapt and Design Sewing Patterns" by Lee Hollahan promises to show us "how to get the most from sewing patterns - from choosing the right size to understanding all the different markings and translating flat shapes into wearable garments. You will learn how to change the shaping, length and detailing to suit your own body shape, taste and style."
I think it delivers this, but only at a beginners level. A more experienced seamstress or pattern maker will probably find this book quite basic. That's why I bought it! I was quite a beginner and not yet had a full understanding on many simple basic things. Understanding what notches are and why they are important alongside other markings on commercial patterns helped me a lot on my initial journey.

Chapter 1 is all about tools and equipments (as you so often find in beginners books). All your necessary tools are listed alongside others not fundamental but quite handy, such as pattern master or french curves. Whilst I read on many blogs that you can just use a plate or any round objects to tweak curves in patterns, if you're serious about pattern making these come in very handy.
Chapter 2 is all about commercial patterns. This section was so helpful in deciphering those pattern envelopes, which did puzzle me when I first saw them. Illustrations of commercial patterns, both enveloped and tissue pattern itself, with description of what each marking or text there means, makes it very, very easy to understand.
One of my favourite sections in this chapter is about body shape. I always knew pencil skirts are not the most flattering for me, but I love them and always try using them and styling them. Reading that it is because I have a narrow rectangle body shape helps me accept it and move on.
I am indeed a narrow rectangle but I am not tall. I am quite petite in fact.
This chapter guides you in taking accurate measurements and also help understand what wearing ease and design ease is all about. Tips on cutting and marking fabric are also included. All with brilliant illustrations that take the guess work out of it. I can't stress enough how important I think illustrations are for beginners.

Chapter 3 introduces us to pattern alterations. No major creative pattern alterations though, just the basic ones such as shortening and lengthening pieces, moving bust point, moving darts, increasing or decreasing a waist band. A big disappointment is the lack of trousers alterations, apart from length.
Chapter 4 progress to designing own patterns. It explains what pattern blocks are and how you can use them. This book also offers pattern blocks at the end that can be transferred to grid paper and used as a baseline for your creations. No trousers though. It guides us to making our own toile or muslin and altering it to create a perfect fit. In this chapter there are some more advanced pattern alterations such as those relating to armholes and (yay!) trousers, including crotch and leg length.
The idea is that after you have perfected your toile/ muslin you transfer all alterations to your blocks and from these you can start the creative work. A dressform is presented as fundamental for this work, as a lot of the pattern design lines are tried and tested on a dressform.
The book progresses with some pattern manipulation ideas for sleeves, skirts, collars, etc., all wonderfully illustrated and explained. It's fascinating to read how a simple dart alteration can significantly change the whole design of a garment.
Chapter 5 contains the pattern blocks already mentioned and Chapter 6 presents core sewing techniques. I confess I never look at this last chapter as I have a couple of sewing technique books.
I did start work on my own pattern block last year but have not yet progressed any further. I will resume this soon as I do want to dwell further onto pattern making.
My head is full of wonderful designs which I fail to draw successfully so mastering pattern making might be the key to bring this designs into life. Watch this space! ;)

Do you have this book or other pattern marking books? How much do you alter or indeed create your own patterns?

P.S. I apologise for not having this post up yesterday. The fact it's a bank holiday weekend made me feel it was just Saturday yesterday.


  1. Yes, I have this book but I didnt really used . Seens like I should revisit. xx

  2. Thanks for reviewing. I'm relatively new to pattern alteration, so this may be great for me. Great review also. ^_^

  3. I'd love to add this book to my library. In my opinion, pattern drafting and pattern altering are the keys to successful sewing.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to review this book - very helpful. I've only got that Cal Patch book on pattern making, which is VERY user-friendly but doesn't include darts etc. My local library has an excellent book called Basic Pattern Skills for Fashion Design, which has really clear diagrams. Unfortunately you can't take it out of the library, and it costs £40 to buy... but I might invest in it at some point.

    Where are you doing your pattern course? I'm doing mine at London College of Fashion. I've taken a week off work to do it - it's going to be instense!

  5. I somehow missed this post... Thank you for the review - it seems to be an interesting book - I would be most interested in Chapter 4!



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