tools of the trade

Drafting and altering patterns is a big part of most of my projects. I truly enjoy this part of the process–it’s like working with a giant puzzle. It can be a big challenge and quite time consuming, but there is a feeling of satisfaction having figured out how to manipulate a piece of paper to become the vision you have in your mind. Also, getting things to fit properly is kind of a big deal. More on that later.

I have a set of slopers (or “blocks”, as they’re sometimes called in the industry) that I use to draft patterns from scratch, but I also use store bought patterns and adjust them to suit my needs. Either way, knowing how to do this will allow you to create pretty much anything you want. And that’s why we design and sew, right? Right.

In future posts, I’ll go into greater detail about how exactly to manipulate patterns, and I’ll include quick reference charts for things like circle skirt measurements, but today is all about the tools you need to adjust or draft patterns for your projects.


#1. Rulers and scissors. I know there’s quite a few in the picture above–and I do use all of them–but the most important rulers can be found at your local craft store. You will need: a yard stick, a basic ruler with 1/8″ lines, a hip curve, French curve, and a flexible ruler. My blue ruler is a 2″ x 18″ design ruler that you can find at Hobby Lobby for $8. I’ve had it for ages, and it’s the best thing ever. It’s lightweight and easy to use, but tough enough to hold its own against a rotary cutter. The hip curve ruler and flexible curve can be found at Joann, and the French curve and yard stick can be found there as well. Don’t forget Scotch tape.

The following is very important and should go without saying: Do not use the same scissors to cut fabric and paper. I have three pairs of fabric-cutting scissors (plus leather and embroidery scissors, and a couple others), and they never go near paper. I use industry paper shears, which are big and heavy, but I can’t use anything else now. You’ll get used to them.


#2. Pencils, pens, tracing wheel, erasers, notcher, hole punch. My first pattern design professor recommended 0.5mm lead mechanical pencils, and for good reason. The lead is more fine than most other pencils, but that makes for a cleaner line. Every once in a while, I’ll grab a standard pencil or one with 0.7mm lead, and it’s not cool, you guys. Trust me on this one. I use bright Sharpies to label my patterns, an industry tracing wheel (much better than the one sold at Joann), pattern notcher, and hole punch–which can be found in the paper crafting section at Hobby Lobby. I use the compass to mark the bust circle, but it’s not an everyday necessity.


#3. Paper. Dotted or grid paper can be found online, but to save time and money on shipping, I buy rolls of white craft paper from my local Teacher Heaven store.


#4. Slopers. If you’re interested in drafting your own patterns, you can do this two ways. Buy a set of slopers or a basic shirt, skirt, and/or trouser pattern. Eliminate the seam allowance and you have a basic block from which to design as you please. (Of course, test the fit of these things beforehand.) I bought a set of slopers from String Codes Designs many years ago, and they have served me well. There are also resources aplenty online about drafting your own slopers.


Finally, storage and organization. My dad built a huge table for me a few years ago, and he used an old work table as the base so I have a shelf underneath. This is where I store my rulers, supplies, and pattern books, and I keep the items I use most often in a tray that I can easily slide out and put on my workspace when I’m knee deep in patterns.


It’s important to have the right tools for the job, patternmaking included. Hope this helps you figure out what you need, and let me know if you have any questions. Happy Wednesday!



  1. pirateshaw | 26th Aug 16

    Awesome! Very informative. Great job on the “Hutch”.

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