The Art of Pattern Design

Lisa Stewart

Recently I held a “trunk show” for Kaya Papaya Design at an American Sewing Guild fashion neighborhood group. I was surprised at the high interest in the pattern design process and marketing aspect. Certainly not every sewist desires to be a designer, but many are curious about what it entails.

If you scan Facebook bag making groups or google “handbag sewing patterns,” it is easily evident that Bag Making has a huge following. The endless creativity among the community is astounding. When you learn how to fashion your own bags, you get to show off your unique style. The welcoming groups are both a haven for the newbie and experienced makers alike, providing a place to learn, share and be encouraged. Many designers have private groups just for those using their patterns.

Relatively new to the pattern making business, Patricia Maxey isn’t a beginner sewist, and no stranger to using handbag patterns, or designing her own. Working with testers, modifying the pattern based on feedback, taking high quality photos, and producing a product applicable to all learning styles can be a daunting task to take on. While enjoying the positive comments and constructive criticism, receiving a negative review or snarky comment can be a hard hurdle to get over. Just as when you post a bag created by you, the designer takes the same chance in putting out a new design.

Depending on the complexity of your project, your familiarity with the process, and the software you are using for document production, this process will take 50+ hours for the designer, generally spread over several weeks. The following is a brief breakdown of the pattern design process:

  1. Idea generation: thinking, idea board, doing a survey, checking out trends, finding a need for a particular product.
  2. Sketching the project, working out how the design will work with possible materials.
  3. Converting the idea and sketches into a workable pattern.
  4. Making a prototype of the item, noting steps, checking measurements, making some photos along the way. This is a stop and start process – probably the longest part.
  5. At this point, a second product may need to be made if there have been design changes that affect the overall construction.
  6. Putting the pattern pieces and instructions into a document. Proofreading and correcting, inserting excellent photos of the process. You will need very thorough material and cut lists.
  7. Getting the working copy of the pattern out to your testers. While this is not the final product, you still want to deliver a quality product to them – they are testing the pattern as if it IS the final product.
  8. Using the testers’ feedback to fine tune the pattern. All feedback should be considered as this is valuable information for ALL levels of sewists and learning styles.
  9. Prepare the final product in PDF format to be used as a digital download for sale.
  10. Taking “beauty” shots for the pattern and all advertising venues.

These are the steps necessary ONLY for developing the pattern. This does not include any social media contact for testers, marketing your product, building excitement prior to launch, and launching the pattern for sale. Additionally, you will need some type of platform to sell your product. Resources abound online and in written form to address these issues.

For aspiring pattern makers there is tons of information on the internet about the process, and I highly recommend Abby Glassenberg’s ebook The Insider’s Guide to Starting an Online Sewing Pattern Business. Also, it is important to become familiar with bag patterns so that you are comfortable with both the terminology and the construction process.

Bag pattern design is an exciting and growing community. Your creativity only knows the limits of your imagination. As in any creative endeavor, you will not become an overnight sensation, and the designer opens his/herself to criticism; the disappointment of slow sales; being copied; and not being acknowledged as the designer. Learning to accept all aspects of the business can be very gratifying and lucrative. The payoff in gaining confidence, income, and a product you created can far outweigh the negatives, but those aspects are not to be taken lightly in entering this crafting field.

For anyone who aspires to pattern making, there is much to learn and an abundance of resources out there to help you in the process. Bag pattern designers are generous in sharing their knowledge of design, resources, and construction methods. Value their creativity, provide helpful feedback, join in the community, and rejoice in your ability to express your unique style!

What do you consider important in a well-designed pattern?

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