Here are some questions for you:
- Do you make decisions about exactly how you want a pattern to fit before you make your first muslin?
- Do you analyze how a pattern will fit on you – before you sew it?
- Do you track your own body measurements?
- Do you track changes you make to a pattern?
- Do you feel like you get better at visualizing fit with each project you sew, or do you feel like you’re always starting over with each new garment?
One of the toughest parts of learning to sew and fit garments has to be learning how to visualize a finished garment and most specifically, how it will look on you. Being able to do this means more than just being able to choose the right patterns and fabrics for yourself. It also means being able to better predict what adjustments you might need or want before you sew a stitch.
I’ve heard so many sewists talk about what a challenge this is for them, believing they just don’t have “the knack” for visualization.
But I think there’s just as much science to this as art. What you need more than anything is a simple process that gets you thinking about your project in terms of measurements and fit from the very beginning.
Meet the tech pack
One of the most important tools in apparel manufacturing is a handy document commonly referred to as a tech pack.
So what is a tech pack and why should you care?
A tech pack is a living document: a set of charts, tables, diagrams, and other information that tells you everything you need to know about a pattern as it moves from concept all the way through manufacturing. It’s meant to be updated, to serve as both guideline and history.
A tech pack is meant to be used for pattern development. It helps everyone on the team to communicate about the intended look and fit, to see changes as they happen, and to pass this information along easily to a sample sewer or factory.
It also helps you to become very familiar with measurements and what they mean for fit. You begin to recognize exactly what 4 inches of ease in the bust looks like, and how it looks different from 3.5 inches. You know what a skirt length of 25 inches means on the body, and when you might want to lengthen or shorten to get the look you want.
You learn to do this by working closely with measurements, and doing it over and over. So why not apply the same principles to your own sewing? All it takes is a consistent practice of interpreting, adjusting, and documenting measurements.
You might call your own process something different, like a “project plan” or “project diary” or something else that makes more sense to you. But you can take the parts that are helpful and make your very own version of a tech pack.
Keep it simple
No two companies have tech packs that are the same. Some are very simple, basically just a spec sheet (essentially, a technical drawing and some measurements) and some grading info. While other tech packs go into tremendous detail (particularly if they’re working with overseas factories).
Over the years, ours evolved to be quite comprehensive. We’d added more and more information to our packs, with all sorts of illustrations and measurements and other details we thought would be helpful.
When we decided to rethink them, we started by looking over many many examples, from the very simple to the 20-page mega-corp versions. From each, we took note of things that would be particularly helpful, and crossed out what was irrelevant. Then we got input from others who’d worked with many types of tech packs.
What we’ve discovered is that in some ways, our tech packs were actually way too detailed. In other ways, there wasn’t quite enough information. But it was actually the overabundance of information that was causing problems.
In other words, you only need to include what’s useful and relevant. More information isn’t necessarily better.
Here’s what we found were the most important functions, which we kept and expanded on while eliminating others:
- Documenting the intended overall look and fit.
- Keeping track of fit changes.
- Documenting grading.
- Planning the construction process.
Those are the main areas of focus for our own documentation here at Colette. But what about your sewing projects at home?
What to include in your project plans
First of all, I don’t think you need to make a plan like this for every project you sew. That might be overkill.
But if there are projects that you plan to put a lot of fitting effort into – say, a pair of fitted pants or a tailored blazer or dress – it’s more than worth it to create a bit of documentation to help you get the most learning possible from the process. I also think it’s helpful if you’re making something you plan to make over and over again.
These are the things I find to be most useful to include in project plans for things that I sew at home. I’ve started to use this on my next really tailored project, a pair of wool pants. You could add or subtract from this based on your own needs.
What I’ve decided to include:
- My own body measurements. It’s important to know what your measurements are, including length measurements as well as circumferences. I keep track of these and update them every few months.
- The intended look you want. Write down how you want the garment to fit. It’s really helpful! This can also be a good time to try on and measure similar garments that fit you well.
- Your pattern’s key finished measurements. You can compare these side-by-side to your own measurements and instantly see how much ease you have in various areas. Over time, with each project, you’ll begin to learn what that amount of ease looks like. If your pattern doesn’t include tons of finished measurements, you can measure the pattern itself (be sure to subtract seam allowance). You can also check these measurements against a garment that fits you well, to see how the pattern differs from the look you want.
- Changes you plan to make after your first muslin. When you fit your muslin, take note of the areas of concern and where you plan to make adjustments to the pattern.
- Updated measurements. Update the measurements of the pattern, and you’ll see numerically and then visually how the fit has changed. This will help you get better at visualizing changes over time just by looking at numbers.
- Any construction notes. If there are things you want to change about the construction, you can keep track of these as well.
While traditionally, tech packs are usually large spreadsheets, this type of documentation could work just as well as notes typed on your phone (I like Evernote) or jotted in a notebook like the Colette Sewing Planner or a plain college-ruled notebook.
Here, I noted my own key measurements, then the pattern measurements. From this, I can clearly see that I will need to reduce the ease in the waist and probably narrow the leg to get the fit I want.
I noted these areas of concern in my notes section.
In many ways, the information you collect will be quite different from what’s needed in an industrial setting, but the spirit and utility is really the same: having a place to think through all the details, creating a consistent process, keeping track of your adjustments, and giving yourself information to learn from in the future.
When you’ve done this once, you will have a wealth of information to refer back to the next time you want to sew a pair of pants. Seeing all those measurements and changes will be worth its weight in gold.