Monday, January 3, 2011

Teaching Patternmaking

I've been thinking a lot about this recently because I am doing more and more of it.
There seems to be a definite lack of instruction available regarding menswear. So, why is that?

My guesses are:

Most community college courses focus on women's wear.

Tradition- menswear/tailoring was traditionally taught as a one on one situation: ie apprenticeships.

Loss of information.

Lack of interest.

In regards to the first, I guess since women tend to spend more money on a wider variety of clothing and ever changing styles, the colleges are figuring that's where the money is. It is a rare student who wants to do anything different and if they do, they have to have the strength of their convictions to forge ahead- often with minimal to no guidance because the staff isn't trained to teach menswear.

Tradition- has it hindered or helped? Apprenticeships were the norm in tailoring but over the past century and specifically the past 50 years, the independent tailor has been replaced by MTM (made to measure) and RTW (ready to wear). The tailor's children (boys) were often expected or encouraged to learn the trade, but the clothing world has changed, and job options have opened up for many people so fewer continued with the tradition.
This has led specically to a loss of information. From what I can see, most information both in the traditional construction and in patternmaking was passed on verbally and by physically showing the student and without anyone to teach, the information is not passed on.

Lack of interest.
Well here's a story: I was being interviewed for an inhouse article about myself and my job, and I asked to see the rough copy before it went to print. In regards to why I specialize in menswear, this is what I read:
"So why choose to do boring suits when you could have been making fabulous ball gowns".
Well, that about sums that up.

It is a pretty sad state of affairs really.

Where am I going with this?
I could rant about it all, and believe me I have, but instead I am trying to figure out how to focus my instructional methods- and so far I have a pile of notes and drafting paper strewn about, (no help from my cat), and wondering how best to affect change.


  1. Well, speaking for myself, there isn’t a lack of interest.

    I’m teaching myself sewing clothes and consequently drawing patterns, since I have a very definite vision for pants that I want. Nothing like them exists, and largely I just have to try and figure it out as I go.

    Any sources for patterns are invariably for womens clothes. They help to a degree, but largely I'm just figuring this out by trial and error. Learning is always fun, but I do wish there were some sources out there for mens patterns, or a source to direct the curious through the process of creating their own.

    It will likely never be a huge market, but I suspect if there was a source for outdoorsy clothing (for lack of a better term) patterns, I suspect there are people who will buy them. In the backpacking/camping/hiking/hunting/military world, there are a surprising number of guys who sew, and who aren’t satisfied with the stock offerings.

  2. Yes, I know there are pockets of interest, which is good!

    There are books available for men's patternmaking- newer ones are geared more toward manufacturing, older ones are more geared to bespoke practices and both present challenges in regards to the beginning drafter and stitcher.
    None really deal with the mechanics of the draft they teach. The why and hows of it all, which is what I am working on at the moment.

  3. I'd love to have more menswear resources! When I was in fashion school, we did zero patternmaking for menswear or tailoring. The entire program was geared toward RTW, and I think they felt like the had to choose between teaching men's or women's clothing, and women's was more important or complicated, or something. I don't think hardly any of the staff would have been qualified to teach about a properly tailored suit, anyway.

    Can you elaborate on "None really deal with the mechanics of the draft they teach" - do you mean that they don't explain why one method produces one result, but another method might create a different shape on the body? That would be fascinating. And a concept very relevant for womenswear too.

    I wish I could come and be a fly on your wall while you work!

  4. Designing for men compared with ladies is boring indeed. With ladies drafts you can play around with a wide range of fabric, colors, darts, neck lines, drapes a.s.o.
    With the gents (classical outfit) you can get excited about - just an example - the varying distance of the buttons at the sleeve vent.
    But drafting is in both cases challenging. With gents draft you must know a lot how to manipulate the fabric without a dart.
    Looking forward what you will teach us, Terry.

  5. Can you elaborate on "None really deal with the mechanics of the draft they teach"
    I mean that fashion schools, and most, if not all, books teach you to do something by rote; follow instructions, but they don't tell you how the lines of the draft create three dimensional shape. A little example: the placement of the front neck point that I was talking about earlier. There is in essence a hidden dart for want of a better explanation, at the centre front when the neck point is displaced off of the CF construction line. Or that the CB line of a trouser is in essence acting as a dart- which is why the angle changes for a flat or a full seat.

    In women's wear, I know that the colleges are or have already phased out learning how to draft the basic block. Students are given a block to use, so they probably understand even less about shaping, because all they do is dart manipulation on a size 6? block. Too bad, especially in the end for consumers who aren't "standard" Yikes- who's teaching about plus sizes for instance?

    Heidi, I totally understand what you are saying :) and I suppose if you were doing only RTW suits all day that would get tedious but luckily I have to work on centuries of styles! Maybe it takes a certain personality type to enjoy menswear? You are so right that the challenge is in creating shpe within the confines of the accepted menswear styles. Since I am not teaching RTW, I need to teach the ability to draft and fit for a variety of body shapes right away, and it is a challenge.

  6. "boring suits"? BORING?!!

    The snarky answer to that would be something along the lines of "there is NOTHING boring about the suits *I* make." delivered with a raised thimble finger and a glare so hard you could sharpen shears on it.
    But I understand where this mistaken notion comes from;

    I myself dislike whiskey. Single malt, double malt, American, Canadian, Irish or Scots it all tastes like industrial paint stripper to me. But at the same time I realise that to people who actually have an appreciation and knowledge of whiskey there is a universe of variety to distilled grains. That such people are thick on the ground is due to the fact there is a massive selection of *choice* of whiskey on the market, even at the humblest LCBO.
    Not so with men’s suits. Not in the RTW or even M2M field. To take this analogy to its conclusion, imagine a world where the only whiskey widely available was Jack Daniels (or some other rot gut) this would not be a world conducive to making connoisseurs out of everyday imbibers.

    The solution? Haven't got one I'm afraid. As Ghandi put it I can only try to be the change I wish to see, ergo I avoid standard buttoned placket cuffs like the plague, all mine are either cuffed or left plain (which has a lot of impact against the backdrop of same-old-same-old, less is more in that case) I avoid straight lines and right angles in favour of sinuous curves on lapels, fronts, pockets, etc. These and other variations seen throughout menswear over the past 100 years can't be out of the realm of RTW manufacture, not given that similar variety is seen in women’s clothes every season. What is needed is someone to make variety for men available and couple it with the most basic of principles (i.e. low armscye = bad).

    Sorry for the long post. I have strong feelings on the matter.