What is a Pattern?
If you're reading about menswear - and especially tailoring - you are sure to come across this word: pattern.
By what is a pattern, exactly?
Every garment in fashion, high-end or low-end, begins with a pattern. Think of a pattern as the blueprints that a tailor uses to make a garment, the same way an architect uses blueprints to build a house.
A pattern is a series of geometric shapes drawn to exact scale (on paper or cardboard if you’re old-school, but mostly on digital CAD software now) that acts as both a “stencil set” that will be physically traced (or laser cut) onto a chosen fabric (and saved for later reference), as well as a list of “official manufacturing instructions” that describes in detail how the garment should be made.
To preface; pattern-making is incredibly complicated. It requires an extremely complex understanding of math and geometry, combined with years and years of experience working with different raw materials and different body types. This is why all of the best pattern makers are 60+ years old.
Pattern-makers are the linchpin of the fashion industry - if you're a young person looking to truly understand garment design and craftsmanship, you should start by learning pattern-making.
To give you a slightly more in-depth idea of what a suit pattern looks like, here’s a look at the pattern I’m working on for a bespoke suit that I’m hand-making for myself. (I went to school for tailoring and have hand-made several suits myself...but I do this purely for experimentation and learning...you do not want a suit sewn by me :).
My jacket pattern has a traditional 7 pieces (some very shapely jackets have 8, since a split side-body offers an additional seam to curve). The key here is that the patterns are properly adjusted for the client (in this case, myself) with special concern to posture, head placement, shoulder slope and the balance of the client’s girth (front/back). It’s also crucially important that the adjustments for the client are accounted for across all of the pattern pieces. Making even the slightest change to the shape/dimensions of one of the pieces requires that you adjust the other pieces accordingly. There are countless rules, exceptions, and opinions when it comes to proper pattern-making. This is why certain shops have a “house cut” and why takes a lifetime of experience to become a master tailor – and, consequently, why most good tailors are of retirement age.
Because the bespoke pattern-making process is so complex, and the human form has so much unique intricacy, it is much more accurate for a tailor to perform a cloth fitting rather than than simply relying on a measuring tape. Measurements won’t tell you how a cloth will sit on the shoulders, or the neck, or the the lower back even. This is why, at Articles of Style, each new client begins with a custom-made fitting garment that is used to asses their unique body shape (and personal preferences)… But more on our online bespoke process later. Let’s stick to the basics of pattern-making.
The Complete Jacket Pattern
The front panel forms the basis of the jacket and tells us a lot about it’s styling. It includes the chest dart placement (which shapes the jacket by adding suppression from the chest to the waist), the pocket placements, the button stance, the width and shape of the lapels, the fullness of the chest, the height of the armhole, the length of the jacket, the slope of the shoulders, etc. Making a slight change to this pattern piece will make a noticeable difference to the look and feel of the jacket, especially since every adjustment is doubled (the two front panel pieces are cut at the same time from double-layered fabric for absolute symmetry…this is “cutting 101”)
The facing must match the shape of the front, as it forms the inside of the front panels and the lapels (since they roll outward). On a quality jacket it also covers the chest canvas which is hand-set to the backside of the front panel and sits in-between the two layers.
The back panel includes crucial information about the fit of the jacket such as the size of the neckhole (which should be cut to the clients neck size), the height of the collar (relative to the length of the clients neck), the shoulder slopes (which must match those on the front panels), the back of the armholes, the vent placements, etc. It’s also a piece where a lot of shape can be added to the garment, as the long center back seam and the side-panel-seams can all be curved inward to add suppression when sewn together.
The side body sits below the bottom of the armhole and is the connection between the front panels and back panels. It’s the obliques of the jacket, if you will. It’s possible to make a jacket without a side body (by making the front and back panels large enough to sew together), but the additional seams of the side body allow for much better shaping.
The collar is a foundational piece of the jacket. In order to achieve a proper fit, it should fit cleanly on the client’s neck, with no gapping, or rolling. The length of the collar piece also determines the gorge line (or height of the lapel notches – which, of course, must be accounted for on the front panels and facings). This pattern piece is typically cut from fabric (topside) and melton felt (underside), although some old-school bespoke tailors also hand-set a layer of canvas in-between them.
This is the large, exterior piece of the sleeve. The shape, size and curvature should coincide with the client’s natural standing position. On a good suit the top sleeve also contains additional fabric at the cuff which is used to create working sleeve buttonholes.
This is the underside of the sleeve, which faces the side of the jacket. This piece is sewn to the top to create the sleeve before it is set into the armhole of the jacket – which consists of the front panel, back panel, and side body.
I hope this was informative.
Of course, this is a just a very basic "intro" to patterns. There are separate patterns for trousers, vests, and every other kind of garment - and there are countless fit adjustments when you venture into the bespoke world.
My hope is that reading this will help you understand why tailoring is such a historic, and respected, art form.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
Yours in style,