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Behind the Pattern Making Process

Have you ever wondered what it takes to make a pattern?  How hard can it be, right?  Well, I have discovered that it takes a LOT more work to bring those ideas to life than you would think, especially if it's going to be a quality pattern that's easy for others to use.  After all, if it was easy to do, everybody would just write their own patterns, right?

Now that I'm a pattern designer myself, I have a much better understanding of what goes into creating a pattern.  So today I thought I would take you behind the scenes and share some of my pattern making process with you.  Hopefully, it will give you a better understanding and an appreciation for the efforts that designers put into those cool patterns.  

When an idea for a new pattern pops into my head, I usually begin by working with pencil and paper, drawing out ideas in a sketch book. 


If I'm working on an applique quilt, I will sketch a rough draft of the entire scene first.   Next, I'll retrace each applique shape separately with a pencil, drawing/erasing/redrawing until I'm satisfied with the pencil sketch.  I like to use some magnifying glasses during this process so I can do the neatest job I possibly can.

When I'm done with the pencil sketches, I will get out my light box, a fresh sheet of paper and an ink pen to retrace again and create a final drawing of the shape.  Once the ink tracings are finished, I will scan those into the computer and clean up any stray marks in my Publisher program.  This is also where I add labels and any extra directions to the templates.  Finally, I'll turn them into PDF's and print them up to make a final sample of the quilt.

If I'm designing a tote bag or more traditionally pieced quilts, I'll grab some graph paper and draw things out on there.  This is especially helpful for projects like these that have lots of straight lines, squares, rectangles and triangles.


While I'm sketching out my design, I'm trying to mentally walk through the construction of that particular project and scribble notes as I go.  How big will the pieces be?  What size seam allowances are needed?  How much fabric will it take?  What are the measurements for the finished project?  As I'm doing all of this, I'm also grabbing my calculator and adding up measurements to see what kind of yardage this project will need.  There are lots of measurements and different fabrics to keep track of, so I go back to the graph paper to figure out how many pieces I can cut from a yard of fabric AND keep track of which pieces are cut from which fabrics.  


It takes quite a while to figure out and double check the numbers.  Once I think I've got that done, I'll start cutting and sewing to see if the numbers I have on paper actually work with fabric and thread.  Sometimes I will make a sample with muslin so I can write notes and measurements right on the fabric as I work.


If I'm working on a design that has a special shape, I usually have to make a bunch of prototypes to get the shape right.  A perfect example of this is my Catch-all Cutie organizer.  I knew I wanted a rounded shape at the top and had to go through several samples to figure out how to get the template just right.


As I work on my designs, I will have to make numerous adjustments to make sure everything comes together properly, and that can drive me a little crazy.   My husband calls this the "R&D" stage (research and development).  I call it "if I have to change this one more time, I'm going to lose my mind!!!"  And then there are times that my problem solving skills will "hit a wall" and I just have to set a project aside for a while.  Usually, I can come back to it later with fresh eyes and be able to carry on.  Once in a while, I will have to entirely trash a project because I can't find a solution to my obstacle.

Sometimes the general measurements work out fine, but when I finish a prototype and try it out, there are other issues that come up.  That is what happened with my Take-along Tool Apron.  I found that the round pincushion flopped around too much and didn't look good so close to the center of the apron.  I had to redesign the pincushion so it was secured at each end and was moved over to a better spot.


For my Fabulous Fall quilt, I realized after I made the quilt that I needed to change some details on the quilt to make it more user friendly.  The sunflowers in the original quilt had too much detail with all of those little petals and required an awful lot of nitpicky stitching.  The sunflower leaves were dimensional, which looked cool but also required too much work.  The mini quilt was simply pieced with striped fabric, but again, I felt like it added up to too much work.  So in the redesign, I made the sunflowers out of yo-yo's and buttons, turned the leaves into regular applique and used a mini print as a cheater fabric so the mini quilt is made out of only one square.  The new pattern still has some really cool detail with much less work!


This is just a little taste of what designing a pattern is like.  I haven't even discussed the work involved in writing the directions, taking/editing pictures and getting the pattern out there to the public.  It can be a pretty crazy and time consuming process, but it is also very fulfilling and rewarding.  I love knowing that I am helping someone to make something special and helping them to enjoy the creative process as well!  In some small way I get to brighten someone else's day, and that really brightens my day too!