I was feeling excited about starting my sewing adventure and it didn't take long before my friends knew what I am up to. Some showed interest in historical clothing and some wanted to get modern pieces. One of the projects was a modern A-line skirt.

I used this little project to learn a bit about pattern drafting and to research CAD software available for home use. As it turned out there is no good free/affordable software, but let's start from the beginning.

The first step was to select a pattern. Obvious places that I have found after a bit of googling included big companies such as Butterick Patterns, Burda Style, McCall's Patterns etc while they have something to select from, I didn't feel like I want to start from simply following polished commercial patterns. Maybe it is a typical "Not Invented Here (NIH)" syndrome that a lot of beginners experience! Later I have discovered The Foldline pattern database, they have patterns from independent makers and I plan to try them in the near future. Back to the subject though. I have decided to make my own pattern. I watched tutorials on YouTube on how to draft a simple skirt but was not entirely convinced either. More digging has revealed that a lot of those tutorials take their inspiration from Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear by Winifred Aldrich.

The book includes many basic blocks for skirts, trousers, bodices etc. I haven't tried to draft anything intricate yet, but for a basic skirt block the instructions are very easy to follow even if you are doing it for the first time. I decided to complicate the task a bit and draft it on a computer.

And so the next step was to research software for pattern drafting. It turned out that fashion industry is nothing like engineering even though the task of fitting a piece of cloth on a 3D model is pretty much an engineering task at its core. For programming (my main activity) there are many tools available for free or at least they have a free version for personal, non-commercial use, but nothing like that exists for pattern drafting. Also, I probably should mention that I mostly mean open source projects that run on Linux, since this is the only OS I use. Fashion industry sells its CAD software for the cost of both of your kidneys, even if you only need it for home use. The best you can get is software with a monthly subscription fee but it still looks too expensive for home use.

The only option I have found is Seamly2D which is a fork of Valentina. The history of both projects is full of drama where two main figures behind the original Valentina project couldn't agree on how to run it together and who is their target user group. While dealing with their internal issues, they lost people who felt excited about the initiative. That is appalling, because the progress is close to zero as can be seen on GitHub, and none of the two projects is in the state where it is easy and pleasant to use.

I have spent a couple of weeks playing with Seamly2D and I have a little bit of experience with FreeCAD and Blender, so I have some basic understanding of how to work with CAD software. Seamly2D is actually two programs - seamly2d is the main application where patterns are drafted and seamlyme is a helper program that manages measurements. One of the features of the program is that it can do grading, that is, once a pattern is made for one size it can be automatically adjusted to any other size just by swapping files with measurements that one enters in seamlyme. Apart from awkward UI with a lot of cumbersome dialogues that obstruct your main view once you open them, the process works fine for points and straight lines.

Curves, arcs and ellipses is a different story though. Curves can be constrained by points of course, but angles are mostly free-handed. If you are not satisfied with that, then welcome to Curves with Formulas tutorial. I still have to try that, I just need to muster some courage! There are many other issues with the low-level aspects of the element creation, the main one is that the process is slow, non-visual and therefore non-intuitive. For high-level problems, there is no easy way to manipulate darts, the only way I managed to achieve that task is by manually selecting and rotating points, even for a simple skirt this produces so many points that you will have to start grouping and hiding them, this is where you will learn that groups are not editable once they are created. Speaking of darts, there is a tool to true a dart but it works in an unexpected way and alters lines around the dart instead of adjusting it. The tool is still useful, but maybe it should be called something else.

I can compile a very long list of usability issues, but I don't think that would be fair. It does work, I have managed to draft a couple of simple patterns in it. I should mention though, that the program also crashes, especially when you want to delete something that is linked by formulas to other objects, sometimes it can figure out and resolve the situation, sometimes it can't, when this happens, it can corrupt your file beyond repair. So, save often, especially before deleting, I regularly lose hours of work because I forget to save!

Basic skirt block. Winifred Aldrich, Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear
A-line skirt, adaptation of the basic skirt block. Winifred Aldrich, Metric Pattern Cutting for Women's Wear
Stays, my current work in progress. The school of historical dress, Patterns of Fashion 5

By the time I completed my basic A-line skirt I was so exhausted, that I decided to switch to paper. So, I have never printed the A-line skirt, instead, I used the basic skirt pattern to close darts on paper, and then proceed with a shaped waistband. My current approach is that I do basic work in seamly and then manipulate those blocks in paper. You can see the same process for my stays above, they are quite finished. I don't plan to add skirts at all, I'll add them after printing, this saves me time and energy. If you wonder how I print my patterns, it is very easy! Seamly has built-in tools to print on home printers, it can easily split a pattern for printing on A4 and it produces cutting guides, that part of the application was done pretty well.

Overall it took me 2 months to go from I have no idea what is this all about to a finished skirt and this post. Most of that time was spent doing something else, such as procrastinating and historical sewing.

I would post a photo of the completed pattern for the skirt I made, but my cat has decided to vomit on it! I guess she doesn't approve and wants to tell me that I should practice more and write less :-) The sewing part for the final garment was mostly straightforward, but I did practice beforehand making a waistband with interfacing and inserting an invisible zipper. These are the resources I have found especially useful:

And the happy owner who still has to come to our office in the new skirt! ;-)

My dear model Kačka