The 7 Pattern Making Tools I Would Take to a Deserted Island

In my recent blog post, Cut Up Your Patterns and Clothes, I wrote about how to make basic alterations to a blazer pattern to give it a more cropped and feminine silhouette. There are some very important and essential tools, in my opinion, to have in your sewing arsenal when you are working with patterns.

First, let's address the 1000-pound gorilla in the room. Don't be intimidated by the term pattern making! Trust me, I spent many years fretting about altering or making patterns, and it wasn't worth a minute of my time! Whether you are making a pattern from scratch or altering an existing one, these all fall under the umbrella of pattern making skills, and most of it is just common sense.

Pattern making tools

Some of my top patternmaking tools

Of course, we could get all kinds of complicated when it comes to tools, but these are the pattern making tool essentials, in my humble opinion. (Hot tip: Whether you work alone or in workshop situations, take the time to label your tools with your first and last name in permanent marker. This has brought many a tool back to me.) :

  • 18" x 2" clear ruler: I swear, if I had to give up every other tool but one, save scissors, needle and thread, this would be the one that would stay on the island. It's perfect for marking in seam allowance, drafting two lines perpendicular to each other, any sort of measuring, and the list goes on and on. There is also a handy 6 x 1" version, but that's, of course, a luxury.
  • French curve: Ahh, the elegant French  curve. This is a template, made usually of plastic or metal, that is use to draft in any, you guessed it, curved lines. The chic little number will cover you wherever the 18" ruler won't. There are all sorts of French curves out there, but I prefer the basic model that looks like a big,  fancy comma. You can do anything from an armhole to waistline, neckline, hipline and more. This would be my second pick for the deserted island.
  • Mechanical pencil: I prefer the cheap, yellow ones with the eraser. They are indispensable for drafting patterns, marking muslin test garments, etc. And if you make a mistake, which I have been known to do more often than not, especially in my wee hours pattern making, you can just erase and start over.
  • Pattern paper: I guess I have to admit that pattern paper is a pretty essential item as well. For starters, there are the rolls of the basic white stuff and the translucent version with blue markings for aligning accurately. But truthfully, you can use any kind of paper, even 8-1/2" x 11" sheets tape together. Some swear by the rolls of medical paper that doctors use in their exam rooms, which are available from a medical supply store, or blank rolls of newsprint. Choose your weapon.
  • Oak tag paper: When you create a pattern that you are going to use over and over again, such as a sloper (a basic garment pattern template), you should use oak tag paper, which is slightly stiffer than poster board. In a pinch you can do with brown wrapping paper, or even manila folders taped together
  • Tracing wheel: I'm sure you've seen this medieval–looking tool, which is a spiked wheel with a handle. This is the bomb for tracing off a pattern. All you need for transferring a patter are the perforations (or perfs, as they call it in the biz)–messy, colored tracing paper isn't even necessary!
  • Pattern notcher: Now some may not see this as essential, but I beg to differ. Notches are absolutely critical in patterns to match up pieces accurately. And f you have ever tried to make a notch by hand, especially on oak tag, you'll know what I mean! 

That's my list and I'm sticking to it. It's amazing all the creations that I can materialize with these seven basic tools. Speaking of original patterns, there is a bumper crop now available from the Summer 2011 issue of Stitch. You can download them and work with them as is or use your new tools to add your own spin!

Do you have any favorite tools for making or altering patterns? Anything especially unusual or affordable? Let me know in the comments section below!

 Happy stitching!

Amber Eden

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About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and SewDaily.com. She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and SewDaily.com. She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

12 thoughts on “The 7 Pattern Making Tools I Would Take to a Deserted Island

  1. i agree with most of your ideas–but how about a sharpie pen? it won’t rub off or fade like the pencil. ballpoints will work but the ink has oil in it so there is a possibility of smears.

  2. I would take an eraser with me to this tropical island. I know that we NEVER make mistakes but after I have drawn the block and then put on the design lines I like to get rid of those first draft lines Dot from Down Under

  3. Good choices, although if it were me, Instead of a pattern notcher at ($12, and harder to find) , I’d bring my handy handheld fiskars triangle scrapbooking punch ($2), and in addition I’d bring sharpie pen, and white correction fluid (white out) for those reusable patterns.

  4. Good choices, although if it were me, Instead of a pattern notcher at ($12, and harder to find) , I’d bring my handy handheld fiskars triangle scrapbooking punch ($2), and in addition I’d bring sharpie pen, and white correction fluid (white out) for those reusable patterns.

  5. Desperate measures will sometimes lead to great discoveries. I was making a patern for a project and could not find paper to use, so I used an inexpesive flannel backed tablecloth. WOW, now the pattern peice (Flannel side down) stays in place as I cut and I do not have to use pin or weights. I used pernament marking pen on plastic side for markings. The tablecloths are on sale after holidays. I try to purchase the lightest colored ones, so my marking show up better.

  6. I’ve seen the pattern notcher advertised but cannot figure out one thing. Does it actually notch a pattern like the triangular notches on the pattern or does it simply make a snip like a pair of scissors?

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